Opinion: Suffocating the gaming industry one formula at a time

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GSS7

There’s a deep problem in how we consider our mediums of creative expression. Films, games, comics – all seem to be confined by the actual methods of production of their initial stages. I’ll confine myself here to games.

You know who I don’t care about? Italian plumbers with a propensity to eating mushrooms, bashing their heads on bricks, squashing tortoises, and saving air-headed blondes who indulge in bestiality. You know who else? Big, ugly men with bigger guns shooting at uglier – usually reptilian – creatures.

The gaming industry has created a noose of franchises and formulas and has been playing with the chair at its feet for too long. Does anyone know how many Call of Honour of Modern Battlefield games exist? We are so confined to things like the Ageless-Faceless-Gender-Neutral-Culturally-Ambiguous-Adventure-Person (AGFNCAAP) and helmeted zombies behind wheels, we forget that the gaming medium is a perfect place for creative exploration.

Even games like Elder Scrolls: Oblivion or Fallout 3 hid their formula behind great distances, slow-motion and gory explosions, some wonderful graphics, and excellent environments. But essentially it was fetch this, kill that, get stronger so you can kill that, to fetch this. Indeed, the game I’m currently loving, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, is also no different. Go there, find this thing (person or object), so he or it tells you about the next person or thing. But to get that person or thing, you must either find or use another person or thing. But to get that one, you must kill or fight these person or things… and so on and repeat for 40 hours.

Sure you can sneak around or try millions of methods, but you’re still just trying to get the MacGuffin someone is storing. Think about it like this: If you could be invisible and walk through walls, how much fun would many of these games be?

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Now sure: that’s the damned challenge. But look at the formula. Why should it be this way? Why have we confined ourselves to making games to how they made them decades ago? We’re still fetching things for random idiotic people. We’re still fighting entities we don’t understand: whether its people with darker or reptilian skin. And we do it because we see a familiar name with a larger number on the box cover.

Now, I don’t think this makes Deus Ex: Human Revolution less fun. I love this game. It’s gorgeous, mature. It’s like having an affair with a married, beautiful, rich, mature woman who is completely dominating. It treats you like an adult. It doesn’t pander to easy solutions or make you into an amazing hero or villain. LIMBO, too, a game which I gave a near-perfect score, is formulaic but brilliant. It’s just a side-scrolling puzzle-solver. But the puzzles are intricate and brilliant. You can’t help but feel their necessity. They are very much a part of the world. You don’t feel as though there is any other way to engage with this game.

Even Dead Island will be the same. Sure we’ve got zombies and a lovely island. But it will be fetch this for that person. But to fetch it you must battle zombies, help this person and so on.

We can’t really help it. That’s just how games are.

It’s hard to say what we’re aiming for: realism or fun? Because there’s little that’s fun about reality. It’s mostly awful, unfair and filled with idiots who might end up ruling you or sitting next to you on a train. So it must be about creative immersion: not enough to be completely cute, but also just enough to put a new sheen on what we view as everyday. Human Revolution is a good example: How often do people think about the advancement of technology? Would you use augmentations? Is there something ultimately lost by “messing with nature”?

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Games can play on these feelings and fears.

For example: Think how many games allow you to kill children. Have you thought of any besides Postal 2? Me neither. There’s an aversion to it, that’s largely unjustified. It’s hard to imagine why we’re OK with slaughtering innocent people, whether as aliens or Russians, but don’t consider children as people.

What’s the difference? Sane people realise they’re playing a game despite protests from Australians or conservatives in America (thank you, Rockstar, my love). And how come it’s fine for little girls in games to kill others in a brutal, horrible fashion (yes, I’m talking about Alma from the F.E.A.R. franchise) but not the other way round? This double-standard should be addressed and we should be able to produce and play games as adults.

There’s no good reason I can see for these restrictions on the gaming medium. This noose of franchises and formulas must be untethered if we want a new way of thinking about gaming.

Anyway, I’ve got to go somewhere random, to kill/talk to/fetch someone/something.

Last Updated: September 6, 2011

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