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Friday, April 12, 2024

Column: What makes a good video game?

Depth in gameplay, replayability and community all contribute to making a game great

By OWEN RUDERMAN — opruderman@ucdavis.edu 

If you’ve been paying attention to the world of video games, you will have heard of “Elden Ring,” an unforgiving open-world role-playing game by Japanese game company FromSoftware. Despite its popularity (12 million copies sold in just over two weeks and overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics), “Elden Ring” got some backlash from western game developers who couldn’t seem to wrap their heads around its success. These developers complained on Twitter about “Elden Ring’s” lack of traditional user experience and quest design, among other things.

The popularity of “Elden Ring” without these video game staples got me thinking: If it isn’t user experience or quest design that makes a video game “good,” what exactly is it? I’ve played hundreds of video games in my time, spanning all different genres. After giving it some thought, I’ve managed to extract the one thing that every enjoyable game has — depth. Depth comes in many forms, but to me, the top three that contribute most to a positive game experience are gameplay, replayability and community. 

For a game to be enjoyable, the gameplay has to have depth. This means that the player needs to have some way to express themselves through the game or be able to choose how they want to play. “Elden Ring’s” lack of intuitive quest design is outweighed by its incredible amount of gameplay depth. The player is allowed to choose the way they want to build their character and approach battles, and they have the opportunity to explore any part of the map that they want. The sheer amount of things to do and ways to play makes “Elden Ring’s” gameplay rich and complex.

Replayability is another important aspect of depth that can enhance a game. Once you complete “Elden Ring,” you can start a New Game+, where you carry over your current character and play through the game again with harder bosses. Or you can create an entirely new character with new weapons and spells to tackle the game in a different way. If you get tired of single player, you can try invading other players’ worlds. The replayability of “Elden Ring” is staggering for a game that is mostly single player. Some extremely popular games, like “League of Legends” and “CS:GO,” push replayability to its maximum potential with the inclusion of multiplayer. The play area and goals never shift in these games, but the unpredictability of human opponents always keeps it interesting.

The last aspect of depth that makes a good game to me is community. “Super Mario 64” was released in 1996, and yet its speedrunning community is still going strong to this day. I’m willing to bet that if the speedrunning community didn’t exist, “Super Mario 64” would have faded into obscurity long ago. The community and the competition gives people a reason to play, keeping the playerbase alive. For a game to be successful, it needs to foster an engaging community. “Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, released in 2011, is another example of a game with a lively community. The modification support that was implemented makes the amount of community content nearly endless, thereby keeping it interesting and adding to the overall depth of the game. 

It turns out that to me, it isn’t just user experience and quest design that is important. It isn’t even graphics or animation. What’s important is that a video game has depth to it in the form of gameplay, replayability and community. Next time you’re wondering why the game you’re playing is boring, ask yourself: does this game have depth? 

Written by: Owen Ruderman — opruderman@ucdavis.edu 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.


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