By John Walker on September 10th, 2009 at 11:11 am.
There was a comment made by comedian Adam Carolla, many years ago, during an episode of the American late-night radio programme Loveline. He had been given an Xbox 360, because celebrities get given stuff like that, and decided he’d buy a game for it. One which involved fighting in the Second World War in some capacity. It interested him as a fan of History Channel documentaries on the subject, and he liked the idea of recreating classic battles. But when he tried to play he couldn’t get out of the opening area.
This isn’t a comment on gaming inaccessibility, or how cackhanded Carolla must be, but rather it’s about something he said after this. He said, “Where’s the button that lets me just skip to the next level?”
This thought has stuck with me for ages. It’s a thought that comes back to me every time I encounter a section of a game that’s extremely difficult. Especially when it’s a stupid stinking boss fight. With the recent announcement of all three Metroid Prime games getting remade for the Wii it reminded me that I’ve finished neither of the first two because I couldn’t get past bosses. In the first one it’s the final fight, but worse, so much worse, in the second it was a fight midway through the game. (Everyone I’ve asked about it says, “Yeah, you need to use a guide to get past that, and then be very lucky.”)
Which leads me to think: why isn’t there that button?
Clearly there have been cheat codes for as long as there have been games, and very often there’s a level skip in there. But these are fewer and farther between these days, games very often offering no such ability. Which is another interesting angle on this all. What changed where developers decided their games should be exclusively for those capable of beating them?
So let’s say you’re playing a vast RPG. It’s forty, fifty hours long, and you’re absolutely loving it. You’re halfway through, you completely adore your character and companions, and then you reach a sequence you can’t get past. You go off and do some side quests, try to level up a bit, and return to find it equally impossible. Perhaps you specced your character poorly. Perhaps the game’s difficulty is screwed up. Perhaps you’re just not good enough at the game to successfully complete this section of it. Whatever the reason, whoever’s fault, I’m not convinced it makes a difference. Right now, across all gaming, that’s you done. Game over, move on.
Which strikes me as madness.
My primary purpose for writing this is to hear the counter-arguments. I’m certain there are positions to ridicule what I’m saying, or people who would state that this exclusivity is important. I can’t see that this is the case. If I’m not good enough/levelled up correctly/meeting some really poor design, why should that mean I don’t get to see what’s on the other side of it? Why can’t I press the button that skips it, moves me on to the next bit?
You could argue that it’s cheating. Well yes, clearly it is. So it was when I put on God mode in that bit of Doom II I couldn’t do. Or when I used the level skip commands I’d found for whichever platformer. Sure it’s cheating. It’s cheating your way to having more fun.
You might say that it would ruin the game – that once you knew you could skip ahead, you’d lazily do it before you were genuinely stuck. I think there’s a wealth of truth to that. I know for sure that if I’m playing an adventure game and get totally stuck, once I’ve looked up that first hint I’m going to be tempted to return to the guide far too quickly. It’s a real discipline not to. (An aside: this reminds me of how I’d get past bits I was stuck on playing adventure games in the early 90s. My dad’s friend Ted. Somehow he’d always played all adventure games and finished them before I got them, and I’d nervously phone this smart, sensible man I’d only met a couple of times, and squeak my question to him. He’d give me splendidly cryptic clues to push me in the right direction. It’s far easier to resist phoning your dad’s slightly scary friend Ted than looking at GameFAQs.)
But you know what? So what? So what if it means someone could cheat their way through the game to the end, possibly losing out on a lot of the fun on the way? They paid for the game! It’s theirs! If you buy a murder mystery film on DVD and immediately fast forward to the end to find out who did it, you’re an idiot, but it’s in your right to be!
People seem to get very cross at the idea that someone else is taking a shortcut when they worked extremely hard to walk the long way around. I think instead this should be converted to pride. Rather than being cross with the other guy, be pleased with yourself. From your perspective they lost out.
So what’s the good reason why there shouldn’t be a button to skip to the next level/next area/other side of the boss fight?
Perhaps it’s something to do with loot/XP in my RPG example. When you kill the Terrible Giant he drops an amazing sword. If you press the SKIP button (which will be on all keyboards), you’d have to get that amazing sword automatically. But again, that’s fine! No, it wasn’t earned. But to hell with that – it’s important for enjoying the game, and it’s a damn sight better to have a sword you didn’t earn than turn the game off and never play it again because the bastard giant kept killing you no matter what you did!
So let’s have that button. What harm would it do? Let people enjoy a game some more?