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We’re all adults here, right? What? We’re not? Well the gamerlings amongst us will one day grow up to be adult gamers, and one day you snot-nosed brats will understand the pain of us geezers, so this will serve as a manifesto for all gamers everywhere, since we all eventually join the creak-kneed club, and dammit if we aren’t cranky as hell about the immaturity still festering in our favorite artistic/entertainment medium. And developers have no excuse, because they’re all adults. Well, in theory at least. So here are the things we adults want to see in our games, because we’re actually not the boob-ogling, guffawing at exploding heads man/woman-babies the industry seems to think we are.
That’s why we want to see…
Look, we have nothing against kids and teenagers in principle. We were teenagers about seventy years ago so we remember having an inflated sense of superiority (also, dinosaur saddles) so the young’uns are just dandy as members of society. However, the internet has created a wholly unprecedented and utterly unnatural social soup, and this shit frankly has to stop. Outside of the internet and birthday parties of our friends’ offspring, adults will never choose to hang out with children. We don’t go to the park and play ultimate Frisbee with random kids we don’t know. We don’t sit down to have intellectual discussions about science fiction novels with eight-year-olds.
Above: Online gaming sometimes feels like this
So why the hell do we have to do these things in online games and internet forums? We want servers in online games where only ages 18+ are allowed. We want the same for discussion boards. Yes, we realize this shit isn’t easy to implement, but we don’t care. It’s absurd that every other aspect of society has a way of maintaining the natural order of “kids should be seen and not heard” (and preferably not seen either) but in gaming we can have a screaming larval human butt its way into a sober, polite game of adult competition. Yes, we know that in the days of arcades there would be comingling of adults and children, but being in-person made a huge difference: you knew right away you were dealing with a child, and the threat of punching made children a lot less arrogant.
Above: Child discipline sure has declined in quality since the old days
The same holds true for gaming discussions. We could save a shedload of our precious time if we knew we were having conversations with adults. In current forums, the moment we find out someone is under eighteen we ignore them because their opinions are stupid – sorry teenagers, but you have to know that everyone in their teens suffers from a condition where they think they know everything and think they’re smarter than they really are. We know this because we were once those people. Once you get a twinkle of maturity and a glimmer of world perspective suddenly you think you’re fricken’ Plato, and we hate to break it to you, but you don’t know shit. We’re not saying a teenager can’t contribute to an intellectual discussion, but the few of you with your anuses not wrapped around your necks would be minor collateral damage in our proposed 18+ only forums. Besides, then you could be the big fish amongst your peers and teach them a thing or two about critical thinking.
Again, we know it would not be easy to enforce 18+ servers and forums, but surely it can be done, because it damn well needs to be done.
Nudity and sex are awesome. Getting these things in our entertainment makes up for the sad fact that we can’t play with toys anymore. Movies and books have provided a lot of immature portrayals of titillation, but these media have also figured out how to depict adults’ idea of fun in tasteful ways, and complex ways, and story-relevant ways. We’re not talking about prudish approaches to sex – hell, we don’t even require them to be tasteful, although we like that approach also. We’re talking about a perspective on sex that’s deeper than just “hurr hurr lookit the naked gurls.” Even supposing some games have managed to get past thinking that sexy = premature ejaculation, they still haven’t gotten past awkwardly shoehorning sex into stories where it feels totally unnatural and the kind of thing that would embarrass us if anyone walked in when it was happening.
Let’s take a look at two examples of the more “mature” portrayals of sex we have so far: Heavy Rain and Mass Effect. Potential spoilers ahead (although we’ll leave out as much plot detail as possible). In Heavy Rain, the actual sex scene, despite being kind of ridiculous looking, does a decent job of at least making the sex seem like something between two tender adults and not the typical porno-style bouncing and screaming. We have to give them credit for that. Yet the timing of the sex is beyond ridiculous: two characters decide to hump when there is a freaking clock ticking on the life of one of their children. Not only is this unbelievable and doesn’t fit with these characters’ established personalities, but it’s also a hoary storytelling cliché: two people in extreme circumstances are drawn together magnetically, releasing their pent up passions the only way they know how. To an adult whose idea of sex doesn’t just come from movies, this is not a mature portrayal.
Above: The only word that comes into our mind is "Ew"
Mass Effect falls into a similar trap. Again we have people under extreme circumstances, under a ticking clock, deciding “Hey, might as well bang even though the entire universe is waiting for us to save its ass.” Then the characters have sex in the engine room (or whatever that room is called). We can see two major problems with this: anyone could just walk in and catch them (or are they hoping for that?), and that floor is not going to be comfortable – yeah sex on a hard kitchen table might be sexy but we’re talking about steel grating, which would surely remove the skin from your ass/knees. Then there’s the other silly thing: they have sex with their clothes on. This annoys us because despite the reality that people do sometimes have sex with clothes on, it’s highly unlikely they would do that the first time they had sex. Come on – they’re going to want to see the goods. And you know what? So do we. Show us some freakin’ nudity during the sex, and not just of the women.
