Pretentious video games are difficult to play. They often try to break the mold, only to fail in the two most important categories: storyline and user experience. Instead, these games exude palpable self-importance.
It's not merely games that are impossible to beat or games that aim to tell thought-provoking stories that are guilty of being pretentious. Others games fall short as well. They disregard gameplay mechanics, seeking fame and novelty. If developers only understood that most people play for fun, more games would have real substance instead of just a flashy facade.
In an interview with Adventure Classic Gaming, the developers of The Path stated:
We are not story-tellers in the traditional sense of the word. In the sense that we know a story and we want to share it with you. Our work is more about exploring the narrative potential of a situation. We create only the situation. And the actual story emerges from playing, partially in the game, partially in the player’s mind.
The Path is a modern horror adaptation of Little Red Riding Hood. The player has to walk a straight path to Grandma's house with no consequences. Then the game ends. There is no winning, no losing, just experiencing. This premise defies the purpose of video games, though, assuming that gamers want to be intellectual instead of entertained.
Dear Esther is exclusively an exploration game. Players wander around an island listening to an old man read letters to his deceased beloved, Esther. Nothing ever really gets accomplished. Dear Esther presumes the discovery of the dead woman's fate is enough to make the experience worthwhile, but it's not.
Designer Dan Pinchbeck intentionally left holes in the game for "atmosphere and space and time and that idea of a vacuum that the player could fill with their own thoughts and feelings." That might sound good in an interview, but it ultimately comes across as an unwillingness to come up with compelling gameplay or a fully fleshed out story, as a few critics noted.
No Man's Sky
Few games were as over-hyped as 2016's No Man's Sky. Before the game came out, creator Sean Murray told everyone it would be groundbreaking. Sometimes, he'd try to temper expectations, but Murray frequently mentioned the importance of his game technology. Unfortunately, that focus ultimately ruined the game. Developers spent so much time trying to be unique, special, and different, but they fell short.
Gamers noticed this lack of focus, and No Man's Sky was returned to stores in droves.
Before Omikron: The Nomad Soul was even released, designer David Cage wrote a 200-page analysis of the game. Many people liked his ideas, but almost everybody thought they were far-fetched. This didn't deter Cage. He said:
I hate when someone tells me something is impossible. I can’t stand that. I never have. I thought, okay, let’s do it and see if it is impossible.
The designer tried to build a program that combined elements of adventure games, fighting games, first-person shooting games, and puzzle games. Unsurprisingly, it turns out that combining multiple genres is incredibly difficult. The game was an abject failure because Cage couldn't settle on just one good premise. He foolishly thought he could do it all.