Forgetting About a Major Part of Gaming

 I've been noticing a strange trend in the way we talk about video games recently.  It seems like people are focusing more on a game as it stands on its own, and not on how they interact with the game.  I shouldn't have to remind you that games are an interactive medium.  You can't experience the whole of a game without pressing a button, moving a stick, or waving your arms around.  If you could, then it's just a movie.

This really came to light for me on the October 15th Weekend Confirmed podcast.  Jeff Cannata expressed his outrage at people who skip cutscenes; going as far as to call them "selfish and impatient" (* 1:29:00) for not getting into the story.  I'm not attacking him for the language he used since he sounded very frustrated at the time and probably was being a little melodramatic, but I think this really illustrated how one can get caught up in their own way of playing games.

I'm going to make up my own jargon here.  I'm really only using it to illustrate the difference.

Passive Gaming

Passive gaming is where you let sit back and experience the game.  This is the most prevalent way that reviewers talk about games.  This is about what the game does for you and not about what you're doing to the game.  There's a big focus on story, since passive game is just a few steps removed from movies.  Your interaction with the game helps you feel more connected to the story, but that interaction is secondary to what the game presents you.  An extreme example would be something like Call of Duty's single player.  There is a very specific experience that you can have with the game, and that experience is the main focus.

Active Gaming

Active gaming is where the player is the focus.  You're actively taking a role in the experience. You're not relying on the game to present you with the experience; instead, what you do to interact with the game is the experience.  An example of this the multiplayer mode of nearly any game.  You're controlling your own experience.  This is extremely fulfilling to a lot of people, because when something amazing happens, it's a direct result of their actions, of their ability to pull off that combo or that killstreak.  The game didn't set up that experience on a platter for them, they took it into their own hands.

When people game, they fall somewhere between these two extremes.  They watch cut-scenes (passive) or they build their own levels and have an amazing match inside it (active).  You can't make a value judgment about which of these is "better", that's defined by the player's taste. Someone could prefer the passive enjoyment of watching a game more than playing it, or they could prefer to skip those passive cut-scenes and jump into the active interaction of the game. They're both equally valid ways to play the game and one shouldn't forget about either of them.

*Weekend Confirmed Episode 30, October 15th. http://www.shacknews.com/onearticle.x/66047

19 Comments
20 Comments
Posted by CatsAkimbo

 I've been noticing a strange trend in the way we talk about video games recently.  It seems like people are focusing more on a game as it stands on its own, and not on how they interact with the game.  I shouldn't have to remind you that games are an interactive medium.  You can't experience the whole of a game without pressing a button, moving a stick, or waving your arms around.  If you could, then it's just a movie.

This really came to light for me on the October 15th Weekend Confirmed podcast.  Jeff Cannata expressed his outrage at people who skip cutscenes; going as far as to call them "selfish and impatient" (* 1:29:00) for not getting into the story.  I'm not attacking him for the language he used since he sounded very frustrated at the time and probably was being a little melodramatic, but I think this really illustrated how one can get caught up in their own way of playing games.

I'm going to make up my own jargon here.  I'm really only using it to illustrate the difference.

Passive Gaming

Passive gaming is where you let sit back and experience the game.  This is the most prevalent way that reviewers talk about games.  This is about what the game does for you and not about what you're doing to the game.  There's a big focus on story, since passive game is just a few steps removed from movies.  Your interaction with the game helps you feel more connected to the story, but that interaction is secondary to what the game presents you.  An extreme example would be something like Call of Duty's single player.  There is a very specific experience that you can have with the game, and that experience is the main focus.

Active Gaming

Active gaming is where the player is the focus.  You're actively taking a role in the experience. You're not relying on the game to present you with the experience; instead, what you do to interact with the game is the experience.  An example of this the multiplayer mode of nearly any game.  You're controlling your own experience.  This is extremely fulfilling to a lot of people, because when something amazing happens, it's a direct result of their actions, of their ability to pull off that combo or that killstreak.  The game didn't set up that experience on a platter for them, they took it into their own hands.

