The boredom of linear story based games
Submitted by Duion on
It really wonders me how I never witnessed anyone mentioning this issue and it is how boring story based linear games are. I'm pretty sure many at least subconsciously have experienced the boredom they bring and now I will tell you why they are probably even objectively boring.
If you are a game designer or ever seriously thought about how most games are designed you may have already figured out that they follow a fixed script. Or if you are not into games, think about how movies are made, they also first write a script and then they make the movie around it, the script almost always stays the same, they just make the movie around it, sometimes they even use the same script to make multiple seemingly different movies,yes and it is the same with video games, which are basically also just movies, if they follow a script, with the difference that they are more or less interactive or at least seem to be interactive. A video game often lets you walk around "freely", do things "your" way or do certain things your "own", but if you analyse the script you will realize, that you are only allowed to freely do what you want, if you don't violate the script, which you are unable to change.
Even if you never thought about anything like this or cannot figure this out, let me tell you that even when I was very young and played my first video games I noticed that issue, at least subconsciously and it manifested in boredom, so much, that the amount of story games I could play though was very limited, up to, that some games I never bothered to play through. So why was I so much into video games anyway? Well there was another kind of game and it was multiplayer games, especially those with level editors and modding capabilities, that is where video games really began to become interesting to me. I'm aware that big companies often categorize their customer into different personality profiles, one that is very famous is "the whale" which is like 1% of the customer group that makes up 90% of the profits in pay2win games, because they are prone to those gambling like mechanisms, I made the numbers up, but it is roughly somewhere in that area, meaning a small group of customers creates most of the profits and of course there are many other groups of gamers.
So into what group would I probably fit? I would probably fit into the competitive gamer demographic, which plays games mostly because of the competitive factor aka multiplayer games, therefore singleplayer games offer little to no value to such a competitive gamer, because there is no real competition other than the AI, which you will eventually beat, if you just memorize how everything works. The other category I would fit in, is the content creator or whatever it may be called, no idea if companies ever bothered to create such a group, since that group is probably very small, especially nowadays, where proprietary software games mostly make it impossible to create custom content by design, which means that target group cannot be relevant and projects that appeal to such people basically all fail no matter if made by an AAA studio or indie developer like me.
However I think there are no such groups in reality, sure you can categorize people into that, but to me it looks they just separate intelligent people from stupid people, from very stupid people and a certain subcategory of very stupid people becomes very attractive to big companies, since they can easily manipulated to spend lots of money.
I would rank the demographic group of gamer probably like this, from top to bottom aka from probably most intelligent to most stupid.
1. The creator, he like to create his own stuff and mostly plays or uses games to create his own things and that group today can directly revert to game engines which have become free, but in the past, this group had to chose a game to use it to create levels, mods or whatever for.
2. The competitive pro gamer, he gets games because he wants to get good at them and dominate other players or even become an official pro gamer, those people only buy a certain small number of games which are known to be competitive with a big audience, so that group is hard to milk for money, unless they can be manipulated to buy things like skins for their favorite game.
3. The regular competitive gamer, he differs from the competitive pro gamer, that he is not that serious about competition, but needs competition in order to be motived, he will buy similar games than the pro gamer, but will buy more different games, but mostly multiplayer games, so a bit more profit can be made from him.
4. The casual gamer, he is kind of the middle, he will consume almost anything, but will neither get seriously into competitive pro gaming nor into spending much on pay2win features.
5. The casual extreme gamer, this is where it gets interesting, the casual loser gamer will focus on playing through many games, mostly single player games, since he does not like real competition, but likes the feeling of the illusion of being the hero, so he will buy lots of games, but not focus on microtransactions or pay2win.
6. The casual loser gamer, he is similar to the casual extreme gamer with the difference that he is bad at the games and needs to spend money in microtransactions, pay2win features and similar, that group is where the real money can be made from.
7. The professional loser gamer, he is similar to the casual loser gamer, with the difference that he does not even bother to get good at the game, or paying legitimately to get pay2win features, he will just seek ways to cheat, which makes him less attractive to the game companies, but attractive to those who sell cheats.
That was just a rough categorization that I made up on the fly, where I try to show that there are not really different personality types, but rather just intelligent, normal and stupid people. The more stupid someone is, the more money he may spend, the more corrupt he may get and the more destructive and less constructive he may become.
What does this have to do with how boring story based games are? Well it is very simple, since the more you make a product that appeals to the lower of customers, the more boring it becomes to higher quality customers and maybe also the reverse does apply. You have to think about what the people try to get from an entertainment product and one main feature is to get some form of selfing aka ego boost from it, most people in real life are losers, they are unfree to do what they want, are unhappy and so on, so they play video games or watch movies to escape from reality into an illusion where they are the hero. The problem here is, that while a stupid person may be satisfied by a game fooling him to believe that he is a hero for beating it on easy mode, a more intelligent person will feel insulted, because he realizes, that on easy mode beating the game is not a real achievement at all, it is something almost any idiot can do, so the more intelligent people need more of a real challenge to convince them of their ego boost.
So the creator needs to actually create something for real to get satisfaction and a competitive gamer needs to win against real competition to know he is good for real to get his satisfaction and the casual gamer is satisfied with the illusion and the cheater does not care he simply gets satisfaction from making others feel worse.
