The Tripartite of Gaming: Theories on an Overlooked Medium

by eternal on May 6, 2009


Pardon me for going off topic – yes, I have no way of justifying this post and claiming its relevance to anime – but as I shift in and out of the mood to pursue Japanese cartoons with unparalleled amounts of zeal and energy, irrelevant ideas occasionally cross my mind. Having recently mentioned gaming in a post that was intended to have far more to do with anime than it did, I found myself taking a little break from this medium that we know and love, and indulging in a few solid hours of adventure and conquest.

Now, as for how this is relevant to the topic at hand: in taking a good look at the medium of video games from a perspective that has widened dramatically in the last several months, I’ve come to realize a few things that I never noticed before. In short, I think the enjoyment that players derive from games can be divided into three broad categories – entertainment, competition, and art – and that the mystery behind why some games appear to be “good” while others are “bad” is far less of a mystery than it appears.

Let’s start with the obvious category: entertainment. As we all know, media exists to entertain. People derive fun from stories, interactive or otherwise, and so we are willing to spend money on them- supply and demand, the birth of an industry. Ignoring the inconvenient loophole of piracy, the fact that media is produced proves that it is used for entertainment, also known as “fun,” and gaming is no exception to this.

I like to classify entertainment as the simple feeling of fun that one derives from any particular activity. For instance, playing Mario Party might be “fun.” So might owning n00bs in Halo 3. However, both of those games are very different. Hence, the experience that one gains from playing a game might not fall into one specific category – in fact, it will probably fall under all three.

But that isn’t the important part of the categorization. While fans of party games would claim Mario Party to be entertaining, and FPS fans would surely do the same for Halo, there is a tremendous difference in the intention of the developers. While all games are “fun” on some level, far more people would see Halo as competitive than the amount that would see Mario Party the same way. The enjoyment that one feels from playing both games might be “entertainment,” but in the grand scheme of things, a game like Halo falls far closer to competition than a party games does.


Mario is always great for entertainment, especially when he’s 2D.

And now we enter our second category: competition. Competitive gaming has grown in leaps and bounds, not just in Korea, and many gamers play games the way athletes play sports. It’s fun for them, in a sense, but it’s also a job, and the real enjoyment comes not from running around and shooting stuff, but instead from engaging in a battle of wits and reflexes against a living, breathing opponent. Once more, a game that is competitive can also be entertaining, but some games are simply built to be competitive.

The obvious example in this case would be the fighting genre. The mere fact that many fighters are first released in arcades is evidence enough that they are meant to be competitive, but it doesn’t help that some console ports lack innovation as well. Often times, the console version of a fighting game will be identical to its arcade counterpart, with an art gallery or unlockable skins/costumes to make the purchase slightly more enticing. In other words, people don’t buy the latest Guilty Gear or Street Fighter for achievements or single-player glory: they play it to learn it, and to compete with their newfound skills.


Nothing says competitive gaming like a good round of Starcraft.

Due to the fact that fighting games are so focused on gameplay, there is little…for lack of a better word, let’s call it the x factor. The kind of magic that enraptures Zelda fans, the skillfully-woven layers terror and fear that survival-horror fans devour; the unnameable, elusive elements of games that are both intangible yet integral. That’s the kind of beauty that causes legions of fans to rally behind epic Final Fantasy adventures and engrossing wars like Fire Emblem, and without having any precise way of describing it, I’ll call that factor art.

I don’t mean to encroach on the is-anime-art debate and simply replace anime  with gaming, but it seems unfair to claim that video games cannot be artistic. Take a closer look at games like Okami and the Metroid series. They can both be challenging, yes – they are both held together by solid gameplay – but isn’t there something more to them? Many developers have imitated the action/adventure genre and implemented their own unique stories and mechanics, but by that logic, every game with decent combat, a plethora of sidequests, and a large world can equate to Okami. But by that logic, the latest Barbie platformer is Mario’s female equivalent.

La Pucelle Tactics is analogous to Final Fantasy Tactics in that they both involve heroes fighting against villains using SRPG gameplay, with a semi-religious setting and conflicts that are both small and large in scale. But what do the games have in common, save for being SRPGs? This isn’t to say that one is superior to the other – opinion plays no role in this kind of categorization – but certainly, the games share very few characteristics. Nippon Ichi games tend not to take themselves seriously, while FFT is more serious business than a gattai between Cruel Angel Theses and Bateszi Anime Blog; LPT treats the player to comical and entertaining gameplay that can be both relaxing and challenging while Final Fantasy’s SRG endeavour is straightforward and to the point.

