Quick PSA: In Reality, There’s More Variety than Ever in Video Games

Hardcore gamers often whine about a lack of originality, but let's be real.

You see it everywhere: Core gamers complaining that there isn’t enough innovation in the video game industry today.

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However, while they do have a valid point from a certain perspective, looking at the state of gaming from a bird’s-eye perspective yields a very different result. In fact, while publishers really aren’t willing to take risks with big-budget projects (thanks to mainstream demand that never seems to change), finding originality isn’t difficult. In fact, we’re seeing the biggest and most significant explosion of creativity the industry has ever seen.

It’s just a matter of taking it all in. If you restrict yourself to examining only the biggest titles (Call of DutyAssassin’s Creed, etc.),  you’ll miss the vast majority of what gaming has to offer. Sure, you could make your case for a lack of innovation by sticking to the well-known mainstream franchises, but you’d also be inaccurate.

How many titles today defy standard genre labeling?

There was a time when just about every game was either action or sports. There was the dawn of video game role-playing, but even that didn’t differ much from standard action titles. When you’re restricted to side-scrolling 2D environments (be they horizontal or vertical), you’re pretty limited in what you can produce. But these days, the only limitations lie in the minds of designers, as evidenced by the massive amount of variety available on a daily basis.

Currently, because so many games are utilizing elements from multiple genres, it’s getting harder and harder to apply a specific genre label. What is 2012’s Dishonored, for example? Elements of first-person action, role-playing, stealth, and even puzzle and platforming can be found, so what is it? For that matter, what the hell is Grand Theft Auto V? It best qualifies as “Action/Adventure,” I suppose, but it’s such a massive, all-encompassing experience that one label doesn’t really do it justice.

Beyond that, there are some games that are just so different, they can only be labeled “Miscellaneous,” or something like that. Check the digital world of downloadable titles; half the games available today defy labeling. The popular Terraria is… what, exactly? Kind of like Minecraft only… different. And for that matter, what’s Minecraft? What’s a game like Journey or The Wolf Among Us? What happens when narrative drama becomes the driving force, as was the case with Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls? Quantic Dream wanted to say they’d created a new genre called “Interactive Drama.” Maybe they did.

Diversity is everywhere.

The key is to go small

Like I said, it’s easy to spot the lack of innovation in big-name mainstream franchises like Call of Duty. However, if we scale things back and check out what indie developers are producing, we start to see extraordinary achievement in the realm of innovation. There’s just so much creativity and imagination infused in some of these bite-size productions. Publishers don’t have to worry as much about the risks, just because the cost of development wasn’t very high. So, a designer’s mind is let off the leash.

Check out the PS3’s Puppeteer, for instance, or the Vita’s Tearaway. They’re not even all that small (not when compared to smartphone and tablet games) and yet, they’re unbelievably imaginative. The amount of creativity we see on the smaller scale of development is remarkable. It’s too bad that we don’t see it as often in the big-budget productions bug again, the risks are just too high for most publishers. Actually, gaming has become much like film, in that the heavy-hitting box office killers are often just more common tripe, while the intelligent, compelling, unique stuff dwells in the indie scene.

Just one small tangent…

I firmly believe every word I just wrote, but I have to add–an indie game doesn’t automatically mean it’s good. Because we see several gems, we start to assume that any developer without a huge budget is super talented. Of course, that really isn’t the case; there’s a reason why so many studios don’t get a ton of funding. It’s because they’re not proven and in truth, they don’t have the requisite ability to become proven. I just don’t like this knee-jerk reaction of, “Oh, it’s an indie game; it must be so much better than those huge-budget, no-soul monstrosities.”

Let’s not forget that in all walks of life, more money does tend to buy better talent. There are plenty of indie stinkers out there; it’s just that nobody ever talks about them. But, getting back to my original point: If you want to see originality, check the digital offerings on the PSN, Live, Steam, or wherever. You’re bound to find a ton of interesting things…


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Fathoms_4209
A gaming journalism veteran of 14 years, a confirmed gamer for over 30 years, and a lover of fine literature and ridiculously sweet desserts.