Should games always be created to be accessible? Or is there something to be said for making something that erects barriers to the “ease of use” of the player?
Watching the Director’s Cut of the film Donnie Darko was a strange experience for me. The original was (and remains) one of my favourite movies of all time. I found it profoundly moving and satisfying despite the fact that I couldn’t really have spelled out what was happening with the rabbit and the drugs and the discussions of time travel. I was excited to see what would be revealed once Richard Kelly had the budget and freedom to express his original vision.
It was fine, I guess. If I hadn’t seen the original, I probably would have loved it. The time travel stuff was much more overt, and it was clear that there was now a “correct” way to interpret the film’s strangeness. But a good chunk of the magic was gone. By adding material and making things “clearer”, he had robbed the film of something important and meaningful. At the same, this was a surprise to me.
I’ve been thinking about how similar phenomena apply in games. This line of thinking was precipitated by two unrelated things I’ve happened across recently.
The first was a complaint about Dark Souls that came up on my Facebook feed recently. The poster was arguing that combined aspects of the game – from the brutal difficulty to the lack of tutorial and clunky interface – amounted to bad game design. Clearly, there are contexts where all of these things could be considered to be bad design, and yet they have in no way blunted the critical and player acclaim for the game. Dark Souls’ Metacritic scores are mostly in the high 80s, with only some aspects of the PC version’s port drawing serious criticism. So have the Souls games succeeded despite their “flaws”, or is there something else going on?