A Game's Community Is Just as Important as What's on the Screen

Game developers can lean on online communities like never before, allowing for new design choices based around shared information.
August 27, 2019, 7:39pm
Screen shot from Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Claude, a man with tan skin, black hair, and green eyes, speaks with someone off screen.
Image courtesy of Nintendo

Within the sphere of video games, we popularly consider "play" to mean directly playing the game itself, but there are other forms of play that we constantly engage in: the creation of fan works, conceptualizing strategies, or even just sharing stories of gameplay. Some games actively bank on this secondary mode of play, expecting a community to form around it to share stories and information.

Destiny engages in this through small scale ARG's that require the community to come together to figure out puzzles outside of the game to affect things back in the game. This can leave critics in a tough spot when writing about these games before they're released to the public. What do you owe the creators when a game will most likely change when played as part of a community? We discuss this and more on this week's Waypoint Radio. You can listen to the full episode and read an excerpt below.

Patrick: It's a curious game. I'm in so many ways glad, I'm so excited to read with other people think of it 'cause I'm not going to be shocked if people have wholly contrary [takes]. Where they are like "this game is revelation. It is like the most incredible thing." Like I won't be surprised. I think it's a game that you cannot play without having an opinion. It's meant to be polarizing in a way that is exciting and although I will probably never play this again, I'm glad that what Patrice came back with after Assassin's Creed II was something genuinely strange and ambitious and bold.

There's nothing about this game that isn't trying something. Patrice is too past "stay at Ubisoft and get on the treadmill of Assassin's Creed every year," and I know that like he took a weird path to get here, but to ended it at something like this that is truly trying to do something different, that's cool. Just because the game doesn't click for you doesn't mean it wasn't well worth the experiment. 'Cause I think it'll find an audience that will adore it and my guess is I'll be writing about this game even if I'm not playing it.


Austin: Right, I hope so. I hope it's that and not so off-putting out the gate that it doesn't get that critical mass. 'Cause one of those things games like that often I need is enough people to maintain a community. You know, you don't get the back and forth of "how do I do this? Oh, I discovered I can do this with a rock," without there being enough people to actually have that conversation with, so I hope it gets that.

I am with you in that I think it we're in a weird place right now, because a lot of it right reviews about games like that and go like "Well, what the, what the fuck? How was I-" But the actual play experience is about being on Wikis, it's about being in message boards, it's about being in discords increasingly.

Patrick: It's a big huge part of why, other than having such a volatile reaction to the game, I had to walk back wanting to write a review, 'cause all I can do is reflect on my personal reaction to it. But that feels misrepresentative the game is going to be like. And that's every review, it's a bottled situation that is not exactly the way the "average" person is going to experience something.

But this one felt so disconnected, that to do a review would be something where you had to let it get into the world and then you revisit it, you know, a week or two in once you get a broader sense of chatting with people and seeing how the community responds to it. Because it just felt like that was what the game was going for. And then to put a "review" label on it, which however arbitrary that may be, feels fundamentally different than just saying like "Here are my Impressions after 5 hours, and it didn't do much for me," It just didn't feel fair 'cause it didn't feel like that's how the game is going to be played by a lot of people. We'll see, I'm definitely curious to follow how it goes.


Austin: This is a thing I'm thinking about a lot right now, not only because of a game like Remnant which feels like it especially lives on message boards and on Wikis because of the way that it has so many different paths that your game can go down because of the proc-gen stuff, but because of, weirdly, something like Fire Emblem? Fire Emblem is a game I think I played the whole game through, I'm happy I wrote a review of it, I'm content with what I wrote. I think I stand by everything I wrote, but one of the things the review failed to to take take into consideration, and couldn't because it hadn't happened yet, is the joy I get from Fire Emblem memes.

I know this is a weird diversion, but have y'all read the the incredible "Fire Emblem characters are on Twitter" thread? Oh my god, I'm gonna link it to you, It's long. It's by twitter user coolfest1999 and it's just like the funniest shit. And it only happens, I'm not taking away from coolfest1999, AKA limp biscuits, incredible Tweets here. They're all very funny, but the idea that a game can exist and can produce joy for me beyond the moment I put down the controller is something hard to anticipate.

But that is built in with this thing we talked about with Astral Chain, which is that a game can have the potential to do more than what it does originally by having cool characters. There's incredible on Nier fanart out there because those characters are dope. There's there's incredible fun fanfic that come from games like Fire Emblem, and I definitely classify these incredible fake tweets as fanfic, because these characters are so well rendered in the game that they have such bold identities that you're able to extract out funny jokes and interactions between them from those original representations.


Patrick: Well they're both broad and specific right? Specific enough that they feel like true characters that have a pallet, strengths, weaknesses and interests. But it's also broad enough that then the community can do all sorts of things around them that feel true, while also like giving a real playful space to the community to interpret what those characters do in their off time or how they braid each other's hair.

Austin: Yes. Lysithea from the Golden Deer crew being like, "You know, you all look like morons with your cartoon/anime/video game avi's right? Try growing up for a change," because she is so self-conscious about being so young and then having like a K-pop icon instead. [mwa] It's so good and so real! And for me, I wouldn't go back and change my review to include this, but I think about this this phrase that John McGrath said, or maybe it someone else, that you start playing a game the first time you hear about it and that that play continues indefinitely, right? It doesn't end when the credits hit, it doesn't end when you put the controller down. You're in that mode so long as you're in that mode, as long as you're like thinking about the ideas, as long as you're conceptualizing strategies, as long as you're thinking about funny things those characters can be doing, you're in a playful mode inside of the realm of that game.

And maybe it's not as specific as I'm holding controller doing "R2 R2 R2 L2," but actually sometimes to my favorite moments in video games are the things that come after, are the things that are around that original experience. It's lore crafting with friends about about Kingdom Hearts more than playing Kingdom Hearts. Or it's talking to a friend about beating a boss in Dark Souls more than it is necessarily beating that boss in Dark Souls.

And I want games that are flavorful and characterful so that you can do that sort of thing, and at the end of the day that is why something like Control is going to is more appealing to me that something like Astral Chain. Or even something like Ancestors is exciting for me to hear about because it feels like it's going to be community driven, and it feels like it's hopefully going to be the sort of game that creates that audience around it that makes it come alive in the telling if not in the playing for you or me, Patrick.


Transcript edited for clarity and brevity.

Discussed: Control, Astral Chain, Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey, Fire Emblem: Three Houses

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