I hate to break it to you, but there is an increasing sense of fanaticism seeping into us gaming folks these days — an uncanny zeal for our favorite franchise, eerie fervor over endings, and a disconcerting amount of fixation with reviews and ratings. The year 2012 hasn’t ended yet, and we’ve had more than our fair share of debacles and flat tires, with the community ranting for Resident Evil 6 being the most recent event.
And not just gamers, companies are in on the ride as well. Isn’t it a bit too eccentric when Irrational Games (who are developing BioShock Infinite, by the way) now have a requirement that an applicant for a position in their company must have “credit on at least one game with an 85+ Average Meta Critic Review Score”? Or how about Bethesda refusing to give Obsidian Entertainment their bonuses because they scored 84 instead of 85 on the same site. This may just be a start, but a positive one it is not. One single review could cost a game developing studio millions of dollars, or prevent a very talented and passionate developer from applying for a position.
Oh, take me back to the time when purchases were made on recommendations from friends, games were bought because we wanted to try out something new. There was a joy of discovering, the thrill of delight. Admittedly, those were the Wild West days of video gaming, and yes, most of the big name developers and publishers we see now (EA, Activision, Blizzard and friends) were still in their teenage years. But what these behemoths are doing now has got a lot to do with the attitude of an average gamer. And not to sound ageist, but a young average gamer.
You see, once you have seen certain things, lived a particular time, or experienced a specific feeling, the natural reactions are of improvement and advancements. Most gamers over the age of 25 would attest to this. But on the other hand, a young gamer brought up on the diet of AAA titles is yet to go through all this. And the saddest part of this whole ordeal is that he or she never may. They may not see video gaming innovation if it was staring them right in the eyes. And even if they do, they will put it aside in favor of the newest sensation that they are being told about in the media.
Almost all the major IPs of today deliver an experience that is neither disappointing, nor surprising. A stalemate, if ever there was one. And I like my gaming to both disappoint (occasionally) and surprise (frequently). The inane amount of budgets and insane amount of work that goes into developing each AAA title means that almost everyone in the industry plays it safe. Minus the indie developers, of course — they are the ones that are driving innovation in a field that has forsaken the very notion.
What we need is to go back to the time of “Me” gaming. The “If I like it, I’m playing it” gaming. Not an experience dictated by the press or community, or one based on numbers and statistics. Video gaming is one of those rarest things in the world that is part art and part science — and its future depends on not killing the art part. Whether by outcries over endings (Mass Effect 3) or sucking the soul out of a franchise (Resident Evil 6), ironically, due to “fear” (ha, this is rich) of economics.
If we are not an obsessed bunch already, we sure are getting there, title by title, review by review.