Evolution of video games more than child’s play

Ron Toback-Wolf

Not enough people play video games. At least not at the current rate and quality at which they’re produced. In America, there’s so many people who care about the newest superhero movie or the latest episode of Euphoria, so it’s clear that the demand for interesting and engaging media is high. And yet, video games are still often seen as a thing for children and for ‘adults who never grew up.’ It’s the association of video games with children that upsets me because so many video games are MUCH more than child’s play.

Video games started out as simple skill tests for children on consoles or arcade machines at the beginning of the video game revolution. The Legend of Zelda, Pac-Man, and, of course, Super Mario Bros. were made to use their hardware to the fullest extent and offer a simple experience geared towards kids but enjoyable for all ages.

But as technology has evolved and improved, games have followed suit. Graphics have brought the famous red plumber and his early-gaming friends to the third dimension, games are longer and more complex, and, thanks to the Wii, some games have been integrated into a much more casual, non-gamer market. Now, obviously video games are much different than movies and whatnot, but there is one thing I believe video games will always hold over most other forms of media: Immersion. 

A TV series stars a protagonist who makes their own decisions, goes about the world in their own way, and audiences watch them as they solve the problems they face within their fictitious world. Most films, plays, or books do the same, but video games have the option to do something a little different. A video game depends on a player’s choices and their skill. How someone plays, how they fight, and how they solve puzzles is important. A video game’s experience is entirely your own. Two friends spent different amounts of time on level 8 of Super Mario Galaxy, but everyone in the world saw the same thing when Thanos snapped his fingers.

There’s too many games to count when discussing how video games can make you feel like you’re a part of the world. Let’s start with an enduring classic: Pokemon has lasted for decades with the same formula. Catch pokemon in the wild, pick your favorites, raise them, form bonds with them, and defeat progressively stronger opponents. 

In the latest game, Pokemon Legends: Arceus, players receive the enchanting ability to aim and throw pokeballs themselves, instead of just pressing a button and watching their character throw the ball. This amplifies the immersion and wonder when a player feels like they caught a pokemon with the ball they threw.

Mystery games take player immersion and storytelling to the next level. Someone playing Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney receives all the clues they need, but it’s up to them to solve the mystery and find the true culprit. Because most of the crimes found in Ace Attorney are realistically probable, the stakes are real, and the urgency is pressing (no pun intended.)

If a player wants to beat this game, they need to think not like a gamer, but like a person. How could this crime have been committed, and how do they reveal the truth? The game supplies its players with memorable, compelling characters and a gripping story to bring them right into the world of an intrepid young lawyer and his adventures in the courtroom, which is all it needs to compel players to help him raise that precise “OBJECTION!” to turn the case around.

A game’s immersion doesn’t just need to temper your wonder of a new world, however. If you feel like you’re there, and your character is in danger, so are you. So when a game shows you the first-person view of a person stuck in a dark cabin with a shadowed stranger who threatens them with a gruesome fate if they fail at his storytelling card game, you FEEL it. 

Inscryption by Daniel Mullins masters atmosphere: the music is chilling, the graphics are simple but perfectly unsettling, and the level of unsolved questions is incredibly compelling. The immersion in the cabin is through the roof, and while the rest of the game doesn’t quite match how it makes a player feel as if they’re right there, Inscryption is truly special because that lack of immersion later in the game is intentional. I won’t specify how, because this game needs to be experienced to be believed.

But the true master of immersion in the video game world is a game I’ve written about before. What is the best way to make a player feel as if they’re part of the world? Just make the player a part of the world, of course! 

My praises for Toby Fox and his current work in progress, Deltarune, never end. The game itself is phenomenal, the turn-based combat feels effective and clean whilst playing into the game’s signature charm and interaction between characters, who are all memorable, humorous, and interesting. The game’s protagonist, Kris, isn’t as fleshed out as the rest. They’re… silent. A player controls how they act and guides their soul to dodge enemy attacks, and other than some bits of personality that shine out, Kris simply follows orders. 

But at the end of the first chapter, Kris traumatically pulls out their soul. This is the only time in the game when you have no control over Kris, as they don’t have their soul -the thing that lets you control them. You see them stuff it into a birdcage before pulling out a knife and glaring. Glaring past the screen… and at the one who was until recently controlling their every move. The one without whom they would have free will. The chapter ends right there. Tell me that this moment would be just as impactful if Deltarune were a movie, where Kris doesn’t have a direct relationship with the player.

Deltarune’s use of player immersion is so laudable that it uses methods the games I’ve described before use to immerse players. The player feels threatened and condemned like in Inscryption, and follows a group of characters they grow attached to and feel compelled to play and help them, like in Ace Attorney. 

Games like Deltarune prove why the medium of video games shouldn’t be reduced to something for children. They provide unique experiences that could not be replicated if they were told as movies, as plays, or as books. Yes, they take more effort and energy to enjoy than those forms, but a good game will reward the focus it demands. If you’re bored at home, consider downloading Steam to your computer and downloading one of these games. You may be pressing the START button on something more than just a video game.