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.


  • //mediocritycodex.blogspot.com/ Timothy Hsu

    This is an interesting point. I have had the same feelings with the MGS franchise for a long time, especially considering how tanky the controls are for a game that’s purportedly about stealth. (this is a discussion for another time, though)

    From what it sounds like in dishonored though, it’s not so much a control issue as it is an issue of motivation. In some sense you’re completely correct: stealth games don’t ever “reward” you for being stealthy, they just let you keep playing. This stands in stark contrast to JRPGs which almost always end in rewarding you with the ability to break the game (that is, overwhelm enemies with your ludicrous stats and abilities, which you’ve painstakingly endured hours of play to craft) by virtue of diligence.

    But that still begs the question of where the blame lies. Perhaps you’re just not a one-mechanic kind of gamer, Josh?

    perhaps you like breaking your games?

    you cheater!


    just kidding.

    seriously though