Home > Gaming > Hey Gamers: Can We Stop Playing COD and Save Gaming?

Hey Gamers: Can We Stop Playing COD and Save Gaming?

Alright readers, I mentioned in yesterday’s post that I’m working on pretty grand discussion of religion and autism.  I’m still hammering away at that, but it entails a lot of research and reading.  It will also, I’m thinking, end up as a multi-part series.  With that said, I’m hoping to have that ready to go for tomorrow and Friday’s updates.

In the meantime, a return to the original form of this blog: talking about pop culture-y type stuff.  With Bethesda’s announcement of The Elder Scrolls: Steampunk, I think this update is pretty perfect.

I’m a big fan of video games.  I still play them to an extent (what’s up Skyrim?  You going to destroy another 100 hours of my life?), but nowhere near as hardcore as I used to.  At one point I played World of Warcraft and sank over 400 days of play time into my characters between 2006 and 2011.

But there’s been this incredible trend in video games of late.  I think I can sum it up in one two words: they’re dying. You might argue with that assumption based upon the fact that the video games still seem to be going strong, but I suppose I could tack on two other words to make the difference: in spirit.

Gameplay > Story > Graphics

I’m sure there are plenty of people who would argue with me to no end about my prioritization of the major parts of a game, but I stand by this.

Gameplay is, far and away, the most important part of the game.  Back before video games became monstrous, big-budget affairs boasting X hours of game time, slapping together cut scenes in the 30 minute mark (Metal Gear, I’m looking at you) there was only one thing that made you play the game: the actual gameplay.

Did you really care why the hell Mario ate mushrooms, used fire flowers and jumped on Goombas?  The motivation there was “that guy is bad, the game told me so, and thus I am to destroy him.”  You don’t need more than that.  People didn’t play Pac-Man in the arcades because the graphics and story rocked, they played it because it was fun.

Crysis

Proving once again that if the graphics are good enough, people won't notice you forgot the AI.

Point being made, game play should be intuitive but not lack depth.  Games should present you with multiple options toward the same goal.  Deus Ex is probably the perfect example of this.  You had to specialize your physical enhancements as well as your skills, and in doing so you created a character who solved problems the way you wanted.  If your JD Denton was stealthy, he’d sneak through the ubiquitous man-sized air ducts that populated every part of the game.  If you wanted to run and gun, you probably died a lot more but you could do it.

On the other end of the spectrum you have a game like, say, Crysis.  Crysis was touted as the big thing in gaming for no other reason than the graphics.  In the early days you’d hear how amazing the AI was and that it would change gaming.  Then you get things like this: Good AI .

Crysis was by no means a failure (which is its own commentary on video game audiences), but it wasn’t the earth-shattering game-changer it was supposed to be.

As far as story, I don’t know that there is much to say here.  Video games aren’t like Pac-Man anymore, and as such they need to have a story.  People, spoiled by the fact that video games have been moving toward being an art form, now want some more motivation as to why someone has to die than “he’s bad”.  That’s how you get monstrous story-driven games like the Metal Gear series on the extreme end of that spectrum.

Femshep, pictured here, shocked at how shitty the ME3 ending was.

Despite the issues with gameplay in the Mass Effect games (about which I could write a series of posts), the story was so engrossing that you couldn’t help but want to play the next installment.  Look at the outrage around the ending of Mass Effect 3 (that is looking to involve the Better Business Bureau) and tell me that people aren’t invested in those games.

A good story and good gameplay can make you look past the other shortcomings.  Graphics mean nothing, but to say something about them anyway: Crysis was built almost entirely on graphics and that game was kind of a letdown.  ‘Nuff said.

Multiplayer Games—I’m Looking At You, Modern Warfare—Will Kill Gaming

When I was a kid I’d sleep over at a friends house where we would play Goldeneye or Perfect Dark for hours.  Somehow this came back in college in the form of both Goldeneye and the original Smash Brothers.  At either point in time, youth or college, we’d play those games until we couldn’t keep our eyes open.  Then we’d play more the next day.

Goldeneye

Modern gamers are no doubt scratching their heads at how anybody could play a game without anisotropy and dynamic shadows.

The thing is, as I get older I face the sad realization that I am (kind of) an adult.  I’m also realizing that it’s becoming harder and harder to get four of my friends in one place to enjoy some split-screen gaming.  So consider this my disclaimer that I do understand partially why split-screen gaming has gone away.

But then you have to consider the video game companies and their greed.  After all, four people playing the same game at someone’s house is $50.  Four people playing the same game at their own house?  Two hundred.  So yah, there’s the motivation of greed.

Whatever combination of factors drove gaming toward the online multiplayer sensation we see today, that is the same trend that will destroy gaming as you know it.

I realize that’s a pretty big claim, but let’s look at why.

Modern Warfare.  I fucking hate those games.  I’ve played them like twice and couldn’t stand it.  If I wanted thirteen year old kids calling me gay and using racial slurs that would make the Klan blush I would have become a teacher.  The idea is that gaming should be fun, and games like Call of Duty—for many of us, at least—are not fun.

Before I talk about online multiplayer and how wrong it is, let me acknowledge what is right about it.  First, it is hard to get four adults with their own, separate lives in a room together.  Since the target audience of console games has gone beyond the teenage demographic, it is understandable that games now offer something for those of us who have physical distances between friends that we cannot always bridge.  I get that.

