The perception of video games has advanced quite far in the past few years. Last year, when Roger Ebert wrote about how “Video games can never be art”, gamers quickly took to their blogs and social update sites to advocate that their beloved medium could hold the acollade of being defined as "art". Last November, the case of Schwarzenegger v. EMA, took place in the Supreme Court, the highest court in the United States. People are beginning to view the young video game medium with more respect than anyone would have thought capable 10-15 years ago. This change of perspective raises the question if games have earned this respect?A few days ago, there was a great editorial on PC Gamer describing the safety precautions and "child-proofing" found in modern mainstream games. The article delved into how games were seemingly catered to the lowest common denominator as a result of immature gamer behavior. It also introduced the theory that gamers and developers are "locked in a destructive cycle of dickification"; where one party acts like a dick by restricting controls and the other party fights back by just acting like a bigger dick. Although a bit crass, it’s arguably correct in defining the relationship of this dichotomy and it’s negative effects. The myriad caveats and boundaries placed in today's games may strengthen the narrative structure and progression pacing, but it also displays a lack of trust in the player.
For a medium that has issues being associated with toys, it's surprising how patronizing some of the games in the medium are made to be. Notifications in modern games display the simplest of information that even monkeys could keep track of. Rewards are being handed out for smaller and more menial tasks; Jesse Schell's vision of the future is taking place within the games of today. The player is given a decreasing amount of responsibility, and although gamers have become used to this type of babying, it's still insulting.
Games that trust and respect their players are not impossible to find, they are just very rare. One game that wouldn't be expected to display trust in their player is 2008’s Prince of Persia. This game was heavily criticized pre-release, when it was revealed that the main character could not “die” in the game. Some gamers were livid at this unique approach to player death because it would be removing a large amount of challenge from the game (disputably not the case). It was ironic to find an element of Prince of Persia that showed the player a degree of trust; one as simple as the removal of a button prompt.
In the game, the Prince and Elika must free the land of corruption through the use of Elika’s magic. As the player, you simply have to get her to a fertile land tile and tap the Elika button to trigger a pretty cutscene of the land being brought to back to life. The first time you encounter a fertile land tile, the game displays a button prompt, telling you what to do. Later in the game, when you encounter other fertile tiles, this button prompt is no longer there.
The subtle disappearance of the button prompt conveys a transfer of responsibility. It's also an acknowledgement that the player has learned the action that is required for that context sensitive situation, marking his/her progress. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Call of Duty: Black Ops, a game that will prompt you to press "X" to reload every time you are nearing the end of your clip.
Games need to start matching the respect we give them, as well as the maturity we expect from them. If games want to be appreciated by the general public like other mediums of entertainment, they must undergo the same scrutiny. Movies are criticized for being too blatant in their storytelling, it's only fair that games are criticized for being condescending in their own language of expression.