Games have so much filler, so why do I feel empty?
Michael C Black has some musings on the empty calories in modern games.
When you’ve grown up with games (and I’ve never been accused of growing up) what does it look like when you fall on hard times? Personally, I have a huge issue with the amount of filler in games. Developers put a single task into their games dozens if not hundreds of times because… because what? “It’s what the players want”? The only time I’ve wanted a really long game full of silly side tasks is when I’ve been playing games to hide from real life problems. There, I said it.
So is there a scenario where one can lead a healthy, balanced lifestyle and still be able to 100% a Shadow of Mordor, Assassin’s Creed, Arkham, Far Cry etc? I really don’t see how. Do those games need all of their pointless collectibles? Not only do they not need them, they would all be better games if they sought other ways to validate the development time of their sprawling open world. Developers should value every minute of the players’ time, not insult is by sprinkling a thousand shards of unobtainium throughout the game world.
But what can they do instead? How could MMOs exist, especially those with subscription fees? Some games would sink or swim trying to come up with alternative activities to fill the void. I admired tremendously the bravery of Mafia II. It felt like a decent sized world with lots of freedom, but not once were pointless collectibles pushed in your face. They were there, but you could finish the story without even knowing they existed. That seems like a good balance, and although there wasn’t much choice in that game, can you name a game where choice wasn’t smoke and mirrors anyway? Not if you want things like nice graphics and good voice acting.
Going back to MMOs: Aren’t they all open world games writ large with filler to the gunnels and everything stretched out for no other reason than to keep players playing? Even the likes of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, a personal favourite, can’t add new content fast enough and often resorts to harder versions of existing dungeons. Put another way, there is a good amount of new content, but seeing it often mean taking in a class that won’t get anything out of it or levelling a new class by replaying content you’ve seen dozens if not hundreds of times before. Even though I don’t play unless I have a Sanctuary bonus (a chunky experience bonus gained while not playing, like most MMOs), I still feel levelling isn’t fast enough unless I’m doing dungeons I’ve done plenty of times as all the other fighting classes.
You have to allow for everyone being different though, don’t you? Well, only up to a point. When does it become the social responsibility of developers to not put things in games that encourage unhealthy behaviour? Media has extreme restrictions on advertising cigarettes, so why should games be allowed to tell us to collect a thing a thousand times over thirty hours of our lives? Or fight through a dungeon a dozen times to get from level 20 to 30? Or farm creatures for their leather over the course of a few hours? Nobody is enriched by those experiences, it simply makes the shareholders happy, because the developers dupe some of their players into perceiving that game as having more value for money because it takes longer. This kind of artificial longevity is truly abhorrent.
Ideally, more game developers making open world games need to just think of something else when populating their world with activities. That is, something other than collectibles for collectibles’ sake.
Put it this way: How many people are obsessively collecting pointless crap in games instead of getting a job, getting help with depression, talking to their partners about their problems or just living life? I’m willing to bet that number is far higher than anyone can comfortably admit to, players or developers.