Games can be padded in a variety of different ways, all of them shameful. They can use backtracking (Alien: Isolation), fetch quests (Dead Island) or hour-long cutscenes (Final Fantasy XIII). Some games seek to extend the duration of innocuous actions that could easily be achieved with one button press by making the player rapidly mash an action button. This input has caught on like wildfire, and we’re all waiting for it to die.
Making the player mash X is not just a tool of weak, thinly-developed games. One of the most prominent games to feature the input is the critically acclaimed Batman: Arkham Asylum. Want to get a vent open? Mash X. While there were games before that made you wear your thumb to the bone just to open a door, it seems like the idea hit the big time with the Arkham series.
What’s so wrong with this? Well, for starters, no one has ever failed one of these instances – it has happened literally zero times. While quick-time events can provide a reflex challenge when done right (see Heavy Rain), there’s nothing challenging about pounding the same button repeatedly. A quick time event is by definition time sensitive, but I could press X slowly until I give up (or die of starvation) without ever opening a vent in Batman.
Escape Dead Island, this fall’s legendary flop, attempts to keep players from putting it down by forcing them to button mash every time they want to open a hanging door. The game is terrible for many other reasons, don’t get me wrong, but button mashing makes it even worse – and it harms good games, too.
Alien: Isolation is one of the year’s best horror games, but it’s no stranger to this particular transgression. While it handles a lot of QTEs well by demanding thought and precision, it still forces you to mash wildly in order to kickstart generators. It doesn’t even make sense in the context of your actions, since you have to mash repeatedly before Amanda Ripley will even attempt to pull the handle. Does the button mashing gamify Ripley’s internal struggle over potentially pinching her finger in the mechanism?
Even Dying Light – one of 2015’s most promising games – makes you mash to open up locked fuse boxes. I’m supposed to believe that a survivalist equipped with knives and blunt weapons chooses to brute force a metal box open with his bare hands? And it works? Well, he does display some impressive thumb strength.
It’s so easy for even the best video games to shoehorn in this annoying distraction. Then again, if I could mash a button for two hours to remove this input from every other game in the world, I’d play that game in a heartbeat.