You Can Only Use the Scissors to Cut the String

One of the things that most annoys me in a number of games is when I have a great idea that should work, but the game doesn’t have any special coding for the idea and so my great idea is null and void.  One expects this if you’ve come up with a convoluted idea that would only work in The Incredible Machine, but when it’s as simple as, “I have a knife and I want to cut that string, but no matter how I try I can’t cut the string with the knife,” is when it gets frustrating and takes you out of the game.  Most modern games don’t quite have it this bad, but there are still some situations in modern games where this happens and you start thinking in terms of gaming, rather than terms of existing.  The phrase “Of course it won’t let me do that” comes to mind.  When players utter this or similar phrases, we are now talking about the game as a separate entity, distancing ourselves from the immersion set up by the game.

Of course, there is a problem here.  The game designers who make a game have no idea who their players will be as an individual.  They can only fathom just so many combinations of possible actions.  This is where emergent gameplay comes from, as players discover unexpected ways to use the actions created by the designers.  Emergent gameplay is generally considered a good thing, but it points at the problem.  As the designers cannot predict everything that a player may want to do, they will unintentionally close off actions that, to the players, seem like a perfectly viable thing to do.  This is only natural.  If a game designer tried to make every combination of actions possible for every situation, games would never get made.  It would be unrealistic to expect a game to do everything that a player would want it to do, as the vast number of permutations would not only delay the making of the game, but also make it less accessible (owing to the games increasingly larger size on a hard disc).  This unfortunately causes a gap between the player, the game and the game designer.

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