I'm not the head of Activision, a Nintendo shareholder, or even an exec at EA. However, if (through some kind of hilarious Steve Urkel-esque mix-up) I accidentally shuffled into an important meeting of all the top video game executives and plopped down beside Bobby Kotick, I wouldn't just sit there quietly. At some point during the investors report (or whatever it was that I stumbled into), I'd clear my throat, slam my fist against the table and yell, "Stop making games fun!”
In the stunned silence before security hauled me away, I’d try to explain. "Isn't there more to gaming than having fun? I'm looking at you, Nintendo," I'd say, glancing at Shigeru Miyamoto across the table as he sheepishly looked down.
Should games be fun? Yes, of course…but not all the time.
If I'm on a journey through a desert, shouldn't parts of it be excruciating in order to create a feeling of relief when I finally reach an oasis? I don’t want a pimped-out jeep with a machine gun to blast bad guys along the way. I want a limited supply of water, and for the controls to get sluggish as my view begins to fade in and out. I want to feel like I’m there, especially if that means I won’t be enjoying it very much.
"Ahh, just like the boss fight with The Sorrow in Metal Gear Solid 3," Hideo Kojima would chime in.
Next, I would turn to the lead designer of Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (whoever that was) and say, "Remember that segment where you separated the player from their team with naught but a knife and a pistol? I thought that level was going to be an interesting change in gameplay because I was at a disadvantage…until you gave me a crate of machine guns!"
I’d tell them it reminded me of learning to ride a bike without training wheels, then finding out that my dad had never actually let go of the seat (At this point Miyamoto or Kojima might put a hand on my shoulder, comforting me).
Think of the older Final Fantasy games. They had this pattern of making you trudge through dungeons that weren’t necessarily exhilarating, but they always rewarded you with a piece of the plot or some other type of treasure by the end. Not every moment was packed with adrenaline, but without the downtime there would be no accomplishment in actually saving the world.
Final Fantasy 13 was not a good game because it ignored this pattern. It tried to take out the traditionally "boring" role-playing game elements and focus the experience to try and make the "fun" part into the entire game. When your game is 60+ hours, that's a bad idea. It gets tiring, and eventually, even more boring than the boring stuff would’ve been.
As security threw me out the door, I would leave everyone with a final metaphor: "I don't like porridge. It's bland and has a weird texture, but if I add a taste of brown sugar and milk, it's delicious!"
(Special thanks to David Ward for your insight and for inspiring this article.)