Let's Get Indie Games Away From the Idea of a Small Child in a Scary World

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Let's Get Indie Games Away From the Idea of a Small Child in a Scary World

There's a tendency for indie games to incorporate a central theme of small child in a scary world, and there's more that would be done.

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Agreed, I think we need to see more games like Dex and Buck and less games like Inside. The vast majority of indie titles just do not appeal to me.

Also Spec Ops was not saying that "military shooters are pointless", according to Walt Williams he wanted to people to question why they played them. I was asking myself a different question while playing that game-"why the hell am I playing this instead of the other military shooters"?

Would the opposite of that be a game about a big and scary monster in a small nice and cosy world where everything wants to cheer him up?

After playing Limbo and Earthbound, I haven't got into another Small Child, Scary World as much as I want to, I know Earthbound may not be one, but that's what I got from it. But I don't think it is as overused as "deers are a sign of innocence, the bad guy killed one, that means he's evil" in horror games, the thing is if you play enough of them, you'll see that some are subtle, but others feel like they beat you over the head with their symbolism. This also happens in cinema, with much less restrain, but since games are "play to believe", I can't help but give in curiosity.

Here's a question for you then, does Super Metroid quality as one of these games? It pioneered the bleak world exploration genre.

Oh my god, thank you for reminding me of Heart of Darkness! I'd occasionally remember that game but had no idea what it was called.

SirSullymore:
Oh my god, thank you for reminding me of Heart of Darkness! I'd occasionally remember that game but had no idea what it was called.

I only know about that game because Caddicarus reviewed it, it looks pretty damn awful to be honest.

I thought this column ended rather abruptly; the conclusion, where he listed a couple of big-budget games with unexpected themes, didn't sound very conclusive.

Thanatos2k:
Here's a question for you then, does Super Metroid quality as one of these games? It pioneered the bleak world exploration genre.

Not really. You got blow these beasts to kingdom come and you are inclined to speedrun through this so Samus can get oiut of her suit and spend some credits at a upper end nightclub at some seedy underbelly on the fringe of GalFed Civilization.

Also Yahtzee may not take kindly to my idea about a game where you play as a child war survivor escaping from not Daesh. Game is as SCSW as it comes.

SirSullymore:
Oh my god, thank you for reminding me of Heart of Darkness! I'd occasionally remember that game but had no idea what it was called.

Fun fact. The guy who made the game actually went on to make Bastion.

Thanatos2k:
Here's a question for you then, does Super Metroid quality as one of these games? It pioneered the bleak world exploration genre.

No, because you're bounty hunter with an armor and arm cannon; and scary world exploration had been already done long before with games like the original Shadow of the Beast games.

"Bastion is another marginal example and it's an isometric hack-and-slasher"
Eh, it's not a scary world at all, because you are quite powerfull and kick all the asses with ease.
Also, you are litterally rebuilding that shit, so that's also not quite bleak. :O

How about a game of a nasty, sadistic, powerful villain that starts off in an idyllic world, sidesrcoller action oriented. But on your quest to achieve whatever selfish desire that lies on the far right of this adventure leads you through various situations that won't let you proceed without you having to either kill people/creatures that are only doing their job, or sacrificing some of your power to them. Which in turn, affects the world around you differently as it gets slowly scarier and more oppressive towards you while you become weaker, smaller and more frightened. Perhaps even younger, like a Benjamin Button style curse. I dont want to think about this too much, for a mere offhanded comment, without committing to something that bears fruit. But the idea can work with enough creative effort and time I believe.
Also, this column is only bi-weekly? Aww!

The only game referenced that I've played is Bastion, which isn't bleak at all, and Limbo, which was an enjoyable diversion. I was never under the impression it was attempting to be 'artsy.' It had a unique art style to be sure, and the art style played a direct role in setting the tone and setting; however, the art was not the main attraction, nor did I detect the familiar of odor of pompous self righteous superiority that typically accompanies hipsters attempting to deconstruct a visual theme. In light of this, I am wondering what Yahtzee means by 'artsy.'

I think the rash of kid-centric games is the result of the age of the game developers making those games. As a thirty-something year old myself, it wasn't until recently I transitioned from 'kids are disgusting, expensive little shit bags' to 'some of them are cute, I might want one.' In fact, my unpublished literature has explored this transition in my life, and I've found myself attracted to media exploring parental relationships with children, such as The Last of Us and The Walking Dead. I found myself even forcing this relationship into Dragon's Dogma, a game not originally intended to be played that way, by making a father/daughter character and main pawn combination.

In summary, I'm not sure the kid in a scary world trope is utilized to be artsy. I think it's just a product of maturing game developers, and their maturing customers.

