Latest in Gaming

Image credit:

Editorial: Point out the definition of adventure games until it clicks


As the underground cult of indie development surges to the surface and crowdfunding allows vague ideas to transform into products, the scope of gaming bubbles and changes. Games now span spectrums of physical input and emotional amplitude, and our perspectives change with them.

Amid this upheaval is an age-old genre that for some reason resists attempts of acceptance in the "hardcore" gaming audience: point-and-click adventures. They're just choose-your-own-adventure stories; they're interactive novels; the choices in them don't matter – all arguments against adventures as true games, while shoot-die-respawn titles play on, unchallenged.

Joystiq's own Top 10 of 2012 list includes The Walking Dead, a high-profile and famously intense point-and-click, and my own Best of the Rest has Yesterday, a gritty adventure from Pendulo Studios. Obviously, we consider both of these games to be games. Other players, maybe not so much – so let the argument begin.

In order to debate whether adventure games are, in fact, games, we first need a shared definition of the term. Without definition, you could argue that The Walking Dead isn't a game and I could just as passionately espouse why it is, and we could both be correct within the worlds of our own, secret definitions. While mutually assured correctness sounds like a wonderful conclusion, in reality it does nothing to examine the question at hand and leads to huffy frustration, leaving the debate unresolved forever.

What we're really arguing is the definition of a "game," rather than any particular sub-genre, which are all just variations of that main theme. This is my definition.

In its broadest terms, a "game" includes anything that actively engages human interaction with some form of end goal. Baseball, pinochle, horseshoes, Monopoly, and yes, even Words with Friends. However, personally – and I believe for a majority of players – when considering nominees for game of the year, I don't instinctively think, "What's Zynga done recently?" This definition of a game, in terms of the current argument, is too broad. I do have some standards.

Adventure games Point out the definition until it clicks
Video games have the ability to grab the concentration of their audiences, engage players fully for hours on end, and evoke intense emotional and physical responses, but not always in equal measure. It's these last two criteria that form the crux of my definition.

Shooters, for example, rely heavily on physical interaction – scanning the environment for enemies, tracking red dots and ammo loads, flinging fingers across gamepads – and less on narrative or emotional impact. The same can be said of platformers, fighting games and many RTS titles. That observable, tangible reaction makes it easy to define these as games for the player and his audience.

This empathy is why we devour Journey and remember Ico.

As demonstrated repeatedly throughout the years, video games affect players in deeper ways than purely physical; this year's outcry over the story in Mass Effect 3 is a great example of emotional investment in a video game. The unseen impact is often more pronounced and memorable for players, and is a large reason we continue to play games – the mental high, better than any television show, movie or book. It's better, to some, because they had an actual hand in telling the story, deciding the outcome. The physical component, but rooted in an emotional entanglement. This empathy is why we devour Journey and remember Ico.

Adventure games Point out the definition until it clicks
The best games combine these two impact paths – emotional and physical – and find a balance complimentary of their unique genres and universes. Black Ops includes zombies because a shooter lends itself to physical prowess, and such an absurd plot twist doesn't matter to players who mainly want to shoot all the things. The Walking Dead includes zombies to tell an intense story of human survival and uses a more emotional format, point-and-click adventure, to deliver that experience to players who crave the serotonin roller coaster.

A game, in this debate, is a combination of physical input and emotional investment, both used to complete the goals of the world. A good game conquers both of these parts in a seamless, entertaining and memorable manner. Now that we have a definition:

Point-and-click adventures are games.

Adventure games Point out the definition until it clicks
Not all of them are good games, but any title that involves screen-to-human interaction and tells an involved story, is a game. Point-and-click adventures, by nature, do exactly this.

If shooters are unchallenged as games because they lean disproportionately on the physical aspect of the definition, then adventures can be equally accepted for using mainly emotion. Games such as The Walking Dead and Yesterday not only rely on emotion, but incorporate bursts of purely physical moments in an exacting manner to heighten the impact and draw the player deeper into the story. They are balanced within their shared genre.

"I guess, from somebody's perspective, like if you really love shooters, you wouldn't see adventure games as being that much of a game. They're definitely more on the story side."

"I guess, from somebody's perspective, like if you really love shooters, you wouldn't see adventure games as being that much of a game. They're definitely more on the story side."Jane Jensen, Gabriel Knight

That's Jane Jensen, the writer behind the point-and-click Gabriel Knight series and recent Kickstarter success Cognition. She has a vested interest in the definition of adventure games, but also in storytelling as a craft. She defines herself as a writer first, and within games she consistently chooses to create adventure titles because they support the best use of her skills.

"In my opinion, adventure games are the best storytelling medium in games, although you certainly can have a nice story in other genres," Jensen tells me. An adventure game, she continues, is "definitely a game. If you've ever developed one, you know how challenging it is. There's so much interactivity in trying to take a story and a plotline and enable it to be approached in a number of different ways and have that sort of open-ended interactivity.

"Personally I've always been a fan of puzzles – logic puzzles, pencil puzzles – so I love that aspect of adventure games as well. To me, that makes them a game, the fact that they have that sort of thing woven into them."

Of course the easy response in this definition debate is, "It depends on who you ask." Yes, when each individual person first hears the phrase, "adventure games aren't games," his mind draws on unique scenarios and reacts according to these diverse personal experiences. This answer, however, doesn't do anything to further the debate or affect anyone's perspective (including your own). This is why defining a game is so important, before the debate about adventure games, or any game, can even begin.

So sharpen your definitions, gather your wits, broaden your mind – and start arguing.

From around the web

ear iconeye icontext filevr