So, Critical-distance.com does a segment called Blogs of the Round Table (BoRT), which I like because it often pulls the occasionally disparate communities of video games bloggers together around a single topic, building the community, and it has a low barrier of entry, a must for new bloggers (like me!). So, well-deserved plugs aside, I’m reluctantly joining in this month’s BoRT.
I say reluctantly because this month’s topic is “Game Changers”:
Some games are great because they are technically excellent; others because they change the way we play games; others because they change the world around us.
You have been commissioned to choose a videogame for an upcoming museum exhibit. You can choose any game released from November 2005 until the present day, on any hardware. Choose the most important game, or just pick your favourite. What’s your Game Changer?
I don’t think any game in the 7th generation of video games (that period of console technology that started back in 2005) was a game changer.
Some concessions are due: During the 7th generation, we saw independent developers and small studios reach a whole new level of appreciation in society: Jonathan Blow’s ego, Minecraft, Braid, and all sorts of Humble Bundles. (To be clear, I’m setting this up specifically because the 2005 date is not a date about indies, it’s a date about the 7th generation. Maybe we need a new way to identify generations?). Once marginalized members of the gaming proletariat finally have a welcoming, supportive audience, even if that audience is not yet the average gamer (and mad props to all of the journalists, critics, developers, and gamers who make it their job to defend and promote this sea change). The technology has changed: We’re all HD all of the AAA time, we’re downloading games directly from a series of tubes, and we’re expecting AAA games to have 5.1, built-in VOIP, avatar customization, and every kind of single/multiplayer/coop mode under the sun except split-screen. Even games journalism has changed: I told a student today to “browse game reviews for this project, I mean good ones, not like your average IGN review, more like Polygon and Destructoid,” and his response was “Yeah, of course!” and looked at me with a level of contempt for thinking he’d be looking at IGN reviews.
But none of this progress that happened during the 7th generation of video games had anything to do with the 7th generation. Xbox 360, PS 3, Wii, PSP, and Nintendo DS brought us a lot of derivative, or, if we’re being real nice, iterative, junk. Some of the indies and small studios brought us really freaking good games, but seldom was the 7th generation something that brought them to us (more often than not the political powerhouses and economic barons of the 7th generation were the ones who kept us from them).
What did the 7th generation bring us? What would my hypothetical museum exhibit show about the 7th generation of video games?
I think I’d have to base the exhibit on the bizarre viral YouTube video that spawned so many of the short-hand phrases I’ve used to describe video games in my unprofessional conversations for the last year and half: Farming Simulator Mad Skill | No Plow | 360 Crop Rotation. Cue the Dubstep.
Hey, thanks Assassin’s creed, Forza, CoD (and clones), NCAA (and clones), Sims, GTA (and clones), Mortal Kombat (and clones), and the rest of the 7th generation AAA games! Everyone’s damn near identical, and there are no greater than 4 ethnicities.
Fuck Yo Ride:
Way to go CoD, Battlefield, GTA, Forza, and Red Faction. When I said I wanted to knock the building down to drive through a short cut to kill a person and win the race, I didn’t mean I wanted you to do that for the next 8 years.
Hey, thanks marketing departments for trying to convince me to buy games based on their proprietary (or occasionally licensed) game engines. The world of AAA is run by a gang of expensive game engines. Look, I played a lot of CoD and Battlefield (and even still pride myself on my rankings, like a good bro), but I still can’t give two shits about the engines.
Sick Recovery, or, Close Enough:
Good job to everyone that decided that AAA games shouldn’t be hard. Dark Souls, you can cover your eyes for this one.
Target Acquired, or, Hydraulics:
W00t, I love the drone strike and AC130 mini-games. They aren’t soft porn for military technophiles, really.
They’re Already Dead, or, Stone Cold Killa:
So, a round of applause to all of the games where the character I play has one dimension, no characterization, and, best of all, no voice. It’s like the character’s already dead, and when I die, I’m just doing him/her/it a favor.
Iranian Nuclear Silos:
And a standing ovation for every game that decided the in-game political narrative should be as simple as two super powers squaring off in a vacuum. I watch just enough Fox News to not know that there are more countries than the US and Iraq, I mean Afghanistan, I mean Iran, I mean North Korea, I mean Russia… shucks.
Yup, we made great strides in incentives/rewards in the 7th generation games. *le sigh*
Fucks Given 0:
Should be written over the exit of the exhibit.
Rainy parade aside, if I’ve got to choose a game to talk about as a game changer (and I do, if not as a blogger then as a teacher), it’s Mass Effect 3.
But, to be clear, I don’t think Mass Effect 3 is a game changer. Rather, I’d adapt a Robin Williams quote: Mass Effect 3 is not the future of games, but you can see it from there. (Though, I do like Erik’s point about the role I want to play. And having been a player in his D&D game, Erik’s on to a kind of role to play that games, including Mass Effect, have been too lazy to incorporate).
Mass Effect 3’s got a tight shooting mechanic for an RPG, it has a solid science fiction universe with multiple political parties who are at cross purposes (surprising for a shooter), there are multiple conversation options several connected to a simplistic morality scale, and the tacked-on multiplayer set in a consistent universe has minor ramifications for the single-player.
I don’t mean this as great praise for Mass Effect 3, but, if it were done better, I can see where it could have had a complex orthogonal morality scale, a vibrant political scene without a “right” party, a more robust shooting mechanic, a full galaxy of sentient species and narrative-filled planets, a set of primary characters with more than two motivations between them, and a full set of believable dialogue options with a sense of rhetorical performance to them.
Mass Effect 3 does not excel at any of these things, but it did, at least, bring them all together in a single AAA game. And that’s the closest to change that I think the 7th generation of games has brought to us.
[Please check out the other blogs from this month’s round table by clicking the image. Critical-distance has an html iframe at that looks like the above drop-down box, where you can read all the other October Blogs of the Round Table.]
I struggle to think of any game that’s radically changed the way we view video games since 2005. There’s certainly been hugely successful games released during the seventh generation, but they all are iterations on existing games rather than anything radically new.
However, I think a radical change has occurred, and it’s been the shift of gaming firmly into the mainstream to the point where it is now entrenched as being bigger than Hollywood. As an industry, gaming is now a serious worldwide industry that commands people’s attentions. It’s no longer something that people look at and wonder why anyone would consider a career there.
Though having written that, I do wonder if it’s not so much a radical change as just a fairly rapid maturing of the industry and the consumers appetite for it.
If I had to put money on one, it’d be on a gradual change in the gaming “ecology.”
Recent demographics show that, where gamers used to be young, they’re now about 30 years old on average. Where gamers used to be male, they’re almost evenly split between men and women.
What does that mean? Well, there’s now a large pool of the population for whom video games are “normal.” Not only that, but they’re also increasingly “normal” for their kids.
Gamers now have steady incomes that can be spent on entertainment, which I’d venture increasingly includes video games.
There’s also a whole bunch of new conceptual categories of games that exist now. When I talk to game designers, it’s quite evident that they have categories like “games for kids,” or “games for girls,” or “good games.” What’s interesting though is that the first two seem to be separate from the last one. Sure, girls and kids can play good games, but somehow (I don’t know the reason as to why) games for kids or for girls aren’t exactly the same thing as good games.
The link to demographics that I included doesn’t seem to have shown up, so here it is: http://www.theesa.com/facts/index.asp.
I agree with both of you, Gwynn and Erik!
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