Let’s get this out of the way quick: as I write this, I’m coming off of a six plus hour gaming session of Ribbit King. It makes me wonder why I enjoy games with very little active player involvement ─ games where the player makes decisions for other characters, rather than being an active participant in the digital experience. Tower defenses, “cinematic” games and JPRGs often fall into this category, for example. Some of these games nearly play themselves! It’s a fire-and-forget approach to gameplay, in which the player tells characters what to do and then watches as the game plays out. These games seem to be in direct opposition to the criteria for a good game. From a functional perspective, a good game is one that best exemplifies the interactive nature of the medium, but that seems to only account for a portion of the games in existence. Either a lot of games don’t meet that criteria, or there’s a better definition of what makes a video game a game. Peggle, Ribbit King, Bloons TD… These games make me wonder just how far the definition of “interactive” can be stretched.
I played Ribbit King for six hours straight because it didn’t ask much of me. It was fun, but more importantly, it was relaxing. I sat on my bed in my air conditioned room and watched as the game’s colorful characters acted out my demands. These types of games are welcome alternatives to the hyper-interactive sensory overload experiences offered by Call of Duty or World of Warcraft. The closest comparison I can think of to explain this is baseball. People love “America’s pastime” because it has all of the excitement and team rivalry of other sports, without all the strenuous athleticism. Players sit on the bench for twenty minutes, hit the ball, run for twenty seconds, and then stand in the outfield for another hour, rinse and repeat. There comes a point where too much interactivity can be a bad thing ─ not every game is appropriate for every situation or player, so it makes sense to enjoy laid back games when you want to relax.
I figuratively can’t tell you how many games are sitting in my steam library untouched because I don’t feel up to putting in the energy needed to enjoy them to their maximum potential. Critically acclaimed works of art like A Wolf Among Us and Transistor wait patiently for me to find the time and enthusiasm to devote myself entirely to their stories. Instead, I find myself gravitating more towards puzzle or strategy games, light distractions from work or stress that require very little personal investment. There’s a time for in-depth stories and there’s a time for critical thinking, but I rarely have the energy for both. Besides my well of guilt over neglecting my hobby, there’s nothing wrong with relaxing games. I’m glad to have access to so many options for how I want to experience my entertainment. Sometimes I feel like the son of an aging hippy that made the mistake of asking for a cup of tea, except in this slightly mismatched metaphor I should probably lay off the Sleepy Time and try some of the Black tea with Lemon for once. As long as we don’t forget about what makes games games, (I’m looking at you Kojima) then it’s for the good of the community that our entertainment outlets adapt to our moods and preferences, rather than to a strict criteria for what makes a game a game.