Are Games Becoming Too Domesticated?

Image credit: Steven Ray Brown (@StevRayBro) via Nightmare Mode Have video games become glorified to-do lists? Has the element of surprise been ripped form our grubby little hands? Over at Nightmare Mode, writer Fernando Cordeiro contemplates whether games have become domesticated.

In his piece Cordeiro suggests that the element of discovery has been taken away from us in many modern video games. Sure, we can explore vast worlds and quest to ours hearts content, but we seldom get lost any more. There are too many tutorials, too many maps, too many pointers, and too much guidance.

Cordeiro says:

"Not only have we grown familiar to their bizarre lexicon (cracked walls were meant to be exploded) but we always have the information of what to do and where to go directly at our fingertips, sometimes even before we have any real use for such information. As a result, games have become to-do lists. The contemporary quintessential video game is nothing but a laundry list of things to do in order to get the 100% complete rate. What used to be surprises to be found became mere tasks to be fulfilled: “Defeat Riddler”; “Stop the bomb”; “Find 35 pieces of arrows”; “Help the villagers”; “Become the master of fighter’s guild”."

He continues:

"We now take this for granted. We expect our games to have mini-maps to pin point exactly where we should be heading next, as if my medieval hero had a smartphone with him. It’s either that of that looming golden arrow that acts like Jack Sparrow’s magical compass on the top of the screen. After getting the treasure, we expect to see our progress rate increase in 1%. That way we can measure exactly where we are and have a notion of how much I need before completing the game.

In the world I’m from, this is called a project management tool."

One of the more interesting examples that Cordeiro raises is that of the old Super Mario Bros. games. The player would run and jump and have no idea what would come next (unless they'd already played the level, of course). There were no hints, no clues where the princess would be — every new inch of the screen revealed a surprise.

Codeiro acknowledges that without "domestication", games would become incredibly frustrating, so it can serve a positive purpose. His piece serves as an interesting reminder about how games and gamers have changed — how our expectations are no longer the same.

We strongly recommend heading over to Nightmare Mode to read his piece in full.

Do you think that games are losing their element of surprise? Do you lament the days of getting lost in a game and having no idea where you are or what you're meant to do? Or is modern-day gaming about as good as it gets? Let us know!

[Nightmare Mode]


    Yeah, he's most definitely got a point. Even the location of the manuscripts in Alan Wake's American Nightmare were displayed on the HUD. If Uncharted 4 starts displaying the hidden treasures on a map, then we're all screwed. Screwed I tells ya!

      Like Uncharted Golden Abyss?

        My jaw just hit the freakin' floor, man. Holy damn. Doesn't anyone appreciate the hunt? :S

          Well some do. Some are just trophy whores who are willing to pay for that quick burst through.

          though at least it wasn't pre-order DLC.

          Oh you pre-ordered our game. Well here's all this stuff that makes the game 3 times easier. Oh and no you can't turn any of it off.

      AW is the first thing I thought of when I read this article. How the hell am I supposed to feel lost and scared in an atmospheric dark forest when I have a huge map with a pulsing icon permanently on screen.

    One of the most surprising moments in AVP was when I shot the head off a robot and it was still walking. It's why I like games like Dead Space or Binary Domain, mixes it up a bit.

      Dead Space and mixing it up don't below in the same paragraph, let alone the same sentance....

      agree 100% with this article, it's similar problem in the MMo genre, with the token systems, you know exactly when you'll be getting your next piece of gear as you can calculate exactly how many tokens you get from each run, takes out the element of suprise and one of the major reasons I stopped playing WoW.

        Dead Space does mix it up. A typical headshot results in a frenzied enemy that hurts more. Plus the "weapons" are mostly different then from typical games.

    funny but... i think kojima got it right back then if thats the case.
    Easy - full radar + cone
    Normal - full radar...but no POV cone

    Close to what Tim Shafer and Ron discussed in their interview.

    This is why Demon Souls and Dark Souls are so popular.

    They bring it back to the good old days of "work it out yourself".
    Until wik's and youtube vids come along and spoil all the fun .

    IMO Ninja Gaiden, Bionic Commando and Batman on the NES were so great because you had to work stuff out. It was lieterally a case of crying at defeat, and dancing with joy during the credits roll.

      Not having a mini-map in Dark Souls was a revelation to me. The levels are complex and layered, but not once did I ever feel like I needed a map. Though I know that if I were given one, I would be using it near constantly, as that's what i do in games like zelda and metroid. I would have wanted to know so that I wouldn't miss anything or be unprepared. Dark Souls lets you discover and learn for yourself, which makes the whole experience much more involving and memorable.

