" and "Games
" are terms that I use to describe the rising trend towards linearity
in the computer entertainment field.
There are computer games that are like books unfolding from a beginning to an inevitable end. The primary purpose of a "bookish" game is to tell a story. Along the way there may be game-like elements, indeed there has to be or what you have is not a game at all, but ultimately the entire outcome is predestined. For example, in one place in Final Fantasy VI (or III), the character of Terra must make a decision: should she help her friends and join their resistance movement to fight a ruthless conquering nation, or does she decide not to join them after all? Depending on the choice the player makes, Terra has the chance to acquire one of two different powerful items, determined by the choice. But in terms of the ultimate outcome of the story, the decision doesn't matter at all. A few characters react differently in the next few scenes according to the decision, but after that the choice is forgotten: Terra ends up helping the Returners regardless. Most computer and console roleplaying games released these days are essentially book-like in nature. In computer games that are like books, the story is the primary focus, which is not necessarily a bad thing. However, if the player were to catastrophically fail in a task and lose all his progress in the game so far, if his characters were to die and the game to end in failure, he would feel cheated, and rightly so. Thus, these games usually allow the player to save his progress at regular intervals, and in the event of failure it is a simple matter to restart from the last save.
Book-like games tend:
- to underemphasize random situations,
- to offer a single path, or at the most a small number of paths, though a heavily-scripted scenario,
- to not be "losable" except to the extent that the player must return to a previous save,
- to reward involvement of time and effort more than skill,
- to encourage the exploration of a hard-coded world,
- to reward memorization over skill or strategy,
- to have a relatively sedentary pace,
- to offer the player a victory or at least an escape in all possible situations,
- to offer an exciting experience only the first time the game is played through,
- and to last for a long time but have a definite ending, which is the primary objective.
Most Japanese RPGs are extremely book-like in design, but most roleplaying or adventure games released these days have many book-like elements, as do games which attempt to present a "cinematic" experience.
In contrast to book-like games, there are those which are more like games as we know them in real life, board games, card games, sports, games of chance, pen-and-paper roleplaying games, etc. In Pac-Man, a player must rely on quick wits and reflexes to in guiding his on-screen surrogate to avoid his ghost adversaries. While it is generally possible to complete every level from the beginning, there may arise situations within the game where Pac-Man is surrounded by advancing ghosts and all avenues of escape are blocked. Even this can be escaped sometimes (if an energizer is handy or if the player "fakes out" a ghost), but the best move would have been not to get into that situation in the first place.
In the venerable computer game Nethack, the player's character attempts to penetrate deep into the Dungeons of Doom to retrieve the Amulet of Yendor. Along the way are a large number of randomly generated dungeon levels, containing items and monsters which are different every time the game is played. While from the start it is (usually) possible to obtain the Amulet and escape the dungeon, there are a very large number of ways in which to enter inescapable situations, which result in the character's death and the end of the game. But this is okay: everyone expects this to happen to most of their Nethack characters, and usually getting a high rank on the scoreboard is reason enough to claim success.
These sorts of Games tend:
- to present the player mostly with situations that contain some random element,
- to either have no scenario, or to have a generalized scenario which can fit a large number of possible situations,
- to either be won or lost by the player according to his actions,
- to reward skill, strategy, reflexes or some combination more than time or effort,
- to present a dynamic game world which can often be radically changed by the player,
- to be fast-paced, if not action-oriented,
- to be winnable from the start, but to have possible situations which mean certain failure,
- to last through repeated plays, and often to continue to be entertaining after the game has been won,
- and to last for a shorter time than a book-like game, but to have an indefinite end, often only ending once the player's skill has at last failed. Once the game is over, the player's skill is usually measured, most commonly by means of a score.
Game-like games include all classic arcade games, Roguelikes, sports simulations, and most games which have some action element. Tetris is very Game-like, as is any pinball machine. There are many games which present a set number of levels or missions which are Game-like, but the overall linear structure of which is like a Book.
There is no such thing as a pure Game or Book (of this context). Both extremes exist only as abstractions, and neither is wholly good or bad. Over time, the computer game industry seems to be producing games that are more and more like Books, to the increasing exclusion of real Games, which may help to explain the current fascination with classic gaming.