When I was 10 years old I cared mainly about two things: hadoukens and jumping. I was also interested in some freelance adventuring if the situation required it. But that was it
Yet there's only so much jumping a 10-year-old can stomach, and hadoukens take a lot out of a youngster, so I quickly got a little bored of all that. Slowly but surely, I succumbed to the simple pleasures of aiming cursors at virtual beings and shooting them directly in the face. I've been shooting things in the face ever since.
It's funny, when we talk about video games and genres we tend to think of them as permanent fixtures that never erode. Part of the furniture, as rigid and immovable as the pillars of Stonehenge. That idea is wrong. The truth is this: the concept of genre is as malleable and sticky as lukewarm Play-Doh and the prevalence of one genre over another is nothing more than a reflection of the market and its consumers. This is what people are buying right now, say publishers and creators. These are the games that we will make. End of story.
Case in point: in the early '90s you couldn't move. Literally, gamers were sandwiched between two types of game: platformers and Street Fighter clones. Sure we had our JRPGS, our Zeldas and a few other types milling around but, for the most part, that era was completely dominated by those two genres. And back then, much like now, discourse was centred around how these games were all clones, how they were strangling creativity. 'It was better in the old days, when we had more variety' blah blah blah. It was a pile of old bullshit back then, just like it's a pile of old bullshit now. Games and movies and any other type of media have been repeating the same old trick since the Chinese invented paper.
But there is always that turning point. The point at which the boredom felt at the core of those who played video games extensively spreads to the outer reaches of the market. In the late '90s fighting games stopped selling in grand numbers, people were less inclined to jump, less inclined to bash buttons and punch and kick one another. People wanted to do something different.
I wonder: are we currently sitting at a similar cross roads? Are we all getting a little bit tired of shooting things in the face?
I ask this in the broadest possible sense. I'm sure there are groups of people who never enjoyed first-person shooters to begin with, or only liked one specific series. I'm talking in general: is the gaming public tired of games that involve shooting? Is the market saturated? Are we about to transition towards something a little different?
Make no mistake, this sort of thing happens. I'd never be so bold to claim that platform games and fighting games died a death, but slowly but surely those two genres deteriorated to the point where they were on life support — and it started with a general malaise. It started with saturation. And boredom.
These movements start at the centre. I remember very specifically the moment where I began to turn.
I sat in darkened room at an E3, I can't remember which year, 2011 maybe? I watched what was probably the 14th shooter demo I'd seen in the last 36 hours.
I was jet lagged. Over it. Bored.
How long, I asked myself, could I listen to people telling me their video game is unique when I know, stripped of all its bells and whistles, this is yet another game with the precise same core mechanic. Aim this cursor at this thing in this virtual world and pull the trigger.
The wave of games I saw at that particular E3 have come and gone. People bought them. People played them. But now? The malaise is growing. Titanfall, perhaps one of the most innovative examples of the genre in years has come and gone. Sales were solid, perhaps unspectacular. In terms of discussion? More people, it seems, were more interested in talking about Dark Souls II.
Destiny: a game Activision has invested $500 million in. A new gameplay trailer is released and the general feeling amongst the sites and forums I've visited? A vague disappointment. Hollow. A realisation that this game might not reinvent the wheel.
Call of Duty: a core set of gamers have been underwhelmed by the CoD series for — seemingly — years now, but there's a sense that it's going mainstream. Sales are down; slightly, but down. And enthusiasm for the next generation of Call of Duty games seems — in my mind — a little less intense than in previous years.
Halo: a series in decline. A series that has rapidly been losing relevance. How excited are we about a new game in the series. A little excited? At one point the hype would have the raw capacity to melt chunks from the surface of the moon. Now it feels like just. another. video. game.
Just. Another. Shooter.
It feels like gamers, as consumers, are getting over shooting things in the face. And pretty damn soon I suspect they'll become wary of paying for the privilege. It's all just too familiar, too worn out. We need a new verb to enjoy. Once upon a time we jumped. We punched and occasionally kicked things. Then we mostly just shot things. We've been shooting things for too long. What will our new verb be?
If I had to take a guess, I'd say that verb will be 'explore'. I think it will be about new places to simply 'be' and I think virtual reality will be part of that. I think mysterious worlds like No Man's Sky will be part of that. I think the impulse and feeling of becoming embedded and invested in these universes will begin to take more precedence. I've already seen this in the lore of Dark Souls; in the world of Mass Effect. I hope that's where Destiny takes us.
I think I want to shoot less. Now I want to explore.