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In the last year the three most awe striking games that I have played have been downloadable games. That's not to say that they were the best games I've played, but they certainly had the greatest emotional impact on me. Now as I've experienced these games, I've been taking notice to a certain little something during my playtime. That argument about video games as art has been taking root in my head, and consider me on the front lines of that war. Basically what I'm going to do now is break down the three games, and how they're changing the game, so to speak.
Journey: The Risk
Up to this point in time, my game of 2012 is Journey. I've already sung praise about it in previous blogs. I even went as far as deciphering its meaning. I have to say, ThatGameCompany has created something that will sit with me for years on the "thought provoking, and emotional" spectrum. Putting my love for it aside, here is what will make it a deciding factor in the future of video games: The Risk.
It's a game that didn't really get much marketing. Did you see commercials? Did you see ads online anywhere? Outside of your video game websites, and E3 did you hear about it anywhere else? ThatGameCompany set out with a goal in mind, and a concept that they wanted to explore, and they did exactly what they wanted with it. Whenever it was first being talked about it was, "That game where you walk around the desert." But somehow it's sold millions onlline, and has become the fastest selling PSN game of all time. Pretty impressive for a game that had little to no exposition. Then you go back to the core concept. You're exploring a desert, yet somehow ThatGameCompany made it unforgettable. Now here's the question I asked myself when I completed Journey. "Why can't the games who have multi-million dollar budgets do this?" Why can't Call of Duty have a profound thought provoking, single player campaign? Fans will start asking that question soon if they haven't already, and those developers will have to come up with an answer.
Limbo: The Extremes
I just downloaded this game a couple of nights ago, and what I saw in the first hour left me speechless. At first I thought it was creepy, as I wondered through the really dark, and shadow filled world. Even the main character spooked me a bit. But as I went on something occurred to me. It's darker than it seems. It's not just the art style, but the entire game is haunting and unashamedly brutal. When I first came across the spider, I was startled, not just by the spider itself, but what it did to the boy when I came too close. I was playing as a young child, and it impaled him. It stuck it's long sharp leg through his head, and out the other end of his body and then flicked the child off like he was some old gum.
How does that affect anything you ask? It's setting a new standard for brutality in video games. While it displayed the dismemberment of a child, it did so without having blood and guts fly all over the screen. Sure it received an M-rating - it definitely deserves it - but it did it with class. There were no meat fountains, but it relayed what was happening nonetheless. Limbo is presenting the chance that games will find new and diverse approaches to brutality. You don't need gore to make a good game, but making the gore more stylish and less...gorey is never a bad thing. Also the fact that, Limbo displayed children being mutilated is a horrible thing, but that's what made it such a heavy fisted, and emotional game. It didn't hold anything back. I can only hope that bigger titles find their way to this style.
Bastion: The Morality
In video games today, most decisions are presented as black and white choices. Either save the flame engulfed building, full of orphans, or let them burn. Steal the suit case full of cash, or leave it where it is. Games aren't really questioning whether the decision you are making is wrong or not. Mass Effect 3's ending did an excellent job of being morally ambiguous, even though some fans weren't as big on Bioware's decision.
This is where Bastion shows up. There were two decisions to be made in Bastion, one decided the fate of something small, while the other decided the fate of something much, much more. (I'm trying very hard not to spoil anything) But both decisions were made out to be morally ambiguous. While the first one was slightly more black and white, it was still justifiable to make the "bad" choice, and there were no true consequences to that decision. But then the major choice questioned everything. It called morality into question. It gave you two choices, that affected the world you live in. Either choice you make is left up to the player to decide if they made the wrong choice or not. That's how it should be sometimes you know?
When will a video game do what Bastion has done? Mass Effect has done it. But when will it become something we see more of? I want morality to be questioned. I define "wrong", as doing something that affects someone else negatively, but what if both decisions affect everyone negatively no matter what, but in different ways? What if it questions the needs of the individual over the needs of the many? I want those questions to be asked.
When will games start doing what these three have done? When will lines be crossed, and questions be asked? My answer: Very soon. Because of the downloadable games that have been released as of late, more pressure will be put on the bigger titles. Fans will eventually start to ask "Why can't a game with a 30 million dollar budget ask the bigger questions?" With all these huge blockbuster games, with giant budgets, there has to be a few that can afford to ask these things. It's time for video games to take their rightful place as art.
*A final note* I'd really like to see some opinions on this one in the comments section. What would you like to see in your video games?