And i’m not convinced it’s for the better.
Disclaimer: I love the fact that modern gaming has taken to nourishing its storytelling potential, manipulating narrative form in innovative ways and using the interactive medium to access a deeper quality of meaning.
However as games focus more and more on the storytelling aspects of their experience, the actual challenge of the gameplay is being lost. That’s not to say that the gameplay isn’t challenging, we’ve got Dark Souls to think of here. But there are some functions being more readily introduced that feel like they undercut the primary purpose of a video game – to interactively bring people into different worlds through the confrontation of the challenges that world provides. This is the ‘skip mission’ button.
It is true that repeatedly failing missions breaks the narrative flow considerably, with players becoming frustrated that they cannot access the next piece of a story they’ve become invested in. This helplessness however is being approached all wrong by games that employ the ‘skip mission’ option. Instead of creating missions in a narrative-focused game that present themselves as too intimidating, shouldn’t developers who want these games to succeed in their storyline create missions that reflect the skill of the player at that point, placing more focus on training and weapon upgrades? It is typically these narrative-invested games that provide this skipping ability, to maintain their players’ investment. Do we simply not like a tricky mission because it reminds us that we’re active in this experience, that we ourselves have a part to play in the narrative of the game? It doesn’t have to be a decision between interactive storytelling or challenging gameplay experience.
It feels to me like a cop out. Instead of working to create missions that the player will enjoy because of their intricacy, or gratification on completion, developers are simply throwing their hands in the air after three or four fails and saying ‘oh well, if you can’t get through it we’ll just pretend it never happened’. Instead of focusing on building these player skills and character abilities, developers are becoming increasingly happy to simply let the gameplay of their games slide out the equation. If players are becoming frustrated at having to put effort into a mission they should watch the movie adaptation.
The golden age of gaming wasn’t the golden age because players could skip to the end of Mario’s quest. They were painfully difficult games, but they were games you came back to time after time with different strategies until that mission completion screen rewarded you with a seemingly forgotten satisfaction. The ‘skip mission’ button undercuts the fundamental process of trying, altering your approach, and trying again that makes actual gameplay a process of intuitive tactic and energetic appraisal. It’s a passivity that’s leaking into the way games are constructed, and a laziness that proves our modern need for instant gratification.
I speak, of course, firmly based in relativity to the actual game. If a game like LA Noire is attempting to promote a wider message to a wider audience than the usual gamer, it can be deemed a necessary evil to promote the narrative experience over certain aspects of gameplay mechanic (like driving and shooting). Allowing players to skip these missions, while still detracting from the overall experience of the game as a game, is made up for by its insistence on the intricate conversational mechanics otherwise employed – LA Noire is not about driving and shooting, it’s about investigating and relationships. Then we have skippable missions in Call of Duty, which is a step too far.
Some of the most fun i’ve had in my gaming lifetime has come from being hopelessly stuck on a mission. Do what you have to, play it for hours, look up a walkthrough, follow a play through step by step, but the feeling of finally defeating the seemingly insurmountable is unparalleled. No other form of entertainment allows you this personal victory. If I was able to skip the chainsaw guy mission in The Evil Within, sure it would have saved me hours of attempts, but I would never have spent those hours in absolute camaraderie with my sister as we came back to it night after night working out what worked and how to approach it. She would have never coached me from a walkthrough on her laptop, and we would have never celebrated so damn hard when that bastard finally disintegrated. Not only do you learn how to better manipulate the game world through these challenges, but you learn how to reassess seemingly impossible situations and build skills integral to problem solving and determination.
Yes, it can sometimes cut you off from narrative but if the story is so good you are willing to compromise a whole chunk of what you’ve spent your hard earned cash on, then it’s good enough to warrant a challenging battle to get to. If every mission was skippable in the video game industry, it would simply exist as an expensive offshoot from the movie industry.