Back onto Quick-time Events (QTEs) for a bit longer. The argument for QTEs is that they were initially designed to make the passive parts of the game more interactive. The flaw in this is that QTEs often detract from the immersion that is supposed to happen when experiencing a game and also leads to poor design choices that are justified by the inclusion of QTEs. We already talked about the Button Fairy pooping its button commands over the screen in anticipation for your payment of button flavored skittle distribution, but in this context it’s not just a matter of teaching the player poorly on adjusting to a situation and the Button Fairy remedying this by explicitly telling you what to do, but the Button Fairy is becoming the new distraction that “Hey, You’re in a game.” Much like the 555-XXXX phone number or the Wilhelm Scream in movies, when little moments like the pop-in of objects from Grand Theft Auto, inconsistent interaction options from any Open-World game, or in this case the Button Fairy becomes a constant reminder that this world is entirely made up. Keeping the player immersed in your medium is important in suspending the player’s disbelief when experiencing the medium, letting the player forgo much conscious thought and being led on by the medium to think, feel, and experience what the medium is trying to portray. If the medium does a good job at leading the player along, then they don’t realize that hours have gone by, they’ve missed a few meals and have probably binged on a full season of MadMen without realizing it and still what more to watch (this may or may not be from personal experience).
Stand-up Comedians are a great go-to in understanding the phenomena of immersion to a medium because they portray aspects of the charismatic individual who people will listen to for a good hour but will also get those people to understand their train of thought so that the punch-line works because of the context that it was delivered. Stand-ups do the job of creating cohesive and concise story that directs the listener down the depths of the Comedian’s psyche, letting them understand where the Comic is coming from with all of the rage, horniness, frustration, or depression that leads them to their thoughts and ultimately making the punch-line work or even amplify the punch-line because the listener is in the same state of mind to find the humor in the joke, one that might not have worked because the listener wasn’t in the right empathetic mindset. A joke based on understanding the frustration of raising two kids or social awkwardness of dealing with botched threesome would normally not illicit an understanding from people because they don’t have a point of reference. Maybe I don’t have kids of my own or am not a person who would have much luck with the kind of people who are adventurous enough for a threesome, but if you lead me down the scenario with your thought-process each step of the way and in a way that’s easy to understand while still making me feel like I was riding shotgun in your mind as events unfolded, then when the ridiculous occurs and the humor emerges, it’ll be a lot easier to find the humor that you found because I’m in the same mindset as you. The beauty of Stand-up comes from the Comic having a singular voice, one that can have a consistent tone and message from their act, and the mastery of the art is finding your voice while still delivering a joke and developing your word economy. Without being verbose (No, this article isn’t 1300+ words), find the best way to convey a situation, a story, or a message so it becomes easy to understand and comprehend so when I want you to continue tracking my train of thought when moving onto my next subject, you’ve absorbed enough and you’re back to riding shotgun with my thoughts.
QTEs become sudden breaks in riding shotgun with the game’s thoughts, forcing the player to re-adjust to a different context and deal with this different kind of situation that doesn’t necessarily fit with the game as you were experiencing it. Some call it the momentum of a game where QTEs present a shift in momentum, going from a medium pace to a crawl as you now have to deal with one thing, restricting all other agency until it’s overcome. I do agree that keeping consistent momentum in a game is important, where the pace, difficulty, and progression are always at the speed of the players skill-level, but shifts in momentum break the player’s flow and not necessarily the player’s immersion to the medium. QTEs, instead, tend to break shift the moment as well as break the immersion to the medium.
QTEs also tend to lead to bad design choices. If I knew that I was allowed to use QTEs in my game, I have an excuse for including long-winded cinematics directly into my game with the apology of forcing the player to do something in order for it to be executed correctly with the argument that the player forced actions keeps the tension of the moment. Because the player has to be responsive to these moments, they are still actively engaged with the game and the importance of hitting the button at the right time or missing it with repercussions builds tension in the moment allowing for a more “intense” experience.
To my recollection, there has only ever been three instances where the QTE didn’t feel gimmicky and actually added to the experience (Honestly only spent a few minutes to remember any QTEs that stood out): Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, God of War, and Resident Evil 5. MGS4’s sequence where you had to crawl through the radiated duct and taking severe damage while doing so, so mashing the button as fast as you can kept you moving forward while a cinematic of everyone else that was working with you fighting to make sure you make it to the end and stop whatever Metal Gear doomsday event. The pain and perseverance that the player needs to endure fromt this extended button mash-athon combined with trials of Snake’s allies leads to a very tense and emotional climax. God of War was big on the QTEs in order to execute Kratos’s gory fighting style and constant dismemberment. This style of QTE wore out its novelty extremely quickly due to being a very straightforward one-trick pony. Resident Evil 5, while still being an overall mediocre game, had a one good QTE sequence in the end where Chris had to shove a boulder into front of him to continue down a path while his partner was being chased by a mutated Wesker, so you mashed the button to punch and shove the boulder in front of you; again being a highly tense moment because failure to move the thing meant death for you partner, added tension if you were playing co-op and your friend was screaming at you to punch that boulder harder to get them out of the current danger (a bit less tension because of seeing Chris continually try to punch a boulder to move it is a bit ridiculous). Other than these moments, QTEs become excuses for long-winded sequences. If you replace the scene with MGS4 from a just a crawling-mashing sequence with just strictly a crawl from point A to point B sequence while a cinematic plays above you (or even no crawl sequence but still watching the same events unfold), the impact of the scene becomes much less than what it was because the shared pain, pressure and tension isn’t there to help tie the player in with the characters in the game.
Most QTEs don’t have immersive qualities to them, making them nothing more than filler material. Long kill sequences, cut scenes where something “cool” happens, danger rushing towards you and you’re forced reaction becomes the game. Instead of keeping the sequences shorter, merely to convey story, character development or environments, the game plays on verbosity to keep you interested (1400 words isn’t a lot right) but while novelty is interesting for a few iterations, constant novelty becomes an oxymoron so if that interest wanes, you’re left with a mechanic that becomes a hindrance to the game and not a benefit.