If you think about it, video games as a medium were more or less defined by a fundamental sense of weirdness. The earliest commercially available games, those on the Atari 2600, were too simplistic to convey much personality, but the advent of the Nintendo Entertainment System brought something entirely new to the table. Super Mario Bros. is emblematic of video gaming as a whole, yet we’ve become entirely numb to how outright bizarre it is. Who could’ve guessed that the story of a plumber who jumps on alien creatures and eats magic mushrooms in a psychedelic world would form the basis for what is ostensibly the most well-known video game of all time?
In subsequent decades, video games have become increasingly sophisticated. With the advent of more powerful technology came a renewed focus on improving visual fidelity, which in turn led to big-budget games becoming increasingly cinematic. The desire to achieve “realism” in video games prompted many developers to work towards recreating our own world in these virtual spaces. First-person shooters, particularly those depicting war and other realistic conflicts, skyrocketed in popularity, and they remain the most commercially-viable genre in the gaming industry.
World War II shooters no longer dominate the gaming space – another fad left behind by the mercurial whims of an ever-changing market, no doubt – yet titles like Call of Duty still sell incredibly well because they make adjustments to their thematic material, if not their core gameplay systems. That’s all well and good, but I see these sorts of games as the fertilizer the industry needs to grow the truly special stuff, the odd and unusual experiences that make gaming more than the brainless, violent hobby people like Jack Thompson think it is.
If gaming is to continue evolving from more than a technological standpoint, it desperately needs fresh ideas. For every Battlefield, I want to see a Death Stranding. For every Puzzle & Dragons, I want to see a Katamari Damacy. Certainly, not everyone enjoys every type of game – I’ve made it abundantly clear that most shooters, aside from those that verge on fantastic like this year’s Overwatch , are not my gig – but I find that the weirdest and most experimental games are those that tend to stick with me the longest.
Oftentimes, they even pioneer concepts that later become mainstream. Metal Gear Solid turned the idea of playing as a battle-hardened soldier on its head by encouraging the player to actively avoid conflict instead of seeking it out. Now stealth mechanics are an action-genre staple. Bravely Default and Undertale delivered unforgettable stories by breaking the fourth wall in new and exciting ways. Dark Souls and Bloodborne proved that dark and difficult games still have a place in today’s market, laying the foundation for Let It Die ‘s bizarre take on the formula.
In our digital future, it’s easier than ever for smaller developers to get their games published thanks to platforms like Steam Greenlight and Playism. And while I would assert that Greenlight in particular has its own share of problems thanks to overly lenient curation, it has also brought a wealth of new and unusual ideas to the gaming space. I want to see this trend continue. For many of us, gaming is an escape from a world that is often unfriendly – especially in a year like 2016 – so why not escape into a world that is fresh and creative instead of to another war-torn landscape?