zerocrossing (User)

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"Video game journalist and gamer enthusiast."

What defines a video game and does Beyond: Two Souls challenge our preconceptions?

zerocrossing | 285d ago
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What is a "video game"? When you hear the term what do you personally expect? And to what extent of your own pre-conceived notion of what a video game is would you allow to be challenged?

These questions and more are the main topic for this blog.

Being able to simply define something like say a book or a movie makes explaining what they are easier, but it can often lead to conservative thinking. A book for a long time was basically defined solely as "a written or printed work consisting of pages glued or sewn together along one side and bound in covers" but with the advent of E-Readers and other similar electrical devices the definition has expanded.

A "video game" is basically defined as "a game played by electronically manipulating images produced by a computer program on a monitor or other display" So basically a video game is anything played through an electrical device that requires player interaction in order to manipulate what is being displayed on screen. That sound about right? So can you think of any game that really challenges this definition? There have been a great many games that altered how we interact or manipulate what is being displayed on screen, but the vast majority of them still require player input in order to do so, and for good reason, any video game that doesn't require player input to manipulate what's being displayed isn't really a video game at all, that's what we define as a "movie" or "TV show" etc. It's simply impossible for something non-interactive to be considered a "video game" because one of the main defining aspects of a video game is player interactivity.

It is funny though, how the more advanced video games have become, the more non-interactive cutscenes have been used as a means to advance the plot/story between play, a lot of criticism has been brought down upon games such as Metal Gear Solid for it's heavy use of non-interactive story telling, although arguably these cutsceenes were often necessary to help better explain the sheer amount of plot and story contained in the MGS universe, but at the very least the actual gameplay holds up well, offering some of the best stealth based gameplay found in the genre.

This brings me us another debate that's often brought up between gamers. "What is most important, gameplay or story?" Of course it would be best if both were done well but for a game what is (the) most important of the two? For me it has to be gameplay, now this doesn't mean a game has to be gameplay heavy, but it does mean that the way the player interacts with a game is very important, especially for a game that is lacking in gameplay mechanics.

This leads us to a rather controversial topic, Beyond: Two Souls. Consider what you will of this, but what follows is me giving my personal opinion and being absolutely honest regarding my feelings on the game.

Beyond: Two Souls is not the masterpiece some have come to claim, it is an interesting idea unfortunately executed very poorly. At best Beyond: Two Souls is a mediocre but entertaining enough romp with impressive visuals and boasting a talented cast, at worst it's an incredibly stupid, cliche filled interactive movie in the guise of a video game. The over reliance on bland, emotionless voice acting, tired, tried and true movie tropes and emotion driven story telling, fails miserably to make up for a severe lack of gameplay mechanics and player interactivity, leaving the player often feeling disconnected from the events that transpire, this feeling is made amplified by the repetitive use of QTE's (quick time events), and minigames that apparently if worth performing once, are worth performing the same task three or four more times in order to advance the story. The disjointed way the plot and story play out is another interesting idea, but very rarely do the "choices" you make effect much of the actual plot during play. Beyond: Two Souls is a video game but it attempts to be a movie first, the main issue I take with this is that it's not even a very good movie.

Now I know the point of Beyond: Two Souls was to focus more on the emotional connection players have with the characters, rather than gameplay which can often interfere with the story, but if the player simply doesn't care about the characters or their situation then the whole point of the game is lost to them. In the case of Beyond I honestly feel that this can hardly be the fault of the player, as it is up to the developers to create characters and situations that can be empathised with.

Games like Telltale's: The Walking Dead, Shenmue, To the moon and Broken Sword are all, emotional, story driven games, obviously with some having more gameplay mechanics than others, but I honestly believe each one of them to offer a better story, gameplay mechanics and experience than Beyond: Two Souls offers.

Nobody likes being told their milkshake is made out of potatoes, but well, you get what I'm saying.

If you liked Beyond: Two Souls then good for you, my dislike of it should in no way effect you still liking it, in fact I'd be very happy to see more developers attempt what David Cage is doing, one reason is because I feel that it would be a worth while endeavour but mostly because I think if done well games like Beyond: Two Souls could be fantastic experiences.

Gaming being as young as it is and being as open to interpretation as any other art form, is going to lead to a great many other attempts to either reinvent, redefine or simply just challenge pre-conceptions as to what a video game is. And personally I can't wait to see what comes next, I might not like it but at least it's something new, now that doesn't mean we should all go out and support something that attempts to different purely because it is different, but we certainly could do with more originality in the mainstream at least and that's what Beyond: Two Souls is, something new, something a different.

