Since the inception of gaming as a medium, fun has always been at its very core, whether drawing more coins into arcade machines or simply giving players a reason to keep playing. However, as photorealistic graphics and movie-like stories have seemingly become equally important as gameplay, players have a growing demand for ever-better looking games and more engaging narratives, and the place of fun is more unclear than ever.
Recently, this demand has been highlighted by the highly anticipated release of Red Dead Redemption 2 whose glossy trailers teasing a vibrant open world and dark storyline have left players desperate to play it for months. One important aspect missing from the hype, however, was any mention of gameplay, which even those trailers only briefly displayed before an impressive attention to detail became the focus of initial reactions. As a consequence, players were divided when the game eventually released and it played much differently to what they expected, featuring mechanics that aim at realism and an almost obsessive attention to detail that practically require players to eat, sleep, and bathe at every turn — a far cry from the fairly simple controls of Rockstar Games’s previous titles.
For instance, what once was a simple exercise in finding an animal, shooting it, and taking its pelt in the previous game is now a lengthy quest with little reward. Protagonist Arthur Morgan must take time away from robbing banks and stealing trains to travel to a specific location, track a particular animal, determine its value, find its weak spots, use the right weapon, skin it, pick it up, and race to a trader in time before it decays. Even then, if anything is virtually not perfect about the kill, it is almost worthless. While realistic, many have complained that this simply is not fun.
Of course, realism is not inherently negative. One can certainly appreciate and even enjoy the experience for what it is if they are dedicated enough, and it is an undeniably fresh addition that suits Rockstar’s formula. However, not everyone agrees that such realism (such as tapping ‘X’ to bathe the protagonist) is good, as claims that such design is intrusive and distracting have been both critics and players’ main criticism of Red Dead Redemption 2 so far. The sentiment is that gameplay matters most, and that it should always take precedence over immersion; the concern is that developers are forgetting this and sacrificing fun for detail.
This is not to say that fun in games is out of fashion, either. In fact, games such as Rocket League and Fortnite have seen massive success because they are simply enjoyable without impressive graphics or deep storylines. Likewise, in spite of average graphics and a mediocre plot, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey has been praised for its gameplay, allowing itself to be historically inaccurate and unrealistic if the player is still having fun. Evidently, unadulterated enjoyment still very much has a place in games, with no sign of it being replaced entirely.
Similarly, a shift away from pure enjoyment has proved to be a positive thing before: as technology has advanced and games have become bigger, player choice has expanded to include a diversity in genres and styles so that one is not limited to simple fun if they prefer more story-heavy adventures, strategy games, or realistic experiences. Therefore, games like Red Dead Redemption 2 are not necessarily signs of the times that indicate a growing movement away from fun as some fear, but rather evidence of innovation and variety, the result of which can only be good for increasingly diverse consumers.
Though graphics and story have become aspects of a game almost equally important as its gameplay, ultimately gameplay is the defining factor for gaming as a medium. Signs that this is being replaced would thus surely be cause for concern, but that is seemingly yet to happen as “fun” continues to drive game sales and gives players diverse choice in what they want to play.