Because It's There

I have some bad news everyone. Mountain climbers George Mallory and Andrew Irvine have disappeared in their attempt to climb Mount Everest. They are most likely dead, as they disappeared in 1924. I apologize for the delay in relaying this information to you.

Astute readers that you are, a pressing question has probably already popped into your heads: What on earth does this have to do with computer games, you bozo? Let's not worry about that quite yet. Instead, I'll ask another question: Why did George and Andrew go and climb Mount Everest anyway? Well I'm not the first person to think to ask this. Way back before their expedition in 1924, someone asked George the same question, and do you want to know what he said?

"Because it's there."�

Deep, huh? Now there is a parallel to games here, no matter how unlikely that may seem. What is it again? Oh yeah. Here it is: Most adventure games resort at some point to making the player do something merely because it's there. What I mean is that the player is often left in a situation where he is forced to try to solve a puzzle even when he doesn't really know what the puzzle is or what exactly he's trying to accomplish. And that scares me.

Now, when used carefully, leaving the player in a position of bewilderment can be effective. What's going on here? Who am I? What's the meaning of all this? These can be compelling questions, but in my opinion, most adventure games overuse them to an absurd degree. I don't know how many times I've just walked around collecting stuff with no idea why, or started fiddling with every device in the world, just assuming I would have to solve some sort of puzzle with all of it. I don't know about you, but that just does not leave me panting in anticipation of the next story development.

I can see that you don't believe me. I suppose it's time for an example. Let's see, what can I contrive this time? Ah...

Imagine if someone had the guts to make a game called the Snow White and the Seven Dwarves Adventure Game. Well for one, game reviews would refer to it as SWATSDAG, which is perhaps reason enough to make it. But what would the game play be like? Here's my guess...

Snow White is running for her life through the forest. Amazingly, she chances upon the house of not five, not six, but SEVEN dwarves. She enters cautiously and sees their seven little beds all lined up in a row. Not knowing quite what to do, she decides to strip the sheets from all of them. She notices that by combining the sheets in her inventory, she's able to tie them together, so she forms a long rope. As she does this she wonders aloud, "Wait... why am I making a rope from the dwarves' sheets again? And does it say anything disturbing about me?"� But she pushes these thoughts from her mind when she notices that the dwarves' grandfather clock can be opened and its gears turned. She spends a couple of hours spinning the gears and checking around the house to see if anything's changed, until finally she gets so tired that she falls asleep, which, surprisingly enough, is the precise moment the dwarves return. (Apparently the dwarves were just hanging out, watching and waiting for her to fall asleep, and presumably rolling their respective eyes when she tied their sheets together. "Not the sheet rope again!"�)

What lessons can we learn from this game? Now, sure, SWATSDAG is not a "real"� game in the sense of existing in our physical universe, but it is nevertheless awfully typical of the average adventure game. We have here a situation where the player's just left there at this strange house, going "Um, okay, now what?"� This, my friends, is the classic "Because It's There"� syndrome. Having no real objective, the player has little recourse but to start mucking about with everything, which might be fine for a few minutes, but after a while you're going to wonder, "What's the point of it all?"� That's not a question that I particularly want to ask when I'm playing a game, especially since I already ask myself that question every day when I arrive at work.

To me, if you're going to put puzzles in your game, then you need to give players a chance to actually figure them out, not force them to bumble their way through them. If we want players to feel a sense of accomplishment, then they need to be able to form a plan for completing their objectives, which is pretty hard to do if they don't even know what their objectives are. Take Snow White, for example. What are her objectives? Hmm. I don't really know actually. I guess she was just chillin' there at the dwarves' place. Okay, fine, that was a stupid example. But oh well, I already wrote it, and I'm not going to go erase it now, so you'll just have to deal with it.

Now, dear reader, let me ask YOU a pointed question, and I want you to be honest with me, and with yourself.

Why did you read this blog?

Could it be... BECAUSE IT WAS THERE??? Hmm? You know, you really ought to have a better reason for reading these blogs than that. How about, "Because you'll make a dying boy very happy."� Or, if you'd prefer a real reason, how about, "Because you'll make the physically healthy but mentally suspect people at Telltale very happy."�

And, after all, what better cause is there than that?

This discussion has been closed.