Hiding Rewards: My Disdain For Stealth Games
Every so often, stealth games move to the front of the gaming conversation. While many people love the nuance and tension of stealth games, I… do not. I’d like to make an attempt to articulate why that is.
One of the more common arguments for games of stealth is that they reward patience. The problem with this argument is that it implies that I am not, in fact, patient as a player. However, nothing could be further from the truth. My favorite games are all JRPGs, which are extraordinarily long affairs. In the course of the arduous adventures, a great deal of patience is required to learn their intricate systems, grind, and level up. So, patience I have.
If the patience required to map out character movements and skillfully evade the enemy is not the issue, then what is? The answer is the payoff.
Sticking with the JRPG comparison, there is a very large reward for learning a role-playing game’s systems; there’s a hefty payoff for that kind of patience. Mastering them allows you to get everything out of the game that you can, and allows you to become fully immersed in the experience. After all, you aren’t really “playing a role” if you aren’t actively making all of these decisions. Learning them also gives you the chance to play the game how you want to, including early decisions like “warrior or mage” and late-game customization.
It’s that reward that I personally find lacking in stealth games. If you spend ten minutes learning a guard’s patterns in order to avoid detection, there isn’t an inherent reward in that – there’s only another guard that needs avoided in the next corridor. You may achieve a set goal in the game, and it may earn you some perk or upgrade, but it doesn’t enrich the experience at all in the same way as previously described.
I’ve tried as many stealth games as I could, from Thief to Assassin’s Creed to Splinter Cell. My latest attempt was Dishonored. To be brutally honest, I ended up hating Dishonored by the end of it. I’d started out playing it as a stealth game, and I did well to a point. Then, I started realizing I wasn’t getting anything out of it. I was soon getting enraged with every encounter, and about half way through I decided to rely only on my pistol. This, it seems, is not the developer’s favoured way to play Dishonored, and by the time the credits rolled I was overcome with the feeling that I’d wasted fourteen hours of my life.
As games and experiences continue to evolve, I hope that developers can find ways to reward the player with something other than a feeling of, “Whew! I made it!” It’s enough for some, but not for me.