Neal Sweeney ’19 / Emertainment Monthly Executive Video Games Editor
I played a few games recently that I didn’t think were all that much fun. I’d heard this about Nier:Automata even before I started it, but never the less I found that a lot of my few dozen hours with the game was filled with spamming □ and R2. But after spending a long time thinking about it, I realized that maybe it’s okay for a game to be like that.
Nier is about a lot of things, but one theme that keeps popping up is a never-ending struggle. The machine lifeform menace never ceases, no matter how much headway our protagonists seem to make against it. Would it have been the same struggle if I was hacking away at these quirky robots and having the time of my life? The monotony and repetition in the game might actually be a way of connecting the player at the controller to the characters in the game, even if it’s through the absence of entertainment. At Nier’s elating final moments, I was able to share in the relief that the struggle would come to an end, as I no longer had to hack my way through machinery like it was nothing. It was a special moment, and one I wouldn’t have had if the game had tried to make itself more fun.
Another great example is Papers, Please, an enrapturing experience that has you working border patrol and checking passports, to make sure unauthorized people can’t get into your country. Sounds like fun, right? The few hours I spent comparing passports to handbooks and making sure I was following the new restrictions would be better described as anxious. The game isn’t a tight platformer, a mind-twisting puzzler, or a combo-based action adventure, it’s just passports. If Papers, Please had been any of those things it likely wouldn’t have had close to the same impact that it did, and I might also argue that you couldn’t accomplish what it does in any other medium.
Maybe there’s something to be said for the idea that a game doesn’t have to be fun. Maybe it can provide an enriching and meaningful experience even if in the moment it feels tedious, dull, or repetitive. Think about war games for example, how many Call of Dutys and Battlefields make the act of being on a battlefield entertainment. Is that really what war is supposed to be like? Maybe this is just an artifact of mainstream entertainment and billion-dollar industry, but I think that games can be a lot more interesting when they aren’t so focused on being fun.