“We’ve never discussed how completely removing elements can actually make your game BETTER.”
We often talk about the importance of quality in all aspects of your game, why having great sound design, narrative and world building is equally as important as gameplay. We’ve discussed how the sound design of Hellblade takes the other elements of the game to a whole new level, and makes you actually empathise with the mentally ill. We’ve also discussed how the entirety of Call of Duty: WW2 is diminished by its poor writing, but we’ve never discussed how completely removing elements can actually make your game BETTER.
So what about a game without gameplay. It seems absurd, nonsensical, but it’s been done and it works. Three Fourths Home is one of the most emotional narrative experiences I had in 2015. It’s also one of the most minimalistic experiences I had that year. The gameplay is almost non-existent. You hold down a single button to drive your car forward along a lonely road, and choose how to respond to dialogue in a text adventure underneath the visuals. There’s some light sound design, and visually it looks more like an animated book than a game, yet it moved me. I won’t spoil the relatively short plot, but over the course of the narrative I truly connected with each character I spoke on the phone with.
It’s important you play this game in the right environment to appreciate what it achieves. The idea of ‘set and setting’ is usually used to refer to psychedelic drug experiences.
“”Set” is the mental state a person brings to the experience, like thoughts, mood and expectations. “Setting” is the physical and social environment.”
So smoking marijuana can lead to extremely different experiences depending on the mental state and social environment you are currently in. If you’ve had a bad day and spend the night alone, you might eat a large amount of food and then go to bed feeling depressed, after getting high. Simultaneously if you’re at a party and having smoke up to have a good time, you might sit with some friends and talk intensely about the economy or Marxism.
The same can be said for video games. Three Fourths Home, with it’s minimal to non-existent gameplay worked for me, because I was alone and hadn’t seen my family in a few days. The incredibly well written dialogue made me feel a connection to the protagonist’s family, which was filling a void for me. I was also able to get past the lack of visuals or major gameplay elements because I was in a dark room, alone, and able to immerse myself in the words of the story.
In another situation maybe these factors would have stopped me enjoying or even completing Three Fourths Home. So games that remove major elements we take for granted, can work, but only in certain situations.
Games can work without a variety of elements, whether they be gameplay, sound or visuals. I played the text adventure game Cyber Queen recently. The game has no sound or visuals, and the only gameplay element is to choose from a very limited set of responses or choices provided in text form. Somehow through the colourful alliteration, symbolism and verbage of the writing, I was filled with the same level of discomfort as I did watching the film, Human Centipede. This emotion was evoked from words alone.
Johann Sebastion has created many games that try to become more social, by doing away with a screen entirely. He has created games where players use controllers, which are effected by sound or movement, by instead of sitting in front of a screen, multiple players in a park will try and knock each other over.
Many of these games are experimental approaches at creating enjoyable video games with limited resources. However some games are minimalistic for the purpose of accommodation. Most gamers don’t have to wrap their mind around the complexities of playing games that people with disabilities do. Yes there are warnings for people who might suffer from seizures in most games, but what about people who suffer from blindness, deafness or limited mobility. Shouldn’t there be ways for them to play games too?
“Swamp is an online, cooperative first-person shooter for those with vision impairment. You can think of it as Left 4 Dead for the blind. The game has more than 1,500 accounts, and on an active night, you will find around 20 to 30 players on its server, running through the dark and exploding zombies’ heads.”
Sometimes video games lack important elements, so they can focus on the ones, those with disabilities rely on.
“I’m lost in literally thousands of softly trilling beeps. Imagine Predator vision, aimed at the ears instead of the eyes. The sounds are various types of radar, and the frequency and pitch of the beeps relate how near or how far I am from a mini-mart, a shelter, or a parked car. In this way, a soundscape of the city swells around me. I’m not very good at reading it, however, and tend to get stuck in corners. As I find my way out of the parking lot, I notice that textures of sound are emerging under my feet. My footsteps convey that I’m walking across cement, then grass, then marsh. I hear another player’s footsteps running past. I follow them, but can’t keep up. Gunfire patters behind me, so I go in that direction. Before I get there, I run into a zombie, who greets me with the typical zombie moan. I turn until the moaning is balanced equally between the left and right cups of my headphones. Then, I shoot into the darkness.”
(Jason Johnson, 2012)
Games that do away with or have minimalistic; gameplay, sound design or visuals can succeed. In fact they can actually cater to audiences who are often overlooked. Those without disabilities can find enjoyment from them too. Three Fourths Home, is considered by many to be an interactive book rather than a video game, however I’d argue that by removing most gameplay elements we’ve come to expect Three Fourths Home crafted better a better story and dialogue than most AAA games