Games are growing up
The gaming industry needs to grow up.
We have been in the middle of a trend where new ideas are swept aside and the dialog between gamers has turned increasingly negative. Many within the gaming community have observed and commented on this trend. According to Quantic Dream CEO David Cage, "We make the same games over and over... Many times starting a new game I feel like I've already played it a thousand times." Alternatively, Anita Sarkeesian’s recent web series Tropes Vs. Women In Video Games, has started a discussion about moral values and art, as well as maturity between gamers and game makers. What we portray, discuss and play in games is becoming ultimately more important, as gaming evolves from a hobby into something much greater.
After the release of Sarkeesian’s Tropes on her website Feminist Frequency, many took to the internet to voice their disdain over many aspects of her video. Many were in denial that sexism within gaming is an issue, while others simply tried to attack Sarkeesian on a personal level, for voicing what she (and many, many others) consider to be a very relevant issue within the video game community.
Instead of another polarizing or reactionary comment, Cliff Bleszinski (former Creative Director at Epic Games) broke down in an op-ed (on his newly formed personal blog dudehugespeaks) how absurd it was that we, the gamers, "the open, friendly ones, the ones who welcomed all into our wonderful geeky circle", were criticizing Sarkeesian for pointing out an inconvenient truth: Sexism exists within the gaming community.
Bleszinski draws a parallel to the controversial speech made by David Cage at this year's D.I.C.E summit, where Cage personally called upon the gaming community to "grow up". Bleszinski was especially phased by Cage’s jab at the plethora of shooters that flood the marketplace every year. Cage remarked "We are in an industry where, if the main character doesn't hold a gun, designers don't know what to do." This is a very strong statement from Cage, and many including Bleszinski took it personally.
Bleszinski, from a very young age, has made his name crafting the shooters that are sometimes unfairly singled out by Cage and other writers as generic shooter/"dudebro" material. But instead of refuting this claim - that the impact of his work somehow is lessened by the fact that his characters hold guns, or that for some reason he has a problem innovating within the video game medium - Bleszinski took the conversation in the absolute wrong direction.
Blezinski comments "In some ways, David, I agree… we can do better in many, many areas…The reason we haven't? It's because it's fucking hard and we're looking at an industry that is ever more risk averse as more and more money is needed to craft product."
Ok, Cliff you’ve got me confused. So the reason in your eyes that we are not creating more innovative and unique gameplay experiences, is because it is hard and expensive? That it’s just easier to keep churning out games that are very similar to one another, and follow the same video game tropes, rather than take risks, and craft experiences that are unique and innovative?
We have seen that when developers take a risk and leap to make something that stands out, gamers notice, and realize the potential of the product. You don’t have to "like" a game (or even any art for that matter) to respect and realize the implications and impact of the piece. Look at Telltale's The Walking Dead series: it’s a fusion of game genres that beacons back to the Choose Your Own Adventure books everyone grew up reading. What about Journey? This minimalist adventure game has been universally loved by gamers in the Americas and Europe as well as in Japan. Even AAA titles, such as Cage’s own Heavy Rain, (which has sold almost 2.3 million units since shipping in 2010) has ignited a discussion over how games will move into the future, as we have the ability to create these massive, fully acted stories that are unlike the typical gaming experience. And surprise! They have sold, and sold some more.
Whether or not this is the future of video games, no one can say, (remember all of those FMV games on the Sega CD? anyone up for a round of Slam City?) but gamers may be getting tired of the same formula over and over again, and this kind of experimentation within games is essential to the growth of the medium. Hell, even the first Call of Duty was an experiment, with game mechanics such as iron sights aiming, and even fighting within groups of soldiers, instead of just lone wolf gameplay being introduced to many gamers for the first time.
Maybe this is an overreaction, because I sense Bleszinski’s comment was meant to further his point about how gamers and game developers need to expand their mindset about how people are portrayed in games, and how we treat one another in general. I know that this is something Bleszinski feels strongly about (just check out his gamer gurlz piece from earlier this month), but going after a developer for stating that games need to mature (and you may or may not agree with Cage - as much as I am a fan of his work - he does sometimes let his ego and success get the best of him) is exactly what Sarkeesian’s sexist critics are doing to her. There is no right or wrong answer to how games need to "grow up," but the worst thing we can possibly do is criticize other members of the gaming community for attempting to advance the conversation. And I’m sure that Bleszinski knows this. Sometimes frustration gets the best of all of us.