Let’s get one thing clear: the gaming industry is, in many ways, wonderful. It produces some great products that provide many gamers with hours of entertainment and eventual heart failure. The industry, however, has some bad habits that make Hollywood look like a church choir. Here are the worst things about it:
5. The Copycats
There’s a certain level of regularity to be expected in first person shooters. You have a selection of guns. There are baddies. There are health packs and ammunition. You pick up the ammunition and health packs and point the gun at the baddies. This is how these things work. It’s a tried and true formula, and there’s no reason to mess with it.
This regularity is, however, not an excuse for releasing completely identical games year after year. Unfortunately, given the amount of money involved, many studios try to cut risk by copying whatever was successful last year, a strategy worthy of a stupid Emmy, at this year’s stupid awards.
If a gritty modern military shooter did well last year, this year you can expect a host of… gritty modern military shooters. If cover-based third person sci-fi shooters (coughgearsofwarcough) are all the rage, a dozen games will come out directly with exactly the same style and mechanics. Sometimes it gets sort of ridiculous.
In a broader sense, there’s a weird terror of innovation. Game designers go rushing back to tired genres with the fanaticism of a child chasing down a safety blanket. There have been more World War II games made than actual wars fought. If they were even remotely accurate, WWII would have continued into the 80’s, and killed the entire population of Europe. And all this isn’t even counting the straight up ripoffs.
The thing is, many of these games aren’t actually bad. They’re just not original. This short-sighted strategy, left to its own for long enough, produces damning results like this, courtesy of our colleagues at Cracked.com:
Now, this is not to say that it’s hopeless: many studios do put out original games. Look at Portal – a game in which there are no guns, one character, and you don’t kill anyone. It’s a complete shakeup of even the fundamentals of what a shooter is, and it”s also one of the best puzzle games ever made.
4. The Reviewers
Game reviewers are an unwashed and shifty bunch at the best of times. They’re usually employed by gaming websites, which run advertising from, you guessed it, videogames. Advertising which can and often is pulled if the reviews are negative.
This strong-arming inflates scores to the point that most reviewers rate almost exclusively between 7 and 10. A game can be barely functional and still not score worse than a 7.1 That’s not even counting the outright manipulation and bribery that takes place. It’s an extremely broken and incestuous system. Really, at this point, the only way to get an accurate idea of what a game is like is to grab a suspiciously glowing review from a big site, put it beside the game’s Zero Punctuation review, and split the difference.
3. The Ports
It’s understandable that it’s not cost effective to independently develop a single game for every platform. It makes sense to develop a game for a single platform, and then make the necessary changes to get it onto other systems. Unfortunately, a number of developers seem to have taken this to mean ‘invest the minimum effort required to get it half-functional on a platform we don’t care about so we can squeeze a few filthy pennies out of them.’
PC ports are the most egregious – many ports don’t bother to add in full mouse support. GTA4 was never re-optimized for the PC, and has a host of well-known framerate issues. When Dead Space (by all accounts a fine horror game) came out, the controls were so sloppy that the camera careened around like a poodle on a unicycle, rendering it nearly unplayable.
Console to console ports, while slightly better, tend to have problems of their own. Due to the differences in processing power, rushed developers will often cut major features, leaving a game a desiccated, soulless husk of its former self.
2. The sexism
Now, before you say anything, we’re not going to start ranting about the spelling of ‘history’ or anything – but, let’s just make something clear: women are significantly under-represented in videogames. It’s just a fact. And, in a lot of the games with women, they are, essentially, eye candy. Their existence can be best summed up as a pair of boobs that occasionally make word-like noises.
Not, there’s nothing inherently wrong with eye candy. Most men in videogames look like something a bicurious Michaelangelo would chisel out of frozen spam while drunk.
The trouble is that most of those men at least get some effort at character development (although, videogame writing being what it is, this usually just means taking a break from rage-killing and rage-exposition to rage-cry over their dead wife – we’ll get to that in a minute). Many women in videogames do not get even this limited consideration. Plus, it also strains the limits of credulity that anyone would ride into battle dressed like this:
The softcore nudity, at a certain point, becomes juvenile and insulting, and the lack of real character development limits storytelling potential enormously. The good news is that there are a lot of games that handle this fairly well, and there are a handful that excel at creating living, breathing realistic characters of both sexes: recently, the Half Life 2 and Mass Effect series have succeeded at this.
Unfortunately, the casual sexism is only a symptom of a much bigger problem in videogames…
1. The Writing
A lot of money goes into the creation of a videogame. God of War III cost about forty four million dollars to make. That’s a lot of cash. Surely studios would allocate a small fraction of that money for writing and voice acting, right?
Unfortunately, not so much. Watching God of War III’s cutscenes for any length of time feels like watching a high school original play that somehow got porofessional voice actors. The dialog is cliched, expository, and melodramatic.
Sadly, it’s not limited to just this one game. While videogame writing has undoubtedly improved with time, it’s still often unforgivably bad. From Prototype to God of War to many other examples, writing continues to lag behind other genres.
Good writing can make a game stick in your head for the rest of your life. Which makes it all the more puzzling that it’s often treated as a secondary consideration, and occasionally has clearly been delegated to whichever member of the staff is most enthusiastic about it (if you’ve ever been to a writing workshop, you’ll know why this is a bad idea). Which is how we get games that, while great in every other respect, are written like B movies.
Bad voice acting can take this into the realm of the unforgiveable. While there are significant exceptions, it’s still depressing. There really isn’t an excuse for this anymore. Videogames are becoming as large an industry as film, and it’s simply unimaginable that a film’s script would be banged out at the last minute by a set designer.