Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Pointing at "point and click"

In my last post I made sneery gestures at the term "point-and-click game". It is, of course, a meaningless term when applied to computer games, and has been since the mouse was popularized: nearly every game since 1990 has involved pointing and clicking. (I guess the ones before that were "hunt-and-peck games"?)

But, equally of course, genre terms have never made any sense on the literal level. "Science fiction" is broader than fiction about science; "fantasy" is more specific than made-up stories; and, closer to home, "adventure game" does not denote every game about people having adventures.

No, my real beef with "point and click" is that I have no clear idea what it means. What games are point-and-clicks? I have theories. Guesses. I don't know if they match up with anybody else's theories. When someone says "point and click" I have to go look at screenshots to figure out what kind of game it really is.

I never hesitate to blather about genre definitions but in this case it will be more fun to run a poll. Yes, one of those ridiculous Internet polls. Only The Gameshelf doesn't have a poll widget and I'm not energized enough to... well, to ask Jmac to install one... so I'll just post a list and you-all can comment. Comment! I know you're out there. I can hear you breathing.

Which of the following games are "point and click"?

Note that the question is not "which of these are good games?" or "which games did I enjoy?". This is pinning down the boundaries of a category.

If you want to say why a given game is or is not in the category, that's cool too.


Comments imported from Gameshelf

Gregory Weir (Jan 6, 2010 at 5:28 PM):

I find genre boundaries, especially this one, to be silly and limiting, but according to the commonly used definition as I understand it, all of the above are point-and-click adventure games except:

Canabalt: Not a so-called adventure game, and not cursor-controlled Hoshi Saga Ringo: I think this violates the "adventure" requirement, as there's no real story here. Zork: The Cavern of Doom: PAC adventure usually means that the pointing-and-clicking is on locations in the environment. Quake: Doesn't use the interface people mean when they use the term.

I'd define a point-and-click adventure game, as most people mean it, as "a game which is story- or environment-focused where the challenge stems from reasoning rather than reflex and the interface involves using a cursor to click on objects in the environment."

This does, of course, mean that Grim Fandango isn't a PAC adventure despite being more similar to games in the genre than, say, Samorost is.

Risto Saarelma (Jan 7, 2010 at 4:21 AM):

I understood "point-and-click adventure" to mean "sorta like Myst". You could generalize the point and click mechanic from this to mean that there isn't a player avatar whose movements you are controlling within a screen. So Myst, Viridian Room, Samorost and (guessing from the screenshots) Ravenhearst would be point-and-click adventures. Loom wouldn't be, since I think you controlled the protagonist moving around in the screens. Haven't played the new Sam & Max games so I don't know if you're moving the protagonists around or if they just respond with predetermined animations. Though having the protagonist on-screen would already deviate from the "sorta like Myst" initial criterion.

And out of the non-adventure games, Cananbalt isn't point-and-click, since you control the avatar's jumps, Hoshi Saga Ringo is. Quake isn't. It does have the first person, protagonist not on screen thing, but also twitch gameplay and precise movements which isn't Myst-like. And you can't play entirely by pointing and clicking anyway, since you need the keyboard to move around.

Andrew Shanks (Jan 7, 2010 at 7:56 AM):

I would define "point and click adventure" similarly to Gregory, with maybe the addition that pointing and clicking on objects in the environment manipulates the environment, or causes the protagonist to manipulate objects in the environment. For me, the game I think of for "point and click" is Monkey Island. From what I understand about "Ravenhearst" it's what's commonly referred to as a hidden-object game, where the player finds arbitrary objects from a list in a jumbled scene - I'd exclude it as I don't think there's any environmental manipulation taking place and (at least in the demos of that kind of game I've played) finding the objects doesn't seem to be connected to the narrative.