Does our asking to see nudity make us sound immature? Sorry, but there’s a reason why the word “adult” when added to “entertainment” translates to “porn.” We’re not saying we need hardcore pornography in our games, but we also don’t like that the industry keeps things wimpy and safe because we’re sharing this medium with children, and we’re sharing it in a way that other media don’t have to. A goddamn PG-13 movie can show nudity but if a game does the same, it won’t get anything less than an M rating and even then it has to be displayed in a carefully constructed context so as not to freak anyone out. A sign of a medium growing up is when it stops worrying about freaking people out.
We love that games have finally started to tackle this stuff. We’re sure you can find some obscure game from thirty years ago that was super clever satire, but attempts at intellectual themes in games didn’t really hit the mainstream until recently. We’d say that BioShock did a decent job at tackling multiple heady ideas, even if a lot of it wasn’t ultra-subtle. Yet the way the game subverted entrenched tropes of videogame empowerment fantasies revolving around choice and control was pretty damn clever. It unfortunately lost its way toward the end and, possibly afraid of delivering a “disappointing” climax, wussed out and provided a bog-standard videogamey boss battle, when instead it could have done something really mind-blowing (like find a way to toy with the player’s sense of agency even more).
Braid built itself on a clever premise: construct gameplay around the idea of rewinding time and then make a story about how [spoilerish] we can never go back and undo our worst mistakes. If it had left things at that simple level it probably would have been hailed as a brilliant allegory game. Instead, it piled on staggeringly pretentious text in an attempt to be “complex” or “artsy.” It’s a common mistake for artists – have a big idea, but then instead of allowing the idea to shine on its own, try to dress it up because you’re worried no one will notice your amazing idea if you keep it simple.
We love both of these games because not only are they great purely as games, but they are stepping stones to something bigger. Developers can study these games and learn what to do and what not to do when attempting serious discourse in a game. Portal 2 is a fantastic example of how to add a layer of depth and symbolism to a game without beating it over the player’s head – if a game can spawn this type of analysis then we’re headed in the right direction. But developers: please study the work of others so we can move forward and not tread water in the mire of obviousness and pretentiousness.
We don’t have any problem with violence in entertainment. We’re adults, not pussies. What we do have a problem with is how developers, either through a lack of creativity or a fear of risking their jobs on breaking out of the mold, almost always rely on the act of killing things to make up the main component of gameplay. Games are inherently about overcoming obstacles, and enemies with independent AI serve as interesting obstacles. It’s also just fun to make heads explode. We understand (and don’t bemoan) the reality that combat satisfies the caveman impulses in many gamers to hunt and conquer our enemies. Aside from the issue of this being an extremely male-centric mentality to what constitutes fun (although we’re not saying women can’t also enjoy a good headshot), the saturation of the industry of this ruling type of gameplay means that killing shit gets monotonous after a while.
We love Tomb Raider and Uncharted. Both series offer a mix of combat, exploration and puzzles. Tomb Raider’s combat has always been terrible, but it’s clearly in the games because the developers are afraid exploring a bunch of empty tombs would get boring. Notice that we said we love the games, but that the combat is terrible. The obvious conclusion is that we love exploring things and solving puzzles, and begrudgingly accept the combat. We also love encountering a T-rex because that shit is scary, but who says we have to kill it? Why can’t we just run from it, or maybe solve a puzzle that traps it? Tomb Raider does exploration and puzzle solving better than almost any game out there, so why not just toss out the combat altogether so we can get more exploration and puzzles, and with the resources saved on not programming and designing enemies and weapons, the exploration and puzzles could be even better.
Above: It's okay if this is the most fun part of your game
Uncharted does combat much more deftly than Tomb Raider, but it has too damn much of it. Both Uncharted games throw so many enemies at you that it becomes a boring slog at times (and also makes Nathan Drake seem like a genocidal maniac). Again, Uncharted is great, but after playing years of Tomb Raider our first impression of Uncharted was “Tomb Raider Light” – this was because everything other than the combat (climbing, puzzles) felt dumbed down. We actually think Uncharted 2 is better than any Tomb Raider game, but it still features slightly weaker non-combat elements. We argue that if the combat wasn’t such a focus (or was thrown out), Uncharted’s climbing and puzzling could potentially surpass anything these types of games have achieved. We know that suggesting Uncharted have no combat is absurd to many fans, so take this as merely an example of how combat can affect other game elements and not a demand to have a pacifist Nathan Drake.
Games are special to adults because they touch on activities we loved as children: climbing things, jumping over things, role-playing, exploring, puzzle-solving, and yes, pretending to fight things. We spent hours climbing trees without needing to also pretend we were shooting bad guys. There’s no reason we would be bored doing the same thing in games. Shadow of the Colossus was ultimately about killing things, but 98% of the game was riding a horse and climbing on things. ICO was at its least fun when those goddamn shadow monsters showed up. We know there are some games out there that don’t center on violence, but we want more of them. There are only so many ways you can punch, shoot, or eviscerate something.