When people game, they fall somewhere between these two extremes.  They watch cut-scenes (passive) or they build their own levels and have an amazing match inside it (active).  You can't make a value judgment about which of these is "better", that's defined by the player's taste. Someone could prefer the passive enjoyment of watching a game more than playing it, or they could prefer to skip those passive cut-scenes and jump into the active interaction of the game. They're both equally valid ways to play the game and one shouldn't forget about either of them.

*Weekend Confirmed Episode 30, October 15th. http://www.shacknews.com/onearticle.x/66047

Posted by Hailinel

Cannata has a point.  I find it ridiculous when someone decides to play a game like Metal Gear Solid and then skips through all of the cut scenes at every opportunity, only to then bitch and complain that they have no idea what's going on or what they're supposed to do.

Online
Posted by zombie2011

I normally skip cut-scenes, i don't care about story in games i just wanna play the damn thing.

Posted by ComradeKritstov

It seems a bit hypocritical of Cannata considering before he was complaining about the "you're playing it wrong" argument. If someone wants to skip the cutscenes, that is how they want to play the game.

Posted by Meteora

If someone skips the cutscene and has no idea what the hell is going on, then its their loss. I personally watch cutscenes. Not too many games tend to cutscenes in a style like Call of Duty.

Posted by iam3green

i enjoy watching cut scens in games. i don't know why people don't do it. it's kind of like then why play the game if your skipping them. you kind of want to know what you are doing. i only skip cut scenes when i know what is happening like if i die and have to restart that part.

Edited by WinterSnowblind

The only game where I've ever skipped cut-scenes was Phantasy Star Portable, and only because the story was mind numbingly bad.
One of the great things about Phantasy Star Online was the fact there wasn't much of a story..  it instead focused on the multiplayer, loot farming style gameplay and had the story told through datapads.  Trying to force a story, especially an overly anime, annoying story, into a multiplayer focused game was a huge mistake.
 
The story should exist to add to the gameplay and to make you feel more involved in what's going on.  If it detracts from the gameplay, then they've missed the whole point of making a game and in my opinion is a huge flaw with the Metal Gear Solid games.

Posted by BraveToaster

Not everyone plays the game for the story. There is more than one way to enjoy a game.

Posted by JackSukeru

People skip cutscenes that they haven't watched before? Things like that happen?

Posted by Khann
@WinterSnowblind said:
"  The story should exist to add to the gameplay and to make you feel more involved in what's going on.  If it detracts from the gameplay, then they've missed the whole point of making a game and in my opinion is a huge flaw with the Metal Gear Solid games. "
The story should exist to do whatever it wants. If a huge focus of a game is story, then not having any story in it wouldn't make a whole lot of sense. 
 
Every game is a different game; a different experience if you will. I think that ties somewhat in to the point CatsAkimbo was making.
Posted by mrhankey
@CatsAkimbo: 
 
I think this is a very well written-and informed- way of looking at different styles of gameplay. With that being said though, I do believe some games are made to be PASSIVE experiences where as some games are ACTIVE experiences and you can't expect to transpose those styles, in any way you wish, into games. Games are made with certain goals in mind, with a certain experience...so to conclude, I like your post, however; perhaps you should tweak ever so lightly your technical jargon to be: Passive Game, Active game--that way you define what the game is designed to do as opposed to what the player wants to do...sometimes they do not coincide.
Edited by griefersstolemykeyboard

Every JRPG I play I just auto skip cutscenes, I just do not care about the angsty teenage drama written by less than skilled writers.
 
Also what is up with that guy, "OH MY GOD PEOPLE PLAY GAMES DIFFERENT THAN ME THEY R SO STUPID AND SELFISH!!!onEONEELEVEN!!!.
 
Is he retarded or something?

