Why War Gaming Needs a Break

war gaming needs a breakAt this point in my gaming career, I think I’ve taken back the city of Stalingrad more times than I can count. I’ve fought bad guys in Europe, in space, and saved the world as we know it, all from the view of a lowly grunt in the military. Playing a video game from the perspective of the military is old hat, yet it’s a well that the industry keeps going back to. It’s easy to find an enemy and give your players a reason to go around the globe using all the latest weaponry (or period specific weaponry, depending on the setting), but the thrill is starting to wear out.

I’m ready for developers to move on from the fascination with the armed forces, but the gaming public needs to be on the same page. As long as Call of Duty is the top seller every year, we’re going to keep seeing the arms race between the big publishers as they try to put out their “CoD killer” by emulating it in every way possible. While I don’t think that Call of Duty is exactly killing the industry, it certainly isn’t helping it. Even Battlefield 3, a game that I’ve made my infatuation with clear several times, is hoping to outdo Call of Duty by making a game that’s scripted beyond belief. What can the games industry do to buck this trend?

As a starting point, we need to move away from the big scripted events that have become so popular and move into a type of game where the player isn’t just a camera with a gun, something where you don’t have to bottleneck the action so the player is overwhelmed by whatever awesome thing your level designers dreamed up. While this can lead to some inspiring moments (like Whiskey Hotel in Modern Warfare 2), it also means that your players can never fail. If they do, they’ll miss the cool piece that the level is centered around.

Games that could have had a cool premise, like the recently released Homefront, have fallen flat on their faces because of an over-reliance on the formula. If Homefront had been made as, say, a more open-world game where you sabotage the North Korean army by using guerrilla tactics instead of running at them guns blazing, it might have had a better chance to flesh out that story that the publisher kept making a big deal of.

More and more, I’m finding that games that have very little to do with the military are becoming my favorite titles. It’s true that, in the past, these were some of my favorite games but as my tastes mature, I’m starting to appreciate new ideas and setting more than the gun porn. While violence and video games tend to go hand in hand (much to the chagrin of some parents), I found that shooting bandits in the Wild West was a much more immersive experience than running through corridors having my Sergeant shouting “Oscar Mike” at me.

war gaming needs a break

If I play a first person shooter where I’m not a member of the military, I’m always pleasantly surprised, although this occurrence is fairly rare. The only example I can think of so far this year is Portal 2, but that’s it. Other games in this genre have had me starring as a resistance member engaged in fairly straight-up warfare against an occupying force, a former Spec Ops solider and a Force Recon Marine. Given that fact that Rage and Brink are coming out soon as well marks 2011 as a banner year for games that don’t feature Private Somebody as its star.

Don’t get me wrong in my sentiment, I’m not anti-military in the least, and I have great respect for our men and women in uniform. It’s just a shame that, in such a creative industry, developers keep going back to the same old tropes. I understand that a lot of that is publisher pressure because a military FPS is what sells, but I’m kind of tired of shooting Nazis and ambiguously foreign dudes.

Maybe it’s just me, though, one man and his crazy opinion against the games industry. I’m still looking forward to Battlefield 3, but that’s mostly for the multiplayer portion. I’m speaking strictly about the single player, and where games can go if they ditch the over-reliance on being too much like a movie and instead focus on being a game. Choosing the military as a background for everything kind of narrows down the type of experience we’re going to get, which is why I’d like to see that get a little bit of a break.

What do you guys think? Am I just ranting all crazy like, or do you feel the same way? What other setting would you like to see get laid to rest?

Written by

mitch@gamersushi.com Twitter: @mi7ch Gamertag: Lubeius PSN ID: Lubeius SteamID: Lube182 Origin/EA:Lube182 Currently Playing: Stardew Valley, Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords, Battlefield 4, Tom Clancy Double Feature: Rainbow Six Siege and The Division

6 thoughts on “Why War Gaming Needs a Break”

  1. I’d like to see more games that give you a sandbox, let you destroy it or build in it, and tie that in seamlessly with characters and a plot. I’m sure there are games that have done that, but I’d like to see more of that, and in genres other than FPS.

  2. Hats of to you, Mitch. This article was gold.
    I totally agree. I can’t find myself excited even for Battlefield 3 because of the sea of shooters this year, particularly modern ones.
    The biggest setting i would like to see lain to rest is the over the top aspect of each game. I don’t need a crazy story of a triple cross by an American general to inspire patriotism. I don’t need to jump into a helicopter or help detonate an EMP in space. What’s the problem with having a down to earth character driven story?

  3. I could imagine Homefront could’ve been eons better if, like you described, basically “‘The Saboteur’ in 21st century American metropolitan/suburbian areas fighting Invading North Koreans.”

    And I too also feel that games like the COD series or Uncharted are overly dependent on scripted sequences, in comparison to their predecessors like Duke Nukem 3D or Half-Life which reached high points and low points and had downtime for the player to just explore instead of “explosions, characters screaming, running somewhere, explosions.”

    I was disappointed Bad Company 2’s campaign took that route, in comparison to BC1, which was basically, “Here is your objective, chances are there is a tank or an APC or something you can use but feel free to get creative.”

    Quite honestly though, I feel that the market is rapidly approaching its saturation point with military shooters at the expense of other games like Ubisoft barely having anything to say about Beyond Good & Evil 2 or ‘I am Alive’ or Activision cancelling True Crime, which would’ve been welcome since GTA5 is still being cast and Saints Row: The Third is a holiday game.

  4. I think this is a well thought out article that I wish would go further than just the pages of GamerSushi. I play FPS games way too much. They are the main thing I play. COD is the big one. Honestly, I agree, Im kind of tired of it. As mentioned above by Jack, hopefully the saturation point is coming soon. There defiantly should be more variety in what we see. Shooters do need to lean away from the ‘military scenario’ (by that I mean what was discussed above) and try to branch it out more.

    Id like to see what else people can come up with. I cant think of any other setting Id like to see “laid to rest” so to speak. Honestly the “military force” style games are the big one that comes to mind.

  5. I totally agree with you Mitch, and I share the same opinions. However devs could stay in the military space, yet do something new and fresh. Imagine this: Rather than taking control of Private Jimmy (who conveniently despite his rank or role in the squad plants every C4, blows up every tank, and takes out every sniper), the player takes control of the platoon leader. You make the decisions on how to approach combat missions and day to day operations in a place like Afghanistan, Mass Effect style. You’ll be forced to make split second decisions when the shit hits the fan, and make your orders swift or people start dying. Also you hold responsibility for the men you send to their deaths if your orders were the wrong ones. Force the player to collect their dog tags, and when they return to the base hub like area (where you spend time taking care of non combat things and get to know your troops) show the player the emotions of their troops after losing their friends and fellow soldiers. Maybe I’m just rambling, but I think a game like this could breath new life into the genre and have you actually caring about the characters and not just waiting for the next set piece.

  6. I think that a war game from a refugees perspective would be dripping with awesome.
    It’s that they are shooting galleries with a military theme. It’s not that you can create a good war based shooter.

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