Press X to Play
‘Press X to Jason’ the screen reads, as you play through Heavy Rain. ‘Press X to pay respects’ the screen offers, as you begin Call of Duty; Advanced Warfare’s campaign; these scripted moments are something that try and engage the gamer but often feel as though they are awkward moments, much like when a parent says to ‘Make sure you send grandma a thank you card for the $5 she gave you for your birthday!’
You sigh; "But, why?” is the silent question, grandma knows you love her, after all.
In games, being prompted to perform an action is something that is here to stay. Be it through a quick time event or something that is set to move the plot, being told how to play a game is a break of immersion that is unfortunately commonplace. To say that prompts, altogether, shouldn’t exist is completely foolish as well. In the Batman Arkham series, an enemy can be countered as the prompt flashes over their head. In the series Metal Gear Solid, stealth is achieved best by being aware of what the enemies are doing or how they are reacting to the players movements; if they are curious, we know, if they know we are there, we know. Past this, games that offer tips to playing the game, such as Uncharted, can be a welcome addition as well, prompting the player to look in a certain place, even with the prompted option of ‘Hint’ appearing on screen when a puzzle takes a player too long to crack.
How then, did we get here? When we say that moving narrative through a button press may not be the best choice, what does the alternative look like? The answer I have found is in Minecraft. This argument is not built on Minecraft alone, but rather, the use of its crafting system and completely wonky puzzles. Do you want to build a pickaxe? Boards in a row on top, then sticks underneath, which, is the only logical way to form a pickaxe. This type of crafting and puzzle solving works because it falls backwards onto something that was all but forgotten in games; the intelligence of the player.
Personally, I have a collection of Super Nintendo games, as it was, what I consider to be, a height of gaming history, with that opinion being formed due to me playing games as a child and then replaying them as an adult. In assembling the collection, I swore to myself very early on that I would play each cartridge as much as I could, to ensure it working, but also to understand the system better, and, by extension, I would look up as little as possible about each game, if I was to play them, it would be without internet, as I would have had to growing up. My approach led to moments of utter frustration (trying to use the special skills and moves in Batman Forever) and fantastic exploration (Shooting accidental fireballs in Mortal Kombat) but the thing that was never questioned was my ability to progress, built of desire, I pushed myself into the games devices and was rewarded by being able to play the game.
Games used to have to be taken on their own terms. I may go into that later, but as of right now, we need to focus on the reasoning behind games past; none. Donkey Kong Country was about saving a giant banana and using an array of jungle animals to do so, the original Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, in arcades, were not in place with character bios built into the game for players, none of that was the focus, as ‘paying respects’ isn’t the focus of Call of Duty; to touch back on the opening, if it feels out of place to give advice or to try and add context, its because it probably is. None of the older games needed reason to have the player do what they did (Looking at you, James Pond) but they presented common enough ideas, and then let the player go.
As I continue to play games, now on the Xbox and Playstation, I wonder about this time past. The times when games handed us pieces and nothing more and if it is truly fading away; if so, what do I do? I am playing Darkest Dungeon at the time of writing this, and it has the same incredible thought tucked into it. “What if I pour holy water onto an altar…” I thought to myself late one night. I poured and, moments later I was texting a friend with complete thrill pumping in my body; it worked! These moments continued as these thoughts, now written here, wrote themselves in my head. How much of the players intelligence will you remove from the game, before you realize that the desire to learn and struggle until success, starve until the sensation of winning, will always be tied to human nature just as much as story telling or visual appeal?
Press X to pay respect to the player’s intelligence.
Feel free to leave a comment. Thoughts on my blog may not be co-op per say, but tend to fall into my head as I play games.