I’m not sure if I would call it a trend just yet, but three of the gaming industry’s most popular titles–BioShock Infinite, The Walking Dead, and The Last of Us–have a particularly paternal bent. The story arcs for these titles revolve around the playable character protecting a younger, somewhat-defenseless character from the game’s central antagonist. Though, in BioShock’s case, Elizabeth turns out to be a little more powerful than we originally thought.
Now, according to the ESA, the video game industry’s primary source for this kind of important statistical information, the average age of a gamer is about 30 years old . Every time I report this statistic, the comments are inevitably flooded with 13-year-old kids who want to argue that they’re the industry’s primary demographic, but, unfortunately for them, this isn’t the case. And I’m starting to wonder if game developers are beginning to play on the paternal psychology of middle-aged gamers.
If so, it’s about time.
Hollywood has been doing this for years. Movies like Liam Neeson’s 2008 brawler Taken and Mel Gibson’s 1996 flick Ransom have a tendency to perform very well at the box office, but video games hadn’t really jumped onto the bandwagon until recently. And it’s really too bad; it’s not difficult to craft an emotionally complex story arc using this framework. These narratives tug on our evolutionary instincts and force players to make some difficult decisions.
And considering that video games are the only form of truly interactive storytelling, the effect is amplified when players are actually forced to take responsibility for the life of this person in real time.
I’ll admit that I could be a little overly sensitive to this kind of storytelling. I have a two-year-old kid who wouldn’t fair very well in the zombie apocalypse, so it can get a little stressful when Ellie is about to get torn to shreds by clickers.
Though, my kid isn’t typically thrilled when I decide to play video games instead of sitting on the floor with him and a giant pile of oversized LEGOs. Am I a bad real-life parent if I choose to protect Clementine from the zombies in The Walking Dead rather than play with my actual child? Probably.
Either way, I really hope that the trend continues. Video games shouldn’t be entirely about explosions or fast-paced action. The industry is finally starting to explore storytelling in a compelling way, and developers aren’t shy about breaking down demographic walls in order to tell a good story.
Now it’s time for me to go watch Parenthood, eat a bowl of ice cream, and sob.