Saturday, September 05, 2015

Yo, gamers!! A little originality won't kill you!

I've just watched the video Top 25 Upcoming Games of 2015 and I can say with conviction that you all are stuck in a rut. What is the appeal of post-apocalyptic dystopia? It's the new big beautiful tomorrow? The new black? It looks to me, from a distance, that game culture is as restrictive and conformist as Lutheran culture in the 1950s, only the conformity paradigm is grunge and anarchy rather than clean shirts and neat haircuts. But stray from conformity at your own risk, nonetheless. The main question to answer now when designing a game seems to be the point at which apocalypse occurs in the timeline. It reminds me of discussions long ago in my religious days of whether pre-trib, mid-trib, post-trib, pre-mil or mid-mil was the right scenario for when the Rapture will occur relative to the Great Tribulation that leads up to Armageddon and the Millenium which follows Armageddon. In the game world now the choices seem to be primarily pre-apocalypse, mid-apocalypse or post-apocalypse. Doesn't a list of the most popular games lean in that direction? If a studio wants a game to be taken seriously, the floors had better be strewn with rubble and body parts at some point during the game.

The reason I care at all about how games are designed and what the market buys and doesn't buy is because games now offer such gorgeous realism. I'm still amazed by what I see rendered in realtime in the videos of actual gameplay. It's startling. Think how the games now would've looked to us in 2005, in 1995, with actual gameplay now almost indistinguishable from video. At the same time, I'm amazed that all this gorgeous supertechnology is used to animate blood spurting and vehicles exploding. What a waste. All of these ghz and gb used to animate zombies fer cryin out loud. It would be nice if the game studios would acknowledge the existence of the small demographic I belong to, made up of people who would buy these super-realistic games if they didn't exclusively feature the gore and mayhem associated with shooters. If the game studios provided a simple option to experience the game in something similar to god-mode or developer-mode, and marketed this option to us, they would realize a modest increase in sales. I can spend hours just exploring an interesting open world and would spend the money on a game if I didn't have to search the web for an .ini file that may or may not work. I bought BioShock with the intention to god-mode through it but was disappointed that nothing I tried worked. I ended up killing my way through a lot of the game because I really did want to explore the Rapture environment. But my frequent death was a nuisance. Some game apps offer a zen mode, without scoring or a time clock, and it would be nice if open-world action games offered something similar, right in the game's options panel.

But regarding the dystopian blood-and-slime-filled rut the game world is currently stuck in, alternatives that come to mind are 1) making money and 2) sex. Both are as primal as killing. Theoretically, action games based on either could be created that would engage the player as viscerally as shooters do. I'm sure game-design wizards could come up with compelling scenarios that feature racking up actual dollars instead of digital kills, if they just gave it some thought—investing in the stock market designed to play like hazardous parkour across the tops of skyscrapers, something like that. Applying the sophistication of game technology to interactive porn, on the other hand, seems as dystopian as applying it to killing sprees. But I remember Carl Sagan, in his book Cosmos, suggesting that societies that weren't restrictive regarding sex were less warlike. He suggested that, in societies where sex is tightly controlled, that energy has nowhere else to go except into war and violent crime. I know it's counter-intuitive to suggest that making love not war in the game world would be beneficial to society as a whole. But one can't get an STD from an avatar. One can accidentally get an avatar pregnant only virtually. If someone becomes a sex addict from the gameplay, it's very likely that the same person would've become a sex addict from the forms of porn available now. One could argue that a husband could come to prefer virtual sex to conjugal sex and that virtual sex could always devolve into an affair and result in the break up of a marriage because of virtual infidelity. Alternate opinions could be expressed at length about the current state of marriage among heterosexual couples, but that debate wouldn't be very interesting. Talk amongst yourselves. Ultimately it comes down to the question of how making the killing of a human/zombie/mutant/predator/alien amazingly realistic is more noble than making a sexual avatar amazingly realistic. Aren't they at least equally tawdry? In any case, these are some ideas the game world could consider.