A Player’s Fatigue

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God of War should have been a great game.  It had everything going for it.  The mechanics, the design, the care.  And you know, it was a pretty revolutionary game.  It deserved to be, with everything the developers put into it.

But it had one big flaw that turned the whole experience way down, left it short of being truly ‘great’.  In fact, that’s something I’ve noticed a lot of games fall into.  One bit of wisdom that my quest to beat everything has given me.  So many games have it all going on, have got their groove pretty straight in pretty much all aspects, except it’s just one aspect that doesn’t get the attention they deserve or one single mistake that brings the whole experience down.

Anyways, God of War does that.  It has that one big thing that ruins it.  And you know, that one big thing is a big thing that it shares with a lot of other games.  God of War just happens to be a bit of a better example than most.  And that is the problem of the player’s fatigue.

You hear it all the time.  Games bragging about how long they last.  Those good old “100+ hours of gameplay!!!!!111oneone” that are supposed to show you’re getting your money’s worth.  Plenty of players, I’ve seen, have been justifying their purchasing decisions based on how much time a game takes to complete, too.  People don’t seem to realize that all that time doesn’t count if it sucks.

But it’s one thing to just throw in lots of padding or unpolished gameplay.  To waste your time in the interest of getting that number up.  That’s a horrible, horrible thing, and there’s been plenty of dialogue about that in the gamosphere already.  You don’t need a sexy genius blogger to tell you about that.  Rather, God of War’s problem, and those of its ilk, is a bit different.  A bit more subtle.  Although it hasn’t aged the best, God of War is definitely a quality experience, mostly throughout.  It rarely just wastes your time the way so many of those punchclock games do.  It’s got a lot going for it, it just stretches these things a little bit farther than they should.

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Things just take too long, in God of War.  There’s content for it, it’s not padding, it just takes too long.  Levels start stretching on and on, fights keep going as enemies pour in to replace those you’ve slain, and the gods’ whiny “omg got 2 kull areeeeees!” gets hammered into your skull over and over again.  Every little thing makes its point and then some.

It’s far from unique to God of War, too.  Remember how Persona 3 was super great, then you got to the Nyx Avatar fight and it’s a 14 stage final boss that takes half damage from everything and will charm you into fully healing her over and over again unless you’ve already beaten her and know to prepare?  You remember how every single level in Alan Wake was the same bloody forest?  You remember the final level in whatever the last game was that you beat and how the designers hit crunch time and just decided to start with the CTRL+C, CTRL+V model of game design?

So yeah.  It’s not a good thing.  For a very good reason.  Video games are very kinetic, much more than most other mediums.  Players should be feeling something.  Excitement.  Accomplishment.  Empathy.  Awe at how great that Aether guy is at video games.  Emotions naturally run high in games, as their active nature draws out whoever’s playing.  But emotions also take mental energy than a passive observer would be giving off.  And when you draw too much mental energy without cycling it with something, that’s where you run into fatigue.

Usually, this comes up when the player stops feeling like they’re being productive.  When the level goes on and on without changing, it becomes less “oh, what a huge level” and more “oh, I’m just not getting anywhere”.  Likewise, when God of War’s respawning new enemies in the middle of the fight that are exactly the same as the ones you just killed, kind of makes you feel like you’re just spinning your wheels in the mud.  It feels like grinding.  If you make a player go through the same thing over and over again, no matter how good the fluff or the mechanics, eventually it stops being fun and just starts getting to be work.

In most any progressive story, it takes a bit of a break or change to keep that mental energy up.  It’s an odd thing.  Although mental energy doesn’t really take any actual energy, it’s still important to manage.  That’s why books are always swapping chapters of POVs right when it hits the climax.  Just that small bit of change and variation keeps things feeling fresh.  When you go so long without that, that’s when things start to wear thin.  Then you get people on the internet complaining.  Who wants that?

So, in summation, if you ever find yourself playing God of War, remember to be appropriately grumpy about it.  It’s a good game, sure, but grumpiness is the order of the day all the same.