Game design is hard. Sure, there are a number of easy routes to game design. We could all say, “Like that other game but 10% more jazz hands..” and it we’d probably expect a certain level of success from that. After all, who wouldn’t want 10% more of that other successful game that was fun to play and simple to understand? We could also take the path of, “Like that other game but in space,” because.. ..come on, it’s freakin’ space man; who would say no to the future? Not this believer of tomorrow. But the easiest way to design a game is to ask yourself 3 simple questions.
- what is my character’s ultimate objective?
- what is stopping that objective from happening?
- what weapons of death does my character need to achieve this?
Maybe there’s no way around it. People want what they want and white heterosexual power fantasies are big business. Call of Duty, GTA V, Fallout 4, DOOM, Uncharted 4, The Division, Dark Souls 3, Ratchet & Clank, Farcry Primal, and so on.. These are some of, if not the, top selling video games in 2016. For the most part, all of them have one thing in common; we have a problem and the solution is that someone needs to die, preferably in a gruesome manor… A little bloody-camera effect wouldn’t hurt either.
Don’t get me wrong those games are fine and I enjoy them just as much, but it’s definitely starting to feel like the easy choice. Then again, maybe there are non-violent games out there that don’t get the attention. Maybe this skewed perspective is a result of being exposed only to the squeakiest wheel; flashy AAA games. I’m struggling to think of the last successful non-violent game that wasn’t a puzzle game. Does such a thing exist?
For example, Uncharted 4. That game is prominently an exploration game; it’s essentially a climbing simulator with simple puzzles and a deep story as the motivation to see it through. Admittedly that is a hugely reductive description, but my question still stands. Did Uncharted 4 really need gun fights, or did they need that violence only to be successful? If the stop-and-pop segments of Uncharted 4 were completely omitted from the experience and the only weapons you ever saw were part of the cut-scenes, held only by NPCs, I wonder if that game would have been better or worse for it. What if Drake didn’t have to choke everyone out to proceed; what if hiding or running away from an insane gang of bandits with machine guns and RPGs was the better decision? Crazy thought right?!
With a game like Uncharted 4, we see the potential for a AAA non-violent game but I don’t know that it would ever happen. I’d like to challenge large publishers and developers to consider the road less traveled. Consider making an epic story where the lead character never raises his hand or picks up a weapon as the solution to his/her problem. I’d like to make that challenge, but part of me knows that the market determines success and a AAA non-violent game would likely have a combat system “patched” into it after poor sales on launch day…
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