Awesome article about a topic that’s been on my mind lately. If you don’t care to read it, what the author is basically saying is that it may be problematic that games these days just take too much commitment to fully enjoy.
That accessibility has become a problem in bigger, more mainstream games, such as those that release on consoles or PC may explain why mobile games have become such a hit lately. They’re generally a lot easier to get into. This is probably because their gameplay is a lot more focused than most big games. But just because a game is more complex, doesn’t mean it has to be hard to get into.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many games I can recall to have played that are easy to get into regardless of its rich, deep gameplay. This isn’t because these games don’t exist but because when a game tries to make itself widely accessible, it often turns me off as a more experienced gamer. I am totally behind making games more widely accessible. Sometimes, new players need the game to hold their hand through tougher situations. And that’s not just true for newbie gamers.
Wouldn’t all of us love to get into a game a little faster, getting to the good bits sooner rather than having to feel around in the dark for a few hours? Of course, it doesn’t bother those with more experienced in the medium. After all, we’re more equipped to figure things out; we know the language of games, we just have to adapt to the dialect. But even that process could go smoother, in my humble opinion.
One game that I think handles accessibility really well is Okami on the Wii, PS2, and PS3. I’m not sure how it plays on the Wii, but the PS2 and PS3 versions are pretty much identical as far as I can tell. Returning to Okami HD on the PS3, after not having played the game seriously since I first played it on the PS2 years ago, I pretty much expected that, at the start of the game, I’d feel the same way playing it as I do at the start of any modern Legend of Zelda game. That is, I’d be really bored and feel like dropping the game before it opened up to me.
At the start of the game, Okami moves pretty slowly. It doesn’t expect too much skill from its players and doesn’t penalize them too harshly for making mistakes or not knowing what to do. In that regard, it’s very similar to modern Legend of Zelda games, which I respect for their efforts to be accessible. But Okami approaches accessibility differently. Instead of holding the player’s hand in order to keep her or him from straying too far in any direction, it sets boundaries for newer players while allowing more experienced players to roam freely. So although Okami is easy and accessible, it doesn’t hold more experienced players back unnecessarily, even going so far as to reward highly-skilled players with ways to move ahead a little faster in the game in order to reach levels that offer them more rewarding challenges.
Let’s start by looking at the Okami’s puzzle-solving elements. The easiest way to imagine Okami’s gameplay would be to imagine The Legend of Zelda in feudal Japan, complete with magic and monsters derived from Shinto, Tao, and Buddhist mythology (If I’m not mistaken).
With the introduction of every new skill or gadget, the player is given a small puzzle to complete. They’re not told what to do from the outset but the environmental cues given in such situations are always enough to figure it out using a little bit of logic. However, if after repeated attempts at solving the puzzle you still don’t understand what to do, the game points it out to you, but not right away. At first you get a hint or two, and only after giving you a chance to figure it out on you own does the game actually spell out the solution for you. This assures that players of all skill levels are rewarded for showing off their level of skill. And even if you don’t understand what to do until your hand is held through the process, you’re still treated to your travel-companion’s charming dialogue and personality. (Heck, I sometimes fail those puzzles on purpose just to hear what he’s got to say.)
The second major component of the game, in which it demonstrates the developers’ prowess, is in its combat system. It’s fast-paced and hectic if you want it to be, but can be more a game of resource-management and strategy if that’s what you can handle. I can’t speak much about the latter way of playing through Okami’s combat, but I definitely see how the game caters to players who would appreciate an advantage through consumable items and the like. However, I can talk about how the game rewards high-level play very well.
Although even Okami’s combat is highly accessible, it also features a high skill ceiling. That is, perfection is still not easy to come by and although a skilled player never has to fear losing a battle, there are still many rewards to strive for by doing exceptionally well. Whether through challenging time-based challenges or special resources rewarded only by playing with finesse, Okami rewards even the most calloused, experienced players like myself. (Though by experienced, I only mean more than the average human being.)
So is it possible for a video game to be accessible to a wider audience, yet rewarding to players of all skill-levels? I believe so. In Okami’s case, it took a bit cleverness and a lot of personality but she pulled it off beautifully.
I think what it’s come down to is that, since there are just so many gamers out there nowadays, having been practically raised on video games, it’s now profitable enough just to cater to those who already know how to play games. But what this trend ignores is that accessible games are what made it possible for those less accessible to thrive. Accessible games are what create new consumers of the medium. And if we wish to promote a more wide-spread respect for video games, we’re going to have to make games that anyone can play and feel rewarded in doing so.
There’s a time and place for games that test our limits as people who have already been baptized in the waters of many-a-video-game, but for video games’ audience expand and be seen and treated as an art, we need to be able to share the games we love, the ones we really play and get excited about, with the people around us.