I’ve received some flak for using Call of Duty as an example of what i find is wrong with music and writing in games. I can see why it might seem I just dislike it, but actually it coincidentally happened to have some of the problems I was referencing.
Newsflash: I LIKE PLAYING CALL OF DUTY.
It’s fast paced, it’s exciting, it has a good learning curve and it’s very solidly built. I’ll elaborate more later, but for now I have another newsflash:
FIRST PERSON GAMES ARE A GOOD IDEA.
Being able to control gameplay from the perspective of your character is a wonderfully engaging idea and could, if done correctly, be a vast improvement on playing from the perspective of a camera hovering around your character’s head. Developers don’t have to create so many animations, players don’t get the camera stuck in a wall, everybody’s happy. Some of the best games I can pluck from the top of my head are first-person: Metroid Prime, Fallout 3, Portal.
In this semi-follow-on article, I’ll be examining the genre and its place in modern gaming, as well as addressing some of the stereotypes and common pitfalls associated with it.
First, a word on the Call of Duty franchise. I have to confess, I’ve not had the opportunity to play the first two games, but my experience with Finest Hour, Modern Warfare, World at War, MW2 and Black Ops should help here.
As I mentioned, they are undoubtedly fun games. However, at the risk of sounding like an elitist snob, they very much represent a roadblock to first-person gaming, leapt over by the odd Bioshock or Metroid but ultimately putting the march of progress into a coma.
Very little meaningful change occurs between each installment, the current gameplay being no more advanced than that of five years ago. While superficial advancement such as higher quality graphics and extra guns/attachments is added, these moves seem to be little more than the sort of thing which could have (and probably should have) been distributed as DLC.
The problem here is not merely with the series, but that there is usually one game in each genre that at any given point advances the zeitgeist. Historically, the shooters were led first by Doom, followed by Half Life and, later, Halo. The current throne belongs to Call of Duty and so far the most significant advances it’s brought us is levelling in online modes and customisable weapons, neither of which have had as much impact as, say, the abolition of health bars.
Many a mediocre shooter has followed in the footsteps of this franchise, leading to quite a bottleneck, with backlash against shooters now being commonplace than it once was.
In summary, Call of Duty: Good game, bad for gaming.
However! The blame for the poor image of shooters can and should not be placed at the feet of Infinity Ward and Activision, or we risk oversimplifying the issue and solving nothing. The second and more important point I address must therefore be the fact that gaming may be tearing itself apart.
There’s a definite divide in gaming between the meaningless descriptions of “Hardcore” and “Casual” that gamers like to give themselves. A lot of the criticism towards FPS games is that they pander to the “Casual” demographic. However, to unravel why this is, we must first delve deeper into the shifting definitions of these terms.
“Casual”, for most of my childhood, referred to players of either the mass-market sports titles such as FIFA and Madden, or consumers who bought movie tie-ins and the less good Mario Party games (read: everything after 5). One could almost split the “Casual” half of the market further, into categories I’ll term “hard-casual” (sports fans) and “soft-casual” (licensed game buyers).
“Hardcore” always referred to players of shooters (top down and first-person), action adventures that weren’t licensed, fighters and RPGs. Again, this could be split into “hard-hardcore” (FPS, Top down shooter, and fighter players) and “soft-hardcore” (Adventure and RPG players).
By these definitions, the baseball-cap wearing, drunken partying, high-fiving fraternity demographic we stereotypically associate with shooters today would once have been considered very much hardcore. Sometime around the release and subsequent popularity of a number of famous shooters in 2006-7, these definitions shuffled around.
The shooter crowd which had once been seen as the epitome of hardcore waved farewell to their Tekken brethren and braved the perilous journey to the depths of Casualty (as in they became casual, not that they’re obsessed with the hospital drama… oh, shush.), while the “soft-casual” players mostly migrated to the Wii, never to be heard from again.
With the licensed games and Cooking Mama (sorry Sian!) contained in their white, plastic ghetto and fighting games and top down shooters being ridiculously sidelined, the only two groups left were the “hard-casual” and “soft-hardcore” crowds, who were left to their own devices on the two more powerful consoles.
Of course, when gamers are left to themselves, they instantly start slap-fighting over who can come into their treehouse. What’s followed has been a protracted, bloody and pointless war of attrition between those who are viewed as unironically using the term ‘sick’ to mean good, and the ginger kids with glasses and spots that got picked on at school because they had a crush on their maths teacher.
The problem that has caused this is that members of those respective groups often don’t have any time for the games the enemy enjoys. I guarantee that a good number of Gears of War players would enjoy a nice session of Ico, the same way Mother fans might well have a great time with a bit of visceral terrorist blasting.
Neither would enjoy, however, the half baked adventures that these genres can offer us. Derivative, uninspired games are welcome nowhere and the image of games (but shooters particularly) will be improved once we weed out the Homefronts from the Half Lifes and the Zeldas from the Fables.
You see, to wrap up, shooters aren’t a genre contrary to the advancement of gaming. Sure, the market may be bloated and often dull, but that goes for any genre and among that rough I remain convinced there are diamonds the size of your mum. Which is huge.
They suffer an image problem from more traditional gamers, to be sure, but when you look past the propaganda, we’re really not so diffferent.
Unity rather than ridiculous labels is going to help us improve games and move forward in public recognition. We don’t need unfounded smear campaigns portraying half the market as morons who are dumbing down games and the other half as humourless, serious and exclusively about not taking anything at face value (Hi there!).
I want to see, before the end of this console generation, one more game that contains a vast, brilliantly written story, challenging puzzles and the same simple, compelling gameplay to be found in more popular genres. Bioshock was a good start. Perhaps Bioshock Infinite will top it. But whatever happens, we need to get one thing into our heads. We’re all gamers. We all work to advance the same medium. So let’s climb out of our trenches, discard our weapons and enjoy a nice game of FIFA 2012. I mean Final Fantasy. I mean… umm… Inazuma Eleven?
– Robin “Mediator” Wilde!