Edited by CatsAkimbo
@mrhankey said: 

@CatsAkimbo:   I think this is a very well written-and informed- way of looking at different styles of gameplay. With that being said though, I do believe some games are made to be PASSIVE experiences where as some games are ACTIVE experiences and you can't expect to transpose those styles, in any way you wish, into games. Games are made with certain goals in mind, with a certain experience...so to conclude, I like your post, however; perhaps you should tweak ever so lightly your technical jargon to be: Passive Game, Active game--that way you define what the game is designed to do as opposed to what the player wants to do...sometimes they do not coincide. "

Thanks for the feedback! :)  

I do see your point, and I agree that a lot of games cater to different playstyles, but a player can still override that intended playstyle.  An active gamer can skip cut-scenes and go straight for the action in a story-driven game, and a passive gamer can stick to playing the developer designed levels in a game like Little Big Planet without diving into the creation themselves.  Arguably, both players are missing out on some content in each game, but the player doesn't feel cheated.  They chose to skip the cut-scene or to not get competitive in multiplayer.  Who are we to say that they're dumb for playing in that way?
Posted by mrhankey
@CatsAkimbo: 
Well, I in no way want to say someone is stupid for playing a game in a certain way, I think however, some people are very passionate about games and see the players failure to adapt to the style the game wants as a disservice to the game, with that said. I am usually an active oriented player, but find myself adjusting to certain games that clearly want me to pay attention to the story.
Posted by Diamond

I don't think you necessarily need to separate guided or non-interactive experiences like that.  The 'gameplay' will never be non-interactive.  Stories can be presented in cutscenes or in gameplay.  The way people enjoy games isn't usually split quite along those lines.  Some people really want a story, some people want well designed gameplay that does certain things specifically...

Posted by EvilTwin

Jeff is very passionate, sometimes annoyingly so.  But I don't listen to Weekend Confirmed so I'm just commenting on the quote out of context.

Posted by Sin4profit

I just think "cut scenes" , or story related information, should be implemented into the interactivity better...actual cut scenes just strike me as lazy design these days. 
Hell even Metal Gear Solid realized this from 3 and up as it at least gave you weird little interactive things to do while the cut scenes played out.

Posted by SethPhotopoulos
@Hailinel said:
" Cannata has a point.  I find it ridiculous when someone decides to play a game like Metal Gear Solid and then skips through all of the cut scenes at every opportunity, only to then bitch and complain that they have no idea what's going on or what they're supposed to do. "
Yes.
Edited by kelbear
@CatsAkimbo:  
 
I'm with Cannata on this. I'm going to play the game one way or another, I can afford the 30 seconds to watch the cutscene flesh the game out for me. Then I will enjoy the gameplay that takes place afterward, I'm not into charging through things as fast as I can. I like to savor everything the game presents to me, and that includes cutscenes, even when they suck. 
 
Shit, there are people who skip GAMEPLAY. I've seen people doggedly skip huge chunks of Left 4 Dead levels in cooperative mode. Not even in versus. What is the point of skipping battles in cooperative mode? Might as well just turn it off and declare yourself the winner if you're not interested in actually playing. Even starcraft 2 co-op vs. AI, people will just rush the AI knowing that the AI is incapable of defending itself the way a player would. Essentially, they play just to skip playing against the AI (it's not like the AI will suddenly learn how to stop a rush the second time). I don't understand the enjoyment some people get out of not playing a game. I could understand doing it out of curiosity the first time just to push the boundaries of the game's design, but why keep doing it and depriving yourself of the chance to actually play?
Posted by WatanabeKazuma

I Agree completely, fair enough some may not want to watch them but often they are a key part of the experience.
 
On the other hand, not all games warrant the attention they dedicate to their story.  It is all very closely tied to what game it is, some are are very specifically one while some are a mixture of both.

I have seen both sides of this argument when discussing Metal Gear Solid 4, I love it personally but I do think a good case can be made in both cases.
 
Many games do convey key information badly though, gameplay relevant information shouldn't be contained solely within a cutscene, skippable or not.