Most children spend their entire lives dreaming to be like their parents, but parents spend their entire parenthood dreaming their children will become better than they ever were.
I don’t normally like to work with statements that feel so absolute and quotable as what I’ve just said, and in the context of actual human lives, I’m sure there are many children who detest their parents (and also far too many parents who want nothing to do with their child), but the statement works in the context of modern societal thought and as such is very helpful in illustrating the point I’m attempting to make.
In truth, perhaps gaming has already achieved the prior part of the statement. If anyone has played The Last of Us, they can point to how well it has used its storytelling elements. Perhaps too well, as it leaves the rest of itself in the dust, which is unfortunately, the game. It feels like The Last of Us, as a game, is much like a teen trying so hard to make its parents proud that it’s ignoring how it can mature in its own path. As if itself, and really, if you look around, the entirety of gaming and the gaming community, is struggling through its own “puberty.”
Now, when I use this term, I’m not using it in the biological sense, and, true, perhaps I may not even be using it in the traditional sense. When I say that gaming and the people who write about gaming are still in puberty, I am merely suggesting that gaming, and those who write about it, have not fully come into their own. They, and perhaps myself as well, are trying so hard to legitimize gaming in the context of other media forms that we’ve ignored how unique video games are and how much they could be growing.
The most raw version of this comes in the form of gamer’s choices. If you’ve spent enough time on the internet (and if you haven’t but somehow still found this article, props to you!) you probably know the general sentiment of an unfortunately large amount of gamers towards games that come off as a bit kiddish. Nintendo gets hit with this title the most, as people decry them for making kids games and not games for mature people, even if those “kids games” are better than every game they seem to be playing. And while this may be only due to the influx of what many may consider the “bros” of the gaming culture (i.e. the people who only play FPSs and Sports games) it’s a sentiment that has slowly and surely been seeping into gaming culture. People hating games just because they feel they’ll look childish for playing them. How mature.
But on a more professional front, there seems to be a rush for legitimacy in gaming culture, as if we, as a gaming community who have often been belittled for liking games (my parents continuously ask why I’m not doing something more productive), have to prove ourselves. Prove that the games we are playing are not merely games, not merely a child’s toy. We’re striving to prove our maturity. This kind of thinking is irresponsible. Trying to act like an adult is such a childish thing to do.
And the worst part is is that we’re ignoring gaming’s greatest strengths by trying to be “mature” like movies and television. The Last of Us is a testament to this. Where it lands the amazing hits on storytelling, it does not match that in gameplay. You know, the part of our beloved video games that we’re so trying to legitimize? But how can we legitimize something if all we’re doing is trying to make it into something it’s not?
If story is to be important to a game, you’d think it would be justified by the gameplay, and vice versa. But the games that have most successfully made a complex story a high focus and merged it with their gameplay do so only by minimizing the gameplay as much as they can. Telltale’s The Walking Dead and Heavy Rain are both prime examples of this. And while I dislike making any comparison between movies and video games, the reduction of the gameplay from games to movies is-for all intensive purposes-the biggest difference between the two mediums.
Games rely far more on the success of the technical aspects of the interactions between player and game and can be greatly hindered if there’s even the smallest issue with those interactions. Movies do not have such a problem. The psychological state of any viewer aside, every single time a film is shown, every viewer will experience the exact same characters, visuals, and events. There is no room for technical mistakes because of how little precaution is necessary when presenting the movie. Now this may not be the only difference between the two mediums, but it’s certainly the most obvious and definitely the most prevalent.
But let’s not kid ourselves, there still are A LOT of similarities between games and movies. One could even argue that video games are an expansion on movies, working with an additional concept and building on everything movies have done in the past century (which would be a HI-larious twist on the “where’s our Citizen Kane?” discussion. SURPRISE! It’s Citizen Kane.). So it’s not an inherent problem to eliminate gameplay to focus story, and it’s certainly not merely a regression in development. And while those sorts of games may seem somewhat childish within the rest of my argument, perhaps they are less an extreme attempt to try to be like their parents and more like an attempt to discover the missing link between them; it’s an attempt to find out at which point film becomes interactive entertainment. And by figuring out where we start, it could be a great step forward towards figuring out what it takes to make the story and gameplay sing harmoniously.
Oh, and by the way, if that gap between gaming and film, if that bridge is made clearer and clearer, do you know what will happen? People who aren’t into video games will see the similarities. They’ll see what makes video games interesting and “artistic”. And they’ll see it not because we’re pining for legitimacy, they’ll see it because we’re trying to figure out how to progress as a medium. We’re trying to figure out how to better direct story in a video game, better integrate story into gameplay, create better games.
So gaming industry, and yes, you too, analysts, please stop trying to figure out how to legitimize gaming. Don’t try to become what you know, use what you know to make yourself better. Mature as a medium. Get the hell out of puberty. All you need to do is grow up.
You can do it, too. Everyone can.