The same can be said for motion sensor gaming, now not everyone likes motion sensor controllers but they certainly have their place. Metroid Prime: Corruption is a great example of how the Wiimote and nunchuk actually helped improve the gameplay experience. Anyway without innovations in how we play we never would have got the analogue stick or trigger buttons, two additions that are indispensable in order to play many video games today (par the mouse and keyboard of course) and often innovations to how we play leads to innovations in the games we play.

But regardless of what innovations come about that may change how we play, we as the player are always required. Because much like I stated above, video games are primarily an interactive medium for entertainment, as soon as you remove the need for player interaction the videogame stops being a game and becomes something more akin to a movie.

So, what is a video game? And to what extent of how we define what a video game is, should be allowed to be challenged or changed before it becomes something else entirely?

Thanks for reading my blog, if you'd like to add anything or disagree with any of my points, please feel free to leave a comment.

Roccetarius  +   284d ago
I was honestly expecting another full on defense for B2S, but i was surprised. I think that when you start restricting player interactivity, like that and other ''games'' do, it's off the radar for me. The story can be amazing, but i won't care if i can't have a deep sense of interactivity myself. Give me a healthy balance of both, instead of leaning towards a movie more.

Some companies have moved towards the movie-like experience with franchises, which i don't necessarily agree with as a good thing. And then you're met with games full of feel-good slot machines, instead of being challenging.

I honestly laughed, when it came out that watching movies / shows would award achievements.
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zerocrossing  +   284d ago
Honestly, I dislike the passive, movie like approach to video games.

It just seems lazy to me, as if it's implemented in order to force the player down linear or pre-determined paths while maintaining the focus on the story, or immediate events. Well that's all well and good if the story is good and what little gameplay mechanics you have are fun.

Player interactivity should be a key element for a video game otherwise why not just make a movie? Telltale's: The Walking Dead, Shenmue, To the moon and Broken Sword all prove you can have an interesting story driven game and actually make the player feel involved.
DigitalRaptor  +   284d ago
I'm going to parallel different industries here to demonstrate how immature it is to judge something by industry expectations.

You see comics and magazines sold in an industry that is predominantly novels and educational material. No-one cares, because that is the mature outlook to have.

You see audiobooks sold in an industry that is predominantly music-based. No-one cares, because that is the mature outlook to have.

You see more interactive-storytelling based experiences sold in an industry that is pre-dominantly about the "active gameplay experience". Gamers are up in arms about it, acting like these games are contributing to the death of gaming. You can really tell who the immature ones are, when a game has to be "fun" in the traditional sense to ever be worth a damn.

And this is all despite the fact that Beyond: Two Souls by its literal definition of the phrase, a video game. Its gameplay is a huge part of the game (despite people claiming it has a lack of it), since it requires input to proceed from scenario-to-scenario and you are in control the vast majority of the time.
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Edit: I get your points. And yes audiobooks are audio representations of books - perhaps there's some kind of overlap, but in my experience, they are still sold as the same format as music CDs are within that industry. Just as Beyond is a different kind of experience, but the same format, sold within the gaming industry.

I respect your opinion about Beyond, and agree with some of your points. I've never claimed it as a masterpiece like some do, but I still think it has the hallmarks of a good emotionally-driven experience - but of course, like you mentioned that is something quite opinion-based.

In my experience when discussing with people on this site about what is considered "fun" and what is "not fun", it always seems to boil down to the differences between an active and a passive experience. However, Beyond is still an active game throughout.
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zerocrossing  +   284d ago
I get what you're saying but, audio books are still books, you're listening just as if someone was reading a "book" to you, and just like a traditional book you still need to imagine what's going on since there are no moving images like we have with movies or video games.

As I stated already, Beyond: Two Souls is a video game but it attempts to be a movie first by being primarily passive, that's not too much of an issue if the plot, story and characters were good enough to carry the experience alone, but they're not.

Besides being fun is subjective, there's no real traditional sense of "fun" when it comes to video games because there are many genres and just as many ways to have fun playing them, but in my personal opinion Beyond: Two Souls isn't fun in any sense of the word.
Bimkoblerutso  +   284d ago
I DO agree with you. There's absolutely no reason to shoehorn entertainment into narrow categorizations.

