Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Justifying Games to the world.

I loved Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. Loved it. According to Naomi Alderman's guardian article ahead of the this year's BAFTAs, she loved it too. In fact, the headline tells us that it's the "best game ever". Is it?

No. AC: Brotherhood is definitely not the best game ever, but that's not really what made me want to write this. What I'm writing about is how in her article, Ms Alderman tells us that AC: Brotherhood is the best game ever because it makes some points about the world, about government, and (for a large part of her article) because it's historically accurate enough to make young people interested in Renaissance Rome.

Ok, well, let me explain why I don't believe AC: Brotherhood is the best game ever. It's because after ten hours and a ton of side-quests, it's obviously pretty repetitive; because there were quite a few too many situations where the game assumed I wanted to jump off of an enormous castle to my death when really I just thought I could make that sideways leap to that ledge on the left; because I got so frustrated with its controls that I had to stop playing and go to bed seething with anger; because, addictive as it was, grinding collection isn't a substitute for gameplay; because it suffered from many of the control and camera issues that any third-person 3D games suffer from, because... well, as great as it is, it's still a flawed game, like any other game.

Well, not every other game.

Pac-Man Championship Edition DX came out last year, and while there's no way I'm going to make any 'best game ever' claims, I will say that for my money, it's the best game I played all year. I think it's flawless, and if it isn't, then at the very least it's as close to flawless as I've found in a game recently.

Everything works. Everything controls exactly how you want it to all the time, it never has to second-guess what a player expects to happen; there's a clean, symbiotic relationship between what you're thinking and what is happening on the game. Your hands, the controller? They're not invited. It's like there's a USB cable plugged into your head and wired straight to the controller input.

Thousands of tiny little design decisions all contribute perfectly towards Pac-Man CE DX's extremely elegant but utterly thrilling whole. It's maddening at times sure, but a joy all the same, and dangerously addictive.

It's just a very good game, honed to its upper limit. Design-wise there is nothing I could think of improving in it, no remaining problem that needs to be solved. So why would the Guardian think that AC: Brotherhood is that much better? 

One of the things I love about a game like Pac-Man CE DX, is that it isn't a game that needs to justify its quality to the world outside of video games. It exists for itself and its player and it delivers on that promise of a thrill 100% of the time. Games don't have to reference the world outside of the console, they don't have to provide social commentary, they don't have to get kids interested in their subject matter, they don't have to educate, they don't have to make you brush your teeth more, they don't have to be more than games. If games do these things, then perhaps that's admirable, but it does not make them better games than the games which don't. It might make them more interesting, sure, it might even help with immersion, but that's not enough to make me ignore what are pretty obvious flaws in a game.

Video games still do get pretty bad press outside of our 'gamer sphere', and of course we can manage how much by being responsible with our content (or not, if we like), but we shouldn't be beholden to that world, we shouldn't feel like we need to make games right-on for the naysayers in order to be perceived as good.

I catch myself qualifying games to non-gamers in the same way I used to qualify comics to outsiders when I was a kid; "it's a big business", comparing the maturity of some of the content with film/ tv. I regret it. We don't have to do that. A game is a game, and while these angles might appeal to the layman or even the games audience, they are never really what makes a game a good one.