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Redefining Interactivity pt 6d – Why Can’t We Be Friends – Combat Games pt 1 Action Games

November 16, 2011

(Core Objective: Survival)

This is where I start to really get opinionated, but I’ll do my best to be objective and keep to the basic message of this chapter. It shouldn’t be too hard to understand that lots of people love combat games of one stripe or another, but there are quite a few people who avoid them like the plague. Below, I’ll attempt to explain not only why people say they won’t play combat games, but some of the probable reasons they’re not telling.
The first sub-genre we’ll look at is…


tl;dr Version: You’d tell me to back off, but you’re too tired and nauseous, and your hands are too sore to type a sharpish reply. So, nyah!

‘Splain, Lucy Version: Action games are kind of funny in that they generally tell a pretty good story, but the story is almost entirely focussed on fighting your way through insurmountable odds to reach the final objective, with very little time spent actually figuring out what the best course of action might be; The answer is always a fist, a gun, or an explosion. Works for Hollywood action movies, so why shouldn’t it be enormously popular in video game form, where you get to enjoy the thrill of actually making the action happen? Well, the simple answer is that most of us just aren’t equipped to easily pull off those spectacular hip shots and take out the bad guys in a timely fashion, even if we really want to. And it helps to remember that not everybody enjoys Hollywood action movies either, though quite a few more of us enjoy watching Bond shoot the bad guy than we might like to admit.

Boring Version: These games are generally described as 3D combat/obstacle course simulators (See? I TOLD you this was the boring part!). Some of the best examples of the genre are of course the Tomb Raider series in all of its ever-so-slightly-saucy incarnations, the late-period Indiana Jones games, pretty much any James Bond game, and the modern ninja templar series, Assassin’s Creed. Early arcade action games sort of built the template for what happens in these kinds of games, but the advent of 3D graphics and freedom of movement caused the genre to grow into perhaps the most cinematic and enthralling genre of the bunch. These days, most big ticket games of any genre that aren’t viewed from five miles in the air have complex action game elements. Even the staid old Adventure Game genre developed a hybrid, Action/Adventure, which we’ll discuss in a bit.

Now, just off the hop, I want to say that I actually like these games. I even own a few of them. I think they have great stories and very good replay value, and they’re not nearly as mindless, particularly to the neophyte action gamer, as we are often lead to believe. That said, they do present problems, not least of which is that they present actual physical problems for people who aren’t used to the amount of motion and camera movement on the screen, and frankly, they can be utterly exhausting if you aren’t sufficiently adrenalised while playing them. If you’re the sort who likes to hang back and plan your moves carefully, you’ve probably found that action games penalise you for this rather heavily. And yet, the paradox is, this genre is really where a great deal of the big development money and innovation are happening¹, with more traditional storytelling genres like Adventure Games taking a seat at the back of the bus².

So we have a bit of a problem with these games, simply because they tell stories many of us would like to experience, but were met with failure if we aren’t sufficiently dextrous. Even you kids with your fancy reflexes and energy drinks can’t keep it up forever, I’ll bet, so in the end, the more immersive the game is, the more likely you’re going to come out of it with hand cramping and sore eyes from pushing yourself too hard. And therein lies a subtle discouragement for anyone who isn’t essentially a hardcore gamer with the reflexes and skill to whip through an entire action game in one sitting. Most of us will never know what that sensation feels like, but we can’t help feeling that the experience was tailored ever so slightly in favour of those few who could. To the victor goes the spoils.

Modern gaming is changing a fair bit of this, but there’s still enough money in Action gaming that they can avoid parcelling out their entire game in DLC packages (unless they want to), and players can still do a marathon to get the real cathartic rush that comes from playing it all out in as close to real time as standalone video games get.

The next section will be about Action-Adventure Games and the problems some people have with them. I’m going to post these segments separately, so it shouldn’t take me as long to get them posted.


¹ if you don’t count those modern vRPGs stealing all of their close combat thunder.
² In the days prior to the civil rights movement, riding in the back of the bus wasn’t where the cool kids wanted to be seen. It most probably became cool because it was considered rebellious to sit in the back, where—in the South, at least—only Black people were supposed to sit. I don’t know if any non-Blacks actually did such a thing during the days of Segregation, but even in the North, where institutionalised segregation didn’t exist, deliberately choosing to sit in the back of the bus has generally been considered an act of slightly anti-social behaviour, most likely because of the relative difficulty of being monitored by the driver and fellow passengers if you chose to do things you probably weren’t supposed to. But I’d wager the connotation came first from the South, just because human history tends to work that way.

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