Preparing the gallows for “Interactive Dramas”
This one is a bit overdue, isn’t it? I have often critiqued “interactive dramas”, like Telltale games, in my articles, but never quite taken the time to explain my immense disliking of them. Therefore, since it is far too warm outside for my taste and I just had a strong black tea, I will focus that energy and give my hatred written form and explain why exactly these “games” hardly qualify as such in my eyes. Also prepare for a lot of quotations marks, I am going to get as much mileage out of them as possible.
A first step would be to name exactly what kind of games I am to execute today. My prime focus are Telltale (and Quantic Dream) games and the fact that these things are their own description and genre should tell you quite a bit about them. The structure is always and really always the same: A popular license is turned into a (massive quotes” “story driven” game which translates to a limited exploration of certain areas, quick time events, and dialogue choice that can have various outcomes later on. “Proud” examples include: Telltale’s Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Batman, Guardians of the Galaxy, Tales from the Borderlands, etc. One thing you may immediately notice is that some if not all of these have other games as well, hell Borderlands started as a game and then turned into this. It is also worth noting that besides Borderlands all the these are movies or TV series. One might surmise that it is simply easy to slap some quicktime events onto an existing franchise and sell it as a video game to all those who have been longing for a Game of Thrones game, but that just might be too cynical. (Also: who asked for a story driven Borderlands game? If anything, I wanted less of the eyerolling writing of Borderlands, not more.)
– I cannot be bothered to find out what the fifth one is (Mad Max?). And who wished for a Minecraft story game? It is a building simulator! Coming soon: Telltale’s Little Big Planet. –
Instead of corporate shenanigans, let’s talk about the actual game aspect which you must look for quite a bit. But if you stretch it until it almost rips, there is something to be found. Gameplay-wise these things are an embarrassment. Most of it amounts to little more than the DVD menu in terms of interaction and actual satisfaction. Quicktime events are a great way to test whether people have fallen asleep and to penalise any old people that might have accidentally stumbled into this mess. In terms of actual purpose, quicktime events are pointless. Most often they can be restarted and if they are tied to a choice, chances are you will not be satisfied if you failed them and thus your dislike rises even higher. Nobody can in their right mind tell me they like quicktime events as the core of a game. Play a rhythm game if you like time-pressured button presses so much, but in any other game they are simply there to make the usually non-playable parts (cutscenes) a bit more interactive. This is the same thing in Telltale games except for one huge difference. Normal games have stuff going on besides quicktime events, there is actual gameplay and these little impromptu wake-up calls are an added “bonus” and sometimes they can even be turned off, that is how much people love these things.
– Oh this is so exciting, I just wish i could do more than press a single button… –
If gameplay is not the hook then choice is raised as the primary defence. Life is Strange, David Cage’s Wank material made playable, and the aforementioned Speakstory games all like to pride themselves as “interactive dramas” (still not tired of putting these little fellows all around). Most of the time the amount of impact a choice has is that it is a choice and that’s about it. Two options and each one will prompt a different response, this can be called a consequence, but oftentimes the choices are either very similar or the responses are, as the main narrative thread needs to be kept up. There is no choice to never interact with Chloe in Life is Strange even though she does nothing but fuck up the entire time, there is no choice to leave her dead after she has shot herself for the millionth time. I cannot strangle all the hunky boys as the ghost buddy is Beyond: Two Souls even though I would like to. And this is a huge problem with these games. If choice is your main selling point, you better carry this concept like a champ. There is one, just one, choice I can think of that sort of takes the story a different way. In The Wolf Among Us you can choose to choke the crooked man early and not bring him in like a good big bad wolf and afterwards the events play out differently and a huge part is cut out, namely the entire trial of the choke-receiver. If every choice felt and had an impact like this, the concept would work, but since this would take a lot of resources and voice work to do, the easy route is to make every choice a little detour from the set path and then it is back to linear story progression tour, next stop the dual ending choice unaffected by anything previously.
– Take a quick look at these choices: All of them except “…” lead to them leaving the roof and the “…” option will probably entail this as well, so how is this considered a choice at all? –
Persona 5 has little dialogue choices, but it never dresses them up as anything more than a way to level up social links faster or simple give funny responses, it is not a core element of the game and that is why it does not annoy me. If Persona 5 would be nothing but walking around in Shibuya, talking to confidants that have a pre-set resolution to their character anyways and my input simply determines how fast/slow they get to it, I would reasonably be furious with the game. But once Telltale announces another licensed season pass fest made up of five episodes, the community loses their collective minds. Life is Strange 2 just got revealed and I do actually encourage you to look at it, since it shows men in their mid-thirties that write the dialogue for angsty hipster teens and it shows. What I am trying to get to, is this: All of these interactive games are not games, they are mere features of full games stretched to acceptable length like an overenthusiastic advertisement. Most often they are badly written which they might even be forgiven for since they need to juggle all the different tones of every response in every scene. If you truly are such a sucker for choice, you might consider picking up a game with choice woven into the game like The Witcher 3 or you could decide to simply follow a good narrative without your meddling influence needed every five seconds, like most games. The audience for these games seem to be exclusively people who must either hate to play games and want to reduce the annoying gameplay to a minimum or you would rather watch a movie but need to pretend that “games are totally your thing, no really”.
Image sources in order of appearance:
•https://static.tumblr.com/9e74eb0b82c6c891cecece5072d7c293/dq8ktkv/Echnsq3ct/tumblr_static_tumblr_static_345dbmh8vuyosk04s8ogw04os_640.png (Last date of access: 06.06.2017)
•https://www.theworkprint.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/got1.jpg (Last date of access: 06.06.2017)
•http://download.gamezone.com/uploads/image/data/1133270/The-Walking-Dead-decisions.jpg (Last date of access: 06.06.2017)