Freedom: And Here We Go

So, I have been working on a series of posts. I’m quite pleased with them. Before we get started, I’d recommend hitting up a few posts of mine, particularly the one about choice affecting story, the one regarding the production of content players might not see in a single playthrough, and, lastly, the one about totality. Oh, and you should read the messy one dealing with defining the RPG, because that’s going to be a pretty important element of the discussion.

I’m going to put forward a theory about the implementation freedom in a video game in the coming weeks in a series that discusses freedom in video games, specifically its implementation.

One thing I wanna do really first, though. I don’t know why it is, but people seem fairly uninterested in looking at the roots of something’s design; instead, they look at the surface elements. The other day, I said that what we’ve come to view as RPG mechanics are really just abstractions put there because there was no better alternative to simulating a world or character well enough to let us role-play. I’ll stick with that.

Today, I’d like to suggest this: People don’t really want freedom in games.

That’s not to say that they don’t want freedom, but that though they are asking for freedom, they really want something different. Let’s look at the sentiment expressed when people complain about linear games, not the “I want freedom,” one, but the other one. Let’s go back to the argument that a lot of people have made, but a lot of people have forgotten: “it’s not believable/realistic.” It doesn’t feel right to be forced down a bunch of hallways in which you shoot people. It’s not realistic. It’s a reminder that you’re playing a game. When people want to be immersed in a game, they don’t want to be reminded that “HEY NONE OF THIS IS REAL YOU ARE IN A GAME!” It ruins the experience.

Imagine if Amnesia kept reminding you how much of a game it was! The experience just wouldn’t be any good because you wouldn’t be immersed in it. It’d keep yanking you out and nothing would be scary because death doesn’t matter. Castlevania is not a scary game in the sense that “ohgodmonsterswilleatme,” and a large part of that has to do with how totally unimmersive it is. Amnesia’s scary because it’s immersive. By disguising the fact that it’s a game–by removing the gaminess, if you will–it achieves something that Castlevania never could. This isn’t to say Castlevania isn’t a good game–it’s generally considered to be a very good one–it’s just to suggest that certain kinds of games, particularly ones that are trying to immerse you (like ones where you’re role-playing as someone), the constant reminder that “THIS ISN’T REAL! NONE OF THIS IS REAL!” fights against the very nature of the game.

So, yeah, the idea here is that people, for whatever reason, often don’t seem to understand WHY they want what they do. When they complain about a game being linear or not offering freedom, that’s all they think they want, but what they’re really interested in is a game that doesn’t pull them out of the game experience

That means that sometimes, it’s okay for games not to be free.

The lack of freedom is a very important element of freedom. We’ll explore that soon.

Bonus statement, to followup on that RPG post I made: honestly, skills/stats are a game mechanic, not a genre. They’re not TRULY an element of role-playing games (except in the way that they can let you define your character, but you can do that with equipment and such if you want). They’re more like regenerating health–a tool that game developers use to create the game. That’s why they show up in everything from Darksiders to Diablo to Call of Duty.

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