I recently had a revelation about video games and control. The games I enjoy the most are the ones that make me feel like I’m in full control of my character. That might sound stupid because every game gives you full control of your character, but it’s the feeling that makes the difference. The example I’m about to provide isn’t amazing, but should be able to convey the point.
This example includes a couple popular games, Call of Duty and Gears of War. To get this out of the way, I’m not a fan of Call of Duty, but I am a fan of Gears of War. This article isn’t intended to bash on Call of Duty, but to analyze why I dislike the entire series, and why I don’t dislike the Gears of War series. Going back to the topic, it’s about the feel of the control that makes the difference in all games, just not these two.
In Call of Duty, even the most experienced player can die a ‘cheap death’. This can also happen in Gears of War, but it is rare and unlikely. Breaking it down further:
In Call of Duty you can shoot through walls. While that’s something I tend to like, and it’s ‘realistic’, it does no justice for a good player. The reason why it doesn’t do justice for a good player is because you don’t have the proper control over your character. This is where the feel comes into it. If I were to transplant myself into the Call of Duty’s battlefield, I would be moving and acting differently than what I’m allowed to do in game. First, I’d be moving a lot slower. War isn’t fast, you just don’t go running into the middle of the battlefield, spraying and praying, you position yourself to win. You take cover, plan your attack, observe your surroundings, then when you see the opportunity, you attack! However in call of duty, none of this happens. It’s more of, ‘Hey I saw you first, I’m going to start shooting, and you’re going to die’. Call of Duty isn’t the only title that exhibits this, Halo does too. Unless we’re talking about SWAT in Reach, that’s a different story for another time. But to simply put it, Call of Duty gives you too many ways to die and not enough ways to live.
On the contrary, in Gears of War, you have many options to live, and many to die. That doesn’t mean it is easy to live in Gears of War, it is pretty easy to die, but you learn how to live. You learn how to maneuver, you learn how to plan, you learn how to hide, you learn when to rush, you learn how to battle. in Gears of War, I control my character as if I were really in that location, fighting that battle. Why? because the game allows me to. It doesn’t let me just control my character, it gives me the feel that I am that character. I have complete control over my destiny in Gears of War. When I die in Gears of War, it is because I did something wrong. Dying is a punishment in Gears of War, not a standard occurrence. Gears teaches you how to play the game through dying (punishment). It is rare for any other game to do this. Most games rely on powerups to reward players who play more than others, to make them stronger, harder to kill. But this is a false sense of accomplishment. In Gears of War, I don’t need any powerups, I don’t need any fancy additions to my character, give me a Hammerburst, Gnasher, Lancer, or even Sawed-off, and I’ll make you pay for any mistake you make. Likewise, other players will make me pay for any mistake I make.
This was a brief look at the difference between control in games. Why some games feel right, and others do not. I feel like I’m in the minority of gamers who realize this. There’s nothing I can do to make other people realize, see, or feel what I do. But maybe this article has given other gamers who already echo my feelings, a reason why certain games just don’t ‘feel right’.