At 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.
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?