(Continued from here.)
6 – Minigames
There are times when I’m less than excited about snapping 20 lockpicks in a row or struggling to spot the difference between the “like” and “dislike” expressions for the cat people. But Oblivion’s minigames serve an important purpose — they lend tangability to elements of the world.
The core mechanical principle of almost all RPGs is abstraction. Distill “capabilities” to a set of values, then use these values to determine probability. How do we know if you can pick the lock? Well, if your skill is 8 and the lock difficulty is 4, then there’s a 75% chance.
Abstraction works against immersion when it makes players feel like more like they’re manipulating a math problem than participating in a world. Minigames can counterbalance this by providing more of a “tactile” feel in places — it’s not a roll of the dice to see if I open the lock, it’s me trying to line up the tumblers with a pick. If I gain actual skill over time, I get the hang for picking locks, this starts to feel like a “real world” thing.
That’s powerful stuff for immersion and achieving it doesn’t require complex or overly entertaining games. Oblivion’s alchemy model isn’t really a game but the fact that I see the plants in the world, pick them, learn their qualities over time, and experiement with them to make potions adds depth to their world. Similarly, the book UI certainly isn’t a game at all but its implementation — picking up books, seeing the print, turning pages — produces a very different feel than what would be achieved if the exact same information were relayed to the player via entries in an “information” tab hung off of the character sheet.