Gaming has become something different, something alien, something…a little strange. Where once clichéd science-fiction plots and ‘“Luke, I am your father” moments’ would have done, we now have something that approaches the sensible, dare I even say, intelligent and riveting? It seems gaming is no longer about grimacing through B-movie plots and atmosphere, it’s a little more mature of late.
Possibly my favorite game ever to be released is Half-Life; while it’s still by all means magnificent and glorious, one Wikipedia view at the overall plot is farcical. At the time it was ground breaking, but take a stroll through the Black Mesa Complex now and you’re awash with questions; why is Gordon Freeman part-Scientist, part-RoboCop? Why is the Complex so difficult to navigate, but always handy in a crisis? Why does Freeman not utter a single word?!
While this may invite criticism and flat out rejection, gaming’s strong point has never been storytelling or even in delivering any kind of spectacle. These aspects have always seemed more of an afterthought for developers. Over the last couple of years, however, things have started to slowly change. No longer are stories written by lead designers with the imagination of a ten-year-old; real grown ups with real credentials are taking the hot seat and delivering great interactive narratives.
You only have to look at the recent releases to see progress in action. Take for instance, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. While the plot for this game is technically known as ‘Bat Shit Crazy,’ the overall presentation is immensely impressive.
Everything about this game is reminiscent of a big budget Hollywood film. From the voice acting to the overall polish and gleam, this game, love it or hate it, is a step above and beyond what is normally expected of the medium.
The hot topic about Modern Warfare 2 is of course ‘that level.’ You know the one; it involves Russians, an airport and heavy duty machine rifles. To be quite honest, in terms of winning over conservative Mum and Dad, it isn’t gaming’s finest hour.
However, for those mature enough to appreciate what Infinity Ward was attempting, you cannot claim to have not felt the sheer gravity of your actions when you played that section. It was the first time that I had felt completely immersed in a gaming experience. I physically struggled with myself before opening fire on the crowd. Surely if cinema can evoke powerful feelings, gaming can also?
Although I have mentioned that Modern Warfare 2′s storyline is a bit mental, the game does show that the medium is becoming more mature and in the right context it can be moving, thought provoking and an aesthetic spectacle with all the appeal of a big budget blockbuster.
This change can be seen in other recent games, such as Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. This is a game with great gameplay, but also a storyline befitting of George Lucas to boot. The characters are instantly likable and Nathan Drake is so well designed and acted that it’s hard to believe he’s merely digital.
After playing a game as spectacular as Uncharted I usually recline and think of how this would make a terrific movie, but now it’s almost the complete opposite. Subjecting a game like Uncharted to a static, non-interactive medium like film would detract from the experience. The magic of this game lies in the fact that it delivers entertaining storytelling and great gameplay in one. If this trend would to continue, surely it’s only a matter of time before films are all but beaten by video games?
So, slowly but surely gaming is becoming as attractive and engrossing as your average Hollywood flick. Of course, it isn’t the first time the medium has gotten storyline right. Take the brilliant Lucas Arts games for instance; my childhood was awash with in-jokes about Guybrush Threepwood and Monkey Island catchphrases. All the ingredients have always been there, but now developers are really putting everything together.
If things carry on in such form it may no longer be strange or wrong to admit to any passer-by that a tear was shed when Sephiroth murdered Aeris. And maybe you could even confide in a significant other that you felt a piece of your soul raped when Max Payne went to Rio and lost his hair. Just maybe, we gamers will garner the respect and honour deserving of our choice of past time.
As this generation of console trundles on it seems that we’re seeing the advent of a new type of gaming, with stunning and spectacular set pieces unfolding before our joystick handling forms. At last, gaming is coming of age and taking its rightful place as an entertainment medium that’s ready to be as respected as the next.
How long will it be, I wonder, until we see a time when video game directors, such as Hideo Kojima, Shigeru Miyamoto, Warren Spector and Ken Levine are as admired as much as great film directors like Ridley Scott and Steven Spielberg? Will there be a time when their upcoming titles are as anticipated as their film counterparts? Perhaps they already are, with games bringing in more entertainment dollars.
With such quality steam rolling to our beloved consoles, surely it’s a great time to be a gamer. It has never been finer to avoid sunlight, trap yourself in a darkened room and jibber around with your thumbs.