When the average person approaches an event like E3, they might be surprised at what they see this year. No, not at the swords, blood, guns, zombies, and typical video game affair. All that is normal for an event meant to show what video games are about. No, they’ll be surprised at the sheer number of wholesome games that are being shown. This year had a number of cute and cuddly games that are designed to accomplish nothing besides making us smile, or to feel emotions through storytelling that doesn’t involve violence.
These non-violent games are everywhere throughout Summer Game Fest and E3 2021 and they’re a welcome shift from the normal video game storytelling mechanics that we’re so used to. This is not to say there is something wrong with the idea of a game being about a hero overcoming monsters, defeating enemies, and achieving a goal. It’s just an overdone style of game that usually relies on violence being the catalyst for fun. As video games have evolved over the years they’ve also grown the ability to tell stories in ways that can be different. This is great for the video game industry as a whole because it allows it to become more accessible. It also allows for more creativity. It allows for games to be dramatic, or wholesome, without the single use of a weapon.
What’s always been odd about video games is that it’s taken this long for the idea of non-violent games to become a popular concept. Every year we see movies, books, TV shows, and other forms of entertainment appeal to the masses through non-violent storytelling. Dramas are frequent winners of Oscars, and the TV shows that garner the most attention on platforms like Netflix are usually pieces of interest and not action shows. However, go on Twitch right now and look at the most viewed games currently. It’s likely going to feature a mix of Grand Theft Auto, Apex Legends, Fortnite, and Call of Duty. All shooters meant to appeal to the simple nature of gunning down your opponent so you can achieve your goal or survival, or getting the most kills, or causing the most amount of mayhem in the case of GTA. Video game’s desire to appeal to the ID inside us is a large part of what this industry is built on. That doesn’t mean other entertainments don’t feature this as well, I myself am a huge fan of the John Wick and Fast & Furious movies, but 9/10 of games fall into that category. The majority of AAA titles are built on violence and action as the sole reason to play the game.
E3 2021 however has been full of the opposite. Video games everywhere full of non-violent fun. Games like Puparazzi, where the player’s sole goal is to take pictures of dogs. There was Game Director Story, a satirical game about game development, which looks good and something that the industry has been needing to do forever. Having non-violent options allows video games as an industry to not only continue to grow but is an opportunity to bring in different kinds of gamers. Some people don’t want to play games about a superhuman blasting their way through hordes of aliens. They just want to go manage a farm or make friends with a town full of Animals, and we know this is true already. Why? Because Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing are two of the most popular games ever made and there are 59,000-plus people that follow the Wholesome Games Twitter account so they can keep up with the non-violent games being made.
Unfortunately, in the world of the AAA, the non-violent game is difficult to come by. They do exist. Animal Crossing, Pokemon Snap, etc. Games like Abzu and Journey have already proven that the industry can tell a dramatic story without a need for violence, but these are still rare amongst the sea of shooters and action games. Luckily, for the last decade, AAA games haven’t been the ones pushing the industry forward. It’s been the wave of indie games that are making up the majority of what people play these days, and they don’t have a need to fit what is perceived to be popular by the massive studios. There is no executive telling indie developers to make a shooter because that’s what people want to play. No, they’re making games and telling stories that they find interesting. It’s going to be up to indies to push the way forward in telling stories about non-violent games, and so far they’re succeeding.
The Wholesome Direct, which happened on Saturday, was all about games that make us feel good. Games with the sole intention of being fun or making us smile, and they’re a welcome change in an industry full of violence. They had 75 games to show and pretty much all of them left everyone watching with a giant smile on their face. Yes, we all want to be the hero saving the princess from a magical turtle dragon, or saving the world from extinction in an alien invasion, or fighting off a horde of zombies, but sometimes we just want to go rescue some people dressed up as a firefighter, or clean up the ocean with colorful tadpoles at our side. There’s already plenty of video games about the former, and it’s wholesome to see more about the latter.