90sgamer:
I think the rash of kid-centric games is the result of the age of the game developers making those games. As a thirty-something year old myself, it wasn't until recently I transitioned from 'kids are disgusting, expensive little shit bags' to 'some of them are cute, I might want one.' In fact, my unpublished literature has explored this transition in my life, and I've found myself attracted to media exploring parental relationships with children, such as The Last of Us and The Walking Dead. I found myself even forcing this relationship into Dragon's Dogma, a game not originally intended to be played that way, by making a father/daughter character and main pawn combination.

I'd like to point out that there's also a problem with that trope too. To my knowledge, the parent/child relationships in games are always father/daughter relationships. Outside of perhaps Amy, and maybe the upcoming GoW (If the kid lives past the first act), I cannot think of a parent/child relationship in a game that breaks that formula.

Why is that? What does a father/daughter relationship do to a story as opposed to having the parental figure be a woman, and/or the child figure be a boy?

90sgamer:
The only game referenced that I've played is Bastion, which isn't bleak at all, and Limbo, which was an enjoyable diversion. I was never under the impression it was attempting to be 'artsy.' It had a unique art style to be sure, and the art style played a direct role in setting the tone and setting; however, the art was not the main attraction, nor did I detect the familiar of odor of pompous self righteous superiority that typically accompanies hipsters attempting to deconstruct a visual theme. In light of this, I am wondering what Yahtzee means by 'artsy.'

I think the rash of kid-centric games is the result of the age of the game developers making those games. As a thirty-something year old myself, it wasn't until recently I transitioned from 'kids are disgusting, expensive little shit bags' to 'some of them are cute, I might want one.' In fact, my unpublished literature has explored this transition in my life, and I've found myself attracted to media exploring parental relationships with children, such as The Last of Us and The Walking Dead. I found myself even forcing this relationship into Dragon's Dogma, a game not originally intended to be played that way, by making a father/daughter character and main pawn combination.

In summary, I'm not sure the kid in a scary world trope is utilized to be artsy. I think it's just a product of maturing game developers, and their maturing customers.

I personally have no desire to ever have kids myself, I don't think it would be a very good idea for me at all(mainly due to my Asperger's Syndrome, i'm still learning how to take of myself, no way am I capable of taking care of kids). So I can't really relate to these games myself.

The more I think about it the more Yahtzee's terminology of SCSW game seems to be baloney. At least based on the examples he uses.

Of the games he mentioned I've only played Bastion, Braid and Limbo. Limbo is the quintessential example, which I would accept the label for hands down.

In Braid, the main character Tim is clearly an adult, as described by the in game text. The very first message is that the princess was kidnapped because Tim made a mistake, so he's hardly innocent. Furthermore, the actual gameplay of the game encourages the player to see the inhabitants from a mechanical perspective, where death is just one step of the process to solving the mechanical puzzles, so I don't accept that the game world should be considered scary.

In Bastion the protagonist is not meant to inspire feelings of loneliness or lack of hope. He's frankly cool, with a narration that ensures that the player is relaxed and in always instilled with a sense of can-do. Compare with the narration from Darkest Dungeon. Also, the ability to choose gear and what buildings reappear at the home base(the titular bastion) removes the feeling of being an entity with little control. Based on your description he sounds closer to Kid Chameleon.

I should mention that I haven't finished playing Bastion, so it's possible it goes in directions I have yet to experience.

What I think is happening is:

1. The medium has had success in the past with design that no longer require AAA budgets.
2. As a consequence of these designs, it is the most convenient to make the protagonist smaller.
3. Smaller characters look more childlike.

That games nowadays allows for expressing bleakness is just a development of the medium as a whole.

I therefore think Yahtzee is doing the games a disservice by thinking of the characters as children. In particular because I believe that Silent Hill 2 could probably be given the SCSW label just by changing the proportions of the main character.

So yes, Yahtzee, let's get away from the idea of a small child in a scary world. It limits your ability in thinking about games since you try to think about games that do not fit your mental construct in that way.

Transdude1996:

90sgamer:
I think the rash of kid-centric games is the result of the age of the game developers making those games. As a thirty-something year old myself, it wasn't until recently I transitioned from 'kids are disgusting, expensive little shit bags' to 'some of them are cute, I might want one.' In fact, my unpublished literature has explored this transition in my life, and I've found myself attracted to media exploring parental relationships with children, such as The Last of Us and The Walking Dead. I found myself even forcing this relationship into Dragon's Dogma, a game not originally intended to be played that way, by making a father/daughter character and main pawn combination.

I'd like to point out that there's also a problem with that trope too. To my knowledge, the parent/child relationships in games are always father/daughter relationships. Outside of perhaps Amy, and maybe the upcoming GoW (If the kid lives past the first act), I cannot think of a parent/child relationship in a game that breaks that formula.

Why is that? What does a father/daughter relationship do to a story as opposed to having the parental figure be a woman, and/or the child figure be a boy?

