Ok, so this post is a response to the following article I read on IGN last week (PSX and GOTY took precedence over me writing this counter-argument). I recommend reading it before reading this.
Here’s the link.
First off, in case this hasn’t become abundantly clear through my use of u’s in my words, I am Canadian. So I won’t be addressing the American Dream/American conflict aspects of the article. I am, however, going to break down the three aspects of the argument where I think the piece falls apart.
Guns sell/Sex Sells
Yes, of course this is true. People love to be excited and titillated. And, just like sex in games and movies, if it’s just shoe-horned in there for no other reason than because ‘who doesn’t like a bunch of violence and some fucking?’ – then I agree it’s stupid and it’s hindering the game. I’m no prude or violence abolitionist – but when something is there for no reason but to serve itself (like 90% of the sex in shows like True Blood) – it annoys me. And in those cases, I would agree that it is just a hindrance. It won’t further serve the art form, and it won’t lead to more great games being made. But one could easily make that argument for a number of things that hold the medium back. Once again – there is no one thing that is stopping the progression of games from getting better.
The Bioshock Paradox
So, the “ludonarrative dissonance” mentioned as the main issue with the series is mistaken, flat out. The whole thing about Bioshock is it’s a morality tale in story and in play. Put a man in a chaotic situation and make him fend for his life – and survival instincts are going to kick in. But where the “dissonance” fails to rear its head is in the choices you make – slaughter the Little Sisters for power and become a monster. Save them, and be a hero. And this choice has nothing to do with guns. The Last of Us is a perfect game to go hand-in-hand with Bioshock on this point. Is there combat? Yes, but it’s presence is not the aspect of the game anyone is (necessarily) praising it for. The guns in this game are simply a vehicle. A mechanic to push the story forward in order to get the story out of it. Could you do it without the guns? Definitely. And it would make a great movie. Does the action/inclusion of guns as a medium hinder the actual story or the message that Ken Levine is trying to get across? Not in the least. If anything, I would argue that the gameplay, in this case, is the most minor part of the series.
Playing it Safe
Is there laziness in the gaming industry? Fuck yes. Like any industry. Sometimes it’s just easier to make another game where you just shoot a bunch of dudes and forget about it. Where the story is just a reason to shoot more people. I get that. The same way the music industry pawns off derivative clones of pop music stars whose albums are nigh-indistinguishable. And there are times where the guns are there for no other reason than people like shooting people in games. I do agree, in a sense, that FPS games like Doom, CoD, etc are safe AAA games to make. They have a following, and they don’t require much in the way of “creativity” to an extent. But the genre of gun-heavy games compared to the rest of the industry is a relatively small number. For every CoD there is a Portal, Skyrim, Diablo, Final Fantasy, Heavy Rain and the list goes on.
So, thesis statement: Are guns holding the medium back? No. Are there numerous games with heavy-handed (gun) violence shoe-horned in to create appeal? Definitely. But the medium, as stated, is in its infancy and it is already proving that it is more than a one trick pony.
– The Ego