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Opinion: Video games deserve better

(Photo Courtesy of Max Pixel)

There have been tens of thousands of video game titles — by conservative estimates — across different platforms, spanning unique genres and reaching millions of people dating as far back as 1961. According to a Variety article, this has culminated in almost 70 percent of American adults playing video games in some capacity. Despite this ubiquity, there’s still a reluctance to really embrace video games and recognize their cultural value.

One contributing factor to this reluctance is that not many types of games make it to the mainstream. A list of the best-selling video games of all time is made up mostly of Mario games, Call of Duty titles and Pokemon. The sameness of these popular titles gives the impression that video games are limited in the experiences they can provide.

This same logic applies to mobile games, where many people get their video game fix. While mobile games have become popular, the chart-topping games are usually pick-up-and-play games, endless runners like Subway Surfers, and puzzle games like Candy Crush. While these games offer an easy gateway into gaming, they also limit popular perceptions of video games (and mobile gaming especially).

According to an iD Tech article, there are 49 subgenres of games. These subgenres include platformers like Super Mario Bros, which involve getting through areas by traversing platforms and dealing with enemies, to “sandbox” role-playing games like Skyrim that offer open worlds for players to explore and interact with few limitations, to “logic games” like Monument Valley II that deal in puzzles meant to challenge a player’s ability to recognize patterns and apply reason.

Within each subgenre there is almost unbelievable variance. From premise to mechanics to aesthetics, each game within a subgenre can offer a unique experience. A good example is Cuphead, a “run and gun” action game released in September of 2017. Its 1930s cartoon art style captivated the attention of the gaming community, and it’s easy to see why. The game looks amazing and is so completely different from the usual fare. And this is just one example of the amazingly different art styles displayed in indie games.

Another consequence of the lack of diversity in popular, mainstream games is that the ability for video games to deliver compelling narratives is often overlooked. Gone Home is a perfect example of a game that strayed from the formula of popular games to tell a very human story. In the indie game, the player is Katie Greenbriar, a 21-year-old who comes back to her family home after studying abroad only to find it empty. In the game the player walks around the house picking up notes and other items, and figuring out what has happened to her family while she was away. The only actions the player takes are walking and picking up items. No enemies, no action, just exploration and unravelling a touching narrative of interpersonal drama. It’s a story as rich and moving as you’d find in any novel, but told in a way unique to video games.

“Video game experiences go way past what is shown in the most popular games. Judging video games as a medium by those games alone would be like judging movies based on summer blockbusters.”

Video game experiences go way past what is shown in the most popular games. Judging video games as a medium by those games alone would be like judging movies based on summer blockbusters. While those types of movies are fun and occupy an important space in the cinematic landscape, they represent a tiny fraction of all movies. Outside of summer blockbusters there are beautiful indie films, moving dramas, romantic comedies, musicals and so much more — something for everyone. Video games are the same way.

Unlike movies, however, video games are seen as something only certain people can really enjoy. While many people may engage with video games on a casual level, the perception of who “gamers” are is very specific — namely, young men. In reality, however, the average age of people who play video games is 35 and the gender ratio is about even.

Video games can deliver an exhilarating combat-fueled adventure, a quiet, contemplative story, demanding puzzles, and countless other experiences. It’s a medium with endless potential that’s severely undervalued due to fundamental misconceptions. Video games are fun, have something to offer everyone, and have undeniable cultural and artistic merit.

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