Same Old, Same Old

I happened across this piece at the Rolling Stones website. It begins:

“Like the 2003 NBA draft (LeBron, Wade, Carmelo) or the albums of 1975 (Springsteen, Dylan, Young), 2013 is a special year for video games. In just the first seven months, genre-destroying originals, indie underground hits, rebooted re-imaginings, and franchise sequels have set new bars in digital entertainment. Here’s a look at ten of the year’s best.” 

Sounds pretty impressive, doesn’t it? Here are its ten best games:

Dead Space 3
Crysis 3
Tomb Raider Day One
Bioshock Infinite
Deadly Premonition, Director’s Cut
Metro Last Light
The Last of Us
Devil May Cry
Hotline Miami
Ni No Kuni, Wrath of the White Witch

Note that at least five of these are sequels – an indication of just how creatively impoverished these games are. Moreover, all but one sport warnings that they include blood, gore, and intense violence. Every one of these relies heavily on spatial navigation. Most are accompanied by rock music, and include lots of shooting, stabbing, kicking, and explosions. All but one have a twenty-something male protagonist with a decidedly unjoyous mien. In many, the male protagonist is accompanied by a helpful and highly appreciative young woman who plays second fiddle.

The reference to ‘genre-destroying originals’ is ludicrous; these are about as same-old, same-old, as all the previous same-old, same-old games of the last twenty years. 

I’ve been harping on this issue for decades now; I can, however, point to the indie games movement as a counterpoint. Still, it’s disappointing that a list of the best games doesn’t include a single truly original design. 

The counterargument usually tossed back at me is that these games sell. I disagree. Yes, it’s true that they sell to the same-old, same-old audience, but the audience for games is well and truly set in stone: young males. Yes, there are a few young females mixed in, but they’re definitely a minority, and most of those outgrow games in their college years. Most of the males outgrow games by their early thirties. 

This means that there are huge audiences out there who spurn these games: women after their teens, men after their twenties. There is no intrinsic reason why games should fail to appeal to the larger audience. The fact that the games industry has failed to get inside the pocketbooks of these people is, I think, of immense importance.