Archive for November 10, 2011
Wow. This came out of left field: A call to arms for game companies to get into the gambling space for e-sports titles.
I’m not entirely against this. But then again, I kind of am.
The article talks a lot about how e-sports isn’t as much of “a thing” here in the West as it is in the East, but it is growing, and with it a homegrown gambling industry. The author suggests that game companies themselves need to get in on the ground floor of incorporating online betting into their infrastructure. From a business perspective (which ignores the whole mountain of legal issues that is gambling in the U.S.), it makes absolute and total sense to me. E-sports is on the rise in West, thanks to League of Legends and the resurgence of DOTA clones, which elevates other games like Starcraft II here in this hemisphere. I’m sure that it’s an easy sell to get gamers to toss a few bucks into the ring to bet on their favorite teams, especially if it’s controlled by the operators of the game itself (and not some shady third party).
But from a top-hat and monocle perspective (yes, that was an intentional link to EVE Online’s annual tournament), I’m not sure it’s a good thing for the gaming community itself. Go look at any forum and try to imagine that these people who have nothing but virtual association to their games now have real world, hard earned money on the line. You think some gamers are surly now? Add to that the fact that if EVE Online has taught us anything, it’s that these participants aren’t morality-guided professionals. These are nerds and geeks who are suddenly recognized as being the crème de la crème of their community, complete with adoration and the scent of money. What’s to stop any of them from throwing the match if it means they come out ahead? And I don’t even want to imagine what this would do to the image of the games industry as a whole, although there’s a whole lot of non-gamers out there who think gaming is all about sex and guns already. We’re conspicuous in our total lack of gambling, so maybe we’d just be fulfilling their ignorant fantasies in the end.
This is a dim light through a small crack right now. If this were to go anywhere it’s would require a total reevaluation of the games industry: what it stands for, what it want’s to be, and how far it’s willing to go. It’ll also require some serious legislative mud-wrestling (calm down; we’re talking fat white Congressmen, not hot women in bikinis) to sanction online gambling in the West, and then to accept it in an industry that most of them don’t bother to understand, and which is still thought to be aimed mainly at little kids.
There’s just way too much to cover on this subject, and not enough electrons to do it.
Pete’s got a great post over at Dragonchasers about disruption of interest. Judging from the comments over on G+, it seems that there’s many people who suffer from the same affliction. It was during this discussion that I managed to talk-out a realization of my own: I don’t care for stories in my games.
Well, technically, I do. Stories are the glue that holds a lot of otherwise mindless, repetitive action sequences together. Platformers or SHMUPS don’t really need a story to explain why you’re jumping or shooting because chances are you’re doing it for the endurance of plowing through levels, or for the high-score and bragging rights. But with RPGs and MMOs, the story is “the thing” because you’re presented as a character who is caught up in the events of the fictional land you’re asked to believe you inhabit. So I guess rather then saying that I don’t care for stories in my games, I should say that I don’t believe that games present the stories very well, and may not be capable of actually presenting a story in a way that appeals to me.
When reading a book, you get the point of view of a single or a handful of characters. Each chapter is about something that is happening to that character, and everything that happens to that character in each chapter happens in service to the eventual climax of the story. The polar opposite of this is Seinfeld, the “show about nothing” which is labeled as such because nothing the characters do in a single episode carries over into other episodes; there’s no growth or progression, so each episode can be about the most random or asinine topics imaginable without consequence. Video game stories, for me, fall somewhere between these two extremes.
Take Dragon Age II, a game which I started out all excited about, but which I have lost all interest in, thanks to a forced absence thanks to a freak snowstorm that left us without power for a week. As with most RPGs or MMOs, you collect story elements in the form of quests. The formula should be familiar to those who prefer RPGs:
- You chat up the quest NPC, who either provides you with interaction through voice overs and menus, or through a panel of text that you’re expected to read in order to “get into the story”.
- You head out and complete the task assigned to you
- You return to the original NPC or another NPC, who either completes the quest with VO, menus and a wall of text, or you’re handed off to another NPC.
- Goto 1
What you have here are two different vehicles. The first – the NPC interaction – is the vehicle of “the story”. It’s the reason why you’re doing what you’re doing. The second is the action you’re asked to undertake. During this action, you may get bits and pieces of ongoing story, either from NPC blurbs or through intermission outtakes of NPC interaction, but you’re generally left without story progression, technically without context (you could be doing this action for ANY reason, and you will, over and over again), and you are actually asked to leave the story behind so you can focus on the mechanics of managing your party, or “not standing in the fire”. To me, this is the equivalent of reading a paragraph of text in a book, then washing the floor, then reading another paragraph, then doing the laundry, then reading another paragraph, then heading to the market…and so on.
Then there’s the issue of different threads at the same time. You’re never on a singular story. Often times, you’re not on a set of stories that have anything to do with one another. On one hand, you have to rescue the son of a noble. On another hand, you are running smuggling operations for a small time crook in the city. Often times, you’ve got both going on at the same time. Neither story has anything to do with another, but each one attempts to be engaging in it’s own right, with twists and surprises and revelations. For me, at least, having to juggle several of these at once is pointless. When I take a leave of absence and consider picking up these threads where I left off, it’s neigh impossible.
So I came to the conclusion that I can’t get invested in a story where 50% or more of the time in the game is spent outside the service of the story where I am asked to manage the “game” aspects, the numbers and the mechanics, nor can I return to a game where the story has more threads in progress then the clothing I’m current wearing. This is a sad realization on my part, because with single player games, this is really all there is to keep me, or to bring me back to the table! When combat becomes repetitious, and I wish it over and done with so I can get back to the disparate threads of the story, any reason that forces me to become unglued from the mindset I put myself in in order to endure the narrative interruptus inevitably leads to me not even wanting to make the effort to get back into the story. Previously, I understood this issue subconsciously. Now, I’m just putting a face to the name.
The really problematic part is that this is currently the best games can do. Even games like L.A. Noire or Heavy Rain have sentences of mute puzzle solving punctuated by a brief bit of story, but if we remove the mechanics and the numbers and the interaction, we have a movie. Interaction is what makes games games, and not movies, and that will never change, because it can’t. Therefor, my up-hill battle is to find a way to bring myself back to these games after a leave of absence, even though the idea of picking up the pieces where I find them doesn’t sit well with me. I figure that if I can find a way to do that, then I can actually finish games more often, and might stop buying games that I know I’ll never finish (which is an enabler of this whole problem in it’s own right).