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Are Video Games More Fun If They're Totally Mindless?

Let's face it: during the early days of video games, they were all mindless. Pong? Pac-Man? Yeah, we knew what they were; electronic toys that required reflexes and a bit of luck, and that's about it.

But as time has gone on, game developers have been given better technology. And with that technology comes the ability to create compelling storylines and interesting characters. It also gives designers the opportunity to provide us with innovative gameplay that tests both our problem-solving skills and our dexterity. Still, depending on your definition of "entertainment," it might just be that the truly mindless titles are the most fun.

Of course, "fun" is another insanely subjective term. But think about it for a second- in order to relax, our bodies often require that we turn off our brains. For many, gaming is like any other hobby; it's about relaxing above all else. Sure, there are challenges to conquer and you're bound to run across other emotions, but for the most part, it's not supposed to be a chore. Therefore, some will maintain that if you're taxing your brain for any purpose whatsoever, even pure entertainment begins to resemble...well, work. And you never want to come home from work and do more work.

Personally, I'm not buying this. Mindless games are a lot like mindless movies to me, in that they can be entertaining from time to time, but they don't go that extra mile to offer me fulfillment. Perhaps it's a bad idea to say that only stupid people find fulfillment in mindless entertainment, and I'm not here to judge, but it does seem like the less intellectually-minded flock to the brainless forms of entertainment. There's still plenty of that in gaming but then again, maybe this is the perfect venue for "mindless."

Well, what do you think?

Tags: gaming, gaming culture, video games, gamers

1/16/2012 9:18:00 PM Ben Dutka

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Legacy Comment System (34 posts)

Monday, January 16, 2012 @ 9:42:38 PM

I'll stick up for Pac-Man. Pac-Man actually had SOME thought involved. Growing up, my family and I prided ourselves with our Atari 2600 to "flip" the score counter on Pac-Man (that is, take it from the maximum digits to like 999,999 and cause the score to flip back to zero). It required some decent experience to manage it, knowing just how to pattern yourself etc. But yeah, I suppose it's virtually mindless by today's standards and for those who weren't a little insane like the King of Kong guys.
But anyway, yeah, mindless games are like eating frosting. And Asura definitely felt mindless. I'd prefer not to play, just watch the insanity. That's where the entertainment is at.

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Monday, January 16, 2012 @ 9:56:08 PM

I find it more relaxing to do something mentally stimulating. I spend most of my day going over sales and margins and writing orders, etc. so its kind of nice to do something with my brain without any pressure. I like reading a good book or playing an intense RPG knowing that i can di** around and not get fired. I dont find many mindless things to be entertaining.

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Monday, January 16, 2012 @ 10:32:24 PM

There were also some very early video games that were strategy, and almost the complete opposite of twitch gaming - 'Empire', one of the classics, was worked on in the 70s and released (for the first time) in 1983. Adventure games also began (text-based, of course) in the 1970s, and were similarly non-twitch. So I think all forms of gaming have been around since close to the start. I remember playing some strategy-style and text adventure games on the 'ole C64 and Atari as well.

As for mindlessness vs mind, I like a bit of both - depends on my mood. And as you say, "fun" is subjective. I love playing Aussie Rules Football, which is immensely enjoyable, but probably not categorised as relaxing! Other hobbies, like reading, which tend to involve the odd neuron bumbling around up there.

Interesting stuff to think about :).

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Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Monday, January 16, 2012 @ 11:03:08 PM

Oh, I remember text adventures. I had Cave Adventure on a floppy disk for my Tandy IBM. ;)

But those were definitely in the minority. For the most part, the vast majority of all video games required very little thought.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012 @ 4:17:23 PM

Wow you just sent me down memory lane. My first video games were the "Adventure" text adventure series on the Texas Instruments TI99. "Adventureland" and "Pirate Adventure" were my favorite, I still remember finishing Adventureland after months and months by desparately typing in "Scream" as the command (because that's what I wanted to do). That scared the bear away and let me get the last artifact. I also had "Mission Impossible" (not related to the movies or tv show) but I could never figure that one out. I wonder if those are still hanging around my parent's house...

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012 @ 9:39:04 PM

@ Ben - awesome :D. Those old text adventures were a blast - you had to use more of your imagination when gaming back then!

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Monday, January 16, 2012 @ 10:44:01 PM

Depends on what I'm feeling. For example, played a lot of the PS1 version of NFL Blitz which is pretty much I'd say a mindless, over the top fun experience.

But I like things that evolve over time, and there's a time and place for all types of games whether they be serious story driven games, or really gamey games.

