Last week’s E3 convention appears to have shown that the video games industry is going on a disturbing trend, by which I mean the slow death of variety in the mainstream video games industry. With that in mind, I’d like to ask one simple question: is the video games industry morphing into a Hollywoodesque entity?
As video game graphics evolved, game developers became more capable of producing more realistic games. However, in the blind pursuit of greater realism, the industry ended up reinforcing some old Hollywood stereotypes, plus some other stereotypes of their own.
Take a good look at the selection at E3, and you’ll notice that most of the games being shown follow the “endless combat” formula, where your main goal is simply to mow down waves of increasingly repetitive enemies. Whether it’s a shooter game or a hack-and-slash game, these “endless combat” games are common because they can satisfy an undemanding audience. Even Watch Dogs seemed to downplay the unique hacking element of its gameplay in favour of some good old-fashioned lead.
The games industry also seems to be reinforcing a new stereotype – the stereotype that every action hero should be some possibly middle-aged white guy with a conventional hairstyle. Before anyone plays the race card here, this is actually is true. In most Western games, there is no real variety when it comes to protagonists, and storytelling has suffered. It’s just like Hollywood, where pretty much every hero is a strapping white male, but at least Hollywood has more variety.
Unfortunately, Japanese game developers aren’t exactly any different. While they’re still good at storytelling, they don’t seem to have that much variety in terms of protagonists either. If you’re looking at an anime-style game (and I assure you, Japan makes a lot of these), then you’ll likely see one of three archetypal protagonists.
- A hunky, chivalrous pretty boy (whose English dub may as well be voiced by Yuri Lowenthal)
- A busty, vulnerable sex symbol
- Overpowered jailbait
Let’s move on to a different point entirely, or else I may as well have given this post a different title.
In Hollywood, storytelling is limited by what producers will give funding for. Sometimes, however, you get movies with genuinely good storytelling. Serious storytelling in games is extremely hard to accomplish, since some themes are nearly impossible to cover, because if you’re writing a story for a video game, you also need to factor in the gameplay. Because the actual gameplay usually matters more than the story, most games nowadays will only convey the story through combat or puzzle-solving.
Role-playing games usually have this problem less often, but if there’s one problem with role-playing games is that there’s always a chance that the “epic storyline” is a string of monotonous quests, usually involving hours of grinding. For example, in Bravely Default, they stretched the story and made it seem complex by forcing you to relive the main quest four more times. If that isn’t crappy storytelling, I don’t know what is.
The only alternative is the indie gaming scene, where genuinely creative games are made without the backing of major publishers. Indie games are also much cheaper than most of the games made by major publishing companies, and serve to prove that art and fun can go together.
Just because there’s indie games doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be concerned about the mainstream video games industry. If things are bad now, imagine what the video games industry will be like ten years from now. Will anything stop the video games industry from becoming exactly like Hollywood?