Triple A Gaming Is Losing Braincells
I won’t pretend to be a high-brow gamer who only plays something that will intellectually stimulate me. I absolutely love a mindless romp through a sandbox environment. It’s the exact reason I’m so hooked onto Assassin’s Creed IV. The problem is that when I want something intellectual or even mentally challenging there is so little to choose from.
I noticed this trend during a recent discussion in our infamous Whatsapp group aka the EGMR office. In it, Dean expressed his sadness at how few games he has to look forward to. Really, the only possible one he could see was Thief.
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Because it makes you think and play tactically. You are required to use your brain and some ingenuity in order to navigate an area undetected. Most importantly it demands that you focus and use your brain.
You can only sit slumped in an armchair drooling while your fingertips dart across a controller for so long before your mind says it’s had enough. If not then congratulations, you might be part of the problem.
It’s no secret that society, as an entity, is becoming more attention deficit. This is why a relatively thoughtful work of fiction such as Frankenstein can be transmogrified into an action film filled with explosions, fights and stupidity in copious volumes.
The effect is that in the past 15 years the target market for most games has gone from the so’called hardcore crowd to just about anybody. Ask five people in your immediate vicinity if they play any games, at least two of them probably do. If you can’t find five people then you’re probably part of the hardcore crowd. I jest but you’re probably better off on your own. Just being surrounded by too many people today, I had the urge to kill many of them. The only difference between myself and a mass murderer is our body count, I don’t have one yet.
Think about the games coming out soon. Of all of them you can perhaps only point to Thief and Metal Gear Solid V where players will be engaged to really consider their surroundings and play with an amount of skill and strategy. Basically, they’ll be as good for you as a book of Sudoku puzzles. Other than that everything is pretty much action oriented. Don’t get me wrong, action games can require skill and startegy as well but stealth is still the most intelligent genre. However, it has become so niche.
You’re probably going to point me to a number of mobile or indie titles that really are every bit as intellectual as Bulletstorm is not. That is really where you should look to for some intellectual engagement but that’s not what we’re here to talk about today.
When a stealth title does come along it invariably has to have an alternate playstyle where the shooter babies can run ‘n gun. Kudos to Thief on not doing this. Watch Dogs is perhaps a great example of what could have been a phenomenal sandbox stealth experience but has been sullied by the need to cater to everyone. There are some missions where you will have choice to but whip your guns out.
Hitman Absolution also allowed players to either shoot everything with an eyeball or be a complete ghost. I was far from a ghost, I’m certainly no purest but I did manage to get through the game without firing a single shot and that’s something I’m proud of. I still used Instinct and was somewhere in the middle of the difficulty settings but I’d accomplished something using my brain and that holds a special rewarding feeling.
The vast majority of games simply don’t offer that anymore.
This is one of the reasons Portal and its sequel are so dearly loved. The games have some tricky puzzles that have you scratching your head and once you solve them you do feel as if you have done something worthwhile. You can also piggyback this point onto the debate of games getting so easy in the past few years. If you want a challenging experience you are required to turn off a number of player aids in addition to ramping up the difficulty. Of course, some games don’t get any harder than mashing the square button repeatedly or having a well-oiled trigger finger.
There is another type of intelligent game though. One with an intelligent narrative. Perhaps the best mainstream example of this is Catherine (and even that is so niche that hardly a soul has played it). It’s a mature examination of relationships. The household name in mature and clever narratives is David Cage. He does try so hard but like many other in other forms of media (I’m looking at you Cloud Atlas) once you strip away the glossy veneer you can see the pretentiousness underneath. Beyond: two Souls for example has a fantastic narrative but you’d never know it because it is presented in an emotionally confusing and meaningless way that “looks kinda cool and it worked for Memento.”
Really, I can’t think of many games that had an intellectually engaging narrative apart from perhaps the original BioShock and Spec Ops: The Line.
Ultimately, the net for who games are designed for is about as wide as it can get without including pets, octogenarians and cannibals. This means that the intelligent games, the truly clever ones, are a dying breed. Oh they’ll still exist but in tiny numbers, possibly less each year. So when you find a game with a clever narrative, at least one complex enough to be analysed, or you play a game that really demands the use of your brain know that it’s probably going to be awhile before you play another like it.