Also, clearly people play these games, as instanced by how many people were ready to rush out to buy Black Ops, then a short time later MW3.  First-person shooters are popular because you can get into a game and a short time later walk away.  Try doing that with Mass Effect, an Elder Scrolls game, etc.

But I think that’s where it ends.  The Call of Duty games are the ultimate exploitation of the gamer.  Most of them contain a shitty single-player that the gamer will go through once to justify the $60 price tag, followed by hopping onto the internet to yell racial slurs at people better than them.

But consider that Modern Warfare 3 for the 360 got an 88 on metacritic.  Many of those scores were 100.  How does a game that exists almost solely to deliver a slightly altered multiplayer experience get a perfect score?  Seriously.  Let’s play a game called spot which one is Modern Warfare 3:

Trick question! Nobody can tell!

Graphically, almost all of the COD games look almost identical.  I couldn’t tell you about the story of any of the games because, having asked numerous players what the story is, they basically showered me in racial slurs and told me there is no story.

Well that’s a lie, there is.  But they played it once and never went back to it.  Estimates of how much game time you get out of the single-player campaigns are usually in the 10 hour mark.  Hours of gameplay can be misleading, but when your game boasts ten hours of single-player, you’ve probably got something to think long and hard about.

And that is, after all, the problem with the Call of Duty series.  All of the above reasons still stand for games like this

Pictured: bridging the geographical distance--with racial slurs and seething hatred.

making sense. But what I said about the priorities of gaming stands as well: the medium has progressed so much from its youth and is capable of telling great stories, providing unique and engrossing gameplay and instead of using that to its fullest, we’re pumping out new installments of the Call of Duty series on a yearly basis, slapping slightly new features into the same game, changing the number to three and bringing the price back up to $60.

The reason this is killing gaming, in case you find yourself asking that question, is because these games are safe.  Look at any other medium of art and ask yourself this question: has playing it safe ever been good for that medium.  Consider network television.  Those channels cannot put out a decent show for the life of them, and the networks putting out shows that aren’t repetitive are the ones who are willing to take chances, networks like AMC, HBO, and shit, even USA.

The music industry right now is in this weird flux between the indie bands trying to actually do something unique (hint: they’re not.  Sorry hipsters, but your music still all sounds the same) and the overly homogenized pop where you can barely tell two artists apart.

Innovation drives art and innovation will drive this medium forward.  Modern Warfare 3 contains barely any innovation—if any at all—over its predecessors.  It adds a splash more milk to the mac and cheese and calls it a new dish.  All because we, the fans, apparently lap this shit up like catnip and the studios will not stop while we do this.

I have used Mass Effect as an example of what gaming is capable of, but believe me when I say that even that game is held back and limited by what it was too afraid to do.  The original Mass Effect had an interesting gameplay that was rich in RPG elements but still quite action-packed.  Scared that too many games would be confused by things like “numbers” and “leveling up”, Mass Effect 2 turned the gameplay into the most vanilla, cover-based shooter they could.

In case you’re wondering why I’m blaming multiplayer gaming (still), let me recap:

Innovation drives the medium.  Multiplayer gaming uses the same concepts that it always has to create the illusion of entertainment.  Worse than that, though, people do not expect massive innovation from multiplayer.  As a result, we’re just going to keep seeing numbers added on to the Call of Duty franchise until the gamers realize they dropped the soap a long time ago and the studios were just too sneaky for you to realize what was happening.

Wait, so its a Bethesda game where you start as a prisoner? Originality.

What Can Save the Medium

Instead of buying that Taco Bell or those energy drinks, save your money and buy an indie game.  You’d be amazed at the quality of the indie games on Steam (fuck Origin, don’t use that) that you can get for between $5-$25.  Supporting these small developers shows that you want more out of gaming.  We can continue to have multiplayer games like the COD series—they do not have to go away.  We just cannot, as gamers, be so single-mindedly obsessed with these games that we lose sight of the things that have made gaming so important as a medium: living through deep, interactive stories that could not be told well any other way.

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  1. Lukas C.
    April 18, 2012 at 6:02 pm

    Hey Scott, this article is fantastic and while a few of your points don’t strike the same chord with me, the overall message that COD and related games are killing game rings true in my mind. A majority of society cares only for instant gratification and stimulation. They don’t want to invest 100 hours into Skyrim because they either don’t have 100 hours to give, or they simply do not have the cognitive capacity to understand a game with that large of a scope.

  2. April 18, 2012 at 6:30 pm

    While I love Skyrim and am as guilty of liking big-budget games as anybody, I think even Skyrim is an illustration of what is wrong with gaming. Bethesda has realized that people love the idea of a sandbox world like the one they presented in Morrowind/Oblivion, and have modeled every game since in the same style.

    Fans of the Fallout franchise from prior to Fallout 3 will recall that it was a top-down strategy game. Bethesda created a world that was supposed to be Fallout 3, but came off more like Elder Scrolls: Armageddon. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed the F3 and F:NV. But it just speaks to more to the fact that nobody is willing to take a chance. The original Fallout games made you think, and god forbid we ask gamers to do that.

    I’m glad you enjoyed, and given the immediate and positive reactions I’ve seen, I’m considering on working on a few other major posts about the state of video gaming.

  1. May 22, 2012 at 7:18 pm
  2. May 22, 2012 at 7:20 pm
  3. April 16, 2013 at 1:00 pm

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