When Games Matter is a weekly exploration by Drew Dixon of meaningful moments in games. Operating under the assumption that games do in fact matter, Drew seeks to highlight those moments that have much to say about who we are and the world we live in.
Control is often something we take for granted in games. We expect it to be fluid and when its not, we feel cheated. I find this intriguing because in actuality there is very little in our lives that we have complete control over and yet the consensus on control in games is that the gamer should always be in charge.
Tight-controls are generally key to a successful game. The typical high-powered action game plays best when it gives as much control as possible to players. It should make them feel like they have command over their environment and the tasks at hand. Developers want players to feel a sense of accomplishment when they wield such games’ controls successfully. And when gamers fail, developers want them to sense that their failure is correctable by more precise control.
For these reasons, if a game feels unnatural to control, it will be quickly dismissed by gamers. This is largely the case with Sega’s Rise of Nightmares for the Xbox 360 Kinect and in some ways I think that is unfortunate. As the name suggests, the game is very dark and not to be played by the squeamish.
Don’t get me wrong, the control scheme for Rise of Nightmares is largely awful. At times, I would chock it up with one of the most frustrating uses of the Kinect. The main problem is that Rise of Nightmares is primarily a First Person game–meaning you walk, move, and fight in the first person. In fact, the most difficult action in the game is also its most fundamental–walking. You take a step forward or backward to walk in that direction and lean from side to side to turn. The appeal of the Kinect is its ability to make control intuitive–this simply doesn’t work in the first person. The developers even seem to be aware of this as you can raise your arm and the game will take over movement for you in many instances. Because of these problems, most people will not make it very far in RoN.
I do think this is unfortunate though because RoN‘s horrendous controls actually work with its basic narrative. The story of the game isn’t all that interesting but running from its monsters and zombies is actually appropriately uncomfortable. Whether intentionally or not, this is where RoN succeeds. Too many games seek to empower players by making them king over their environment. However when you are fighting and/or running from horrifying creatures from another world it only makes sense that the player’s control over his character and his environment would be less than perfect.
The best example I have seen of this in a game comes from Amnesia: The Dark Decent. In Amnesia, the more the player is exposed to the game’s horrors the more difficult it becomes to control. To be fair, RoN is difficult to control all the time, but I did find its particular control scheme to make me frantic and uncomfortable and honestly that is what a horror game is supposed to do.
Despite its many problems, RoN recognizes a fundamental reality of life that few games acknowledge. RoN reminds us that much in life is outside our control and we are not nearly as tough as we think we are.