Daily Reaction: Stupid Gaming Tropes That Hold Back The Industry as a Medium

January 8, 2014Written by Dan Oravasaari

Joel Oscar

Even though the games industry continues to become one of the biggest grossing forms of entertainment in the world, it still has a number of fundamental problems that are holding it back from being taken serious. With that, the Daily Reaction crew of Sebastian Moss and Dan Oravasaari speak out about what gaming tropes we are holding onto that need to be changed for us to evolve.

Dan: The discussion about whether or not games can ever be considered art is not a topic that will ever find a solution with everyone, as some people treat it as little more than an escapist medium, while to others it is storytelling at its best. The reality is that, much like the movie industry, there is a divergence between genres that allows both market places to exist. The only problem is that, as an industry, we are still trying to shed off certain tropes that have existed within our space, and it is our inability to move away from these historical habits that can keep even the most interesting set pieces feeling like little more than a child’s toy.

As it is impossible to cover all of the topics that can keep the experience from feeling like a half-hearted attempt at creativity or a profound experience, I will just bring up some of the more notable ones that have bothered me. The one that is by far the biggest problem within our industry is that, as a culture, we support things that are simply popular for popularity’s sake and not something based on quality. Much like how Snakes on a Plane became a thing, the biggest grossing games are generally not the titles that are the most well designed or thought out. Call of Duty has generally become the poster child for brainless gaming, and yet it still makes more money than almost anything that actually does contain a coherent plot or the slightest semblance of true emotionality.

But, moving past the depths of story based issues, easier concepts that can be changed by simply moving away from lazy design are things that we should embrace, especially as we are now in the ‘next-generation’ of gaming. Changing simply things like having bosses with giant out-of-place glowing orbs for you to shoot, are concepts that display the lack of intelligence by our developers and those that are the target audience. This paint-by-number idea is something that should be left for children or in the past, but instead is used as a cheap way out for developers to feed information without having to think it through themselves.

Sexualization in gaming has been a debated issue, where I can understand both ends of the spectrum, but find myself torn between each side, so I cannot simply say it shouldn’t exist. Exaggeration is a part of art, as it is a form of expression, but only when it is in the intent of its design and not simply a marketing tool to hook specific demographics. No other aspect of our industry is as improportionate to reality as the sexualization of the human body. But, this is a simple concept of life, as we are innately drawn to specific traits and avoiding the topic would be as detrimental as abusing it.

The problem is that we, as an industry, rarely embrace the true concepts of attraction, but instead market it as something to plaster on the wall instead of opening up ideas for debate. Romance, as a genre, is not something I can say I am the target audience for, but it does seem to be a truly forgotten (or underappreciated) realm within our industry that could open up people to understand the depths of storytelling through the most versatile medium available, video games.

Seb: It’s sad, we all allow really silly tropes to rear their head in gaming, despite their antiquated nature, and they hold us back. Due to their interactive nature, video games have the potential to be the most immersive experience of any medium. But it’s hard to get immersed if game developers are relying on unrealistic gameplay concepts.

Look at how gameplay is fed to you in a horrifically set way in most AAA games. Even if they claim not to be linear, missions are still generally poorly orchestrated affairs of unrealistic waves of enemies, that have absolutely no tactical knowledge (if you’re lucky, you get ‘flanked’), and duck behind randomly placed explosive barrels, don’t feel fear and just line-up to be slaughtered.

In any other medium, such terrible opponents would be laughed at. B-movie action films have more believable scenes. Sure, realism isn’t to be expected in games that are often set in the future or alternate realities, but immersion is ruined if things don’t make sense. We can be fully in love with a world completely unlike our own, and believe all the scientific incongruities of the setting, if the character interactions are believable enough. That’s why Game of Thrones is awesome, and characters seem believable, even though it’s set in an incredibly fantastical universe.

As great as game script writers can be, they’re held back by characters whose AI is so immersion breaking it screams ‘this is a game’. Gameplay is designed to intentionally be simple because games rarely try to push the boundaries when it comes to AI, and simply copy old titles. Take stealth, where guards routinely stare of walls and ignore obvious sounds – that’s not because it’s too hard to develop the AI to deal with a bit more complexity, it’s been done before, but it means that gameplay has to be pushed forward. And that means the stories are hard to fall for. And the examples are numerous – how characters ignore your random jumping and shooting; or how most protagonists exhibit ludicrous levels of superhuman fighting powers and yet no one seems to notice.

Look, I’ll be realistic, AI is hard, it can be incredibly power intensive and insanely complicated. But we’re not seeing a great drive to increase the AI as it’s simply not a marketable priority. Graphics and power is.

Thankfully, we’re headed in the right direction. The Last of Us is phenomenal thanks to its epic story, but that story could only really hit home because the AI wasn’t too reality breaking. It’s still incredibly flawed, but we’re taking tentative steps into a brighter future.

What tropes do you think are holding back the games industry? Do you think we need to evolve as a medium? Or are we fine the way we are? Let us know in the comments below, email us at [email protected] or send us your stereotypical thoughts to Seb and Dan.