A minigame which is inside a bigger game, although an interesting meta, matryoshka like concept, is also a concept that is almost exclusively done by inept game developers unable to integrate the minigame inside their “large” “main” game with finesse. What I’m saying is that minigames should never be present in a serious game world, where a capable game tends to do as much as possible to integrate and immerse the player in the game world, minigames have the exact opposite effect.
I’m not talking here about minigames like the picklocking mechanism of Skyrim which was quite well done actually, or the ability to go on street races in GTA3 San Andreas. Those are not minigames, those are parts of the main game, immersive gameplay additions which make sense and are contextual to the rest of the game.
While many times the point in serious new reality/world video games is to assure the player that the world is real and it exists, minigames rip out all that immersion with the grace of a gazelle that has been dead for 2 months. They are in fact, only a cheap gimmick, something that makes you go “huh” or a mediocre “cool”. Is that how you want your game to be perceived?
As I’ve stated earlier, every game, even real life games, is filled with something that could be called minigames, mini-goals that you can get better at, and if you do, you increase your overall progress in the game. But when it is obviously another game, with another type of aesthetics, a completely different and sometimes contradicting gameplay approach, or placed in a noncontextual, unbelievable way in the game, it counts as a failure towards the overall game. It drags the major game down along with the superficiality of the minigame itself. Now the minigame could be quite well done actually. With solid gameplay and be quit fun, but if it is not integrated seamlessly into the rest of the game, it would better belong as a separate game. Seamless would be the key word here. Seams are immersion braking. Aesthetic seams (visual glitches, a look into the empty void, clipping), Audio Seams (sound artifacts present in samples, non-contextual reverb, inappropriate levels) and most importantly for this article, Gameplay Seams. One of the gameplay seams are minigames.
The point what I’m trying to fling across with this article is that every time the player notices and is conscious that there is a minigame inside the main game, all the effort put into immersion into the main game previously accumulated, is immediately chucked out of the window into the pile of trash outside.
The player shouldn’t realize he is just “playing a game”, but rather, he should feel as if he is living a separate life there, or if possible, the only one that exist. The more believable that is, the more immersive the game world becomes and the game is more successful. In-game terminology should also reflect this notion. Quit menus, save games etc, should be renamed into “Leave this word” or “Remember this experience”, something that has been done by some games, namely Planescape Torment, but hasn’t quite caught on enough. Removing video settings from being accessed from inside the game, is also a positive step into this direction. An outside menu could do that job just as well.
The player should never be reminded that in fact he is a player, just playing a game, and minigames do exactly that. Making it a broad goal of never containing minigames is a commendable and practical thing to do, when striving for immersive, living and complex game worlds and player experiences. The less the player notices he is playing a game, the better the experience.