Yes, it’s OK for games to be flawed. What a preposterous assertion to make, isn’t it?
I mean, it’s natural for everything to have flaws, especially the media we consume. Maybe that mystery novel you were reading had a predictable culprit that you caught within the first few chapters. Or perhaps that TV show you watched every week had a terrible ending. Regardless of what it is, there are always flaws that get in the way of our enjoyment of something. Games are even trickier when it comes to flaws.
After all, gaming is a medium involved in many different disciplines and talents. It’s not enough to have good gameplay when your game has a terrible story; but a good story isn’t enough to salvage a game with boring or frustrating gameplay. Not to mention, nobody likes a game that looks ugly or doesn’t have style; and if your game has poor performance it may hold it back from being more playable, thus ruining the gameplay. Evidently, we can see that programming, design, art and storytelling must be working well to create a game that is easy to love.
However, that is all it does. Create a game that is “easy to love”, one that most people will agree that is proficient. In the field of objective critique, that is the standard we’re supposed to adhere to in order to evaluate things. But what about a game that fails to deliver in key areas, but is still completely satisfying? What happens when the best experience you’ve ever had playing a game happens to be in one enveloped in many flaws?
Usually, we’re supposed to be objective about it. We must acknowledge that despite its amazing strengths, its weaknesses are holding it back from being appropriately good. Moreover, the more flaws we can find in something, the more in-depth our critique will seem. However, I don’t think that’s constructive, at least when it comes to evaluating our thoughts on the games that inspire us most.
To illustrate my point, I must talk about one of my favorite games of all time: Fragile Dreams ~Farewell Ruins of the Moon~. Fragile Dreams is a wonderful contradiction. It is one of the most touching games I’ve ever played, while also being one of the most tedious.
The game has a beautiful story full of tragic characters that help develop a singular theme of loneliness. This story is accompanied by a powerful atmosphere that reinforces those feelings of solitude and keeps the player invested in the world. The game’s environments are gorgeously designed and rendered, even for a Nintendo Wii title. And last, but not least, the music is brilliantly composed to evoke a style that makes all of these strong points come together.
Without getting into much detail, this game experience was unlike any other. Not just thanks to its strong points, but because of its flaws too. While every aspect of Fragile Dreams has a strong vision that comes to life throughout the experience, the act of playing the game itself is tedious, repetitive and clunky. The game suffers from poor controls, which don’t help the already janky combat. Not to mention, the level design takes a dive after the halfway point of the game, becoming quickly uninspired and monotone.
For every moment of excellence, Fragile Dreams also has plenty of frustrating or monotone failures. So of course, I can’t say the game is great. I’m not even supposed to say the game is good. If it has that many flaws, it can’t really be so great. Yet, I know how much the game matters to me exactly because of what it does right. I can’t deny the game has faults, but I can accept that it’s okay for it to have them. I can accept that its still a good game because it is more than just the sum of its flawed and excellent parts.
Not every case is the same of course. An argument can be made that the game only coexists with its flaws because the gameplay is only important as a vehicle for its story. So what about a game that is fun to play precisely because it is flawed?
This may be an unconventional example, but Hitman: Blood Money is a good case of how flaws can compliment gameplay. People consider it to be the pinnacle of the franchise, and it’s not because it lacks polish or care. When compared to later games in the series however, it becomes clear that the best moments of Blood Money come as a result of some of its flaws. Finding ways to creatively break the AI or circumvent the already lenient rules are the foundations that let players get away with crazier strategies.
Later games in the series would employ more binary rating systems and rules. They would also iron out a lot of the quirks that made the AI so easy to break before. As a result, the game doesn’t nearly evoke the same thrills as Blood Money, even if the level design, story and mechanics are definitely on point.
Flaws are a natural part of the game experience. Even when we least expect it, a game can have plenty of flaws. Some games have more flaws than others, but sometimes games are more than just their flaws.
Dark Souls was a ground-breaking and massively influential title for its approach to story and level design, even if it was clearly unfinished in later areas. NieR has one of the best stories in any game, but people still dismiss it because its gameplay wasn’t “good enough”. Persona 5 is a 90 hour experience, but its success is undermined because 10 out of those 90 hours were disappointing.
One might argue that the best way to address this is to remake these games. However, doing that can be a waste too. Adding or removing unnecessary elements from a completed experience also increases the chances of making it worse. Why go back to remake something when we could be using that energy to create something new? Something that goes in a new and more interesting direction than before and learns from the other’s mistakes.
Maybe the best course of action is to accept games for what they are. There’s plenty to enjoy in a game, and a failure in one key area doesn’t mean total failure. Games can be great aside from, despite and because of their flaws. I’m not asking to stop thinking critically and deny the faults of everything you play. Instead, I want to present my point of view, where I see games constructively as something that can be more or less than the sum of its parts. There’s no need to deny something you love because there are flaws to be found.
That is why I must conclude that it’s OK for games to be flawed.