On my everlasting quest through countless gaming forums, magazines and articles I have noticed how often the term “graphics over gameplay” or its variants comes up, most frequently in silly fanboy-populated flame-wars.
Of course, to a point, these “gameplay-supremacists” are right. I would much rather have a game with slightly lackluster facial textures than one with monotonous and boring gameplay, but at what point does one distinguish “presentation” from the “gameplay experience”?
Would Red Dead Redemption be the same without the awe-inspiring vistas of the old west, as that surely goes in the “presentation” slot, right? In this writer´s humble opinion those breathtaking views are one of the defining aspects of the RDR experience.
And story? Story can´t count as “gameplay” right? Even when the tale of John Marston is central to what Red Dead is, it is to be passed of as simple window dressing?
This is why the “graphics vs. gameplay” discussion is fundamentally flawed. In a great game, there should be no surplus material. Every line of ones and zeroes in the code should be something that the game would be lesser without.
Of course, there exists many games where I did not give a flying fornication about story, art design, and other non-gameplay elements.
Did I like these games? Sometimes, yes, but a game will inevitably be better when all elements, be it visual, audial, interactive, or story, compliment each other perfectly.
In some cases, such as with puzzle games like Tetris, the best way for story to compliment the game would be to have no story at all, and the best way for the graphics to compliment the game is for them to be as functional as possible.
Even so, Tetris fits the rule of elements complimenting each other, but in this case, by some elements being as minimalist as possible.
In my experience, the place “graphics over gameplay” is the most popular is in communities of avid Nintendo-fans. There it is often used as an argument for why it is pointless to have a console with higher graphical capabilities than the Wii.
Unfortunately, these people are a little naïve. Just as Wii sports would not be the same on the 360 (let´s forget Kinect for now), certain technically-demanding games would be worse off on less powerful consoles.
So despite all the good intentions of not focusing on the visual aspects of games, we must in fact realize that, in some games, technically demanding elements are central to the experience.
No matter how fantastic Zelda is.