        I agree. I found Demon's/Dark Souls refreshing for just that reason.

        I also really enjoyed the way maps were presented in Thief. Usually it was a hand drawn scrawl from a friend that gave you an idea of the general layout of the building you were entering. It served to indicate where you needed to go, but the little details were left for you to discover and explore for yourself.

        This makes me think of my childhood and how beating a game used to be a bragging right for the same reasons you mentioned. I guess now it's like who can't finish a five hour game with all the hand holding and instant internet help. I remember staying at a friend's place one weekend and I played Super Metroid until I finished it. That was hard work. We had no guides, finding missile and health upgrades were just luck most of the time. I'm still kind of proud of myself ;)

    This is sounding a bit like the gameification theory discussed on Extra Credits at one point.
    Wouldn't that be amusing - we've ruined our games by gameifying them...

    This is true and a problem, but at the opposite end of the table you don't want games where you end up finding 99 ways not to succeed at something before you crack it.

    There's also a problem where this is bleeding off into how the writing for quests is becoming too simplistic.

    Take for example Skyrim, every quest is guided by the quest markers, so the entries in the quest log are the barest bones of what you need to do for the quest. Sure, you can turn off the quest marker, but there is no where near enough information given to you to even start working out what to do next. The quest that jumps to mind the most is the quest for Molag Bal where you have to find the Priest of Boethiah who was captured by the forsworn. That's all the info you get, and other than following hte quest marker, the only other way of doing the quest would be to murder your way through all the forsworn camps in the Reach.

    No more quest journals and entries full of clues, red herrings and information that require even a little bit of analysis to get you to the next place. Instead it's all markers to follow, where most of the time you don't even need any of the information given to you.

      I did the Molag Bal one last night. Complete crap. The lack of character development and the rail-roading on some quests is really starting to bother me too. I swear that at least some of the quests in Oblivion were open ended with multiple resolutions.

    I don't have a problem with all the 'guides' in games, as long as there is an option to turn it all off.

    That explains why I gave up playing games like Doom and Duke Nukem 3D when they came out on XBLA. I had become too accustomed to being handheld through games.

    Having to walk around and backtrack heaps as you do in the old school shooters, spamming 'use' on every wall trying to work out how the hell you progress in the level becomes frustrating quickly.

    "no clues where the princess would be" Um have you ever played mario before? Like seriously, not to mention that NEW Super mario is the same as the old ones, the entire argument died with that line.

      Er... Yup, I did. In fact, I did it when it first came out for the NES and there wasn't any game magazines.

    Everyone knows where the princess is.she is in another castle. She is the moving goalpost of modern life. The"cheese" that has been moved!

    "We expect our games to have mini-maps to pin point exactly where we should be heading next, "

    Um, darn right I want that. I HATE games where I have to waste hours of real time going back and forth to find something that should be quick and easy. It's NOT FUN.

    As for games you can only play if you've already died and have to restart, stuff that. I like surprise but I like at least some predictability too.

    But is that what older games were going for? Was the dungeon enterance cleverly hidden, or were the designers just really bad at giving directions? Given the tech, would they have included arrows, maps and pointers?

    I mean there was always a pattern, a sense of a certain logic. They always told you where to go and where the secrets were in their own wierd way (variant texture on a FPS wall plate? Secret door). The stuff that wans't obvious to a veteran was limited to easter eggs and cheats.
    Were they leaving breadcrumbs because they wanted it to be a challenge or because they didn't have a paper to leave you a note on?

    I love exploration and puzzles in games, but what we had back then wasn't exploration so much as pattern recognition and brute force assaults. Lockie up there mentioned walking along spamming use on every wall which to me isn't exploration or surprise. That's something you'd tell a bug tester to do if you want to ruin their day.
    Getting to a new screen in Zelda and burning every possible bush wasn't exploring or puzzle solving or in any way challenging. It was just time consuming.

    Yeah I do question myself about this sometimes. Am I really having fun following all these instructions? RPGs tend to be more guilty of this. Quests are often nothing short of interactive errands, which is how I feel about them in Mass Effect (which I'm playing through right now). Sometimes I'll think, "maybe I should do one of these side-quests I've been given", and while some of them might be more rewarding and impact the game more than others, I end up just thinking "what's the point" (So I can level higher, duh!). Same thing I kinda felt in Assassin's Creed 2, which just had giant markers pointing you to exactly where you need to go. The combat wasn't even that good, but I like that some take-downs forced you to think about your approach.

