International Hobo (and more particularly Chris Bateman) have taken it upon themselves to put quick-time events (QTEs) on trial.
You've seen this mechanic, no doubt - normal gameplay gets interrupted, and you're asked to quickly press the buttons displayed on screen in order to do something awesome. Yahtzee Croshaw calls it "press X not to die", and that's fair to some extent (Prince of Persia), but it's just as commonly "press X to disembowel" (God of War) or "press X to become one with the Matrix" (Fahrenheit).
It's a terrible mechanic. It's crude, it's abstracted, and it's punitive towards casual and beginning players who may not be prepared to suddenly press X without warning.
I applaud it. More, please.
Because you have to take baby steps. To achieve something good you have to vomit up something bad. And while your average QTE is a crime against gamers everywhere, it's the first incarnation of something much better that we've been heading towards since the late 1970s.
Gaming should be non-stop. And I don't mean by this that gaming must be an epilepsy-inducing cavalcade of action, but rather that the player should never be shut out of the game. At each and every moment that the hardware is active, the gamer should have the option of contributing something relevant to the play.
Take some examples from board and card games. These games usually feature players having distinct "turns". In bad game design, when it is not your turn you have nothing to do. In good game design, what you do during other people's turns is just as important as what's going on during yours.
Magic: the Gathering uses "interrupts", which can cut into an opponent's turn and allow you to respond to their moves. This gives you a good reason to watch your opponent closely, and look for just the right moment to surprise them with your interrupt. Another example might be the popular Monopoly house rule which states that if you fail to claim rent you miss out, again giving players an incentive to watch each others' turns.
In these examples, even though a player is not actively making moves on the game board, they are engaged because they have the potential to influence the game.
Videogames have been plagued with interactivity problems since their inception. Non-interactive features have become staples of the medium, such as long cutscenes, lengthy dialogues, and scripted sequences. Players are regularly asked to wait until they can play again - and there is not even the rationale of it being "someone else's turn".
It's not good design. Gaming should be non-stop. And QTEs are an attempt to fix that.
QTEs are an attempt to add interactivity to what would otherwise be downtime. Yes, it's cool just to watch Kratos ripping off a minotaur's head, but it's significantly cooler to be engaged in it. Yes, it's great that the Prince doesn't die when he loses a fight, but the introduction of a QTE gives the illusion that he doesn't die because of something the player did. It's better than non-interactivity, and it's better than removing the feature altogether.
And yes, it's still pretty awful. It's a bad solution to a real problem, but it's better than no solution to the problem, and when iterated over a raft of games it creates a dialogue among developers about how do we do it better? It's a step on a stairway that's going to lead us to better gaming - a shaky step, but an important one all the same.
And sure, next time you see a game use QTEs in a really ham-fisted way, feel free to blast the developers, because they can find a better way. There is another road, and it's going to take us to some really excellent places.
But just remember that long before we got to walk that road, we had to start looking for it.