Video Games: What is beating a game anymore?

A few weeks back my family and I were having a discussion about video games. I was going on a rant about how Heavy Rain was amazing for the sheer fact that it had so many potential outcomes. I made the mistake of saying “…the first time I beat Heavy Rain…” and the question was asked “Well…if you can have so many different endings then what constitutes beating a video game?”

Mario Brothers Box Art

Back when the only decision was to jump now...or jump now

Back when I was a young whipper snapper the 8-bit Nintendo came out. We were shown a world of plumbers, pipes, and princesses with a very definite beginning, middle, and end. Even as gaming progressed video games had very specific and classic sense of novelization that took the user through a world that they had little real control over. Yes one could argue the point that the death of the main character was in fact a decision that a player could make that could indeed affect the outcome of a video game. However the main point holds true that you had to live within the confines of the main character and do what needed to be done to progress to the next level…literally.

As gaming went on it never changed. Then we began to see video games like the first Black and White and The Sims which allowed to user to make some decisions or (in the case of The Sims) all decisions that affected the life of the character. This concept was revolutionary but seemingly slow to reach maturity. In fact it may still be in its maturation phase.

Video games like Fable offered a very distinct ability to play in a variety of ways. Whichever path you chose to take (be it good or evil) would have an effect on those around you. More specifically how they reacted to you and interacted with you. If you want to grow devil horns and have everyone run away screaming, kick every man, woman, child, and chicken you see. But lets be honest…who didn’t love a good Chicken Kickin’ every now and again?

Video games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age: Origins, while not the first, were quite good at establishing very distinct paths of right and wrong. You actions and reactions altered how your party interacted with you, or even hung around your character. The downside is that you could clearly see which path you were going to take. You could easily mold your character into the saint or bastard you wanted them to be without much of a challenge.

Then comes a video game like Nier. Nier’s beauty is not in its imagery (far from it) but in it’s ability to coerce the user into playing again once the game has been beaten. It tells more of the story, provides more of a background. While it doesn’t force you to make decisions on the outcome, it (at the very least) makes you question if you’ve actually beaten it, or merely completed it.

Heavy Rain decisions

Heavy Rain's decisions can be confusing yet have strong outcomes

With video games like Heavy Rain the player has the ability to totally help or hinder the goals of the characters they control. While there are a finite number of endings, it is still a rather lengthy endeavor to witness all potential outcomes. So does beating the game mean seeing an ending? Does it mean seeing the specific ending you were attempting to see? The trick is that there are no right or wrong choices. There are simply choices. You won’t know what the outcome of your actions are until it’s all said and done. Ultimately this is part of what made it so interesting to play.

Shortly after I had this conversation I noticed a post that showed up onĀ Wired by Jonathan Liu titled “Why aren’t games about winning anymore?” and it got me curious. Is this never ceasing quest for achievements and trophies a byproduct of or a reason for the ability to play a game multiple ways. Either way I agree that (at least what I took away was) video games today are a little too much about the achievements/trophies than actually whoopin’ the piss out of a green fire breathing dragon…turtle thing that stole a princess. While the story wasn’t very robust I’ll be damned if it wasn’t a blast to play.

Am I just one of a few rare holdouts who say “beat a game” in world where “finishing a game” is more appropriate? Is there a Facebook fan page for people like me?

And Jonathan, about your removal of the line that games today were made for an “ADHD crowd” I would just like to say that as someone who was diagnosed with ADHD almost 20 years ago that line was perfectly fine, and you needn’t worry about uptight readers who don’t like it. I found it to be a very apt and poignant critique on how video games are quick to dole out rewards for virtually nothing.

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