Is Gaming At A Milestone?
Posted on Tuesday, August 21 2012 @ 12:46:43 Eastern
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Gaming is the new kid on the block: Films have been around since the 1890s and were based on the long established theatre scene; books are as old as the written word; and music is so ingrained that it is thought that early humans communicated by song first and word second. By comparison, the 40-year-old gaming industry is a spritely whippersnapper.
It’s pretty apparent that this is a view shared by many: Parents see games as toys while fear-mongering news pundits jump at any chance to portray gamers as unstable loners. Despite enormous technological progress since gaming’s inception and even improved acceptance to an extent, true integration into the umbrella of ‘entertainment’ has proved elusive.
This perspective isn’t entirely the fault of the ignorant masses. Some blame must be laid at the feet of gamers and developers. Other forms of media have had plenty of time to build a catalogue of classics which demonstrate real artistic merit to prove the medium’s validity. Citizen Kane, Shawshank Redemption, Reservoir Dogs, Dark Side of the Moon, The Great Gatsby—all of these and so many more prove the maturity of their respective medium.
We have seen gaming create some incredible experiences that could not be replicated anywhere else but these are few and far between. For every Bioshock we have five Call of Dutys (nearly literally). For every JC Denton there are hundreds of nameless, expressionless, and perhaps mercifully, voiceless marines shooting bullets into human bullet sponges for flimsy reasons. This isn’t to say that every film is a magnum opus epic or that even that every game should be; each summer brings another action star walking away from an explosion and games that let you do that can be immense fun. What it does mean is gaming has had less time to distinguish itself and even though we have the power to do so we’re falling back on reliable but clichéd tropes.
Gaming has recently broken into the mainstream thanks to the granny friendly Wii, the so-called ‘freemium’ game explosion, and the emergence of smartphone and tablet games, but all of these casual games provide lightweight enjoyment without showing off the depth of gaming. Worse still, despite gaming currently enjoying its largest audience ever, there are still so many more people looking at gamers and seeing man-children; these killjoys probably spend a comparable time in front of the TV and ignore the unique storytelling potential games have.
As I said before, some of this blame can be levelled at gamers themselves. For a long time we have been content with killing in ever more creative and visceral ways and settings. Few games have managed to marry success with a lack of violence. Even games like the Mario series have Tom and Jerry-style violence, after all. There are exceptions to every rule—the Portal games spring to mind—but most games centre around violence, cartoony or not.
Regardless of violence there have been some spectacular games in recent years to validate gaming as a hobby. Games like the previously mentioned Bioshock provide solid gameplay with a wonderful unexpected twist and a seriously philosophical message. The Portals are endearing and challenging from start to finish. Their spiritual successor Quantum Conundrum presents a charming atmosphere with the only destruction being aimed at inanimate objects. The recent Spec Ops: The Line forces you to commit barbaric acts, then condemns you for them, and the Mass Effect games promised and delivered a journey more ambitious than most film trilogies.
Games have certainly progressed since the days when computers struggled to animate two lines and a dot and now that near-photorealistic graphics are a reality it seems we are growing tired of seeing ever more high-resolution bullet holes with no reason for their creation. It’s not always enough that we can kill that guy over there; sometimes we want to know why he needs to die or what happens afterwards. Far Cry 3 looks to be one such game. It doesn’t shy away from blockbuster-style action but also promises to deliver a compelling story which forces you to make hard choices and come to terms with the insanity of the island and the effect it has on you.
It’s important to note that violence still has a place in gaming. Humans by nature are aggressive and now that society discourages it we have other ways of expressing it. We see aggression everywhere from sports to films and usually it’s accepted because it fits with the situation. The film industry’s reputation as a whole doesn’t suffer thanks to films like The Human Centipede and that’s because we have also seen film give us the likes of The Godfather and Forrest Gump: Everyone knows what film is capable of showing us. Wanton violence like in Manhunt discredits the industry as being immature and it’s too young to have such a calibre of classics to show off when required. A glance at the barely clothed busty vixens in almost any beat ‘em up is enough to show that either developers haven’t grown up or they forget that gamers have.
That’s right, the industry is older and so are the gamers. The fact that the average gamer is in their 30s seems to be slowly having an effect on the games developers are making. It’s easy to make a game appeal to teenage boys and as teenage boys often grow into 20-something boys, the shallow appeal of playing soldier can transcend age brackets but that’s not winning any prizes. Going from fairly recent games like Braid, Limbo, Deadlight, and even Minecraft, developers are starting to learn that gamers are growing up. We still have our supply of high-res violence but are either justifying it or even sacrificing it completely in favour of something more.
The Last Of Us promises to plunge the player into a post-disaster world where they have to kill to survive and protect who they love. Watch Dogs features some irresponsible behaviour but always gives other options which avoid unnecessary violence, and Assassin’s Creed 3’s main character is embroiled in not only the American war for independence but also a centuries old conflict between Assassins and Templars.
There has never been a dark age of gaming where Death Race-style violence was not only the norm, but the only way. We have always had at least some titles pushing the boundaries and it’s thanks to those pioneering early developers we have reached where we are now. The regularity of these revolutionary games and their depth is slowly starting to improve.
Developers are coming to terms with their older audience and using today’s amazing technology to deliver games on both sides of the line. We’re hearing about upcoming games tailor made for gamers just looking to fix their bloodlust and others looking to use the tech for more than jiggling boobs and realistic blood. When we are at the stage where a deep, intelligent game can be released without gasps of surprise, when parents understand that an 18 rating on a game means just as much as on a film, and when the latest mass murderer didn’t (allegedly) use games as a murder simulator, then we can say that gaming has grown up. One thing is sure; we’re going to have a hell of a time during the transition.
The opinions expressed here does not necessarily reflect the views of Game Revolution, but we believe it's worthy of being featured on our site. This article has been lightly edited for grammar and image inclusion. It has been submitted for our monthly $20 Vox Pop prize. ~Ed. Nick
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