Being a gamer was pretty tough back in the 90's. We didn't have auto saves or scalable difficulty levels and that blissful thing Google to search up where that missing key is. Games like Mega Man X, Ninja Gaiden and Final Fantasy VI weren't particularly long games in length but you'd spend weeks trying to complete them because they were so damn hard! Every time a boss beat my ass in FF VI I'd slam my controller to the floor, run up the stairs and cry under my bed for a good half an hour, but I'd always go back for more (I repeated this process until I was about 17). But fast forward to 2013 and it's hard to think of many games that you couldn't finish in an afternoon. So why the change? Are we just getting better as gamers? Or are game developers dumbing down their games to target larger audiences? Many people argue that the popularity of games is beginning to harm the quality of them, and we agree with them. Here's why.
I'm going to use a recent example from my own experience. Dragon Age. The mighty king of an RPG, that divided opinion with its sequel (coincidentally right around the time EA bought out Bioware *raises eyebrows*). Now I'm not going to rant about EA, as plenty has already been said about EA's influence on game franchises but what I will say is this. The original DA was generally considered a masterpiece. It was lengthy, had an engrossing plot with interesting characters and challenging combat that demanded you to micromanage and engage the use of tactics. Dragon Age 2? Not so much. Okay it wasn't really a bad game, but it replaced the tactical combat with generic button mashing to appeal to people who didn't have the patience or, dare I say it, the intellect to deal with the original combat system. Hell, they even removed the overhead camera view, making the game feel more like a hack and slash action game rather than an RPG. And lest we forget the inferior story and generic, tedious characters. Clearly the game was designed with casual console players in mind, but to many people, it felt as if the developers had ignored the fans they made with the first game, in order to sell to newer casual fans. Bioware had made a sequel that was more accessible, yes, but they forgot about all of the things that made the first game great. Did Bioware sacrifice the quality of their game just to make more money? And then there's the Mass Effect 3 debacle (well okay let's not go there).
Worryingly there are a number of other game franchises that have clearly dumbed down over the years. Final Fantasy and Resident Evil are two that spring to mind. I can still remember my horror playing through the first few hours of Final Fantasy X-2 after the magnificence of X. What they did to Yuna literally made me fall out of love with the series. And XIII was so linear, it was almost insulting to me as a gamer.
From lovable high summoner to slutty gun-toting air head. If we look at the top ten selling games right now, sports and shooters make up the bulk of the list. So does the popularity of these genres hold further evidence to the dumbing down of games? I love first person shooters, and I do enjoy Fifa, but it's not exactly mentally stimulating to shoot through yet another COD clone, or play essentially what is the same football game year after year with slightly updated graphics. Call of Duty is a franchise I once revered. Up until Modern Warfare 2 I was a true COD fan boy. But every year they recycle the same gameplay, graphics and mechanics, and lazily theme them slightly differently to make them seem like completely new games. Play the latest Black Ops, and then play the first Modern Warfare. It's the same game! Yet these games sell by the millions every year! And then they have the nerve to charge us even more money for a few extra maps? (some of which were maps from earlier games we already owned and paid for!) What happened to creativity and innovation? But hey, as long as we're dumb enough to keep buying them, they'll keep making them. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of fantastic shooters out there, both first and third person, but there is definitely a feeling among the gaming community that the 'hollywood' effect is taking its toll on the quality of gameplay. This is when game developers spend huge amounts of their budget on creating cinematic experiences for gamers which sounds great in theory, but how often have you played a game that had a decent story, and amazing graphics and Hollywood scale video sequences...yet the actual gameplay itself was bad. Surely good gameplay is the whole point. And now more and more games are beginning to use things like quick time events, reducing the player interaction to pressing a single button. I don't want to press X or spin the analogue stick just to watch a pre-rendered animated cut scene of my character leaping across a mountain onto a helicopter dodging bullets, I want to be the one actually doing it! I'm the gamer, give me the control god-damn it! Is the modern gamer just being tricked into thinking games are better than they actually are by HD graphics and cinematic storytelling. Heavy Rain for example is a wonderful interactive experience, but if I was to judge the actual gameplay, the parts that I'm not just watching, I'd have to say it was pretty damn aweful.
Genres like real time strategy and adventure are now pretty much non-existent at least in the mainstream market. Both of these, by design, require patience and mental intellect. Some of my fondest gaming memories were from playing RTS's like the Command and Conquer series, Warcraft III, and solving mysteries in adventure greats like Broken Sword and Grim Fandango. But game developers aren't willing to take the risks any more with these genres. Why make something fresh, thoughtful and involving, when you can make an 'aliens invading humanity' shooter and make twenty times more money. Is the average gamer of 2013 just less intelligent than the average gamer in 1999 and less likely to enjoy these kind of games? Or has the saturation of shooters and sports sims evolved your average Joe to become less patient and less willing to take the time to enjoy these types of games? I want to believe that game developers are motivated by their creativity and need to make great games, and not just by filling their companies pockets with cash, but sadly I am realising that the latter may be the case. And to further my argument I'll say two words. Downloadable content...
Perhaps I am being too harsh. We all need to pay the bills right? And if the majority of gamers are casuals who want mindless shooters and sports games who am I to argue with that? Game companies need to make money to stay in business and that's fair enough. And I really hope that it doesn't come across that I am doom saying and stating the games industry is solely becoming a money making farce . The indie and mod community is enough to show me that there is amazing talent that will continue to innovate and seek acclaim first, and profit second. But I don't think anyone can deny that somewhere along the line, the balance between acclaim and profit has been lost. Why, and indeed whether it is even a good or bad thing will always be up for debate. But we as consumers are eating up and handing over our hard earned cash for games that in my opinion don't deserve it (*cough* colonial marines *cough*). We deserve better. So do yourself a favour. The next game that you buy, don't be afraid to try something different. I guaranteeyou that you will find a game like Journey a hundred times more rewarding than the next Call of Duty Super Modern Black Ops X Warfare 23 (or whatever they call it in 2047).
By Imran Almuttaqi