I was prompted with the question “What differentiates an interactive film from a game?” My gut reaction was “Well, there is no difference, once a medium becomes interactive and necessitates player input for it to be used it is no longer a film.” Films are a passive media, enjoyed with no input at all, the experience is entirely shaped by the creator. Other than pausing, there is no way the viewer can control how a film is presented to them. Notice I used the word “viewer.” As soon as the media becomes interactive they become the “player” and now the media is a game. The experience is now in the control of the player, at least in so much as they are the camera but it could go beyond that to allow them to shape the story and even miss parts of the story if they’re not looking hard enough.
Primarily story based games have tackled the issue of validating their existence as a game and not a film or movie since they first became popular. I remember when Dear Esther started the whole debate around whether “walking simulators”, as the haters called them, were worthy of being called games. But since Dear Esther, a whole genre of this style of game has evolved and exploded providing some of the greatest and most memorable experiences I’ve had in games. From Telltale’s phenomenal The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us to Fullbright’s Gone Home and most recently Campo Santo’s Firewatch, the “walking simulator” genre of what I believe people might mistake for an interactive film is becoming one of my favourite genres in games delivering memorable stories and characters in a way traditional games never could because they were forced to break up the story with long stretches of murdering dudes (looking at you Uncharted).
Before walking simulators became the ultimate means to tell interactive story games would often use quick time events during cut scenes or sections without gameplay to validate why the player is holding a controller at these points. Quick time events are probably the least interesting way to make the player feel like they are interacting with a story. Other than executing a pattern with their controller they are not being challenged or engaged in any meaningful way. They could be replaced with an AI, or maybe they could just enjoy the cutscene without having to maintain the fear of dying because they couldn’t smash triangle fast enough.
Ultimately I hope walking simulators continue to grow and explore new and exciting areas of storytelling and quick time events slowly fade into the background. Games that traditionally used quick time events like Tomb Raider (2013) and Heavy Rain could be better off just letting the player make key story decisions and not forcing them to be involved in every step. Players just want to feel like what they’re doing is meaningful and when they could be replaced by a line of code written by a 10th-grade programming student they don’t feel meaningful at all.