Well before my love for video games came into it’s own as a means of appreciating story telling and game theory, it functioned as a simple form of entertainment that reached as far as wanting a new experience, and no further. And it’s that simple mindset which without most people would never have found themselves picking up the hobby. If you don’t find video games fun it’s because you don’t enjoy the prospect of immersing yourself in another world through that medium, not because their aren’t any video games with mechanics that appeal to you. And that’s fine, by the way.
However, a coy theme that’s been rearing its ugly head and that I predict will show itself more and more as time pushes on is the failure of developers to live up to their consumer’s expectations. Video games have progressed so much in terms of writing, artistic, and programming merit since the medium’s inception that there’s no question the standards by which we hold developers should, in fact, be rising with the boundaries pushed by the top dogs in the business. That said, there seems to be a worrying fact about the nature of video game consumption that traditional developer standards are going to have a hard time adapting to account: The player, increasingly, does not want to work for the payoff games put in front of them, and instead wants that feeling shoved down their throat, no swallowing required.
In 2002, Bethesda could release a game that required a ton of reading, exploration, preparation, and manual references and have it be crowned a great success. In 2011, they took that same game and added a larger world with prettier graphics, better combat mechanics, fully voice-acted characters (negating the need for reading), and way points up the wazoo to make sure the player always had someone there to hold his or her hand when stuck and have it be heralded as a masterpiece. As a matter of fact, the game was designed with convenience at the fore-front of development so that becoming stuck was never really an option, save for a game-breaking bug here or there. That game, Skyrim, received so much praise that its still considered the best RPG of all time by one portion of its community, while the other part of its community call it a good game that just doesn’t live up to the standard that Morrowind holds for the series. (Most people skip right over Oblivion all-together, don’t hate me for that.)
One notable criticism you can consistently find from Morrowind lovers towards Skyrim is that the game just doesn’t give you the same value for exploring its world and stories. The combat is better (almost 99% of us would say) the graphics are far better (obviously), and the fact that you can listen to the characters mumble and jumble the dialogue to you helps to add an immense amount of immersion to the world, even if those characters are voiced by, like, 5 people. A consequence of this is that almost everything you do in Skyrim you do because someone else told you to do it, and most times you are paying so little attention (because you don’t need to, thanks to waypoints) that you don’t really even know why you’re doing what you’re doing in the first place.
This reality does give some validity to the Morrowind argument, and there are enough people out there who are aware of it, certainly within the gaming community, at least. Despite this, developers are becoming more and more privy to the fact that appealing to the small subsection of their communities that appreciate having to pay a moderate amount of attention to progress through their game just isn’t worthwhile given the consumers they’d be losing in doing so, thus giving more ammo the argument in recursive fashion.
Back in roleplaying’s inception, all you needed was a pen and paper, and maybe some dice, if you were cool enough to have friends who played DnD. It was all about world building in the mind. As things progressed, those concepts were strapped onto game consoles with visuals and a pre-built world that one person could explore without the need of a live dungeon master. And now, at the turn of a new decade, we’re being fed games that take this concept to new heights, while excavating any mechanics or design choices that would require any mental work on the part of the consumer for the sake of sales. And to be clear, I’m not against sales or appealing to wider audiences. Hell, I’d write at a second grade level if it meant having a million people visit my website every day (If I don’t already write that poorly), and I have no shame in admitting it. That said, there is a significant enough worry that this theme showing up in video game mediums will continue until video gaming itself is so mainstream that players like me will have to scurry around for small independent developers to get our fix.
And this may seem like sounding an alarm over nothing at this point, after all, we have the likes of FromSoftware still putting out games that do the opposite of what this article is talking about, but I’d wager this trend is one that doesn’t buckle easily, and as more developers look for funding, they’ll look to the standards the larger opponents in the race to find their standards to hold. Given enough time, that could mean a world in which every game is competing with its peers to becoming as streamlined as possible which in turn makes most of the games in question easily accessible, easily progress-able, and all the less satisfying. Its a problem i’ve alluded to in the past, and have used the movie industry to exemplify. You only pull large numbers in the box office if you feed easy viewing to a large audience (I don’t need to name names here, but you can think of at least one franchise, I’m sure.) or you have to create something entirely unique and incredibly well made, and even then, you’re not guaranteed success.
This, too, applies to video games, and music, and pretty much anything ever. And it all begins with the consumer. A community that holds itself to a high standard will be met with the kind of creations that are made to meet their tastes, and a community that votes with its money for garbage will be greeted in kind.
I know no solution, except to hope for the artistic integrity that some developers strive for to remain in tact, at least in some pockets of the market. And anyway, if that isn’t the case in 50 years, there’s only ourselves to blame, really. So it’s all the same, I suppose. Here’s to boycotting pre-orders and spending 3 hours stuck at level you weren’t supposed to be at, yet.