Andrew Shanks (Jan 7, 2010 at 8:17 AM):

Just to clarify, my votes are: Myst: in, gameplay consists of exploring an environment and solving puzzles, interface is clicking on objects in the environment Loom: in, I've not played it, but my understanding is that it's similar to Monkey Island, my personal ur-point-and-click Viridian Room: in Samorost: in Canabalt: out - based on reflex and timing rather than puzzle solving and exploration - I didn't find any reason to literally point or click within the game either. Hoshi Saga Ringo: borderline - not what I'd first think of when I think point and click, but it does have puzzle solving by pointing and clicking to manipulate an environment. I'm going to say out, based on gut feeling. Ravenhearst: Out, for reasons given above. Sam and Max: In, I can't remember whether the new Sam and Max involves clicking on environmental things or if the protagonist interacts with whatever's nearest when prompted. Either way, games like Sam and Max, and Grim Fandango seem to be the natural evolution of Monkey Island style games, so I'd class them together. Zork - out, same reason as Gregory. Quake - out, the primary challenge is successively more advanced application of a general skill rather than discrete puzzles.

It looks like three replies have proven your point - unless I'm misunderstanding something, Risto would consider the game I use to define point-and-click as not being point-and-click.

Andrew Plotkin (Jan 7, 2010 at 2:37 PM):

Thanks for the comments!

I find genre boundaries to be fascinating, because they're a way to investigate what people think is important about games. (Or books, or whatever.) Obviously you can't do this if you decide that a specific definition is definitive...

Most of the uses of "point-and-click" that I've seen do explicitly include third-person games -- that is, games where an avatar walks around the screen to the location you click on. (Loom, Monkey Island, Machinarium, ...) Grim Fandango is an interesting variation -- I'd forgotten that it had no mouse cursor -- but as Andrew Shanks says, it is an evolution of that style of game, and I lump it in with them. (I forgot that it had no clicking, so obviously that distinction is not important to me. :)

All the other distinctions you're making make sense to me; I exclude Canabalt and Quake as being action games, and Ravenhearst because it has no physical logic as an environment. (Many recent hidden-object games do have Myst-like or Viridian-Room-like scenes, but that feels to me like a hybrid game -- two different styles of gameplay. Now that I think about it, Ravenhearst began the trend of edging in that direction, but let's not confuse the issue...)

Overall, Andrew and Gregory are describing what I simply call "graphical adventure game". And Risto is limiting that to "first-person graphical adventure game". Again, there's nothing definitive about any of these terms, but it's good to get a feel for what people are saying. So, thanks.

Personman (Jan 7, 2010 at 11:44 PM):

Agree with the above post with the small caveat that I have not played or looked at Ravenhearst or Hoshi Saga Ringo. The first four and Sam & Max I have played and all seem to be Point-and-Click (though I never use the term myself).

The first time that I heard that what I'd always thought of as 'Myst-style puzzle games' were called 'Adventure Games' I was like, "buhh? Aren't adventure games, like, Zelda?", and while I've gotten more used to it, I still don't really like the term. I'm similarly unhappy the use of the phrase 'Puzzle Games' to refer to Tetris and Bejeweled. If I had my way, Action-Adventure Games (Zelda) would be called Adventure Games, Adventure Games (Myst) would be called Puzzle Games, and the block-stacking and three-in-a-rowing subset of what are now called Puzzle Games would be called... something else, maybe Pattern Games or something like that.

Personman (Jan 7, 2010 at 11:51 PM):

Er, the above was written when Gregory's comment would have been above it, but there were issues with comment submission at the time.

Andrew Plotkin (Jan 9, 2010 at 11:26 PM):

Like I said, terminology never makes sense.

Rikard Peterson (Mar 12, 2012 at 7:06 PM):

I see point-and-click adventure game as a synonym to (graphical) adventure game, but I don't typically use the term myself, as it's a bit redundant. (And needlessly excluding. As has been stated above, Grim Fandango - or, to use a more recent example, Stacking - should qualify. Or how about Escape from Monkey Island? Surely it belongs in the same genre as the earlier Monkey Island games despite being controlled by keyboard or gamepad rather than a mouse!) But I suppose the reason for the term is to separate what I call adventure games from what the console crowd (exemplified here by Personman) calls adventure games (i.e. Zelda).

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