The other night a surprising list of games took the VGAs by storm and rather than being overrun with gritty military shooters games like Borderlands 2 and Journey received much acclaim. Could this be a sign that we have come to a turning point for the industry? If it is I, for one, truly hope so.
You see I game to escape the toils of real life, to escape the wars we’re fighting, the shape of our economy, the social injustices that plague modern life and the myriad ass holes you encounter day to day. When I game I want to be as far removed from reality as possible and games like Journey, Borderlands 2 and Batman Arkham City help me find that escape. It should come as no surprise, then, that many western made games haven’t done it for me this generation. Yet many games in recent years want to drop me in a dark and gritty world full of gritty wars, crumbling store fronts and other such that hits too close to home. I’m all for games playing social commentary but just like how not every movie is a deep, introspective look at the world we live in not every game needs to be some super serious, ultra gritty take on real life.
But while companies like EA and Activision have been paving the way in making war games as realistic as possible many Japanese games have continued to send me off to colorful fantasy worlds to fight giant, end game bosses with 6 wings named after one of Satan’s various aliases or back to ancient times to fight with sword and spear to save or conquer the land. Still I have no allusions of the quality of many of these games. Dynasty Warriors, a series I’ve loved since the Play Station 2 days, is a game who’s alter is built upon stagnation. Many a JRPG by NIS have only helped to damage the reputation of the genre with their fan service and lack of polish. Yet I would soon play any of those games before I played a game that dropped me in a desert with an M16 and told me to start shooting terrorists.
What’s been most disheartening, however, is that this has lead to a full retreat from the US market for many companies. Fans had to fight tooth and nail just to convince Nintendo that games like Xenoblade and The Last Story had a market in the US. Koei, the creators of Dynasty Warriors, have also become weary of poor US sales and have both ceased the release of the games in disks and the practice of providing English voice acting. Not content with very respectable sales on Ace Combat 6 (despite being a single system exclusive to the Xbox) Namco Bandai reengineered Ace Combat into a HAWX clone right down to movie the setting of the game to the real world. Not long after Bandai would announce its retreat from the US market meaning no more Ace Combat and no more Mobile Suit Gundam (as if we got any of the latter).
To quote a parody of Hideo Kojima made in a Bulletstorm promotion “The war has changed.” The demographics of the western market had become flooded with gamers who demand more and more realism and scorn at anything that’s colorful or light hearted or lacks assault rifles. People abandoned the escapist fantasies of fantasy realms and space operas to play resolution fantasies and revenge porn. The beginning of the current gen saw the Xbox 360 launch with a mech combat game and even saw Microsoft purchase exclusive rights to Tales of Vesperia, a JRPG no less, and now in its twilight we are look around and there is nothing but desolation. Literally, many of the most popular games take place in war zones or post apocalyptic hell holes.
Even so the recent VGAs and the release of the Wii U give me pause. Perhaps there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe we’re finally out of the woods and on our way to Oz once more? Many have speculated that the next generation’s hardware will allow for cheaper game engines that don’t need to count on the software to push your system quite so far less it melt your console’s GRU. Honestly, I am very skeptical of this claim and don’t see the industry wanting to ruin what it has now, which is a market where there is no risk in putting all of your eggs in one basket. But the VGAs has always been both part of the industry’s hype machine and part popularity contest and after this year’s show I would be surprised if things don’t get shook up a bit.
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