Games shouldn't have to be "defended from innovation" - Pinchbeck

Dear Esther creator talks about walking sims and questions what makes a game a game

By James Brightman.Published Wednesday 28th September 2016, 2:30pm GMT

Gamers can be a fickle bunch sometimes. When The Chinese Room released Dear Esther over four years ago, some criticized the title for its minimal gameplay elements, but now the indie scene has produced many more so-called walking sims (Gone Home, Firewatch, etc.) that are more about the experience and the feeling you get while playing rather than trying to solve puzzles or defeat enemies. Much like David Cage has taken some flak for creating titles that are essentially interactive films, Dan Pinchbeck has had to defend his work because it fails to meet the qualifications that a certain segment of the gaming population deems necessary for a game to be game. In an interview with PCGamesN, however, Pinchbeck said that picking apart what defines a game is a pointless endeavor to undertake.

"I think it's one of those things that once you start unpicking it, it starts coming apart at the seams. If it's all about a game has to have mechanics well then you start to go, well, Space Invaders, is that less of a game than Far Cry because it's got fewer mechanics? Or, if a game is about having a fail state then does that mean that a game that doesn't punish you for dying, like a Far Cry game where it happens really trivially, does that make it less of a game than Bloodborne where the stakes for death are higher? Whichever way you come at it, you start unpicking those strands and it doesn't really make sense apart from the 'feeling' of what a game ought to do," Pinchbeck said.

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Pinchbeck said that he grew up in an era when games kept pushing the limits. Developers didn't feel restricted: "Maybe it's because I started playing games in the late '70s and early '80s. Particularly during the '80s, it was sort of anarchic. The games being made and the stuff coming out was just completely crazy - people just trying stuff left, right and centre. It felt like games were always about questioning what they could be."

Questioning what something can be is one of the key elements that leads creative types to innovate, and to have to defend against that could stifle innovation. It seems like something that game creators are still dealing with. "When I hear things like: 'this is what games are and we have to stop that being diluted,' I think most of the people making games probably don't recognise that," Pinchbeck continued. "I think the idea that games have to be defended from innovation is new, as well as being something which I just don't agree with. It's not a conversation I ever remember having up until a few years ago."

Ultimately, if the experience is enjoyable and you get immersed in it, does it really matter what label you stick on it? "I'd prefer to play something which is questionably a game but is good, rather than something which is undoubtedly a game and is shit," Pinchbeck affirmed.

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