And now from a game developers perspective he needs to appeal to all of the audience to make the most profits, therefore he has to create story based games that are predictable and appeal to all or most customer groups. Many games do that by having single player mode and multiplayer mode or at least some kind of high score, so you can compare your achievements. You have to imagine a gaussian bell curve over my list with the biggest spike in the middle, which is the group the game has to appeal to the most, leaving out the others, therefore creating a boring product for them.
I don't know how some people manage to buy one game, play through it, buy another play through it and so on, it seems like hell to me. Well as a child I imagined it was kind of a dream job to be a game tester, back in the days where there were actual physical PC gaming magazines you could buy, with real reviews and real playtesters, but now I realize such a job can quickly become hell, as I can see in the undertone of some professional lets play streamers on the internet, you notice that they get burned out over time, but hey such a job is like still better than a factory job.
Ironically many game companies seemingly did not realize that the most played games are not their story driven games, but the multiplayer or competitive games, yet they still keep focusing all their effort in making their story based games which are like interactive movies, while most people actually spend most of their time playing some outdated garbage game that is of inferior quality, just because it has a competitive factor, is popular and has a big community.
Before I forget my original topic, initially I wanted to describe how story based games are build. So a story based game you have to imagine like a line from A to B, just that this line is very long and takes a lot of curves and takes a lot of breaks, so the whole game consists of you walking from A to B, while the game consists of giving you obstacles to prevent you from going from A to be, but not seriously prevent you, just to annoy you on the way. Then around this line at least in the past when computer processing power was limited, there was build a tube, that was painted like it was an actual world with buildings, concrete, houses, cities, trees, nature, desert, whatever, but you could never actually leave this tube, because the world was fake and did not exist, it was all just a facade. Occasionally the line would branch off, so you could take multiple slightly routes to the same goal, but this was rather rare. Nowadays there are more open world games, where they actually bother to create the background world for real and you can even walk in there for real, but they mostly kept the old design philosophy of the tube, so even though you can go anywhere and do anything, you will quickly realize that if you go where you are not supposed to go, you cannot really do anything.
Yes and that is it, it is just a path from A to B in a tube, like an interactive movie with chapters. The only difference to a movie is, that you can determine the speed it plays and you have to overcome those annoying obstacles that prevent the story from going further. I admit occasionally playing such an interactive movie is a nice experience, the problem is just, that I cannot be too hard or too easy, otherwise it destroys the experience, so for the game developers there is a fine gradient to decide how hard they will make the game and most just decide to make it easy, so more intelligent people like me are almost always bored by it, yes there are different difficulty settings, but they often do not make the game more difficult for real, they are often only multiplayer, increasing the damage of the enemies, so you die more quickly and get more frustrated, but the actual game does not change much or does not change at all. Some old games managed to get a good compromise of story and freedom to play how you wanted, for example the old thief games, where you were given a job like steal item x and we got a map, but it was incomplete and then you were left on your own how to solve the mission, but still the game told an interesting story.
Nowadays you hardly ever get games like this anymore, some of the old good franchises are continued, but they are often degraded into just being able to chose between path A and B, or like using violence and killing the opponents or "stunning" them in a friendly way, not killing them, but mechanically the stunned enemies just lay down if they were dead, so in reality the difference is just in your head and in the statistics.
You have to think about the definition of a game, a game is defined by having a goal and by having rules, so you define a goal, define the rules and then it is up to you how you solve it. The process of reaching the goal is the actual fun, if you figure out a way to succeed. A linear story based game seems to do that, but only on the surface, since deep down the game of course has a goal and also has rules, the problem however is, that the path you have to take to achieve this goal is already laid out for you, but hidden from you. Modern games often even tell you while you are playing what to do and when and where, to make sure you do what you were predetermined to do anyway.
If you look up the definition of a game on Wikipedia you will read that a game consists of a goal, rules, challenges and interaction. The problem with modern linear story based games is, that they limit the challenges and interactions. Sure there are always some forms of challenge and interaction, but would you really call it a challenge or interaction, if the game tells you in a certain place, that you now have to press X to do Y which makes you win the game? I mean do you have a choice what to do? No not really, yes you can of course just chose to to press the button, but then the game will get stuck. There is only a niche group of extreme gamers and speedrunners that make it as their challenge to beat the game in a way that was not intended, which basically turns the game into more of a game again, those people kind of hacked the non games to make them into games again.
Competitive games at least bring back the challenge in the game and even focus on that, but then leave out much of the interaction, by removing as many alternative ways as possible to win the game. And again also in this case some hardcore gamers figured out how to beat even those limitations as they found bugs and glitches in the competitive multiplayer games, which turned those multiplayer games into more of a game again and often those bugs and glitches became main mechanics of the game, or sometimes even other games were build around those mechanics. One famous example is the rocket jump, the game developers laid out a path the players were supposed to take, but some intelligent gamers figured out, they could just shoot themselves and use the blast to circumvent the path they were given and so gain an advantage and so potentially winning the game.
Now it seems to me, that game developers are constantly working on making games boring and some gamers are trying to invent ways to have fun anyways. It would be much easier, if games were designed to have fun to begin with. This phenomenon can also be observed in reality, where reality is intentionally designed so that you walk the path you were given, for example the city is designed that you walk there and consume, not that you go for example skating and have fun, if people are observed doing something they are not supposed to, it will be made illegal and they are prevented from having fun, the similar problem you can face in the virtual world, even though it would not need to be there, since in the virtual world you cannot physically harm anyone.
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