Stu Strock has been gaming since his parents sat him in their laps while playing games on an Amiga. Raised mostly on RPGs, he has since developed a keen interest in the narrative potential and immersive qualities of games. As games progressed and evolved over the years, that interest grew and Stu decided to keep games and their culture close by. During high school and college, he worked part-time for Gamestop and became exposed to a wider range of thought concerning what the word game means to players. Now a recent graduate, Stu is currently living in Atlanta, GA and maintains his blog, Experience Points, which seeks to encourage the open discourse of the creation, enjoyment and potential of modern games.
Stu's favorites: Metal Gear Solid (series), Chrono Trigger/Cross, Breath of Fire (series), Grandia, Suikoden (I and II), Final Fantasy (VIII, X and XII), Mirror's Edge, Demon's Souls, Silent Hill (series), Eternal Sonata, Fallout: New Vegas, Batman Arkham Asylum, Legend of Zelda (series), Okami, Ys (series), Valyrie Profile, Kingdom Hearts (series), Tales of Symphonia, Twisted Metal (series), Legacy of Kain (series), Gex (series), Heavy Rain, Wing Commander IV, Ace Combat (series), Zone of the Enders (series), Atelier Iris (I and II), Ico, Shadow of the Colossus
One of the basic tenets of game theory states that games are, by definition, strategic situations in which the success of any player's choices is directly affected by the choices of other players in the game. This player interaction, in turn, is the catalyst for strategy of any kind. As a player, you need to anticipate the actions of the other players and act accordingly in order to achieve your desired goal. Typically, games present pre-established rules or goals to their players, but people are resourceful, creative and sometimes selfish. A human player can visualize his or her own rules and objectives, effectively changing the game. Among many online gaming communities, the intentional deviation from the game's established goals by players has come to be known as "griefing."
So named for the behavior's tendency to cause frustration in those players who adhere to the traditional goals of the game, griefing most often involves the deliberate undermining of teammates' designs, sometimes extending to the outright killing of team members. Thusly, griefing has become a dirty word for many gamers. It would seem, however, that griefing is a practice limited to games with multiple human participants. After all, it is hard to imagine a player griefing themselves or NPCs. In fact, when applied to many single player games, deviating from the objectives presented by the game is either deliberately made impossible by the developers or simply results in game over. These games usher the player along a certain fixed number of paths, to a minimum of one. Sometimes these limitations are fun in and of themselves; the player gladly runs the gauntlet set before them, considering it a challenge. But as games get bigger, more realistic and more complex, we as players find ourselves increasingly noticing games' limitations.
Obstacles like invisible walls are notorious sources of frustration for players and serve only to break any sense of immersion that the game had previously elicited. Worse still are insubstantial physical obstacles that are inexplicably insurmountable. These situations are as ludicrous as a single dumpster blocking the entrance of an alley from your 6'4", 250 lb. special forces character, or a plywood door preventing that same character (who is carrying an assault rifle and several types of explosives) from entering a room simply because "it is locked." We as players roll our eyes at these blatant ploys to force us along a particular progression of events, but there is often nothing we can do about them. Creative level designers disguise these barriers more convincingly, such as by blocking the alley with a pile of flaming cars or replacing the wooden door with a steel vault door. It's simply more believable.
The presence of setbacks like those outlined above does not necessarily destroy a game's fun factor, but it certainly breaks immersion and undermines the believability of any situation. Offering the player realistic choices based on the abilities of their character opens up an assortment of gameplay options for the developers and those tenable alternatives add tremendously to a game's potential enjoyability. This is because, as gameplay is diversified, the boundaries of genre become less defined and the game gains depth.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution (pictured above) blurs the lines between FPS, RPG, and Stealth Action
This added range of playability also brings the added bonus of reaching a wider audience. Where previously certain facets of players' tastes were sated by a single game, now more than ever games can offer multi-dimensional enjoyment. What's more, games have reached a point where the measurable effects of increases in their graphical power and scale are minuscule compared to their possible upgrades in functionality and depth. From a development point of view, this means that all the time spent making a game beautiful and vast can now be spent improving the experience. Thankfully, there are a lot of promising experiences releasing this year. What say you, players? Are you ready for the next great adventure, or the next innovative way to grief?