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Beyond Creator Says No One Can Define What a Video Game Is

Quantic Dream's David Cage wants us to have a more open game industry with less labels

By Mike Williams. Published 6 months ago

Is Quantic Dream's Beyond: Two Souls a video game? It is an interactive narrative? An expensive visual novel? Games like Beyond, Gone Home, and Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs are stretching the traditional definition of what a game is and according to Quantic Dream boss David Cage, that's a good thing.

"Some people can be very conservative about this medium and this is sometimes frustrating," Cage told GameSpot. "Some people wish that games would always stay what they were in the past 30 years, just with more polygons. No one should be allowed to define what a video game is or should be; no one has this power."

"A video game can be so many different things. Angry Birds is a game; Call of Duty is a game; World of Warcraft is a game; Gone Home is a game. Who can decide 'you are a video game', 'you are not a video game', 'you are not a part of this family?' No. Let's open this medium to whoever has different ideas and it's great to see people trying to do games where shooting is not the main thing."

Flick the left stick to twitch a few times.

It's a topic that recently had Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs director and composer Jessica Curry penning a feature on Edge Online. She wondered why having different gaming experiences was a bad thing for the industry.

"We're often asked at The Chinese Room whether we're anti-games, or whether we're trying to deliberately subvert the medium," she wrote. "This question felt valid after we made Dear Esther, as the game (unintentionally) brought something new to the table and as a result raised some interesting debates. Move forward two years and a great deal has changed on the gaming scene. So when Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs was released we were really surprised to still be facing the question (and sometimes naked hostility) as to whether we are aiming to create interactive fiction rather than games."

"This question rests on the idea that games are purely driven by mechanics and goals, and this seems laughably outdated as a concept," she added. "Why do we feel the need to classify and name and label before we can enjoy something? For me, the key is whether it's an engaging experience (or not). The increasing breadth and diversity in games – a medium that ranges from Tetris to Gone Home – is wonderful."

A 'video game' is generally expected to provide some sort of player interactivity, but that definition of "interactivity" has long been in contention. Certain titles like 1983's Dragon's Lair are extended quick-time events, presenting a fixed narrative and pass-fail situations for players. Some count giving players a series of choices as interactivity, while others feel that offers little more than a digital Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book. Japan has the visual novel genre, which gives players varying degrees of choice with very little mechanics. As you remove or trivialize a game's interactive nature, some begin to wonder if you were better off doing a CG film instead. They feel if you're making a "game" there had better be something to play.

In Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs' case, I think what tripped up that game is players expected a second Amnesia, not another Dear Esther. They were two different games made by the same studio, but each name carries a different expectations. I think the outcry would probably be the same if the next Assassin's Creed was a 4X strategy game. The first Amnesia was the base point when players sat down to enjoy Machine for Pigs, so it was judged on those merits. A Machine for Pigs may have been thematically consistent with the first game, but some expected it to be mechanically consistent as well. It's the doubled-edged sword of any brand recognition: that recognition pulls people towards your games, but it also means they expect more of the same, unless you've made a career of doing completely different every time.

Sometimes the marketing can influence expectations.

People naturally classify everything; it's how we're wired. Compare and contrast is a large part of our decision-making process. I agree with Cage that no one person has the power to define what a game is or isn't, but on the flip side, that means no one has the power say I can't define what a game is for me. These definitions and comparisons help players, because ultimately regardless of what Cage thinks, he's selling a commercial product. It's useful to know that Beyond provides players with very little control and in many places the narrative will continue on if you take action or not. That's not necessarily useful for judging the full experience, but it's damn sure useful in deciding if I'm going to spend $60 on it.

When I'm explaining movies, games, or comics to my friends, I frequently use shorthand based on things I know they've experienced. This shorthand isn't perfect - it leads to developers saying certain games are like Dark Souls for example - but it's useful. It provides people with that base point to start from. This is important because our time and money is finite. I don't have $20 to $60 to determine if your game is something I want to experience. That's why we have gaming sites and message boards. It's why we have samples and demos. It's why we have Amazon recommendations. Because sometimes I have 30 minutes of time to kill and I don't want to waste that 30 minutes with a show, comic, or game I may hate.

So, Mr. Cage, please feel free to continue to create the titles you see fit and I'll feel free to call them games or not, based on my own experiences. Please don't feel shackled by my definitions, I'm sure you have your own.

The best community comments so far 5 comments

  • docexe 6 months ago

    David Cage is a pompous ass, true, but not everything that he says is completely without value. In this case, I think he has a point. Given the rise of Indies and the experimental designs that have come with that… well, does it really have merit to say that some projects that eschew traditional gameplay mechanics or forms of interaction are “not games”?

    That is a label that has been applied to many works in the past few years (the Brain Age and Endless Ocean series from Nintendo come to mind), and sometimes it seems to be dispensed not with any intent of “rigour to the form” so to speak. Sometimes it seems this “not game” label is throw around by some subsets of the gaming crowd merely to exclude, diminish or degrade certain types of games that don’t conform to their particular tastes (kind of similar to how the term “casual game” is used by some people).

    It’s an exclusionary label, and considering how stagnant certain sectors of the gaming industry have become, I don’t think this kind of labels might be very useful in terms of broadening the scope and diversity of the medium. Now I suppose you could argue that if you make a game with very little interaction and agency on the part of the player, then you are wasting the potential of interactive entertainment. But that’s a more thoughtful and critical analysis than merely dispensing the “no game” label.

  • Spazgadget 6 months ago

    @docexe Great points.

    While I absolutely respect the opinions of gamers who find little enjoyment in played Cage's games, I feel like a lot of unfair accusations are levied against him because of his commitment to his particular brand of "interactive entertainment". Look, the guy clearly believes in the direction his company is pushing this medium, and that requires him to talk ad naseum about what he's trying to do and what his perception is of the problems of our current gaming environment. This doesn't make him an asshole, however, it just makes him a spokesperson for a particular point of view - a point of view that clearly splits public opinion.

    I'm 100% for what Cage is trying to do, frankly, which is to offer an alternative to the same set of game genres which have, in his defense, become increasingly stale. I love a shooter or racer as much as the next guy (Killzone is one of my PS4 launch purchases) but I also really enjoy his vision of gaming that is human, emotionally moving, and full of involved stories.

    The problem, and the reason I think a lot of people are rubbed the wrong way by his games, is that there still has to be well-executed gameplay and interaction in order for people to feel like they're "playing" something instead of "watching" something. Heavy Rain was an absolutely fantastic game, but the controls were, frankly, bordering on experimental. I forgave Cage in this case because I thought Heavy Rain was a compelling enough experience, but it sounds like Beyond pushes the controls even further into the realm of the obtuse.

    For any game to be successful (and yes, I would assert that Beyond is a "game") the player has to not only have interactions with the game, but feel that their actions have agency in the game world - that the movements they're making with their hands is having a palpable, meaningful effect on the game world and its characters. And the valid complaints I hear about Beyond is that that is not the case. The game simply becomes not fun to "play".

    I bought and will play Beyond, in part because I am drawn to involved stories in my games with believable characters, but also because even a flawed game like this should be encouraged, if for no other reason than to keep ourselves from being buried in a sea of giant-budget war and sports games. I want shooters, sure, but I alsowant choice. Even if Cage's grand experiments aren't always successful, I think they're important, and I want them to exist.

  • Iliya Moroumetz 6 months ago

    Every time David Cage opens his mouth, the more I firmly believe he is a pompous ass that buys into his own hype more and more and shouldn't be taken seriously. At all.

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