It’s no secret that the First-Person Shooter genre reigns supreme in the realm of gaming. Platformers had their run, sure, but once shooters came along and pushed passed the growing pains of “violence in games” controversies, it picked up a seemingly unstoppable momentum. It’s become so prominent, that many popular genres have been largely pushed aside to the indie realm. Why is that, exactly?
My first inclination is to suggest that it is because it clicked so well with computer gamers. Adventure games had been quite popular for their point-and-click nature and, in a way, shooters are of a similar ilk. Mapping a targeting reticle to a mouse kind of just makes sense. Throw in the fact that computers were the platform people went to for online gaming and it only makes sense for the genre to blow up.
Console developers saw the potential. Before long, games like GoldenEye 007 were becoming dorm room staples, as they embraced splitscreen multiplayer. A culture sprung up around them. “Screen cheaters,” entered the lexicon. A language around the games, and an understanding of its mechanics, quickly developed.
I, once again, believe this is because of the intuition of the match between shooting and first-person. Swords are cool, yeah, but first-person combat hasn’t really been mastered yet. But put a gun in front of the perspective, map shooting to a trigger on the controller, and a target reticle in the middle of the screen and you have something that feels natural. Easily understood. Fair. You point and you shoot. You take cover. You don’t want people pointing at you.
Then there’s the fact that, really, guns are the modern weapon. Swords are more fitting for fantasy titles, and fantasy, as a genre, is far more niche. Far more nerdy. War has a universal appeal, whatever that may say about society. It also fits a competitive mindset the same way a fighting game might.
Once consoles moved online, the genre would grow even bigger. People could effortlessly bond with multiple groups of peers, or even make new friends online. These games, more than most genres, embraced multiplayer. Fans of the genre had an incentive to recruit their friends.
But why hasn’t the genre stagnated? Why have shooters been the biggest games for decades? I imagine it’s because they are versatile. Developers can tell a story in almost any setting and use the readily understood shooting genre as the medium. Different vehicles, weapons, and mobility options can entice. Novel modes, like Battle Royale, and new monetization models, like free-to-play, keep things growing. It’s a genre that changes just as much as it stays the same, and there’s an elegance to that.
With the genre’s ability to borrow from other genres like, say, roleplaying games, and the new tendency towards cross-platform play, I can only imagine it sticking around for a while yet. It is, simply, a staple of gaming the same way sports games, platformers, and fighting games are, although it’s a staple that seems to hold the most power. It’s not even a genre I particularly love but, dammit, I respect it and its ability to hook me every now and again. Like I’ve said: it’s versatile as heck.