Just like the time of WWII games before it, the era of single-player rust-colored shooters seems to coming to an end. It’s now all about colour and multiplayer shenanigans.
Nintendo’s Splatoon took the world by storm earlier this year with its stylized and vibrant look. Blizzard’s Overwatch and Gearbox’s Battleborn are simultaneously in the works, suggesting this has been a mediated change that has been happening for a while. Then there’s also Block N Load, which adds Minecraft-style block placement into the mix.
The focus on fun for fun’s sake might be a recent mainstream trend, but it has not gone unnoticed by some. Concerns are being raised about how this might affect gaming as a medium. But before we call the move a bait-and-switch before it’s even established, let’s look at how we can all benefit from it.
Should we fear bright colours?
Will a slip back into late-90s cartoony styles that might hurt the hard-won credibility of gaming as a mature media form? After all, Psychonauts was initially dismissed as a children’s game.
I don’t think this is likely to happen now, though – it’s not 2005 anymore and gaming culture has grown a lot in that time. This switch might be a bold move, but it’s an overdue one. Mid-to-late 00s washed-out shooters were gaming’s equivalent of your middle school goth period. Edginess is not synonymous with maturity, and in many cases, it’s a transparent over-compensation. It takes a special brand of grown-up to be able to admit you enjoy fun.
But what about parents? Will they be able to tell the difference between cartoon-styled games appropriate for different age groups?
Yes, I think so. The adults that make calls about how gaming affects their children grew up with games, unlike baby boomers. The time of Fox News-style fearmongering of the medium is over. Parents understand the difference between Skylanders and The Binding of Isaac, for instance, despite both looking cartoony.
Adult consumers accusing developers of child-baiting is something we have to worry about less and less as they become more in touch with the medium than the previous generation.
Will a focus on entertainment undermine gaming’s artistic potential?
Battleborn ostensibly sacrifices meaningful story in favour of maximizing fun value while Splatoon fans scrape at the bottom of the game to find anything resembling a coda. Yes, we’d all hate it if games suddenly became associated with shallow and disposable entertainment, but that is unlikely to happen with the speeding the legitimization of art games. It’s a phenomenon that is growing in parallel, which means you will get always get the choice. And who knows, there might even be a fusion of genres. Neon-colored Hotline: Miami taps into this already, even if it’s not an FPS. The game is about how having no meaning can be a meaning. Whoa, meta.
I don’t know, man. I’m still suspicious of change.
This is nothing new. Borderlands (2009) always had a focus on self-parody, while Garry’s Mod before it (2004) lay the foundation for pointless FPS fun with friends. Valve played it safe with Team Fortress 2 (2007) with the use of desaturated colors, but the move was already developing there in earnest too.
Even if the trend becomes ubiquitous, there’s still an enormous backlog of traditional shooters from previous generations to play, if such is preferred over the new style. That’s without even saying anything of the indies. The indie market is becoming so enormous that some fear it might take over Steam.
I am hopeful about the change toward colour because it means we get more choice. It might also mean that the cynicism of the gaming community that has been personified in edgy shooters could be easing up a bit.
And frankly, I’d love to see more genuinity and commitment to enjoyment. Isn’t that what the FPS genre started out as being about?