But if you're going to subvert one aspect of a game (like interactivity) then the other aspects have to be done so well as to make up for it. Despite what the hardcore fans would have you believe, I think most of the game's detractors have more of a problem with the fact that the writing and story just aren't that great. And when the writing and story aren't that great in a game that has forsaken a great deal of the medium's more interactive properties, then all you are left with is...writing and a story that is just not that great.

Because you also have to consider the fact that there are games out there that handle interactivity AND story/writing exceedingly well...so why do we need to make excuses for a game to scrap interactivity just so it can tell us a lackluster story?
Blacklash93  +   284d ago
Beyond's biggest issue with its story and writing is that it's hard to feel like it's building up to anything.

I may as well be watching "The Miscellaneous Life and Times of Jodie: More Action and Drama Scenes". Sometimes it'll be about the ghost, being homeless, getting chased by cops, a love interest, or being assaulted by random guys. It's hard to tell what you should be caring about when its jumping all over the place, touching on a lot of subjects, and not really going in-depth with anything. The narrative structure and priorities feels shallow and unfocused on all levels.

I thought the dialogue, premise, and action and all that stuff were competent enough for the most part. But they're too disjointed to be anything more than what they are skin-deep. And a lot of story felt like it was just there because it could be, which again makes for an ineffective storyline.
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zerocrossing  +   284d ago
Well said, that's exactly how I feel.

There are other games like Beyond: Two Souls that are less interactive than your typical game, and focus instead on the story and characters, like Telltale's: The Walking Dead and their new game The Wolf Among us game. The difference is though that those games have good stories, are well written and are fun to play, where as Beyond: Two Souls has a lackluster story, is poorly written, uninteresting and is often very boring.
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Blacklash93  +   284d ago
The thing with B2S is that we actually do have things to compare it to, like TellTale's Walking Dead and recent Wolf Among Us for example. When you get down to it they very similar at the basics.

Compared to them, B2S feels limited in the interactivity and options it provides. The most in the way of options is how the game lets screw around with Aiden while you wait for the next scripted scene to interrupt Jodie, but that's nothing meaningful. If the player doesn't feel like the interactivity means anything besides just making a scene pass by a bit more smoothly or be a little more interesting, then it loses all weight to them and probably their interest soon after. By itself, it's not dynamic and/or consequential enough to be compelling. It technically is still a videogame, but the kind that really doesn't want to be one in the first place.

That's my experience, anyway.
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Pandamobile  +   284d ago
Yeah, I find that Beyond is basically just a AAA take on games like Telltale's. For all of it's pretty visuals and high production values, it manages to be shallower and an overall less engrossing experience than Telltale's offerings.
SeraphimBlade  +   284d ago
We seem to be on the same wavelength with Beyond. Love the idea, but holy crap it needs to be backed up with better writing. Heavy Rain and Fahrenheit got enough right that I honestly enjoy and recommend them, though I acknowledge their flaws, but Beyond is even less interactive than those and with a much less interesting plot.

It's not that interesting stuff didn't happen. The "Homeless" and "Mission" chapters are two of the most memorable gaming moments this year. It just doesn't come together in an interesting way or have any kind of suspense. Say what you will about their previous efforts, QD is usually GREAT at keeping you on the edge of your seat. Not here though.

Heavy Rain at least had the crutch of "there really isn't any other game like it" when I wanted to criticize it. A week after Beyond, I played The Wolf Among Us, which blew it out of the water in every respect without incredible graphics or Hollywood star power. Hell, even the QTEs were better.
metalgod88  +   283d ago
I agree with everything you had to say. It looked amazing, but for me, it just didn't give me enough to do. And although the game gave me quite a few actions in each scenario for the most part, it felt like what I did actually didn't matter.

A year ago, I remember one of the lead designers talking about the game. He simply said, "This is a game you should play once. Live with the consequences of your decisions and move on." Now, I completely agree with this statement. But then I ask myself, " Why would I play again if the outcome never changes?" When I played , I was under the impression that my actions would make an impact in the end game, but saw someone else play and things turned out the same. I was expecting there to be some kind of diverse ending like in Heavy Rain, but I suppose I was expecting too much. Even so, I was somewhat disappointed on that front.

I haven't played The Wolf Among Us, but it looks very interesting. That'll probably be the next game I dive into.
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