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VenusInFurs
9:37 PM on 02.25.2012

What is gameplay? Debates about this very word have caused controversy in the last couple of years in the gaming community. More often than not the attacks have been aimed at games that proclaim themselves as being ďartistic.Ē These art games made by indie developers are the pioneers of minimalistic gameplay. Most recently Dear Esther has spark up the conversation about what makes a game a game, and whether the game in question has any gameplay at all. The deep philosophical meaning (if any) of Dear Esther is not what Iím interested in. What I am interested is the definition of gameplay. A word that is universally known to gamers, but to the outside world needs dire annotations to be understood. An elementary definition of the word doesnít do justice to the actual act of the word. What Iím trying to achieve is an understanding of what constitutes a videogame as a videogame.



Yes, Dear Esther is a videogame. Itís a game of the simplest kind, but that doesnít hide the simple fact that it is in all intents and purposes a videogame. Like Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, Dear Esther relies on a organic or natural non-combat gameplay. But, unlike Shatterd Memories, Dear Esther fails to invite the player into its world -- itís still a game, but fails at the most fundamental goal of immersion through gameplay in which Shattered Memories triumphs. Dear Esther is, for the lack of a better word, an interactive audio book. This interactivity, no matter how sparse constitutes itself as a game. Shattered Memories, on the other hand, is game without the traditional combat gameplay done right, yet the masses still was hesitant to embrace this oddball of a game.

Besides running from demons, the main gameplay of Shattered Memories is walking, controlling the flashlight, and most importantly the phone. For instance, the world of Silent Hill is filled with random numbers graffitied on walls, or on billboards advertising stress relief. Every number in the game can be called and youíll be sure to get some weird response back. This is gameplay -- the reaction you get from performing an action as simple as dialing a number.



Gameplay is all about the gameís mechanic. Itís the core actions the gamer is performing in order to play the game (doesnít matter what genre it is). Everything else is a companion to enhance the core gaming mechanics. Game controls are split into two different aspects: play control and gameplay. Gameplay is the sequences you do in a game. Play control is how the character you play controls. Itís about the feeling you get when you move, use your sword/gun, jump, menu navigation, etc.

Let's take Devil Survivor, for example. Now, Devil Survivor doesn't have play control, it does; however, have gameplay. Devil Survivor is all about making clear, pin-point, linear strategic moves on a graphed battlefield. You use demons, magic, character placement, and leveling your characters to succeed in the game. Devil Survivor doesn't need play control, but a game like Dark Souls does. In Dark Souls if the feedback is not there, then the game fails.

In Dear Esther everything is automated for you, hence the feedback (play control) is virtually nonexistent. For instance, entering a cabin intuitively turns the flashlight on. This subtle, yet key feature is removed from the player and leaves the gamer disconnected from the world. However, In Shattered Memories the player is given full control of the flashlight. This simple play control of feeling like the player is discovering or just wondering around is a key feature in immersion. The immersion is killed when something as simple as turning a flashlight off or on is automated for you.



In Skyrim all I did for the majority of my playthrough was walk around, go into abandoned houses, look at all the details and find the many notes or books scattered around. This in fact was my favorite part of Skyrim, not the fighting or quests -- the exploration and subsequent notes and books I found because of the exploration was key to my enjoyment. This all relates back to Shattered Memories, exploration and finding a letter or anything that is interactive in the world is just as good as actually having a gun in your hand and shooting the head of a zombie right off. Dear Esther is a lost opportunity in which all you do is walk. This could have been something deeper if the developers gave the player the simple interaction of reading some of the books or dozens of scattered notes you see around; instead itís all eye candy and results to nothing interesting.
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