Experienced Points

Experienced Points
The Dumbification of Gaming

Shamus Young | 7 Apr 2011 21:00
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I'm just as guilty as anyone else. Okay, I don't blame any particular platform or group of users for this trend of dumbness, but I see the trend and I've put in my time raging against it. I've burned through thousands and thousands of words comparing Fallout 3 to the original Fallout, comparing BioShock to System Shock, comparing the recent Silent Hill games with Silent Hill 2, and you don't even want to get me started on the original UFO:Enemy Unknown vs. the upcoming XCom. Yes, I think games have gotten dumber.

But the truth is that this isn't the fault of PC Gamers. Or Xbox owners. Or PS3 owners. Or the Wii owners. Game designers are not getting dumber. This trend is simply a result of the success of the industry.

This is a very classic problem. I think System Shock 2 is a far superior game to BioShock. It's deeper, more open, has a better antagonist, and offers a greater variety of experience. It's also friggin' complicated and hard on newcomers. BioShock offers a much more immediate, accessible experience.

As the number of people who play videogames has grown, developers got the cash to make ever more expensive games. But that means they have to sell more copies, which means they need wider appeal, which means they can't aim at small markets like people who like complicated leveling systems and inventory management.

I'm not being elitist. Everyone is like this. I get all high and mighty about the simplification of shooters, but when Civilization V turned out to be (reportedly) far simpler than its predecessors, I liked it better and I didn't even notice that it was "dumber." I just knew I liked it more. No matter what genre you're talking about, for every person who digs it just the way it is, there's about 17 people who would like it if it was a little easier and less confusing.

I think the best approach is for games to offer enough flexibility to appeal to people of different tastes. The hardcore mode in Fallout: New Vegas was more than just "hard mode," it introduced new game mechanics to appeal to the survivalist types without forcing it on the people who just wanted a wasteland adventure. I'd love it if more games tried to split the difference like this and offered old-school depth as well as broad appeal.

I'm not saying we should learn to like simpler games. I'm going to continue to rail against trends that make the hobby less fun for me. The only thing I ask is that people stop dragging the platform wars into this. You're taking the discussion about games getting dumber, and making it ... dumber. That can't end well.

Shamus Young is the guy behind Twenty Sided, DM of the Rings, Stolen Pixels, Drawn To Knowledge, and Spoiler Warning.

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