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  • Writer's pictureMicah Kolding

5 Tropes that Video Games Need to Stop Pretending Count as Gameplay

1. Fishing

In the real world, fishing is an activity that only has merit if you either need to live off the fish or you need an excuse to go out in the wilderness, center yourself, and probably drink beer. When you take this activity and try to put it into a video game, all you have left is the waiting. No matter how much games try to dress it up, it's always a matter of "Wait there like an idiot and push the right button when we tell you to."

It's lazy, is what it is. The fact is that pretty much any game with a world to it can find a way to pad out its content with this relic from the early days of handheld video game devices, even if its introduction doesn't mesh with the rest of the game's content at all. So until I actually hear somebody say, "Wow, I sure loved waiting for that virtual fish to bite", I'd be content to never have to deal with this obnoxious time-suck again.

2. Stealth

Stealth missions in video games are like the Ice Age movies: They're numerous, they're baffling, and nobody has ever asked for them.

The big problem with stealth, even when the mechanic makes sense (and it never does), is that it's usually all about avoiding combat, despite the fact that combat in a video game should be fun. A game could hardly give you a bigger slap in the face than forcing you to laboriously navigate around the chimerical senses of a virtual enemy, knowing that the alternative should be beating the living bejeesus out of the same.

3. Tracking

A lot of recent titles are trying to make a game function out of looking for clues and following tracks. You would think this would be an intuitive system of, say, looking at the screen and either noticing or not noticing details, but that's not something that requires buttons to be pushed. Instead, they give you some kind of special investigation mode or hunter sense or whatever, which entails changing the visuals so that the things you're supposed to see are very easy to see.

Then you see the things.

Then you follow them.

And that's it.

4. Walking and Being Sick

Have you ever gotten to a part in a game wherein your character is sick or dying, and your entire agency is reduced to pushing the joystick forward to make him or her slowly limp forward until the next cut scene starts? Of course you have, because this has become way, way too common.

Near as I can tell, the point of such scenes is to immerse you in the drama of struggling for your life. It fails to do so, of course, because you've seen this character die dozens of times already, and the only feelings you have left for it are the mild frustrations that come with having to restart from the last checkpoint. Game designers who refuse to accept that they're not making a movie are only stretching this frustration out over a matter of minutes, and making you babysit the character through this so that you can't even step away and grab a drink while you wait for it to end.

5. Morality and Dialogue Trees

Anyone who has ever needed to seek out customer service on a phone can tell you that there's nothing fun about navigating the many branching options of a phone menu until something finally happens. Some game designers have apparently not figured this out.

What video game designers need to accept is that they can never truly offer a role-playing experience on par with, say, talking to actual people. Maybe there are some people who actually enjoy the illusion of choice that comes with canned dialogue options, but most players are going to be going through every possible option in case they missed something anyway.

The situation isn't improved with the addition of a "morality" system. Morality is a complex concept that people struggle with in real life, but in video games, it boils down to "You purchased a couple of slightly different games, but you're only going to play one. So do you want to pet the puppy or flip it the bird?"

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