One of the greatest problems facing the games industry today is the expectations of the consumer. For instance, a game’s visuals are expected to be realistic more than they’re expected to be communicative. Games must both not contain any filler to pad their length, but must also be at least 10 hours long. Each game must have some sort of in-game incentive to replay it, whether it be unlockables, branching story paths, or a leveling up mechanic. And it must have multiplayer. If you can’t compete with others, if you can’t win, there must be something terribly wrong with the game. It’s a game, isn’t it?
So suddenly we have a rut in which to sprain our mind-ankles: video games are games, and games are for playing. And “play” assumes a few things: a complete knowledge of the environment that is participated in, wherein the goal is almost invariably to perform better than another person participating or by some arbitrary measurement of success. In other words, to win is its only goal.
This all gets pretty technical, but it’s these pre-conceived notions that consumers need to re-evaluate if the medium is ever to achieve something truly groundbreaking.
In the meantime, it’s the popular games that dictate what’s good and what’s a failure. With long-standing series like “Halo,” “Call of Duty” and “Mario” holding most of the market, it can be difficult to approach anything but what is familiar without dismissing it as bad or strange. And even when a game is released as a standalone title—not a part of a series’ story and environment—it is still pitted against the precedent of other games in its so-called genre.
Take graphics, for instance. Some games don’t have a photorealistic look, or even attempt to—whether the reason be a chosen artistic style, the developer’s budget, or even just a different priority within the game. Even so, this visual criteria is almost always the basis for instant judgment. This is probably because we gather information fastest through our eyes. Altogether, it leads to something you’ve heard before: “Those graphics suck, dude!” And then the game is written off as bad based on this butter-thin point.
With expectations so blandly defined, we get exactly what we ask for: very few games, made on flabbergastingly large budgets by armies of developers, focus-tested to death, and marketed to as broad of an audience as possible, thus making oceans of money. It’s a repeat cycle.
The value we place on things like photorealistic graphics can discourage those developers from making anything but a brown and grey first person shooter. After all, Call of Duty made a tidy pile of money, didn’t it? It’s sitting up there on that pile in its money-throne, wearing clothes sewn from currency, twirling it’s money-stache, eating soup. And it thinks it’s better than you.
When expectation rules what we will accept as valuable, bad things are a’ happening. Video games are still in their relative infancy, and if they become too machined, too precise, then they may collapse on themselves. And that’d be terrible.