Well outside of the binding of Isaac which is mother son. Part of the reason and I think somebody did a column about it was that it may be in part for writers being told that they have to have a male protagonist but want at least one fleshed out female character and don't want to do the whole love interest thing so the father daughter relationship seems to be an easy way to do it.

Transdude1996:
Why is that? What does a father/daughter relationship do to a story as opposed to having the parental figure be a woman, and/or the child figure be a boy?

I think Yahtzee answered that in his Earthbound review, "Mother is the center of everything for that little boy", something in those lines. And honestly, I don't think this is ever going to change, gender equality or not, the woman is still the only one who gives birth, making her the one that is connected the most to her kid or another child she comes across. Which means in a family if the father dies, it's always going to be less sad than if the mother did (only if she didn't have a connection to the family, but that's kind of pushing it).

And that brings me to GoW, I think the writer got themselves in a corner when they decided to keep the old Kratos (as in not rebooting him) and give him that kid:
* If the kid dies, and Kratos go back to his rage ways, then they achieved status quo and his son was nothing but a tool to get to it.
* If the kid lives, that's gonna be a major shift of the series we know and it's going to feel really disrespectful to those who legitimely teared up when they saw the live-action trailer for God of War 3 (if you didn't you should, because it's really good)
This is why many are seeing this new GoW as a lose-lose situation, I think they can pull it off, but this is going to be the most divisive one by far.

90sgamer:
In summary, I'm not sure the kid in a scary world trope is utilized to be artsy. I think it's just a product of maturing game developers, and their maturing customers.

I disagree. Far from showing how anyone is maturing, it shows that they're exactly the same as they have always been - desperate to jump on any bandwagon and beat it into the ground. As Yahtzee said, there's nothing wrong with this as a trope at all, the reason he's complaining about it being so common is that, as with all things, the vast majority of games using it are shitty clones desperate to leech recognition by using the same themes and art styles as the good games. The trend for SCSW games is no different from the trend for unfinished survival games, or "retro-inspired" pixel art games, or superhero films, and so on. It's simply that a couple of decent games were made, so everyone who couldn't make a decent game tried to copy them. I think the main reason they get accused of trying to be artsy is because that's pretty much all most of them have - the majority are just mediocre puzzle/platformers that have "looking a bit pretty and hand-drawn" as their only selling point.

Transdude1996:

90sgamer:
I think the rash of kid-centric games is the result of the age of the game developers making those games. As a thirty-something year old myself, it wasn't until recently I transitioned from 'kids are disgusting, expensive little shit bags' to 'some of them are cute, I might want one.' In fact, my unpublished literature has explored this transition in my life, and I've found myself attracted to media exploring parental relationships with children, such as The Last of Us and The Walking Dead. I found myself even forcing this relationship into Dragon's Dogma, a game not originally intended to be played that way, by making a father/daughter character and main pawn combination.

I'd like to point out that there's also a problem with that trope too. To my knowledge, the parent/child relationships in games are always father/daughter relationships. Outside of perhaps Amy, and maybe the upcoming GoW (If the kid lives past the first act), I cannot think of a parent/child relationship in a game that breaks that formula.

Why is that? What does a father/daughter relationship do to a story as opposed to having the parental figure be a woman, and/or the child figure be a boy?

It might just be the preference of men in general to have daughters. I'm not asserting that's the case, just putting it out there. Speaking for myself, I have almost no interest in siring a boy, but plenty of interest in a daughter or two.

The God of War dynamic being set up is very interesting, however it's clear to me the game is being set up for Kratos to die or go missing very early in the game, and the player takes control of the kid (watch the video and see how and when and for what exp is awarded).

This Too Shall Pass.

I don't fret too much about it. It's just a hot trend of the current time. It'll pass, no worries, just in time for another trope to get driven into the ground.

slo:
Would the opposite of that be a game about a big and scary monster in a small nice and cosy world where everything wants to cheer him up?

Actually, I could probably write a really disturbing horror game about such a concept. Not a bad idea!

Thanatos2k:
Here's a question for you then, does Super Metroid quality as one of these games? It pioneered the bleak world exploration genre.

Not really. Samus Aran wasn't some scared kid, she was an armored, combat capable character with means to destroy the horrors within.

Grumpy Ginger:

Transdude1996:

90sgamer:
I think the rash of kid-centric games is the result of the age of the game developers making those games. As a thirty-something year old myself, it wasn't until recently I transitioned from 'kids are disgusting, expensive little shit bags' to 'some of them are cute, I might want one.' In fact, my unpublished literature has explored this transition in my life, and I've found myself attracted to media exploring parental relationships with children, such as The Last of Us and The Walking Dead. I found myself even forcing this relationship into Dragon's Dogma, a game not originally intended to be played that way, by making a father/daughter character and main pawn combination.