Forgetting about one’s personal opinion of these two games, what is the main difference between them? Simply put, it’s the intent of the creators. La Pucelle Tactics is about fun and gameplay and fun gameplay, with a bit of  a serious plot tacked on to it, while Final Fantasy Tactics is about telling a melodramatic tale of war and magic, and it does so through well-refined conventional gameplay mechanics. FFT focuses on the artistic aspect of gaming, using the interaction to tell a story.


Fable has good gameplay, but one look at it is enough to tell that it’s more than just action.

In the end, I urge you to remember that none of these categories are concrete and that many breach into one another’s territory. As I said in the beginning, Halo can be both fun and competitive – and depending on how you view the engrossing single-player campaign, it can also be art. Most games fall into this category, where elements of each category converge to create an appealing whole.

However, any gamer would know that certain games were developed to accomplish certain goals. Perhaps this is why the debate between “casual” and “hardcore” games will never end – because both sides try to force these games into being something they’re not. This might also be why fans of fighters and FPSs will never get along, or why there will always be animosity between Zelda and Final Fantasy – each set of fans believes their franchise/genre to be the best of its kind, and they refuse to acknowledge the worth of another similar category of game.

This might also be the root of the trouble people have with games like Super Smash Bros Brawl and Hoshigami, where the former is accused of not supporting competitive gameplay while the latter is inaccessible to many gamers and nearly unplayable by new SRPG fans. After all, SSBB was meant to be a fun multiplayer game that anyone can enjoy, and Hoshigami was meant to be a rigorous SRPG for those who love challenge – when it comes down to it, there’s really nothing to criticize. I believe that this is where the “casual vs hardcore” issue comes from, where players expect games to please both audiences at once, but that’s a different scalding hot kettle of fish (ready to explode at the mention of Wii or MLG).


Writing a post without at least one picture of an anime girl just isn’t my thing.

In conclusion, I believe that video games are a highly versatile medium that can accomplish a variety of different goals. Whether the developers are after philosophical sci-fi epics or old-school finger-murdering action, games can deliver – it all depends on the goal that each game sets out to accomplish. Some games succeed in blending genres, such as the interactive adventure of Fable – the gameplay aids the story and vice versa, detailing the legend of a hero that is none other than you. Other games like Gears of War are all about the gameplay and the chainsaw bayonets until you look closely at the campaign and realize that it could make an excellent futuristic war film if anyone cared to do so.

Ultimately, games are tools for developers to express their thoughts and ambitions; sometimes these ambitions are to create a competitive RTS game that will last a decade, and other times they might consist of a humble dream to entertain a 6-year-old that can barely hold a controller. It’s good to have an opinion, but the important thing is not to classify one category of gaming as superior or inferior – it’s to understand the difference between games, the fact that expecting all games to be similar is akin to expecting all anime to possess the mythos of Type-Moon and the entertainment of K-ON, and to learn to determine why a game is the way it is. Everyone understands what games are and how they’re made, but in understanding the why, we can learn to enjoy what we might have flamed, and save the flames for the products that truly are mediocre.


{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

zzeroparticle May 6, 2009 at 9:37 pm

Interesting that you bring up the idea of games that are difficult for people to grasp. Right now, I’ve been playing through the infamous Unlimited Saga after 2 years of trying to figure it out and while things have finally clicked, it wouldn’t be a game I’d recommend to other people unless they’re the kind who like to dissect the game system. When the game first came out, people were expecting something closer to the SaGa franchise, which is why they were turned off by its complexity and mind-boggling mechanics.

When all’s said an done though, it’s a game I’d recommend to those who like to puzzle things out. Definitely not something for casuals, or even borderline hardcore RPG fans.

zzeroparticles last blog post..K-ON! ED Single – Don’t Say “Lazy” – Review


Kairu Ishimaru May 6, 2009 at 9:57 pm

I really love the game Okami. It has a different and unique gameplay. The art is amazing. And teaches us about Japan culture and stuffs.

Kairu Ishimarus last blog post..Supernatural TV Series


ghostlightning May 6, 2009 at 10:03 pm

I haven’t played seriously in over a year, maybe due to the fact that my Xbox 360 is giving up the ghost. When I’m in front of the PC I’m either working, writing, reading, or watching stuff. Your post highlights what I’ve been missing: an immersive experience in a game that put effort in creating a world to explore.

ghostlightnings last blog post..April Showers Bring A Fresh New Theme


Sorrow-kun May 6, 2009 at 10:28 pm

Writing a post without at least one picture of an anime girl just isn’t my thing.

