What’s My Motivation?

Having just finished Episodes From Liberty City, it inspired me to write something about the role of motivation in games, and how my motivation towards these two Grand Theft Auto IV add-ons made me feel very differently in spite of being different takes on the same core thing.

The Lost and Damned I felt had a stronger story and characters of the two episodes, but some of the gameplay mechanics (in particular getting re-adjusted to the controls) as well as some infuriating mission designs made me consider giving up on it. However, I liked the story and the characters enough to keep playing to see how the conflict ended. With The Ballad of Gay Tony, every mission was crazy fun and exciting, but I thought that the story tying it all together wasn’t as strong as I hoped it would be. I played through it to do wild things in the world, but those crazy missions didn’t mean as much as I wanted it to outside of that moment.

Throughout my experiences playing both, it made me think about something I heard Justin McElroy say on the Joystiq Podcast about the role of motivation in games. He brought forth the mentality from an actor’s perspective, where an actor will ask what the motivation of his character is in order to play the part. You as a gamer, similarly need that motivation in order to continue playing any game. Having thought about it, the two driving forces that equal motivation in a video game are gameplay and context. When I say gameplay, I mean everything from gameplay mechanics, to controls to game design. As for context, I mean everything from graphics, sound, characters and plot. Every game requires a different balance to make a game worth playing, and getting that balance is hard.

Some games work very well off of almost pure gameplay or pure context. You don’t need incredible graphics or a deep story to enjoy Solitaire. That game solely hinges off of the fact that the gameplay mechanics of Klondike are rock solid. On the other end of the spectrum, something like the Phoenix Wright series has almost 0 gameplay mechanics, but is great to play through because those games have great stories as motivation.

A lot of video games don’t have the luxury of being solely a gameplay experience or a context experience. Both elements need to work in unison for a player to care about your game enough to fully experience it. There is no real formula for finding that right balance, which is why there are good games and bad games.

Going back to The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony, I think that both games were close, but not quite in harnessing the right motivational balance. I almost feel like if they had taken these two games and squashed them into one, I’d have the total package. Yes, I know they kind of are squashed together into one disc, but both experiences could have used some better motivational balancing on their own to take both add-ons to the next level.

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