Are We Having Fun Yet?

   Sometimes I have to wonder where the fun in video games went. Sure, sure there are lots of fun games out there, and clearly people are HAVING fun with video games still but the game culture just doesn’t seem fun anymore. It’s less about high scores and finishing games and more about racking up kills and embarrassing people. Now clearly that’s not ALL there is out there and not the only reason people play but it’s been bothering me deeply that the selling points for the newest generation of SONY and MICROSOFT machines are the many war games and the ability to watch sports and movies.

Hooray?

War games are nothing new to games. Heck, I played war when I was a little kid and had a vast armament of plastic guns to battle armies with. It really bothers me though that in an era where we are at war, and have been at war for most of the 2000’s that war games are so beloved and prevalent and the focus of the advertising for these new systems. That bothers me deeply. Not because I am a prude but because

1. We still have people fighting overseas in wars that don’t have any end in sigh.

2. The focus of these modern games is the hyper-realism mixed with a nastiness and meanness.

Violence in gaming is NOTHING new. Cripes, Pac-Man eats the ghosts and they eat him, and you are definitely trying to save the world from missile strikes in MISSILE COMMAND, and I still recall the huge debate over MORTAL KOMBAT so this isn’t about violence as much as it is about entertainment. Things changed in the past few years where we have pushed so hard to get more and more realistic that our games have become hyper-realistic and cartoonish to the point of desensitization. And it is weird to say that but when you trivialize realistic and modern war so much that the ads feature pretty Hollywood faces taking part in the fighting it gets weird. Too weird. Now, I realize that NINTENDO has become a joke for a lot of people because of their focus on family and communal gaming and their desire to keep things a little less blood and guts but lately, I admire them for that. I just wish they’d fight harder. This newest generation of games is a weird line in the sand where the focus is more on the M rated games than the rest. And it’s so strange because I recall when the ratings for games began and the notion that gaming companies would skew towards M was a distant What If. It seemed like a zero gain because who would buy those? AND, much like the NC-17, those games that did push the envelope were seen as the neighbor of porn. Not so, anymore. No, M rated games are everywhere and the weird thing is that parents have no qualms with getting their kids these games as if the rating is a suggestion and not a reality.

There’s a disconnect.

There is a disconnect with the gaming industry and the day to day world. There is a proliferation of violent and realistic games that is desensitizing the young gamers – not to violence but to what is fun in gaming. There’s an innocence that’s been lost in all the war games that I deeply miss. Sure, there are still fun adventure games out there but these days those have become niche products that are seen more as art than commerce. And a good part of this is the demand of the public but it’s also a demand that was created by the industry. The industry decided – cartoonish gaming is for kids. We want to get the young adults to buy and play these systems so we need to mature the games. Sadly, the maturing process lead right to war games where the more sadistic your kill the better it is.

We have evolved into frat boys.

When I see the ads of late that’s all I can think. Wow, so you want to sell your game system and game with the ways gamers can shame one another in multiplayer. Uh, cool? The thing is that there are mature games out there, games with mature themes, ideas, and game play, and yeah, most of those are violent but that’s fine. Violence isn’t my issue as much as the mentality behind it. ‘Woo, war is awesome’, bothers me. I don’t believe that the average person plays something violent or watches something violent and then wants to commit violence. I don’t believe it. But I do think that we have lost the joy in gaming that isn’t sadistic. I know I like some rough games (I really do adore DEAD ISLAND) but I still love the fun adventure games and their stories. The need to mock other gamers, to embarrass them, and to boast, boast, boast is just silly and, well, childish.

Games evolve as we evolve…so let’s evolve.

As I said, the industry decided it wanted to get more adult buyers out there. Systems got pricier, games are pricier, and the only way it was decided that the industry could grow was to bring in these 20-something adults. Which is fine. It’s just a shame that it was also decided that the only games this group wants are war games and first person shooters. And you can tell me – there’s a lot more than that out there – and there IS a lot more than that out in the world and coming out but if those are the games that you want to promote how great and amazing your new system is and the big reason why I need to buy it, well, there’s a disconnect. The wonder of gaming, the worlds to explore, the fun, the sharing, the exploration has fallen to the way-side as we push for more and more realism and meaner gameplay. It’s like we evolved the games for kids that didn’t want to grow up.

Videogames are what they are. I love them, and I probably always will. I have my favorites and I have my systems that I loved more than others. I have been gaming since the early ‘80s and have seen a lot of stuff and have seen trends come and trends go, and this is just another trend. This is just a trend that deeply bothers me, not because these new games are so violent but because they’re all so similar in their ideals, gameplay, and goals. There is so little imagination. So little joy. It’s all war all the time, and it’s a drag.

I pull for the game industry. I pull for it because I still love games. I have a lot of systems, and there is a lot I am excited to play and a lot I am looking forward to. I just want the industry to dig deeper, to evolve, and to start looking beyond the day to day world we live in. Games are supposed to be an escape, not a magnifier, and honestly, don’t we have enough real life war? Do we really need to keep making more and more games to escape from reality into hyper-reality?

c

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2 thoughts on “Are We Having Fun Yet?

  1. This is a topic that’s been burning in my mind for years now.

    Realism.

    Can you believe that so many games are made or broken on this single aspect? What was once a way to escape from the world around you is quickly turning into a simulator by which your fantasies (machismo or otherwise) are fulfilled. There’s been a trend on personal empowerment, or disempowerment depending on the game, so the player feels like a badass. YOU made that kill, YOU stopped the terrorists, YOU saved the day; and it’s with that that video games can almost be divided into two different schools of thought: Western and Eastern. Western games, such as the Elder Scrolls series, the Halo series, the Battlefield series, etc. focus on the player, rather than having surrogate heroes. Hell, it was huge when you saw a brief glimpse of what Master Chief looked like at the end of Halo 4. Eastern games, such as Metal Gear Solid, the Final Fantasy series (up to XIII) were more in the vein of a story being told and the player simply being the guiding hand to move set pieces along through a series of predetermined events. There’s less of a focus on the individual and more on the group or the world at large. That’s not to say that Western companies strictly produce Western titles and vice-versa, it’s just far more common on each side of the ocean to do so, be it cultural differences or personal reasons.

    We’ve also projected our cynicism and jadedness to the medium as well; large-scale conspiracies and unforgiving analyses of the human condition have become the norm and are lauded because of that. I’m not saying that every game has to be a cheery, happy-go-lucky demonstration of frivolousness, but it should be considered an aspect or genre rather than an industry standard. Blockbusters such as Call of Duty are constantly one-upping themselves as far as shock value goes; in CoD 4: Modern Warfare, you had to stare helplessly as the city around you got nuked and for a brief moment, you have to have your character haul himself around an abandoned playground with a menacing mushroom cloud lingering in the background before he died. In CoD:MW2, the player character shot up a Russian airport full of civilians, triggering a Red Dawn-style invasion of America. In CoD:MW3…I’m not sure what happens. I think they kill a kid. I dunno, I only got halfway through MW2 before I threw the controller down in disgust and decided not to play another Call of Duty game.

    I recently purchased a Wii U, and I think it may be my last console, at least for now. Somewhere along the way, between playing the same boring FPS over and over again and not really caring about whose hypothetical graphical phallic figure is bigger I decided that I just wanted to play games and have fun, and the Wii U seems to be best suited for that.

    If you’re interested in the state of gaming and commentary on the future of gaming, I recommend a web series over at Penny Arcade called Extra Credits. Here’s a link: http://penny-arcade.com/patv/show/extra-credits

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