As critics, much of what we do is a balancing act. In the world of media, there is often an unspoken line that exists between those which aspire to be art, and those which seek to entertain. While there is a significant crossover between these groups, the nebulous definitions of both and the disparities of how we treat them is part of what gives challenge to what we do.
In gaming, this is a problem that is extremely common and difficult to deal with. Video games and casino gaming have long been seen as bastions of entertainment, but their approaches to their media are often very different. So what basis do they work from, and what challenges from these forms of gaming have been causing problems with our traditional perspectives?
A Matter of Purity
When looking at entertainment, casino gaming is perhaps one of the purest forms we have. The titles within these systems stick to definite frameworks that consistently keep the end-game in mind. There is variance, sure, but offering fun and the ability to gamble are always the backbone of the gameplay.
Take, for example, the popular betting game of online 90-ball bingo. This is a faster playing variant of the classic bingo game, which has existed for centuries. Despite having some rules that are slightly different from the 75-ball version, the ultimate goal of enjoyment while creating lines or collecting a full house remains the same. In this case, modern changes have facilitated a different approach, but this approach in no way hampers the game’s primary goal.
This is also the case for most video games, as players will naturally gravitate towards experiences that provide the most entertainment. Video games, however, unlike casino games, are afforded much more flexibility and evolution in how they operate. This flexibility, combined with improving technology, has allowed many more modern titles to challenge preconceived notions and push beyond the framing of enjoyment above all else.
Onwards to Challenge and Misery
The most recent mainstream challenge to this example, and the inspiration for this article, is the recent release of The Last of Us 2. Unquestionably a technical masterpiece, TLOU2 is a game which the director admits was not based around what the player would find fun, but rather what a player would find “engaging,”
Having played through the game ourselves, we already know it’s going to be divisive, as it leans so heavily on pathos and an exploration of human desperation and cruelty. As critics, we found this fascinating as something outside the norm, and while the game might not reach the heights to which it aspires, it does succeed in doing something new. As raw fun, though, the game is in some ways an abject failure.
Drawing the Line
What exactly we want and demand from various forms of gaming is an interesting question and not one that can be answered on anything but a personal level. On one hand, we admire and love the basis of purity and fun gameplay that the likes of online casino games give us. Their constancy is often exactly what we need, providing the gameplay we expect with its clearly defined rules.
On the other hand, video gaming can push the envelope in a different direction, and this direction can be alienating and unpredictable. As video games grow bigger, AAA games like TLOU2 will only become more common, and for some gamers, this could be a trajectory they despise. For others, these changes might mark maturity and an exploration of a medium’s true potential. One thing is for sure: this type of approach has departed from the confines of indie, experimental studios.
In reality, this means that, as consumers, we’re going to have to be more careful about what we engage with in the future. For safe bets, we might find ourselves having to turn to specific forms of media like retro or casino games, whereas in other areas like AAA video games, finding what we want might, ironically, prove more of a gamble.