I’ve had enough of Quick Time Events (QTEs) — those cut scene caricatures whose on-screen button cues limit my control and demand that I press A as I approach a chasm, or B as a boulder rolls toward me.
“Hold on,” the candy-colored cues decree, “I’ve got this — just give me a nudge.”
If I obey the cue, I leap, and I dodge. If I disobey the cue, I fall, and I’m crushed. So I obey; I leap, and I dodge. Did I have control? No, I merely had influence. That’s because the Quick Time Event is an anti-player design device; it interrupts, it distracts, and it controls.
I’ve never heard of anyone who enjoys Quick Time Events, so what’s to blame for their ubiquity? Perhaps developers use the QTE as a compromise, something between a non-interactive cut scene, and a playable contrivance. I see no reason for compromise, though, especially after playing 2008′s Prince of Persia.
There, unprompted and properly timed, I make the Prince and Elika perform an elaborate attack combination with complex animations. To start, the Prince slashes the enemy twice with his scimitar (X, X), and Elika blasts it with magic (Y). The Prince then flips over the enemy’s head (A) and throws it into the air (B) where Elika is waiting: she blasts it up farther (Y). Finally, the Prince leaps up and slashes downward at the enemy, surrendering it to gravity (X).
Such maneuvers are possible in other games, and they require similar button presses, but they come wrapped in QTEs. They require little timing, merely reaction. They’re imposing, rather than gratifying.
John McClane Wannabes
We can also attribute the Quick Time Event’s prevalence to developers chasing the “cinematic experience,” their goal to make us feel as if we’re heroes in an action movie. But I’m typically unimpressed by my character doing something which I don’t have direct control over. I want to leap the chasm, and to dodge the boulder. I want to fail, but not because I responded incorrectly to a prompt.
If your choice as a designer is either to limit control or to deny control, deny it; at least then I can relax and enjoy a cut scene without anticipating orders. Better still would be to keep me playing: do within the medium what’s possible without forgetting or betraying the medium. Even when I’m “in control,” I’m at the mercy of your design — make me think otherwise.