What adults want from games

This industry is all grown up - it's time for our games to act like it

Actually witty humor

While games have made some significant, admirable forays into adult themes and writing, the medium is still in its infancy when it comes to comedy. Games are rarely funny – partly because very few developers even try comedy, and partly because when they do they are severely lacking in wit. The vast majority of “comedy” games focus almost entirely on these low-hanging fruit: obvious pop culture references, painfully non-clever parody, stereotypes, pratfalls, or the old-timey fallback for those without a funny bone in their bodies, bathroom humor. Comedy, despite what some hacks might tell you, can’t be taught. You either are naturally funny, or you will never be funny.


Above: Not clever, not witty, not funny

It’s the same problem games have always had with writing in general: game designers and programmers aren’t necessarily the best people to do the writing, and they also aren’t necessarily the funniest people at a company. Devs: please make more comedy games, but before you do, take a walk around the office – if you see some guy in accounting who always cracks everyone up, hire that dude as your writer. Or take the professional route and hire a comedian to make your game funny. You know how many comedians out there are desperate for work and exposure? And every great comedian started off in that position, so there are more great ones out there waiting to be discovered.


Above: Tim Schafer is the rare designer who is also funny. Psychonauts is the rare game that is actually witty


Three-dimensional characters

This ties directly into the previous entry. The era of unprofessional writing in videogames is dead. Some developers haven’t gotten the memo yet, so here it is: unless you’ve published fiction or written a game that got glowing feedback from critics and fans about the writing, put the damn keyboard down. We all know that game developers secretly desire to be movie directors or writers (ever seeWing Commander? Get ready for lulz), but enough is enough. Leave the writing to the writers, but even then, hire writers who understand the fundamental rule for establishing tension in a story: create characters the audience cares about. Many writers, and successful ones at that, either don’t understand this rule or have so little personality of their own that they don’t know how to create characters that aren’t cardboard cutouts. Conflict is exciting when characters have depth and therefore seem human, because then we don’t want bad things to happen to them.

We had an extremely difficult time thinking of game characters that aren’t personality-free or who exhibit more than a single personality trait. We’re sure there are others out there, but the best we could come up with was Monkey and Trip from Enslaved. These characters start as one note – Monkey is angry, Trip is scared and desperate – but they evolve, showing vulnerability, unexpected strength, rash decisions, and even changing attitudes. We’re not saying they are super-deep characters, but they’re a step up from the non-entities that populate nearly every corner of gaming. It’s not easy making three-dimensional characters, but then anything that makes a medium grow up is never easy. Note that Enslaved was written by Alex Garland, a successful novelist and screenwriter (hint, hint, devs).


Above: Grizzled, grizzled, grizzled, female and grizzled, bearded and grizzled, bald and grizzled


Non-sexist portrayals of women

This shit is seriously starting to get on our nerves, and it seems like it’s actually getting worse in the industry. Man, if we ever want games to be taken seriously, this embarrassing trend needs to get reigned in. But let’s assume we don’t care if outsiders take games seriously (because mostly we don’t care). This crap is embarrassing and insulting to us, as adults. At this point in our lives, we’ve seen naked women (in person!), so scantily-clad virtual women aren’t fascinating to us. Worse, for the female gamers among us this tired-ass bullshit presents a whole other host of annoyances that should be obvious to anyone who isn’t sexist, so we don’t need to insult you by outlining them here. Instead let’s talk about why adult men are sick of this crap.


Above: Sigh...

The most obvious problem is that is makes us look like infantile pigs by proxy. You can’t play Bayonetta in front of a grown woman and not look like an asshole. A less obvious reason is variety: assuming we still want attractive women in our games, we’d like to see body types other than “huge chest, tiny waist, baby face.” But let’s step back from the trap of assuming the male heterosexual gaze is so important – we still have the problem of wholly unrealistic universes populated by one type of woman. It breaks our immersion when every damn woman we meet has massive cleavage hanging out. Not only do all their bodies look the same, but they also all dress provocatively? Even if you try to justify it by saying it’s a sci-fi universe where everyone is genetically perfect or whatever, we don’t give a damn – it’s boring when everyone looks the same.


Above: Now we're talkin'

Let’s take another step back and shift focus away from the physical. How about those female characters? Although many games have moved away from the helpless princess needing to be saved, the only other option is still embarrassingly and obviously the product of a limited immature male mind. Almost without fail the “empowered” female character is just a man with tits. We’re talking about giving the girl a huge gun and having her callously murder bad guys with a smirk. That’s videogames’ idea of a strong woman? Guys, the opposite of helpless is not steroids.


Above: And then there's Metroid: Other M, which is flat-out offensive in its notion that even a female warrior is a quivering, subordinate ninny utterly dependent on the leadership and reassurance of a man. We're frankly disturbed that there are men who exist in the 21st century who actually see women like this

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

My new approach to play all games on Hard mode straight off the bat has proven satisfying. Sure there is some frustration, but I've decided it's the lesser of two evils when weighed against the boredom of easiness that Normal difficulty has become in the era of casual gaming.
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