Every year, Spike TV holds its Video Game Awards, a ceremony that has become the Oscars of gaming. The most prestigious award, of course, is the Game of the Year title. Past recipients include “Red Dead Redemption,” “Uncharted 2,” “Grand Theft Auto IV,” “Bioshock” and “Resident Evil 4.” All these games have something in common — murder.
Gaming today is in a rut. While there are a few great big name games out there, they’re almost always saturated in violence. Some people like that, others don’t, but that’s the state of today’s industry. It’s becoming more and more difficult to find a unique game with a clever premise, and gamers are just as much to blame as developers. The gaming industry will stagnate if we, as consumers, don’t do something about it.
I’m no pacifist, nor do I buy into all the accusations about violent video games being harmful. I’m just pointing out a trend. Violence sells, and the heavyweights of the game industry know it. If it didn’t, we wouldn’t be playing the seventh game in the “Call of Duty” series, even though you could count the differences between the past few installments on one hand. Other massively popular shooters follow the same cookie-cutter design: add a few new guns, update the graphics engine, and call it a sequel. It’s difficult to fault developers for this. With the current state of high-definition gaming platforms, the cost of producing a blockbuster game has soared. It’s common for a modern game to have to sell over a million copies just to break even. With that kind of investment, developers don’t want to take risks. As a direct result, we end up with a market full of bland, unoriginal shooters. Sales have shown time and again that consumers are willing to pay $60 to play as a cheesy, forgettable protagonist fighting a similarly unmemorable enemy.
Designers can mix things up — setting shooters in the Wild West for example, or an underwater dystopia — but at the end of the day you’re still toting a gun. Ten years ago, you could give somebody a game and they’d ask, “What am I supposed to do?” Now, they need only ask “Who am I supposed to kill?” If you don’t want a game centered on killing, you may not think that you have many options — sports games lost their innovation a long time ago, and when was the last time you saw a puzzle game with a higher production value than “Bejeweled?”
Actually, that last question has a pretty simple answer. A few weeks ago, Valve released “Portal 2,” which has already received massive critical and popular acclaim. It’s a puzzle game at heart, supplemented by some of the wittiest writing in gaming history. There’s a constant threat of danger, but the player is never armed with a weapon, and the only combat encounters are nothing but cleverly disguised puzzles.
“Portal 2” proved that big-name developers can put out unconventional games and still achieve commercial and critical success. With any luck, this will start to rub off on other industry powerhouses. There are countless original ideas out there, but indie developers simply don’t have the resources to make them a reality.
If we keep throwing our money at conventional titles in saturated genres, the future of gaming will be dim. Developers aren’t convinced that originality is worth the risk. We need to show them that a market exists for these kinds of radical innovations, or we’ll be looking at “Halo 14” before we know it. Next time you see a game that looks unlike anything you’ve played before, why not spend a few bucks and give it a shot? The game industry is huge, but we’ll never find the next big thing if we don’t open our eyes.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Reporter.