Quelle surprise: Adventure games are STILL not dead

Matt Wales has written for Kotaku a piece entitled “Point and Click is Dead Again,” and that sound you just heard was the collective adventure gaming community all around the world sighing in exasperation. The article itself is either petulant whining or, worse, clickbait — perhaps both.

In it, Mr. Wales argues that the adventure gaming mechanics of yore are tired and clichéd; relics of an era gone by. “Haven’t we moved on by now?” he seems to ask between the lines, perhaps whilst alternating between stroking the perceived cleverness of his ego and his cock. He apparently arrived at this earth-shattering conclusion of said genre demise because Syberia 3 really sucked balls.

Congratulations, Syberia 3, you are apparently the Gabriel Knight 3 of the modern era.

No, Mr. Wales, adventure games are not dead. Let us forego the immediate knee-jerk response by bringing up recent titles that are firmly rooted in classic genre tropes but still manage to stay fresh and vibrant, like Paradigm, Kathy Rain, Tesla Effect, Shardlight — a pass he attempts half-heartedly to head off in the opening paragraphs of his article. (Why he would put Thimbleweed Park in there is beyond me, though — if anything, THAT game, almost by its own admission, belongs in a museum.)

Let us instead focus on the absurdity of declaring a genre “dead.” I can only assume this was a calculated move on his part to dredge up a tired old cliché in an article that, ironically, focuses on tired old clichés.

Never in the history of video gaming have I ever come across a genre that has been so repetitively pronounced dead only to actually be found alive and well as adventure games. Therefore, part of me feels like he must be acutely aware of this, and how many times it has been proven wrong, but chose to perpetuate this fallacy anyway in the hopes of getting a rise out of the genre’s fans.

I guess it worked, because shit:

The core problems with Mr. Wales’ article can be summed up thusly:

  1. Adventure games are quite demonstrably not dead.
  2. Adventure games never were dead, or can die, because a genre cannot “die.”

Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that everyone stopped making adventure games. Which the industry nearly did for a decade. There was still a precious body of work dating back to the early 80s to explore, and game making utilities such as Adventure Game Studio were starting to take a foothold, creating a vibrant underground resurgence of amateur-made adventure games.

It was burgeoning, yes, and it was nowhere near as prevalent as the genre’s seemingly omnipresent heyday of the mid-90s. But it was there.

But, noooo, that didn’t lead anywhere, did it?

Let’s say it’s now a punishable offense to put an inventory-based puzzle or a dialogue tree in a game. Can we declare the genre dead now?

Of course we can’t. As Mr. Wales states, elements of adventure games have started seeping into other genres, melding together, making it ever-more difficult to label a game as either this-that-or-the-other. You can’t kill something that has already started assimilating (or being assimilated, depending on your point of view) other entities.

Because what Mr. Wales fails to account for is precisely what types of adventure games he feels so negatively about. He praises walking simulators and Telltale games, suggesting to me that he finds the gameplay mechanics of quote-unquote “traditional” adventure games tedious. It would seem he would prefer to focus on story first and puzzles second.

There is nothing inherently wrong with that, but you would be forgiven for jumping to the conclusion that Mr. Wales just doesn’t appreciate a challenge. Maybe he just really, really dislikes what he describes as “the clumsy staccato rhythm of point-and-clickers,” or, as I like to call it, the “adventure games are not movies but I somehow failed to make that connection” fallacy.

Whatever the reason, it’s certainly no reason to declare anything dead just because one guy doesn’t like something.

I don’t enjoy playing Starcraft in the slightest, but I’m not about to call RTS games dead because of it.

I’m not saying that point-and-click adventure games are the perfect storytelling vehicle, because that’s not what they’re supposed to be. They’re supposed to be a melting pot of various elements including puzzles and storytelling.

I would say the primary function of an adventure game is facilitating satisfaction of being instrumental in the advancement of a story through your own cleverness. Sometimes they fail miserably at this (Discworld), but when they work, they work beautifully beyond description.

The balance between telling a good story and the satisfaction of accomplishment is the bread and butter of adventure games. You’re free to pour praise on experiments, like The Last Express or Mr. Wales’ favorite example The Sexy Brutale, and I’m not here to suggest that we shouldn’t evolve and refine and welcome new ideas.

I’m just saying don’t declare something dead just because you don’t like it.

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4 thoughts on “Quelle surprise: Adventure games are STILL not dead

  1. “[…] the primary function of an adventure game is facilitating satisfaction of being instrumental in the advancement of a story through your own cleverness.”

    “The balance between telling a good story and the satisfaction of accomplishment is the bread and butter of adventure games.”

    Thank you for this. I’ve struggled with how exactly to describe what makes an adventure game an adventure game, and these two phrases pretty much nail it. When the inevitable “what is an adventure game?” conversation crops up while I’m streaming, now I will know what to say (with the appropriate credit, of course). 😀

    1. Thanks! I don’t know where that came from; I’ve been struggling with that definition myself, ever since my co-hosts at Back Seat Designers gave me shit for calling Telltale games “not true adventure games.” Which, in retrospect, I can understand was a bit blustery of me. Apparently it just took some Kotaku dude to get me foaming at the mouth to formulate a more accurate definition. 🙂

  2. Let’s be honest: Classic adventure games are dead – both in regards to sales and their importance for the overall gaming canon. Any Sierra or Lucas Arts game until the Mid 90s probably had higher sales in comparison to the overall market than the entire genre as a whole these days. Similar Adventure games used to be technical power houses that pushed technology and introduced or established new standards – AAA games you might say. Even gameplay-wise we are still iterating around the same problems* without out any major innovations. The one thing we have improved is story telling, largely thanks to the shift to indie studios leading to a more auteur game style.

    That doesn’t mean that as a niche, classic adventure games don’t have a place to be. Hell, even interactive fiction/text adventures are not dead in that regard. As a niche adventure games never died and probably won’t die. The lack of mainstream appeal that comes with that is undeniable though.

    * The typical adventure problems like
    – I know what to do, but somehow the game doesn’t let me
    – The game uses moon logic
    – I have no idea what I am trying to accomplish here

    1. We seem to have a perception of 90s adventure games as being AAA titles that generated massive sales, but the reality is that the games we have come to regard as timeless classics actually didn’t sell that well when they came out. Ron Gilbert talks about this on the Triangulation podcast. It was an entirely different industry back then.

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