So we've been playing Beyond: Two Souls, and very much enjoying it. And while I do my best to be careful about reading reviews or even previews to games into whose story I want to invest, curiosity lead me to read occasional blurbs and conclusions.
And to no surprise, (especially concerning games by Quantic Dream) I found very polarized opinions and more than one conclusion claiming it was the most difficult game thus far to put a numbered score upon. I read statements alluding to or outright accusing director David Cage as a frustrated film-maker in the wrong medium, and the game and plot itself akin to a SyFy miniseries with a few button presses thrown in.
In the past I've seen the same criticism of everything from Hideo Kojima's Metal Gear Solid series to the FMV craze started by Dragon's Lair and mostly killed by Sega CD. From one end of the quality spectrum to another, even critical darlings such as Telltale's Walking Dead has detractors claiming it as little more than a Choose-Your-Own Adventure graphic novel.
It seems an obvious statement, that we all have different preferences in gaming, and while there can definitely be agreement about technical flaws such as bad framerates and (unintentionally) sluggish controls, ideally gaming culture in both critical and commercial circles would give appreciation to all variations of interactive entertainments. Sadly, we all know, this is not the case.
Part of the problem with rating video games, indeed most media, is that while there are methods of determining technical merits or faults, concepts like 'fun,' 'enjoyment,' or even 'entertainment' is so subjective that each person experiences it differently. There are designs that appeal to greater demographics, such as Tetris, Wii Sports, and Super Mario Bros. However, that doesn't automatically make less commercially successful games less entertaining; I really enjoyed the critically panned Aliens: Colonial Marines, Dead Space 3, and Halo Wars.
However, instead of just shrugging it off as a matter of preference, sometimes games are completely dismissed because of assumptions and preferences. Many comments concerning Beyond: Two Souls claim that there is too much watching and not enough playing, that the gameplay is too simple, and that because these ratios do not meet a certain unnamed target the game itself is not worthwhile. (There is also criticism of the story quality, another subjective quantifier.) Again, there are technical faults that can negatively effect the overall quality of the game, but most of the negativity leveled at Beyond: Two Souls seems to come from a reviewer's desire for the game to be something altogether different than what it is trying to be.
To completely dismiss a game because the gameplay design doesn't parallel other games seems akin to complaining that Madden doesn't have enough racing or puzzle-solving. Beyond: Two Souls is not supposed to have combat like Street Fighter. Walking Dead was not designed as an RPG. Even Dragon's Lair could be considered to have more interactivity than most of the extremely popular endless running games. The very element that makes games unique, interactivity, has not been (and arguably cannot be) subject to universal, specific requirements, other than simply being present. A movie is, by nature of the medium, not interactive; giving any outside agency to a viewing audience, and it is no longer simply a movie, but a different form of interactive entertainment. Is it fun? Worth 'playing?' It's all up to the person experiencing.
I for one have a great appreciation for many games that some hardly if at all consider 'games.' Sewer Shark remains one of my favorites of the early cd-rom era, and I'm the first to admit the thin veil of gameplay over switchable video segments. Yet the player agency was 'enough' for me to have a great time with it, and I still load up the 3DO version every now and then. It's not the fact that I enjoy it that makes it a game; if it were a movie, I wouldn't have watched it more than a time or two. I have fun with it because I enjoy playing, interacting with it. Dragon's Lair, for as many people that have long since outgrown its initial awe factor, still gets constantly ported to anything that will run it, and for as much maligned as the FMV genre of gaming is, there are many fans who still play them.
As we play Beyond: Two Souls, I do sometimes get frustrated at not being able to do what I'd like at times. But its the same desire that lead me to drive for that volcano in Battlezone, or shoot the dog in Duck Hunt. Once gaming gained 'sandbox' and 'open-ended' game designs, I found that without these constraints I lost interest more quickly. I may have loved Legos as a kid (and still do) but I found that when it comes to video games, my personality would rather look for ways to run left in Super Mario Bros. than play Minecraft. To each their own, and that's the point; games like Beyond: Two Souls are not less of a game, just a game with a different design in mind.
And as video games expand, so do ambitions to explore more and different things with them. Perhaps more pointedly, if Walking Dead and Beyond: Two Souls did not play as they do, folks like my Beloved would have far less interest in them, and that's justification enough for me.