    Omochao doesn't think so.

    I think it's all about balance - you kinda need a push in the right direction.

    I think a lot of the problems he talks about have come as a byproduct of the whole open-world gaming paradigm, where the play areas are so huge that you risk missing out on something if you're not directed to it.

    Which brings up an interesting point - I wonder if some of the hand-holding is the result of the developers themselves making sure they've not wasted their time on something most people will never see or appreciate..

    Dear God no dont put maps and hand holding in Alan Wake 2 nooooooooo that would be so bad!!

    Tombi & Spyro 1 are examples of how to do things, although I fear today's kids are unable to use brain power like how we used to, they need their hand held (bad pun?).

    This is basically just a more generic version of the argument that was brought up in the "modern Zelda games are broken" article.

    I still agree.

      I actually did not agree with that post. He is seeing the signs, but the implications are far deeper than Zelda. When Tevis says Zelda is "domesticated" he is talking about its predictability. When I say domestication, I'm talking about about being given tools to manage our games.

      The game I was actually thinking about when I wrote that was Arkham City ;)

        Ah. Right, I realized that you weren't focusing on Zelda, but I guess my comment might've implied otherwise. What I meant to say was that, to my understanding, both articles are touching on the same general subject of 'nobody wants to figure anything out on their own anymore' but that yours was looking at it from a less specific, and less antagonistic ;-P, angle. I think the predictability he was talking about is pretty closely related to your more general idea of 'project management tools', at least as I understood it.

        I'm not sure which article I placed it under, but around the time of Tevis' article I commented about something that happened to me over a weekend while some family was visiting. "tl;dr" version: a kid wanted to play my copy of Skyward Sword so I let him. Even with Skyward Sword's heavily broadcasted 'here, you need to do this now' type of hand-holding he was getting upset that I wasn't going to help him with every single little thing and tell him exactly what to do. He said it was too confusing and it needed an arrow that pointed where to go :-P

        I told him that part of the fun was figuring out how to get through each room on your own. The poor kid was just totally lost and confused without a list of objectives on-screen and a glowing arrow pointing directly to the next button or switch. He eventually just got frustrated and left the controller sitting on the floor. (a living example of the fear you mentioned that developers have of people just giving up at the first sign of confusion or non-progress)

        I had just been reading people online discussing how modern Zelda games are increasingly becoming infinitely repeated 'to-do-lists' that require so very little from the player... and yet here was a kid complaining that it was *still* too hard for him to understand what to do next. That was pretty depressing.

        In what ways did you disagree with Tevis? Obviously, when it comes to Zelda everyone has their own concept of what 'Zelda is' or should be. So I imagine it just boils down to personal preferance, and that you don't see the domestication increasingly present in that series as being a negative trend... but still, I figure I'd ask because I'm interested. :)

          I agreed with Tevis about many of the individual examples he gave, but rarely with the causes he cites.
          I disagreed, for instance, in everything (everything!) he said regarding difficulty. Every game should be beaten by anyone, I believe, and making a game harder or whose progress is purposely misleading is not the medicine Zelda needs. The days Zelda was analog to Demon's Souls is long past. That’s why I don’t believe that, when optional, game domestication is a problem.
          Tevis also makes it seem that A Link to the Past was the point the series started failing, but I believe it was only with Twilight Princess that the series fully became enslaved by its clichés - and how could it not? TP was a game meant for the fans and that's the biggest trap a franchise can fall in. When a game is made for the fans, the result can only be the Same Game Again.
          Finally, Tevis talks about lack of urgency and pacing (both real problems with the franchise) but then demands the game to have LESS narrative! But you see, narrative is what the series need the most. Right now, everything feels like a routine. That is only partially because the game is always telling us where to go. The other reason is that we are simply not given a reason to care for Hyrule and its people. The game needs us to care enough for us to go from Dungeon A to Dungeon C, it needs engaging characters to serve as motivators... and it's the narrative (even emergent narrative perhaps) that should provide that. The Zelda games must go beyond its current concept of being a Gamer’s Ritual. It needs to acquire meaning - and fast.
          And, of course, it needs to stop telling us where to go and what to do all the time. Kill that stupid owl! How nice would it be if we were to discover a dungeon completely by accident, by falling inside an average-looking hole for instance, instead of being faced with those map-marked temple monstrosities, inhabited by no one and built for no real reason other than to appease the gamer!

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