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5 Things We Hate about Video Games (And How to Fix Them)

How video games break our heart, and how we can stop them
This article is over 11 years old and may contain outdated information

Much though we might love and cherish video games, they are not a medium without fault.  In fact, it’s precisely because we’re so passionate about gaming that they’re so often the targets of our ire.  So while we usually focus on celebrating the rewarding dimensions of our favorite hobby, we wanted to take a moment to look at some of the issues that most often result in spasms of controller-throwing rage, and tender up some “gentle suggestions” as to how they could be improved.  After all, to paraphrase one of our favorite nuggets of Greek wisdom, the unexamined game is not worth playing. 

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Sequelitis 

The problem: Also known as “The Activision Syndrome”, sequelitis is that black vein of greed and sloth that runs through the industry, prompting lazy sequels and killing innovation before it blossoms.  Instead of focusing time and resources on developing new IP and nurturing creative new ideas, many of our favorite triple-A publishers have fallen into the cash-fueled trap of iterative sequels.  We understand the motivation: it’s much easier (and cheaper) to use proven assets you’ve already created than to forge new ground on the backs of untested products. 

The solution:  It’s not that sequels themselves are the problem.  The problem is when developers feel pressured to crank out sequels after they’ve run out of ideas, without enough time to develop interesting new ones.  The solution is simple: on top of directing more money towards new IP, publishers need to give designers more time and room to implement and test new ideas.  While this might not result in the immediate, rapid fire bump in quarterly earning reports a lot of publishers are looking for, it is the recipe for long-term success that can span years or even generations.

 

Collectible Bloat

The problem:  Not to scapegoat, but the first modern franchise that comes to mind when we think of a staggering volume of meaningless collectibles is Assassin’s Creed.  There’s a point after which running down all those feathers (or hidden packages, music notes, dexterity orbs, etc.) stops feeling like a fun Easter egg hunt and starts feeling like a part time job.  While collectibles like audio logs or upgrade parts can add meaningful narrative or reward the dedicated players who eagerly pursue them, there’s a growing obsession with scattering useless detritus in every dark crack available. 

The solution:  The core idea of collectibles isn’t a bad one.  Tucking little knickknacks into the corners of your games will inspire players to investigate content they might not have otherwise seen.  But they have to be used judiciously, and they should absolutely always feel like meaningful rewards for the time spent tracking them down.  There also has to be a manageable number of them, or any of the glow of discovery is sacrificed in the name of numbing abundance. 

Broken Save Systems

The problem:  We’ve all been there.  You’ve been playing a game non-stop for long, tense minutes, sometimes even hours, beating a series of difficult challenges or taking down a seemingly invincible mid-boss.  Finally, victory.  You take a moment, relax, and the moment you drop your guard a noisome little enemy takes your last little sliver of health, killing you and setting you back to the beginning of this epic grind.  Poor checkpointing, the lack of a save-anywhere mechanic, or single save slots that trap you in untenable spots have long been one of the most frustrating parts of video games, and recent releases like Resident Evil 6 or Dead Space 3 prove that it’s not a problem we’ve satisfactorily resolved.

The solution:  The remedy for this problem has existed almost as long as the problem itself.  The dream, of course, is a world where every game includes a save-everywhere system and an unlimited number of save slots, backed up by a reliable autosave.  At least in that scenario if we do lose progress it’s almost entirely our own fault.  While we realize that this may not be feasible for every game/developer, if you must rely on automatic checkpointing or a similar mechanic, make sure those checkpoints are frequent and generous.  There is nothing fun about endlessly replaying the same thirty minutes of content because at the very end there’s a tricky jump that punishes the slightest error. 

 

Lazy Storytelling

The problem:  This is a tricky one.  Games as a medium are still carving out their niche, and it’s a broad one, and writing for an interactive product can be immensely challenging.  The ability to write successfully in another medium doesn’t necessarily guarantee success writing for video games, and the sheer volume of text in some games can be overwhelming (see Skyrim, for instance). 

None of this, however, excuses some of the lazy, hackneyed garbage gamers have been fed in the name of video game fiction.  These “hey, this works in every action movie ever” or “check out our boring endgame twist that you saw coming before you put the disc in your console” approaches, with their pillars of awful dialogue and teeth-grinding cliché, have got to stop.

The solution:  To be certain, we’ve made some strides in the art of video game storytelling (Bioshock Infinite immediately springs to mind).  But we’ve still got a ways to go, and quality narrative still takes a backseat in a sad majority of cases.  Developers need to prioritize their stories and, instead of turning to Hollywood or novelists, need to ensure that the people in charge of writing them have the specific skills necessary to write in this medium.  Also, a little more money in the voice-acting budget would sure help avert a lot of the worst immersion-shattering moments in gaming.

 

Shipping Broken Games

The problem:  This hydra of a problem can stem from any number of sources.  Maybe the developers were crunched for time and trying to meet a nearly impossible deadline, maybe some bug reports slipped through QA, maybe there wasn’t enough money left in the budget for proper testing.  But the results (game-breaking bugs, servers that crash or don’t exist at all, nasty exploits in online matches) and the growing number of day-one patches that accompany them, can cripple the experience for a consumer who plunked down their hard-earned cash and just wants to play. 

The solution:  As in so many other cases, the core of the solution is more time, care, and attention to detail.  Developers need to thoroughly run their games through their paces before they ship them out the door, and in the case of games like the recent SimCity that rely heavily on online infrastructure, they need to ensure that that infrastructure is in place and robust enough to handle whatever load gamers will throw at it.  Games, especially the ones we play online, don’t exist in a vacuum, and on top of shipping polished, final products developers need to be flexible and ready to pivot in reaction to issues as they arise.

 

So there’s our list.  What did we miss?  What gets under your skin and makes you want to throw your controller through your flat-screen and swear off gaming forever?  Feel free to vent to us in the comments, it’s the best free therapy on the internet.


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Author
Image of Alan Bradley
Alan Bradley
Getting played by video games since the '80s. Host of the Pictures Changing Podcast (pictureschanging.blogspot.com) and notorious raconteur.