To me though, fun isn't as important anymore in the traditional sense. Sure a game has to be good and have something within it to keep me going and be engaging. However, I don't view games as fun anymore. I view them as what they can be, and that is experiences. A la Skyrim, Red Dead, Heavy Rain, Bioshock, Uncharted 2 and MGS4. Those are my favorite types of games.

So I guess so they're more fun if they're mindless, but interactive experiences such as those, I get more out of. Although I'm all for just fun games, I just like to see more innovation.

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Monday, January 16, 2012 @ 10:45:09 PM

I think is a good idea for modern games to implement this kind of mini games into their games for pacing purposes. I loved the Sly serious for that. The main gameplay was awesome, but whenever I had to hack with bently I could only think how cool of an idea that was.

I still have hope that someone will think of an open world game where you play the world as you would a tower defend game, but the normal game play is Infamous or batman AC. You capture buildings and outfit them to defend your hideout or base from random spawning enemies who could also take back the building or fort. Not how it was in AC revelations though, that was crap.

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Monday, January 16, 2012 @ 11:19:44 PM

This is why I'm not interested in Twisted Metal, I've mostly moved past mindless play. But I do hate when a game asks more from me than I'm willing to give it, thank god for Youtube.

I like to play for lots of reasons, but more so for relaxation than ever in the past. Basically I choose my battles, which is a nice ability to have now. In the old days you had to play the few games there were and make do with the difficulty.

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Monday, January 16, 2012 @ 11:21:19 PM

Not really, depends on that you would consider fun for yourself. Me personally yeah, they are fun but it mainly rests on what I am feeling that specific moment.

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Monday, January 16, 2012 @ 11:35:22 PM

Have to disagree with this, not all games were mindless even in the early days, text games Metal Gear, Beneath the Steal Sky, Rise of the Dragon, many others.

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Monday, January 16, 2012 @ 11:39:28 PM

If by brainless you mean first person shooters, I agree wholeheartedly.

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Monday, January 16, 2012 @ 11:45:22 PM

Perhaps not 'more fun', but simpler games are certainly 'fun'. To this day, anytime I see a Galaga machine (provided I have time and quarters), I'll play a few rounds because that game remains a blast to play.

Today, games have so much more to worry about: story, acting, pace, balance, mp, etc. When they get everything right, we get something that wasn't even dreamed of 25-30 years ago. But occasionally, I feel that some devs get too caught up in all the aesthetics and the core gameplay suffers. And when that happens, it really reminds me how special the best of the classics truly are. You'll never get the same type of experience out of arcade classics like Galaga, Pac Man, or Arkanoid, or even out of the more advanced mainstays of the 8-bit days, like Mario, Donkey Kong or Mega Man, but you have to appecuate just how well crafted the core mechanics are in each of those games.

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Monday, January 16, 2012 @ 11:53:37 PM

I feel you World Ends With Me. I have that view about most games like that, but Twisted is going to be such a fresh take on the shooter genre and it's the franchise that brought me into gaming. It's the reason I have all the Playstation consoles (sans PSP).

I have a completely different view of things as a gamer (and as a game designer in training), but I can always play the old Twisted Metal games and just have a blast. I expect the same thing with the new one.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012 @ 1:12:22 AM

So, I'll step up and defend mindless play. :)

When I think about it I like a lot of mindless games. Games like Saints Row for instance. Pretty mindless fun, but fun nonetheless and one of my absolute favourite franchises of all time.

Or Alice: Madness Returns, one of my (albeit smaller) highlights for 2011. That was pretty fun too, without too much thinking involved.

Or how about Flower? Pretty much mindless, but nothing I'd be without. The same can be said about Flow too.

Not to mention Katamari! Essentially a modern day pac-man, and one of the best game concepts I've played ever.

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Russell Burrows
Tuesday, January 17, 2012 @ 1:46:29 AM

I was going to say something about mindless gameplay but elected instead to say something about mindless TV shows that are good if you turn your brain off! like say Walking Dead that features zombies.

I.e. in one scene they have a guy trying to get a bagfull of some guns instead of say just using a tank to run over thousands of zombies or using lawnmowers to chopup zombies?? no! lets all run around and use scarce gun ammo!!

Or lets use bulldozers found at any construction site in any city to run over thousands of zombies!! cut!, CUT!! who is this guy?? get him off the zombie set!!

Now!! back to mindless zombie killing featuring guns and hard to find bullets!!

Mindless fun!

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012 @ 2:42:21 AM

I absolutely love The Walking Dead, It's gritty and realistic plus it features top notch production values. I also think it's well cast and the actors do a great job.

