Free for All: What does action-based gaming mean for the future?

If you've been following recent game development, you will have noticed that action-based gaming, or gaming that requires a player to literally control the character on the screen through mouse-clicks or shortcuts, has become all the rage. It shouldn't be surprising, though, considering how incredibly fun it can be to click the mouse button and have the character on the screen smash his enemies. I've fallen in love with it myself, especially while playing games like Vindictus or Dungeons and Dragons Online. After so many years or pushing 1-2-3-4 in order to kill mobs, truly swinging an axe feels wonderful.

More and more games use this immediate-response style of play. Up-and-coming side-scrollers like Rusty Hearts or recent smashers like Dragon Nest are showing that action-based gaming is growing stronger all the time. I've even begun to feel slightly let down when I switch to a "classically controlled" MMO. Targeting a mob followed by pressing a series of number keys just does not satisfy like slamming your enemy through a bookcase. (Watch the video after the cut for some of my bookcase action!)

But what could all of this action mean for future design? And what about disabled players or players who have issues with wrist pain (like I do)? Click past the cut and let's discuss!

One of the main reasons that action-based gaming is catching fire is that it allows the person behind the screen to feel more connected to the avatar on the screen. I can attest to the heart-pounding feeling of literally dodging attacks and swinging a sword in the middle of battle. It's a different type of intensity than the kind you feel while in a group in a "normal" MMO. Any raider from a normal game can be honest and say that there were times, even in some of the most intense raids, that he or she was able to check an email, send a text message, or grab a potato chip. In fact, I have seen raiders do this with my own eyes and have spoken to those players who giggle at the fact that, while the rest of the group was seemingly working hard, they were busily watching a YouTube video.

When you are responsible for literally every swing of your avatar's axe, however, you cannot take your eyes off the screen or your fingers off the mouse. Action-based gaming is more akin to a first-person shooter than an MMO, and we all know how popular FPS games are. Many players like to brag about their "skill" in action-based games, a term that is also used to describe successful players in games like World of Warcraft. Really, though, the "skill" in a normal MMO is related to knowledge more than the player's physical dexterity. Technically, both require some time to truly master... but the differences should be noted.

I don't have a strong preference for either type of gameplay, but I lean toward action-based. In a game like Dragon Nest, even with its gender-locked characters, I can still leave my own mark on the world and on my character because I am literally the one who controls what happens, not some series of dice rolls that goes on behind the scenes. This means that I can have a unique character in almost any situation, even if I am playing the same class as someone else. My timing, aim and control over the mouse are the character.

On the other hand, my wrists are not what they used to be after almost 12 years of gaming and 20-something years of playing the drums... hard. I cannot sit for hours and hours while playing an action-based game and not feel it -- it's much kinder on my wrists when I can auto-walk to my target and hit a series of buttons to kill mobs. So the classic hotbar combat is still welcome around my house, and obviously around millions of other players' houses as well. There are players who just want that familiar feeling or who need to stay within those same lines as they always have. To them, that hotbar is familiar, and yet it's a new challenge too. Those types love to tweak their characters, to min-max themselves to perfection and mod themselves into a bloated screen of informational bliss. To many of those players, action-based gaming must seem primitive, like something that seemingly requires little skill.



What does all of this required manual dexterity mean to someone who has none? How would disabled players be able to participate in this action-based revolution? I asked a good friend of mine, Steve Spohn, editor-in-chief of Ablegamers.com, a website for disabled gamers. I've worked with him in the past, so I knew he'd have something to say about this:
Action-based gaming is generally no more difficult for disabled gamers than any other genre. Many of today's games are filled with customization options that only increase their innate accessibility. For example, if the game in question has remappable keys but no mouse input, the game is still considered fairly accessible. Games are ultimately accessible when they can be controlled using only the keyboard and only the mouse. Moreover, we are only talking about motion impaired accessibility.

Deaf gamers, colorblind and visually impaired gamers are virtually unaffected by the side scrolling action. There is no one game that is accessible to absolutely every disability. One of our missions is to report on the accessibility of each of these games (so that disabled individuals don't spend money erroneously on and accessible products) and to reach out to the developers with consultation on how to improve the accessibility.

Ablegamers supports the free-to-play and indie gaming industry as much as any other part of the gaming industry. I assure you
DDO is no less accessible than Dragon Age 2 and probably more accessible than The Witcher 2.
Interesting, isn't it? I have found that when I bring up disabled players, the person I am talking to will more-than-likely scratch his head and say, "Huh. I never thought about that." Yet millions of disabled players exist. Remember, disabilities come in all types, so we are talking numbers that are simply astounding.

I feel slightly better whenever I have an issue with accessibility and ask the Ablegamers crew. While there are still light-years of progress to be made, it is nice to know that players who need a special type of control scheme or certain level of accessibility have lots of choices. As I mentioned before, my wrists can only take so much hack-and-slash action before I need to dump them into a sink of icy-cold water. So while I am totally in love with action-based games like Dragon Nest and Vindictus, I'm glad to have options. Every day I have the choice to play any number of titles with any number of control schemes. Balancing my play this way has helped me stay away from more trips to the doctor for arm shock treatments.

Readers, how do you feel about action-based gaming? Do you have any issues playing games that require such manual dexterity? Have you ever found a workaround for your issues? Leave a comment and let me know!

Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to beau@massively.com!

This article was originally published on Massively.