Opinion – The Industry Needs More Shooters

by Jeff Marchiafava on Apr 01, 2014 at 01:01 PM

Series like Call of Duty and Battlefield dominate the market, but recently the gaming community has been gripped by a disturbing new trend – people complaining that they want to play more than just shooters. However, there's a reason games with guns have always been – and will always be – massively popular; they offer everything a player could possibly want.

The jaded among us often characterize their unfounded hatred for gaming's greatest genre as "shooter fatigue," stating that they're tired of always doing the same old things in game after game. But if they feel their actions are repetitive, that's their problem – shooters offer players a stunning variety of different gameplay styles. Like nonstop action? Shoot things with a machine gun. Prefer stealth and subtlety? Shoot things with a silenced machine gun. Looking for gameplay that's as intellectually stimulating as it is exciting? Shoot things with a sniper rifle. Just want some lighthearted fun the whole family can enjoy? Shoot things with a bazooka.

Player choice is an oft-repeated buzzword that the industry's whiners endlessly demand from games, but it makes me wonder if we're playing the same games. Shooters are riddled (pun most definitely intended) with gameplay choices. Do you shoot a lot of bullets at your enemy, or take the time to carefully aim every shot? Do you empty entire magazines at a time, or neurotically reload each time you pull the trigger? These kinds of player-driven choices completely change the feel of the game. Not to mention all of the other non-gun-related options that shooters present players with, like grenades and knives! Most shooters offer dozens of different guns to shoot things with at any given moment, plus myriad gun-customization options – how much more player choice could you possibly want?

Indie gamers love to wax poetic about "emergent storytelling," lauding the concept over the heads of shooter fans at the snooty wine and cheese parties I assume they throw while lamenting the state of the video game industry. Hello: Shooters are on the vanguard of emergent storytelling. Sure, the overarching plots of most shooters might be linear (aka handcrafted and good), but there's plenty of player agency as well. For instance, when you finally meet the villain face to face, do you shoot him once in the head like a cold and calculated professional, or shoot him a hundred times in the crotch like a vengeful anti-hero? Completing a quicktime event the moment it pops up on screen transforms your protagonist into a resolute soldier who knows what must be done for the greater good; waiting until the last moment to press the button conveys a wavering commitment – a man struggling with his internal demons. If that's not emergent storytelling, I literally don't know what emergent storytelling is.

Over the past few years, the video game industry has become obsessed with the issue of gender, calling into question why more games don't feature female protagonists. Once again, shooters are on the frontlines – this time in the battle for gender equality. Shooters have featured numerous memorable female characters over the years, such as Anya from Gears of War and Multiplayer Skin #12 from Battlefield 4. Moreover, most female characters in shooters behave exactly like men because the developers are literally just swapping in different character models and voice samples. No attempt whatsoever is being made to differentiate their personalities or behaviors from their male counterparts – it's like the developers can't even see their gender. That's like the epitome of gender equality!

Some gamers would love nothing more than for shooters to disappear from the video game industry completely. But think of all the amazing gameplay experiences we would have missed out on over the years if shooters never existed. From classic FPS adventures like Doom, to the next-gen juggernauts of the future like Doom, shooters are responsible for everything video games are today. The future of the industry will always be bright – as long as you're viewing it down the barrel of a gun.

Editor's Note: This article originally ran on April 1.