OMG Micaiah. Good choice.

As a simplistic way to categorize the different ways in which people enjoy different titles, I think this works quite well, and the analogues between gaming and anime are quite clear. It’s something I’ve never bothered to stop and think about, since I’ve always just considered it a simple matter of taste, but I think you make a good point. How would you categorize Super Mario Galaxy (which is easily the best game I’ve played in the last two generations, IMO)? A mix of “art” and “entertainment”? Would you say that one dominates over the other?


Ryan A May 6, 2009 at 11:23 pm

yes, I have no way of justifying this post and claiming its relevance to anime

Does a post really need/em> to be anime? Anime-centric should suffice, in terms of blog definition. Anibloggers post about all kinds of mediums anyway. ^^ It’s good!

I like to classify entertainment as the simple feeling of fun that one derives from any particular activity

Well, sometimes we cry, which may not be fun.

In any case, I’m not a gamer, but I do believe video games are a fully fledged medium in which expression and emotion can be conveyed. We are human and we can understand what we experience through games or other various media. ^^



Panther May 6, 2009 at 11:38 pm

Though I would agree with most of your opinions in this post, especially since I have been a competitive fighting gamer and also dabbled into other genres you mentioned, including Final Fantasy series, RTS competitively, and etc., the thing is the “goal” part you mentioned.
It would be naive to believe that many games’ creators (or their producers/developers, whichever you prefer) set 0ut nowadays to make a “great” game – why make “great” games when “good” ones sell? Games nowadays are just rehashed examples of previous “classics” or “standard games” in the “genre”. Gaming and the industry that comes with it is no longer a passion – it is a business. It ultimately comes down to what makes money for the producers and developers, not what was originally intended when the first peeps sat down over a drink and a small table and planned out what would become one of the best RPG franchises in history, D&D.
Nowadays, games no longer have the “passion” element in them, which is why the older (or more classic) gamers return to the older games to relive the fun times as well as the subconscious reliving of the passion that they felt back when they first played the game. Kids these days only look at the graphics – if it explodes bigger, better, then it is a “good” game. If it has gore and blood in it, even better. Unfortunately, the general mass media, and the masses, no longer have (and probably never had) an eye for these things – to them, gaming is nothing more than a creative form of leisure and what they want is something that pleases the eye and something that does not engage them in further stress than they already most likely are in. Entertainment itself has become a business…oh wait, that is nothing new. And now the sheep are being shepherded by the sheepdog that is the gaming industry.
PS: Your comments’ font is so damn bloody small, I had a hard time reading the others’ comments. :(
Panthers last blog post..The Rest of Spring’s Impressions


ETERNAL May 8, 2009 at 7:53 pm

@ zzeroparticle: I’m usually bad with the gameplay mechanics of RPGs and my plate is more than full at the moment, but that works as a good example. A game like that would be built specifically for people who enjoy dissecting the engine, and not the kind of people who play RPGs for story or who prefer the real-time action RPG systems. And of course, criticism is bound to surface regardless >_>

@ Kairu Ishimaru: Come to think of it, you’re right about the educational aspect – I remember having to research two myths of different cultures that year in school, and one of the two I picked involved Amaterasu :P

@ ghostlightning: Those are often times my favourite kinds of games. Half the time when I play FPS games, I’m in it for the action and the immersion rather than the competition. Gears of War is easily one of my favourite X360 games, maybe one of my overall favourite games, and yet I’ve hardly touched multiplayer.

@ Sorrow-kun: For Galaxy (or most any Mario game), I’d say it’s a mix of both. It’s a bit trickier for the older games since on one hand they lack in immersion but on the other hand the technology was primitive back then, but for a modern game, it easily captures both audiences. The young gamers and casual gamers will enjoy it for its simple, alluring gameplay, but even the vets will love it for the fact that it’s good. It uses everything that makes up a video game – character graphics, backgrounds, music, gameplay, everything – and creates a final product that’s hard to criticize. Definitely one of the better games on the Wii.

@ Ryan A: True, it’s not much of a transgression, but I wouldn’t want to bog my readers down with content that doesn’t apply to them. Anyway, I’m glad you enjoyed the post, and even more glad that a non-gamer can appreciate the potential of the medium ^^

@ Panther: I hope you realized that the font wasn’t intentionally like that! It’s fixed now, don’t worry :P

As for your comment, I agree in a general sense, but like you said, it isn’t a problem that’s unique to gaming. Entertainment as a whole is commercialized, and people will always produce what makes money. Even in a medium as old as literature, I’m pretty sure we still have these problems. I’m not familiar with the publishing industry, but it seems logical to assume that a publisher will sooner take a book that looks like it might have wide appeal over a niche novel that might be good but will remain obscure. It’s definitely a problem, but it seems to be a problem that involves society as a whole rather than just the gaming industry.

