ScreenCritics Joe explores the relationship between critical discourse and video games, asking if there can be a perfect video game?
Can a video game be perfect? Could a single game be an absolutely flawless experience? Not only do I feel that a perfect video game doesn’t exist, I think it never could. What would a perfect game even look like? Would a game with infinite replayability be perfect?
When I think of games you could play over and over again, I think of online multiplayer games. Online games usually forgo a concrete ending in favor of an open-ended experience that players can enjoy indefinitely. The narrative an online game provides, if they have a story at all, usually comes second to the specific narrative each player creates as they play deathmatch after death match or raid after raid. But could a single game that someone could theoretically play forever (or as long as the servers are kept on), be perfect?
Not exactly. If a game doesn’t provide a concrete ending, the player’s brain will step in and eventually find an ending of their own. One could look at the science of addiction to shed light on the process of tiring out of any particular experience. Basically, the more you do a specific action, the less satisfying it becomes over time. The steady decline of enjoyment can be deferred by adding variety; in games that would be like adding new modes and characters, or an adrenaline junkie moving from bungee jumping to skydiving if you wanted to look at addiction.
Generally speaking though, once new content stops flowing, an online game will eventually stagnate and die. I don’t believe in infinite replayability; there will always be a stopping point in games. That isn’t to say that one game couldn’t satisfy someone forever, but those players don’t represent the majority of gamers. Just because someone can play the same game for hours upon hours everyday doesn’t mean that game is perfect for everyone, which brings me to my next point: can a game be perfect for everyone?
Obviously there isn’t a game that can be recommended for everyone. I would recommend that anyone who is a remotely serious gamer try to play The Last of Us, but I wouldn’t tell someone who has never played a game to start there. Nor would I suggest it to gamers who are deathly afraid of zombies or don’t like a post apocalypse setting for example. Games that most serious gamers universally approve of, like The Last of Us, are considered critically acclaimed, but even then those games couldn’t be considered perfect, simply because critics don’t account for everyone. It comes down to subjective vs. objective. Subjective is views based off of personal feelings or emotions; objective represents the facts, devoid of opinion. Saying the sky is blue or that the sun rises in the East are objective, those things are true whether you like it or not. Creations, like video games, require subjection to not only be developed, but enjoyed. There is no room for objection in art.
La La Land was by and far my favourite movie of 2016. I’m not a guy who particularly enjoys musicals; I’ve seen one my entire life, but I thought La La Land‘s musical style was masterfully adapted to cinema and that the film’s themes were powerfully conveyed without being overbearing. Subjectively, I think it’s a masterpiece in film. Yet when I saw the movie for the second time with more friends, they were more lukewarm on the film. ‘Musicals just aren’t my thing’, remarked one of my friends. La La Land cleaned up at the Golden Globes and could do very well at the Oscars in the coming days, yet my friend, and presumably a plethora of others, don’t care for the movie.
My anecdote is meant to show the difference between the subjective and objective in pop culture. Switch The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the group who votes on the Oscars, with the different outlets who voted for The Game Awards and we have the same situation of experts in the media agreeing that specific creations are excellent or astounding. Even then, objective perfection hasn’t been achieved, but instead a large group subjectively approves.
I vehemently believe there will never be a perfect game, or any piece of art for that matter. Perfection, to me, is an objective concept because perfection is, first and foremost, flawless. Any creation though, will have a subjective flaw to someone, somewhere. Instead, I consider pinnacles of gaming ‘masterpieces’. Masterpiece implies that I still give the game the highest praise while being transparent that it is my own personal opinion.
But what do you think? Could any single game be considered ‘perfect’, objectively or otherwise? And what games do you consider your personal masterpieces? Some of my favorites are Persona 4 Golden, The Last of Us, and Animal Crossing: New Leaf, but let me know yours down in the comments below or on Twitter @Paradise_Mayor.