It probably would not be considered good drama to fire up that APC to go after the bag of guns, but coating the characters in disgusting zombie intestines to avoid detection...Hell yeah!!! Do it.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012 @ 2:59:52 AM

While mindless entertainment can be fun (Saint's Row is the latest example), not all forms of relaxation have to be.

One of my favorite ways to unwind after a taxing day is to play a game of chess with my mom!

In fact, by that standard, none of Christopher Nolan's movies would qualify as entertainment.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012 @ 3:29:30 AM

I love the advances that gaming has gone through over the last few years. Heavy Rain, LA Noire, and others have made for some of my greatest gaming experiences. But don't get me wrong, having some mindless fun is a great way to blow off steam. I love jumping into a GTA game and just destroying everything I can.. Or grabbing a chainsaw and letting it rip into the undead.

Mindless gaming is a great way to take out some frustration, or to just run around doing whatever the hell you want. It's a great release. But it's definitely not all there is to gaming, and most of the time I'm playing the story driven/challenging games that really make you think also.

Mindless games are great to have just to let loose for a while. But most of the time, I'd rather be playing a game that can keep my interest for a longer time, and actually giving me a sense of accomplishment once I've finished.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012 @ 3:50:04 AM

I class myself as one of them gamers who plays games to sit back and relax. When playing a game I like to follow a story. with characters and motive. An odd example of this would be Ridge Racer Type 4. Thoughout the gran prix your trying to impress your manager. I always enjoyed seeing their reaction to what position I ended up. The odd thing about this example is that I do not really control a character. It's a bit like Fallout where everyone reacts around my action.

When I play a mindless action game, I get bored after 20 minutes, Even though I find gaming a chance to relax, I still want to put my time into something worthwhile. But then I like the old Tekken games, which is primarly gameplay, yes, but I like the characters and story built around Tekken from 1-3, so I do generally feel more involved, while Tekken 5 and Tekken 6 I barely touched because everything was over the top and silly.

I'm not saying I play RPG's and realistic games like Heavy Rain all the time. I don't, I love to play Multiplayer on a game like Metal Gear Online and muck about. But if I see a game like Bulletstorm or Darksiders I just find them over the top and worthless. Not to say I am all for complete realism, my favourite series is Final FANTASY afterall.

An example of a game I played recently which I found to be mindless was Resistance 3, I loved the 2 previous games, but was so dissapointed with this, there was no real sense of objective just destroy the big blue flashy tower. You got no insight into the chimera at all unlike the previous games. It was really bland and knocked the series from AAA.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012 @ 4:04:04 AM

I personally feel that the video game industry would have died out years ago if it wasn't for the balance between fun/arcade and thought induced games. It is one of the reasons I love the Yakuza series as much as I do, since it has a balance of genres/skills/thought/fun within it.

I really think everything about this is subjective since there is thought in 95-99 percent of games, whether you realize it or not. The games back then were developed with a different thought process. They were developed to be approached by any gamer, be it a gamer that just wanted to have fun or a gamer who wanted to take a grand master approach. Really the only 2 games that come to mind that are "mindless" have already been mentioned and they are Flower and Flow(I know there are others but I can't really think of any at the moment).

Many and I mean many will call FPSs mindless and to me that is %100 wrong. Shooters to me are like a game of pool. When approached by a novice you see the twitch and lack of strategy in their gameplay, in pool it would be someone who justs shoots for the easy shot and never thinks about english. But when you view a veteran you see how they meticulously plan each and every move on the battlefield, and in pool that is the player that will block a pocket on purpose and use english to plan at least six moves ahead of their current shot. Shooters are NOT mindless, though they can be played that way.

Every game really has both sides to it and some just seem to try and go further to either side i.e. Grand Theft obviously tends to lean towards the fun side(but still requires thought) and Metal Gear Solid 4 tends to lean more towards the intellectual(while still allowing you to play it in a fun way if you choose). I really like game studios that make sure there is either a balance of the two or a way in which you can play the games in both ways.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012 @ 4:07:33 AM

Mindless is good sometimes. Its a great stress reliever and I think it is good not to have to think every now and again. Gaming shouldn't be a chore...



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Tuesday, January 17, 2012 @ 6:28:54 AM

Mindless does well for the body from time to time. I remember playing Splatterhouse thinking... not a damn thing! Well, the usual, "Where am I going? How do I do this?" sort of thing. But from the time I turned it on, nothing else existed. It was just me and... me!