Of course, the lack of attention paid to gaming is part of the reason why it might suffer more than other media, but, for lack of a better phrase, we should also remember that careless generalizations are careless. Certainly not all new games are lacking in quality and passion – it’s just that the present industry encourages countless rehashes of old concepts. Yet even today, mediocre games don’t usually do as well as good games, as we can see by the millions of obscure platformers/FPSs/JRPGs that no one really knows. I couldn’t give any examples because they weren’t good enough to get noticed by the public; and the games that were unique or otherwise good, like Nippon Ichi’s Disgaea or Little Big Planet, have sold comparatively well. A JRPG like Disgaea will always suffer in terms of sales, of course, but you get the idea. It’s understandable that the industry is suffering but it would be careless to assume that the “passion” is dead; it might be less visible than before, but it can’t flat out die.


Omisyth May 9, 2009 at 1:56 pm

I don’t really have anything to say, but great post. I’d say I was primarily a gmaer that wants to be entertained, but ever since I’ve gotten Street Fighter IV I’ve been playing it (and only it) non-stop for 2 months, pwning as many n00bs as I can and getting pwned myself.

I was going to write a vehement reply but Eternal did that for me, and with much more tact than I would have had :P.

Omisyths last blog post..Trying My Hand At Fiction: Amensium


M12 May 12, 2009 at 7:40 am

An excellent post! Recently, I seem to have lost interest in the “competitive” games that you speak of. You know, as you get older, you don’t have time to practice those anymore. So now, I really like the single-player entertainment games. Often, I’m too fatigued after work for arty titles, too…

But yeah, overall, any game is good for me XD.

M12s last blog post..Sushi (and) train


GNdynames May 14, 2009 at 9:46 pm

Same opinion as Panther. It’s quite hard to find great games these days and, unfortunately, it’s money that makes the world go around. This is pretty much why I’ve given up on gaming, except occasionally going back to older titles such as Fire Emblem (which I’m currently playing).


ETERNAL May 17, 2009 at 9:21 pm

@ M12: I know what you mean about not having enough time. I like to think I wouldn’t qualify as “older” yet, but I definitely don’t have as much time as I used to, and I find it stressful to put too much effort into learning a hard game. That’s the main reason why I still haven’t beaten StarCraft and yet I have many, many hours spent on Animal Crossing. Of course, my favourite will probably always be the short-but-sweet single player action/adventure/FPS stuff.

@ GNdynames: Fire Emblem is a great game, and it’s also very, very hard. I never played the ones that weren’t officially released in English, but interestingly enough, I found the Wii version to be one of the hardest. Either way, it’s a great series.


M12 May 21, 2009 at 6:57 am

Yep, Starcraft is a pretty long game to finish. Recently, I’ve actually found myself even purusing some of the more “childish” games. You know, with bright colours and a happy story. After playing a lot of FPS, I get a bit fatigued over the dark atmosphere, you know?

M12s last blog post..Kick the Hax!


浴衣 子供 August 21, 2013 at 8:24 pm

男 浴衣


Google September 4, 2014 at 9:21 am

Using Ancient Rome 3D in Google Earth, you can explore Rome as it appeared
in 320 A. The website speed test at Secret Search Engine Labs
will analyze how fast a page on your site is loading
and give you tips on how to improve it. You need to make your potential customers aware of
your products and services to ensure that they recognize them as valid solutions to their everyday


俄罗斯空运专线 July 7, 2015 at 6:15 am

My spouse and I stumbled over here coming from a different website and thought I may as well check things out.
I like what I see so now i am following you. Look forward to looking over your
web page for a second time.


joe schwartz spa world October 27, 2015 at 3:32 pm

Dirty Surroundings ‘ lasts for as long as your Sim is around the dirty surroundings and has a negative 15 mood effect.

This is good for those that are in need of such “helpful” devices as the electric
stair lift. Spa tub doctor offices can be purchased
in many different measurements coming from tiny doctor offices designed for lovers
to just one that will allow for 12 folks.


nba 2k16 mt hack March 17, 2016 at 6:49 pm

NBA 2K16 is totally different for one crucial motive in evaluating it to the final titles and it comes in the form of two words: Spike Lee.


Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: