Are You Not Entertained?
I distinctly remember when I finished the main story in Saints Row the Third and had completed the majority of the content available. I’d bought the game as part of a bundle for a mere £3.99 and had spent over sixty hours in-game, so overall, I considered this money well spent. But what made the experience particularly memorable, as I logged out of the game knowing that I was effectively done with it, there was an overwhelming sense of satisfaction. Not only was there the sheer value for money that I have mentioned, but I felt that I had been entertained (hence the Russell Crowe reference in the title of this post). This happened again recently when I completed the final DLC for Sniper Elite 4 and also when I finished the main story in Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands. Although there was a sense of achievement, I predominantly felt pleased by the fact that I had fun. The latest expansion for Star Trek Online, Victory is Life made me feel this way too.
Subsequently, these ruminations have got me thinking about such issues as satisfaction, entertainment and public declarations that a game has been an overall positive experience. The latter is especially of interest to me because it is something I seldom see in my news feeds, twitter time line, or featured in the blogs I read. It could be a case of I'm looking in the wrong places, but I can't help but think that the notion of “entertainment” as a selling point is in some way overlooked. Too often criteria such as game mechanics or visual aesthetics are focused upon and deemed to be a game’s selling point. Is there an underlying message to the narrative or does the title in question have a killer new feature? Entertainment seems to be erroneously associated with perfection. Or dependent on mastering the skills to succeed when playing a game. Sometimes, trying to pin down exactly why a game in entertaining is difficult. But if it’s lacking in a title, it won’t be long before I put it aside and look elsewhere.
There are many things in life that when scrutinised, measured and analysed are judged not to be of the highest standard. However, that does not mean that they cannot be entertaining. A pop song may well be uninspired musically but can still infectious. A meal at a fast food chain may not be the most nutritious but it can be extremely satisfying. Movies often recycle the same old ideas and themes, but a new spin can lead to an entertaining diversion. Have lost sight of this with regard to games? I'm not averse to criticism so if a game is lacking in some capacity, then by all mean draw attention to it. But surely, if a flawed product has proven entertaining, then surely that needs to be reported and reflected upon. I think this issue is somewhat akin to the post I wrote recently about the use of the word “adequate”. I get the impression that is some quarters terms such “fun” and “entertaining” are considered superficial.
Gaming is very much about hype, marketing and "the next big thing" these days. Sometimes the public is let down by the developers failing to deliver on their promises and on other occasions the players themselves have unrealistic expectations. Yet despite both perceived and actual problems, titles still sell, and players spend substantial amounts of their money and time. Surely, they must derive some pleasure from these games and gain a modicum of enjoyment from their overall experience? Or do people play through titles, enduring an uninspired games inadequacies and inherent mediocrity with stoic fortitude? I certainly think the price that you’ve paid has some bearing on the matter. I recently bought No Man’s Sky at a considerable discount. I’ve subsequently discovered that it’s not really for me, but I’ve still had some fun messing around within its procedurally generated worlds. I suspect though that I would have enjoyed it less if I had paid the full price at launch.
I do see some of my fellow bloggers writing about games they’ve enjoyed and clearly exploring why they had fun and found it entertaining. But I do not see such sentiment as often within professional games journalism. It seems to be an aspect of gaming that is overlooked. Reviews will breakdown many facets of a game but neglect to state clearly whether it is fun or not. I'm not advocating mandatory evangelising about games, but I don't think we should be reticent about publicly declaring if a game has entertained us. Even if a game has flaws, that doesn't mitigate the fun we had while playing it. Perhaps that is why it is something that is dwelt on less. The subjective and nebulous nature of fun and entertainment are hard to quantify. And we do so live in an age that likes to render everything in to statistics and neatly label it. However, I think we need to eschew the binary and the penchant for taxonomy. A bit of honesty about whether we did enjoy a game may even help future development. After all, as Mr. Crowe said, "Is this not why you're here"?