Storytelling in games has come a long way since the days when plumbers saved princesses from dino-turtles and their armies. There was once a time when the only kind of stories was acceptable in video games were ones that do not have any heavy themes attached to them. They were not allowed to address mental illness, PTSD, sex, and all the other stuff reserved for mature movies or books. But times have changed. The medium is now capable of telling stories that are nearly on par with these movies and books. From The Last of Us to the Telltale games series, storytelling in games have matured, and with that growth comes a new audience – the casual gamer.
In the context of an individual game, the casual gamer is someone who takes a passing interest in the game. They don’t play it for too long nor do they play it too deeply. They are the ones who are there for a brief good time and then they’re going to move on. With that in mind, how can interactive games interest the casual gamer to invest what little time they have for them?
The first point has something to do with the developers and how they implement their difficulty options. The biggest draw of an interactive game is narrative. Let the story be the main selling point that will draw players in. Regardless of what kind of gamer they are. If the developers want as many people possible playing their game, they will have to tone down complexity in gameplay.
In other words, removing quick time events or making it so that the player has ample time to react. The developers wouldn’t want to frustrate gamers everytime they missed a QTE or chose poorly during a conversation. Of course, this would have to be an option in the difficulty menu as developers wouldn’t want to alienate the hardcore gamer just to appeal to the casual gamer. It’s the best of both worlds. The hardcore gamer can have his precision quick-time event and the casual gamer can enjoy a story without any worries.
Moving on from the technical standpoint, the second thing interactive games can have to interest casual gamers would be to show off some awesome opening cinematic or eye catching sequence of events. This pretty much works for everyone, but for the casual audience who require only a split second to decide to play a game or not, that opening sequence better be one hell of a good one. Speaking from personal experience, I used to consider Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy’s opening to be the most shocking visual spectacle I’ve ever seen in a video game. The scene where Lucas gets possessed by a mysterious figure and commits murder ranks as one of the most intense scenes of my then 16-year-old life. It’s openings like this that leave a lasting impression on a person. And it’s that feeling of awe that will carry on through the latter parts of the game.
Third, the game shouldn’t have too many gameplay changes, specifically, introducing mechanics that are not present at the start of the game. If the player is happy with the gameplay so far, a sudden shift will just confuse him or her. This will likely turn to anger especially if this happens in the later parts of the game.
This can be seen in Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy, where the player is tasked to look for clues in a bookshop in order to progress. The frustration comes from the fact that this happens fairly late into the game. The steps needed to solve the puzzle are so specific, it borders on the unfair. Unfortunately, this will cause players who are not adept at puzzle solving to stop showing interest in the genre itself. In contrast, the Telltale games are very consistent in what they do right. Not only do they do a great job at storytelling, the mechanics are similar in almost every game. One reason why they are so popular is because when you pick up a Tales game, you expect a good story with the same kind of gameplay.
And lastly, let’s step away from all the programming and arts and talk about the storytelling. One of the aspects that make interactive games so memorable is with the way the writers introduce the main characters.
In Life is Strange, Max is introduced to us as an everyday girl with everyday high school problems. Granted, we started the game staring up at a superstorm. But that further supports the need to have a great opening to catch peoples’ attention. The point here is, Max is relatable. Many a highschooler has had or is going through the same problems. That relationship is what forms bonds between the player and the character. On the flip side, we have Ethan from Heavy Rain. At the start of the game, we do all the mundane things that we do every day. One could say that this is to emphasize the “interactivity” of the game. It just comes off as tedious and unnecessary. You are not going to see any of that in trailers.
And there, ladies and gents, are ways that interactive games can interest the casual gamer. Of course, this isn’t the most complete list out there. There are probably more things such as art style, polygon count, and even camera placement. But those are beyond my current scope of expertise. It’s my hope that this piece was enough to pique the interest of those considering to play interactive games. Thank you for reading and see you in the next article.