I woke up this morning to a new video from Chris Franklin, the dude who makes the Errant Signal series. It’s about the divide between how we talk about story and how we talk about mechanics in games criticism, and about how we’re all sort of terrible at looking at games as cohesive works, without separating them out into “story good, systems bad” or whatever. You should watch the video:
As much as I like this video, I wish it went further, because I think there’s another topic very close at hand here that Chris doesn’t address. There’s a whole can of worms that’s closely related to this divide between systems and narrative, and it’s had a huge effect on how people talk about games, especially in the last few months with all the bullshit that’s been going on.
I’m referring to the fact that not only are narrative and mechanics kept largely apart from each other when discussing games, but among “core” gamers, mechanics are prioritized to a degree that makes people look completely insane sometimes. Think of all the games you see derided by “core” gamers as “non-games” or “walking simulators” or whatever; Gone Home, Proteus, that sort of thing. They’re all games that are very systems-light, and rely on either narrative or aesthetics to make their impact.
There’s a huge chunk of the gaming public who see games that are more narrative-focused as objectively worse than those that are systems-focused, to the point of considering systems-light games to be not even real games. These folks are particularly prevalent among those who play a lot of games and consider it an important part of their identity.
To me, it sort of feels like another concerning manifestation of social conservatism. Mainstream games have always been heavily reliant on mechanics and difficulty of execution, so that’s how games have to be forever. Harumph.
It’s no surprise that we see this “Gone Home isn’t a real game” bullshit from a very similar cross-section of people as we’re seeing the “Stop talking about political or social issues in muh vidya game reviews pls” comments coming from. It’s all an attempt to protect the status quo from people who have traditionally been excluded from the “core” gaming space. It’s the worst sort of regressive, exclusionary nonsense.
It sucks, please stop it. The correct response to the existence of media you don’t enjoy is the same as it always has been: don’t fucking play/watch/read it.