Games are a excellent form of escapism. Diving into a long, story-driven RPG is like reading a good book, players are taken out of their real life for a few hours and placed in this fantasy land where they are the most important and powerful person around. Players should be able to imerse themselves in a world, and for those few hours pretend that the real world does not exist. This is why, in my opinion, the biggest sin any story driven game can commit is to break the immersion, to do something which takes the player out of the story and brings them back to reality. That isn’t what games should be doing.
I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Assassin’s Creed. It used to be one of my favourite series, but even Assassin’s Creed 2, the best game of the franchise, was guilty of the greatest of sins. You’d spend hours running about various renaissance cities, meeting characters and learning about Ezio and his life. But then that chapter of the story ends and the game jumps forward several years and players are expected to just jump forward with it. Players spend hours following this characters every move only for the game to skip YEARS of their life. It completely breaks the rhythm of the game. When you do take control again a few years later, Ezio interacts with other characters as if nothing has happened, as if he only saw them yesterday. Probably because he did only see them yesterday, as the player we have no idea what went on over those years the game skipped. It completely removes the player from the story, even if it is only for a couple of minutes in real time. That is enough to be jarring.
But breaking up the story isn’t the only way in which a game can shatter any sense of escapism. Let’s look at the Elder Scrolls Series as an example. Anyone who has played one will know that the games don’t include cut-scenes. Not a single one. This is despite the fact that they are crying out for them. Nothing ruins an epic moment in Skyrim more than spending five minutes walking back and forth over a quest marker, trying to find the exact spot needed for the game to proceed to the next objective. Instead of that, why not insert a few cut-scenes here and there? Cut-scenes would make the whole game flow better, there would be less awkward moments, with the AI characters wandering around, trying to get into the right position but getting stuck on a small bit of pavement.
Those moments where characters get stuck, or quests don’t register as finished because the player isn’t standing in the right place, completely remove any illusion that you are in another world, that you have escaped your life for a while. They are problems that only a video game character would have. If I am playing a game as a form of escapism, which I do a lot, I don’t want to be reminded of that fact constantly. Cut-scenes are specifically designed to streamline moments of gameplay that are in no way enjoyable. The lack of them in the Elder Scrolls completely ruins what should be epic moments.
There are many ways games can be terrible, but the worst way for me personally is when a game breaks any sense of immersion I might be feeling. Obviously, not all games are created for the same purpose. Something like Rocket League does not provide escapism like The Elder Scrolls does, so can’t be judged by the same standard. But any game that expects you to be invested in the story-line, only to purposely take you out of it, has a huge flaw.