And it's not like anyone has to invent a new genre. There are plenty out there that are just perfect for games. Seriously. So many that we've managed to write a feature all about them.
The Wild West
Current examples: Sunset Riders, Red Dead Revolver, Gun
This dearth is about to be rectifiedin what looks like fine style by Rockstar's upcoming Red Dead Redemption, but come on. Where are the rest of the cowboy simulators? The genre is tailor made for the excesses of games. We're talking about an era and place in which the gloves were off, the rules were non-existant, every establishment was stacked to the roof with hot and cold running hookers, and carrying a gun in public was as expected as wearing pants in church.
The setting has action by the boatload, provides some stunning vistas just primed and ready for HD gaming, and most importantly, makes it completely plausible to have exploding barrels and mine-cart levels scattered around all over the place. It's also brilliant for drama. If you want broad-strokes, action-packed storytelling, there are stacks of immediately identifiable, black-and white sterotypes to use. If you want something subtler and more morally ambigious, there's nowhere better to explore that than a frontier setting still hammering out the rules and conventions of modern society.
Current examples: Max Payne, Max Payne 2
Again, Rockstar is set to make a massive splash inthe genre of the '40s detective story when L.A. Noire (Rockstar's typo, not ours) is released later this year, so expect a glut of shadowy, smokey period pieces to appear in its wake. But however things are set to improve in coming years, we can't help but feel sad for all the missed opportunities.
There is no classier setting for a dark story than the glamourous and lethal world of noir. And games have been appropriating its tropes for years. The cool but morally ambiguous anti-hero. The one good man fighting against a world of corruption. The corrupt world gone completely to hell. Every single hot-but-evil chick you've ever liked more than the wholesome alternative. Noir cemented all of them, and it pulls them all off in a way that's as slick as crude and twice as dark. It's the brainy way to do grit, crime and epic drama, and it's downright mortifying that barely any game since Max Payne 2 has successfully pulled us into its murky, seductive world.
Examples: The Monkey Island series,Ageof Booty, Sid Meier's Pirates
Like the Western, the swashbuckling pirate story is perfect for games because of the absolute freedomits setting allows. On the high seas, we're talking about a world outside the world, where exploration is a way of life and laws are about as relevent to daily business as ice skates are to pandas. Oh, and all transport comes with eight bloody huge cannons attached. Win? Win.
Imagine an open-world pirate game, or even an epic RPG. Given the uncharted nature of the world at the time, anything would be possible, and the game could be left open-ended, consistently expanded by DLC discoveries. You could even hook up with friends' ships online to form fleets for tricky missions and trade maps you've found to unlock previously unknown areas. Think of the free-form structure and vibrant explorability of Fable II blended with the infinite possibilities of the high seas, grog, and HD-rendered scurvy. It would be amazing.
Current examples: Medieval: Total War
'But what about every RPG ever?,' you may vitriolocally yell at your monitor, confident in the knowledge that yet another man on the internet is doing it wrong. You might even use some popular phrases such as "NOOB" and "LOL". But that's medieval fantasy. We're talking about proper, realistic medieval here. Throw out the elves and their buxom boobs of narratively vital ethereal splendour. Forget any hope that finding a special sword will solve all your adolescant awkwardness and instantly make you AREALMAN. We want a bleak, shit-encrusted, realistically oppressive medieval world, where a corrupt social hierachy rules and a respectable life expectancy is about 12.
By all means bring in arags-to-riches story, but we want to have work for it, rather than simply questing for a magical item of plot furtherment after being told its exact location in a convenient dream. We want to rise up from a gritty hamlet caked in mud and blood. We want to infiltrate the class system as a lowly arrow-fodder grunt. We want to become a properly hunted outlaw who's life is in constant, very real danger. We want to slowly accrue a resistance and eventually storm the local land owner's estate with not a single spell or piece of legendary armour to hand. We might have laughed atJustin's idea of a Robin Hood gameon TalkRadar UK a while ago, but treated like this, something similar could be brilliant.
Current examples: Heavy Rain (nearly)
Seriously. How about a game set completely in the real,normal world, with no fantasy or science fiction to it whatsoever? Boring? Far from it. When a world and its characters become too fantasical in an attempt to be interesting, they actually become about as believable and satisfying as an unpainted wooden cheesecake. And let's face it, setting games in sci-fi futures and fantasy kingdoms is now about as original as setting fire to wood to generate warmth. It's the case with real-world crime games and contemporary military shooters as well. They've just been done to death.
Why don't we scale things back a bit, to a believable, day-to-day human level. A game that values (and delivers) character and writing quality over spectacle will provide something more shocking and effecting than a hundred laser-packing nuclear cyborg dragons. We guarantee it. Real life is bigger and crazier and scarier and cooler than most people give it credit for.
Current examples: Freedom Fighters, Turning Point, Fallout 3
But the most thought-provoking settings are the ones that are almost like our own reality, but not quite. Literary fiction uses them all the time. Worlds where just one thing in history changed, and had a knock-on effect that then changed everything after it.
Games are trying more and more to make us question our actions and moralise over the worlds we interact with, so why not show us how our lives could have been if things had been justslightly different, and force us to deal with the fallout and the questionsthat raises?