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012 @ 6:57:41 AM

Entertainment and fun are very different from each other and are both very subjective, because one persons fun is another persons nightmare, i.e skydiving. So for me a fun game is a game with a compelling story that makes me care for the characters. That is my ideal game and why i love Uncharted and Ratchet and Clank so much. But another persons fun might be a mindless game of team deathmatch in CoD.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012 @ 10:30:37 AM

For me it depends on the mood I'm in, usually I like games that are a little more challenging and require some thought, but sometimes I just like mindless fun. Sometimes I like to play games like Heavy Rain and LA Noire, but other times a little CoD hits the spot.

So really I don't think a gamer needs to be defined by either category and I think most gamers enjoy titles from both ends of the spectrum.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012 @ 11:25:58 AM

It depends on my mood but i enjoy a mindless game once in awhile i have tons of those for my 3DS.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012 @ 3:17:40 PM

This is somewhat off topic but concerning the header image, I played the Asura's Wrath demo yesterday... absolutely terrible.

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Warrior Poet
Tuesday, January 17, 2012 @ 4:49:11 PM

Mindless games are getting more common, not less. There are still great heady games like Fire Emblem, but I don't think I had to think about InFamous for my entire playthrough.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012 @ 7:59:57 PM

Couldn't disagree more...

Except when Pong was the only game available, there has never been ONLY mindless games.

And to say that Pacman required only luck... Nope. You did have to play the game many times to remember patterns and levels, but you grew in skills the more you played.

Games like Dunkey Kong weren't mindless either. You had to be careful, look for openings...

Then you have games like Lolo that were actually clever and required a lot of thinking.
Tetris is reflex based but is obviously not a mindless experience.

Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't see the point that this editorial is trying to make. As far as i can remember, growing with the Colecovision and the Atari 2600, I don,t remember an era being composed of only purely mindless games, and nothing else.

But maybe it's just me who doesn't see things the same way...

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Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Tuesday, January 17, 2012 @ 11:14:37 PM

You're not getting it. Those were all mindless. Just because you're devising an action-based gameplay strategy doesn't mean anything. I'm talking about artistic elements, that which uses a different part of the brain; i.e., story, dialogue, character development, how we interact with a certain drama, etc.

None of that was involved in those games. It operated on an active level only, and never a mental level that can be equated to reading or indulging in the feelings and emotions imparted by the true arts.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012 @ 4:39:47 AM

Ok, I see what you mean now.

I'd use the word "soul-less" though.

I don't think we need more of that kind of games.
I think there needs to be a balance. Many developers are creating gameplay to fit around the story they want to tell. Others do it the opposite way. But I think both shall serve each others. A good story keeps things fresh, and gets you involved with the characters in a way that gameplay alone can't. But the same can also be said of the gameplay itself, where you actively participate in the character's actions, result of his motivations etc...

The problem I see is that too much focus is often placed on one element over the other, and you end up with games with barely any single player replay value... interactive movies, if I may. Or too gameplay centered where it gets overly repetitive after a while.

Many devs will try to counter this with a tacked on online mode, but the sad thing is that most players who enjoy single player games would rather have the SP mode be coop enabled, than to be forced to go competitive. Some just don't have the time required to become competitive, and there's also the fact that online gaming isn't hostile just because of the players levels... The insanity going on online at time is particularly off-putting to some.

But I digress. I think there should be a balance between pure gameplay, story-telling and other artistic aspects. It'd be a waste of potential to focus only on the gameplay aspect. Especially since the artistic side of the medium is only in its infancy.

Last edited by Hynad on 1/18/2012 4:44:10 AM

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012 @ 8:40:36 AM

I would argue that even action-based games like Pac-man and Donkey Kong eventually become committed to motor memory. As motor memory evolves, less conscious thought is required.

Those games might take focus at first, but in a relatively short span of time, it becomes almost second nature and the experience quickly dwindles to something much smaller, even if it never goes away.

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Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Wednesday, January 18, 2012 @ 10:16:21 AM

I definitely want a balance, too, and I hope we get it at some point. That's a great goal for the industry because it would satisfy a huge number of different-minded people.

I just think, like in most aspects of life these days, that devs are focusing too much on the science and technology part and not realizing how much further interactive entertainment can go from an artistic perspective.

If we can strike that balance between two elements that feed both sides of our brains, THAT would be so the ultimate experience. ;)

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012 @ 10:32:27 PM

I like it all it just depends on what mood I'm in. Games and movies can be mindless and thinking so satisfy me. Hell the other day I watched Cool as Ice starring Vanilla Ice. The movie was bad but it made me laugh.

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