I have to disagree with this assessment on Matthias Worth’s blog that button-mashing is a form of meaningful gameplay.
I was at the Hudson talk at 2008’s GDC where he presented the evaluation of lockpicking mechanisms, but his summary of traits of minigames fell short for me. You don’t collect data, form a theory that fits that data and call it a day. I’m not meaning to insinuate a lack of intellectual rigor here, because I don’t think that Hudson was trying to create a Grand Unified Theory of Minigames. It was just a 15-minute GDC talk on lockpicking.
But back to button mashing.
If we use the criteria from Hudson’s talk with Worth’s scores, button mashing strength minigames score quite well:
- Ease of Understanding – High
- Ease of Use – Medium High
- Immersion – High
- Rewarding of Player Skill – Low
- Meaningful Consequences – High
It shows how subjective this evaluation is. For me, ease of understanding and ease of use (while heavily dependent on each other) are the same, I would say immersion is drastically low. Now, what is your definition of immersion? For me, it is the sense of being “in” the game. I can be “in” a game of Poker just as much as I can be “in” a game of Mass Effect 2 if all I think of is the game. But button mashing takes me out of the game. Whatever is happening on screen is lost. There could be naked ladies bouncing around the periphery of the screen, I wouldn’t notice; I’m forced to focus on the damn icon filling up and willing my fingers to move faster. I have this problem with all QTEs that throw icons on the screen, which is why it is such a surprise that I am loving Heavy Rain.
The other point of differentiation is “meaningful consequences”. Unless this is a throwaway trait, do not most minigames have consequences on the world at large? The dice gambling minigame in Suikoden is one of the things I remember the most about the game, but its consequences were only on my in-game bank account. If I bet all-in on that, would that not be more meaningful as a God of War QTE where if I lost, the animation simply looped and I got to try again?
When I worked at Tiburon, there were a few folks who loved button mashing. Why? Because they were good at it, I assume. Every time a button mashing mechanic was implemented, they dominated. And it makes sense in a football game from a parallelism perspective: the stronger player should win the tackle battle every time, right? Well, no, but go with me here. Parallelism is a nice side effect, but what matters most is fun. And if the effect is predictable every time, will it be fun for all players? The designers I used to work with thought so, because they were on the winning end so naturally when they played, it seemed fun. But I am sure their opponents didn’t think so, since every time they went head to head there was nothing they could do to affect their chances.
Now, I assume the counterargument would be: “then Chess isn’t a good game because there is nothing the average player could do against a grand master!” But Chess isn’t a subset of a game (unless you do Chess Boxing), it is a whole game. No one would sit down and play Chess against a grandmaster and expect to win. But if Chess was a subset of another game in which the opponent believed he had a fair shot at winning, he would call the Chess part a broken mechanic. Your decisions against a grand master at chess have no meaning because there is nothing you will be able to do to win, insofar as winning is the proper criterion to be evaluating.
I ramble here, but the essential point I have is this: button-mashing has no meaningful decisions so it isn’t a game and instead falls into the categories of other ability-based events. Bench pressing isn’t a game. Running the 40 yard dash isn’t a game (Although running a marathon may well be). So if it isn’t a meaningful game on its own, it is a tough candidate to be a meaningful minigame.