Storytelling: Stuck Between a Rock and Blandification - hist Blog -
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Storytelling: Stuck Between a Rock and Blandification

Games are becoming the same. They're becoming boring, generic. Yet we still play them. A LOT. Why is this? Are we just not discerning gamers anymore? Are we easily led around by our noses? Do game companies take advantage of us? Is the Kardashian lack of talent or ability to do anything actually useful to society hereditary?

These burning questions (okay, maybe not that last one) are on the minds of lots of gamers right now.

It hasn't been a busy weekend for blogs, but two blogs were posted this weekend that really made me stop and think. (Sorry to the guy who hit me from behind because I stopped so fast. I just got the brakes fixed).

First was one by GoldvsSilver (the eternal conundrum of the Xbox player with limited cash flow) about why shooters bore him to death. I left a comment on that blog. It was a nice comment, I think. Fairly standard, nothing really to write home about. I don't know if I would put it up in my Top 3 Comments of All Time list. But it wasn't a bad one, if I do say so myself.

Then this morning I saw Oni's blog about the blandification of games and how so much of what the games industry is putting out there is generic pap (I think she also says something about grey sludge inside when you bite into them, though I don't know why you would want to bite into a game...maybe it's just me). I was all set to leave a comment for Oni too, but as I was working out what I wanted to say, I found myself considering more and more stuff, and decided that it would be better to do a post of my own rather than leave a comment that's basically the same length. Especially because some of it would just be a copy of my response to GoldvsSilver.

What do these two instances have in common for me?

Storytelling in games.

The basic gameplay of the shooter *is* getting stale. It's getting to the point that I'm tired of seeing a gun pointing out from the bottom of the screen. Give me something different, oh Mr. Shooter Designer!! (Or Ms. Shooter Designer. I'm not sexist). Instead of shooting, I want to see a character beat somebody over the head with one of these.

(Thanks to Fashions for All)

Now *that* would not be generic!

However, I still play shooters, and for me, it's because of what the designers do with the genre. Mass Effect 3 is a massively humongously huge RPG/story (yes, it is *that* big that it requires 3 words) that also uses third-person shooter mechanics in its gameplay. Borderlands is a loot-haul like Diablo, only told as a first-person shooter. There's tons of stuff to do, so much so that you don't really notice the same basic mechanics as the other games. Fallout 3 and New Vegas are big RPGs that use first-person mechanics.

All of these are not generic because they actually do something interesting with the mechanics. Deus Ex: Human Revolution, for all the fact that its mechanics are first-person shooter, can be totally played without killing anyone (though you'd have to have the patience of Job to do so. Or more talent than me, anyway).

The other thing that makes these titles great are the stories being told. If a game is telling me a good story and the mechanics don't suck (Generic doesn't have to suck. I was a college student once, and lived off of generic stuff), then to me, the game is good.

This leads me into my comment to Oni's blog (Oni, you can start reading now).

Part of me is wondering whether this attitude adds to the blandification problem in gaming right now. (In other words, am *I* the cause of all things bad in gaming?) Game companies don't seem to be trying to innovate gameplay as much anymore. Instead, they seem to take Mechanic A, maybe add a touch of Mechanic B to the game. Ok, this is pretty boring. Hey, let's come up with this really awesome story!!!! As games are becoming more innovative in their storytelling, they're becoming more generic in their actual gameplay. Sure, they may add a tweak here and there. Remember the days before being able to take cover, where you had to hide behind a wall,strafe out from behind it to shoot at an enemy, and then strafe back behind the wall when you took too much damage? Once one game added a cover system, of course every game had to do it. And now even cover systems are generic and boring. But if you have a shooter without one, prepare to have piles of your discs and beautiful box art burned on the front lawn outside your company headquarters. (You think it won't happen? Look at the Mass Effect 3 ending controversy and extrapolate)

Many games are becoming bland, and yes, I think that is because of the financial bottom line that requires more of the same because it's SELLING SELLING SELLING!!!! It's a sad state of affairs. However, it's also an understandable one. Game companies are a business. When games don't sell, there are real-world repercussions. Look at all of the layoffs going on in the industry right now, some from companies whose games *do* sell relatively well. Game companies are reluctant to take a chance on something innovative, because for every truly creative game that becomes a big hit, there are multiple ones that don't. We as gamers don't seem to try new things very well, and these games wither on the vine (I've been on that soapbox enough times that if I get up there again, everybody will just roll their eyes).

Thus, we get the same generic crap that sells well.

I think this is why, as Saint said last night, something like Kickstarter may be the future of the industry. If not the future, then perhaps where true innovation goes to prosper.  (Let's see if I can get the entire 1st page of the User Blog section into this post! Let me just find that girl gamer who's listening to game music while telling us about her backlog of games). Here, companies can go directly to the public, tell us "hey, I want to do *this* but the distributors are saying they won't pay for it because they don't want to take a chance. Will you take a chance on me?" If enough people are intrigued by the idea, then the game can get made and it already has a core audience waiting for it.

In the meantime (I guess I should get back to the title of this post), while many current games are suffering from this blandification problem, I don't mind it as much as some people, as long as I am engaged by the game. Give me a really good story with generic gameplay, and you've probably got me hooked, or at least checking you out. And with my limited budget, it's probably a good thing for me that not many games are able to do that.

Besides, isn't storytelling one of the main reasons why so many gamers are making the case that video games are art? D*mn the gameplay! We need good stories so that we can convince Roger Ebert of something.

Until game companies actually start getting innovative with their gameplay again, storytelling is probably the only thing saving the industry.

Or maybe it's the in-game subliminal messages that are keeping the Call of Duty zombies hooked.

That could be it too.