Every video game ever released hinges on player interaction to tell its story. Without the player, a game's inhabitants are meaningless pixels guarding empty checkpoints, staggering through the woods with a groan, or walking in endless circles selling bread.
In order for a game to function, players must be able to interact with it. The only question is how.
Go here, kill this
Video games are theoretically the cutting-edge of entertainment. And gamers are, also theoretically, the most demanding of technological advancements when it comes to enjoying their favorite hobby. Special effects in films are getting prettier and music is evolving, but video games are expected to reinvent themselves and their systems every few years in a way that's demanded of no other medium. Michael Bay doesn't have to add a digital dog to Transformers to keep people packing in the seats.
"Isn't there another way players could be experiencing these worlds besides leaving a trail of looted corpses in their wakes?"
Some games tweak this formula a bit by changing the parameters. In a game like Dishonored, for example, players have the option of not killing anyone and relying on stealth. However, the interactivity of the title is still driven by killing -- players just get to decide whether or not to do it. In MMOs, killing is as close to a necessity as possible, since no developer seems to have come up with a better way to gain those oh-so-valuable experience points besides carving a path of death and destruction across huge swaths of local fauna. Current MMO designs are as reliant on experience-by-murder as they are on quest trackers and microtransactions.
Game worlds offer immersive, beautiful universes to explore and discover. Isn't there another way players could be experiencing these worlds besides leaving a trail of looted corpses in their wakes? Doesn't it feel like a cheat to have everything in a game boil down to the same actions players have completed in hundreds of other games, regardless of setting or theme?
The case for alternatives
While killing things in video games is certainly fun (and always will be), recent successes have shown that players are on the hunt for new experiences that hinge less on laying out foes and more on participating in something new and unique. Minecraft is a game in which killing (for food) is just one tiny element of a much bigger game. Journey was almost entirely about exploration, silence, and narrative. Animal Crossing: New Leaf, which is a serious contender for one of the best games of 2013, is about watering flowers and looking adorable (and the dangers of predatory lending).
In an industry that throws the word "innovative" around so frequently, one would hope that actual innovation would be more prevalent. Sadly, the great majority of new games, MMO and otherwise, seek only to innovate on how exactly their players can kill things, or how pretty the environments look before, during, and after said killing. "Oh, in this game, you can kill in slow motion!" "In this game, you can kill with gun-shoes!" "In this game, you can kill with song-spells based on the discography of AC/DC!" "In this game, dog!"
It's not that I'm against violence. I love killing things in games. But sometimes, every so often, I'd like to move my character forward through non-violent means. Help an in-game charity. Build a sweet castle. Tend a garden. Run an in-game bar or store. Solve some puzzles. Anything that deepens my experience with a game and doesn't depend entirely on collecting body parts or bandanas.
Surely there's more to video game life than killing everything we see?
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