Tina K. Russell

September 4, 2008

The “typical” videogame

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Tina Russell @ 12:56 pm

New Computer Game, Spore, Takes Cues From Evolutionary Biology – NYTimes.com
Unlike the typical shoot-them-till-they’re-all-dead video game, Spore was strongly influenced by science, and in particular by evolutionary biology.

The best-selling games of 2007 in America, according to VGChartz.com:

Pos Console Name Publisher Yearly Total
1 Wii
Wii Sports
Nintendo 7,390,511 8,619,419
2 Xbox 360
Halo 3
Microsoft 4,989,167 4,989,167
3 DS
Pokemon Diamond / Pearl
Nintendo 4,401,363 4,401,363
4 Wii
Wii Play
Nintendo 4,308,837 4,308,837
5 Xbox 360
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Activision 2,769,552 2,769,552
6 PS2
Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock
Activision 2,502,223 2,502,223
7 Wii
Super Mario Galaxy
Nintendo 2,501,203 2,501,203
8 Xbox 360
Forza Motorsport 2
Microsoft 2,358,809 2,358,809
9 DS
Nintendo 2,175,399 6,401,266
10 Wii
Mario Party 8
Nintendo 1,923,939 1,923,939
11 PS2
Guitar Hero II
Activision 1,912,866 3,450,238
12 Xbox 360
Madden NFL 08
Electronic Arts 1,874,517 1,874,517
13 Xbox 360
Marvel: Ultimate Alliance
Activision 1,856,994 2,216,076
14 Xbox 360
Assassins Creed
Ubisoft 1,840,887 1,840,887
15 PS2
Madden NFL 08
Electronic Arts 1,741,384 1,741,384
16 Xbox 360
Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock
Activision 1,596,704 1,596,704
17 DS
New Super Mario Bros
Nintendo 1,534,097 3,817,822
18 Xbox 360
Guitar Hero II
Activision 1,500,002 1,500,002
19 DS
More Brain Training
Nintendo 1,411,784 1,411,784
20 PS3
Sony Computer Entertainment 1,313,201 1,313,201

Got that? Only two of those (Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4) even involve shooting. There’s also Assassin’s Creed, a violent mission-based game. Those three are rated “M” for “Mature 17+.” Then there are the “T” for “Teen” games: Marvel: Ultimate Alliance (rated for its cooperative, superhero-themed fantasy violence) and the Guitar Hero games (rated for lyrics that were controversial in your parents’ day). The rest of the list—Wii Sports, Pokémon, Madden, Mario, etc.—are unimpeachably innocuous.

I’m a little sick of hearing about how games are “finally reaching out” from sophomoric gore-fests. Carmageddon was a dud, Duke Nukem came and went, nobody liked Postal, ever, and I suspect Black stayed firmly in the red. Nobody these days will accept a game predicated on satisfying an itchy trigger finger, and the most gory popular games I can think of today exemplify that. The violence of the Halo games is set apart by a somber, almost mournful tone throughout; violence is portrayed as necessary, but also senseless. (The violins and Gregorian chants of the game’s main theme capture this atmosphere well.) The Grand Theft Auto games are known for their massive interactive worlds and deep, engaging storylines, so as long as you’re willing to step into the shoes of a completely amoral main character (as many have when watching The Sopranos, The Godfather, or The Wire). (The violence is also mission-based; you can kill everyone in sight, but it is not the goal, and it will raise the ire of the fuzz in a hurry.) BioShock is renowned for its deep story, rife with literary influences and socio-political commentary, and for the moral choices it presents the gamer with. (Would you take a hostage’s soul if it meant a fighting chance to escape and rescue more hostages?)

Moreover, I am bothered how the non-violent games that break the mold are too often ignored, and I’m sick of reading articles in the mainstream press discussing how such-and-such a new game is completely unprecedented in being inventive. EarthBound (known in its native Japan as Mother 2, sequel to Mother) was a story-based game created by a renowned Japanese writer, Shigesato Itoi, who wanted to make a videogame with values less like that of a commanding father (“find the magical amulet!” “rescue the captured scientist!” etc.) and more like a gentle, reinforcing mother (hence the name). According to him, the theme of the most recent installment—the (sadly) Japan-only Mother 3—is “love for one’s family.”

Spore is a good example, but don’t forget that its creator made SimCity, a game with no defined ending and that simply encouraged the player to make a town he or she could be proud of, and The Sims, a game centered around the life of a virtual family. Katsuya Eguchi created Animal Crossing when he was lonely following a move from his native Chiba to Nintendo’s home of Kyoto; the game has you making friends and adjusting to life in a new community. Jet Grind Radio featured punks on rollerblades tearing up a Day-Glo-colored Tokyo, outsmarting the law and spraying graffiti in a landscape beautifully stylized to look like an animated graffiti itself. Crazy Taxi is an arcade game in which you must use any means necessary… to reach your fare’s destination. (It’s also an absolute blast, as it is full of crazy cabbie attitude and endearingly absurd game physics.) And while The Legend of Zelda games have elements of fantasy violence, they consistently place you in Tolkien-grade epics with a mix of action, adventure, and challenging, multi-layer puzzles.

And on the subject of science, I don’t think there’s a single game not inspired by science. What all videogames have in common is that the player must feel around and figure out how the game world works, what interactions are beneficial, and what skills are most important in order to achieve the desired goal (be that the game’s or the player’s). A good game is a gradual process of discovery.

So, I don’t want to hear any more about the “typical” videogame. There isn’t one, just as there is no “typical” book or movie. Back in the nineties, hearing this kind of talk from unenlightened observers was cute. Now, it’s just annoying.

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