I'd like to point out that there's also a problem with that trope too. To my knowledge, the parent/child relationships in games are always father/daughter relationships. Outside of perhaps Amy, and maybe the upcoming GoW (If the kid lives past the first act), I cannot think of a parent/child relationship in a game that breaks that formula.

Why is that? What does a father/daughter relationship do to a story as opposed to having the parental figure be a woman, and/or the child figure be a boy?

Well outside of the binding of Isaac which is mother son. Part of the reason and I think somebody did a column about it was that it may be in part for writers being told that they have to have a male protagonist but want at least one fleshed out female character and don't want to do the whole love interest thing so the father daughter relationship seems to be an easy way to do it.

the other part might be that many mainstream game developers (and longtime gamers) are becoming dads themselves and are reconciling their past self insert character power fantasies with their present day experiences, which is why Kratos is a dad now for some reason

Transdude1996:

90sgamer:
I think the rash of kid-centric games is the result of the age of the game developers making those games. As a thirty-something year old myself, it wasn't until recently I transitioned from 'kids are disgusting, expensive little shit bags' to 'some of them are cute, I might want one.' In fact, my unpublished literature has explored this transition in my life, and I've found myself attracted to media exploring parental relationships with children, such as The Last of Us and The Walking Dead. I found myself even forcing this relationship into Dragon's Dogma, a game not originally intended to be played that way, by making a father/daughter character and main pawn combination.

I'd like to point out that there's also a problem with that trope too. To my knowledge, the parent/child relationships in games are always father/daughter relationships. Outside of perhaps Amy, and maybe the upcoming GoW (If the kid lives past the first act), I cannot think of a parent/child relationship in a game that breaks that formula.

Why is that? What does a father/daughter relationship do to a story as opposed to having the parental figure be a woman, and/or the child figure be a boy?

Well there is The Binding of Isaac. :P

I was pondering this just the other day. I'm rather burned out and bored of lost lonely children in dark scary worlds.

I'd love to see more indie games doing genres that aren't as often explored these days. Yooka Laylee and Bloodstained and Shantae are about all that's on my radar now.

Personally I feel these games represent a lack of imagination and risk. Clone the trope. Probably more risk than imagination. Game development costs money and is an investment. People investing their money don't want too much risk. Point to a successful formula that resembles you're idea and they might invest. If you don't have a precedent to comfort your investors then you better hope you can raise that money on your own.

The buying public isn't much better either. I'll only buy things which are familiar until the weight of critical and public opinion that something new is worth seeing reaches critical mass. Take Breaking Bad for example, barely anyone watched, it's only because it was on a 'cable' channel and relatively cheap to make that they managed to survive long enough for word of mouth to catch on. Now just watch as we see 50 new shows in the next few years trying to mimic the formula.

Which is why we have brilliant cult classics that forge a new genre, usually made on a shoe-string budget. Then about a thousand clones of that.

Examples of things that broke the mould (in the public's mind, most had predecessors that were "before their time"), then think about all the things that have 'cloned' the trope since;

Star Wars - Sci Fi had been largely psychological thriller, action adventure. Sci Fi fantasy exploded after this.
Ico - Although it had been done before this clever original game became the template of the rash of SCSW games Yahtzee is talking about
Lord of the Rings (both books and films) - Medieval fantasy wasn't much of thing in books until Tolkein first succeeded. The fantasy film genre has been hit and miss (mostly cult favourites by fans of books) until Peter Jackson's films.
Harry Potter - Try to think of a successful a triple-AAA blockbust movie based "magic" prior to Harry Potter that doesn't involve Xmas
Twilight - Teen drama with fantasy twist. See True Blood
Hunger Games - teenager survival genre

3 issues that bug me about all of this;
A - Stop with the "end of innocence"/"Coming of age" shit. I feel that 90% of "arsty" foreign films that get awards are basically SCSW. In my experience that all have 3 elements 1. An animal must die. To show that the world is "real" and mortality touches all 2. A naked person, but not glamourous - sexual awakening arty people basically using "sex" as some kind of artistic statement. 3. Old person giving advice.
B - Stop with the fucking Orcs and Elves already? - It's called fantasy, FANTASY!? So what do we get? The exact same archetypes, tropes, universes. I loved Abe's Odyssey mostly because it was actually different!? 50 years on we still have dwarves, elves and orcs (or slight variations). Mass Effect branched out but if you look closely you realise they still leaned heavily on those types still.
C - The reason films like Star Wars, The Godfather, Pulp Fiction, even Rocky... have done well, is because they were DIFFERENT! Youngsters may watch these films and think they're a bit shit and wonder why people thought they were great. That's because you've seen clones, clones that changed, and possibly improved the genre, and usually had 10 times the budget of the original. But people have fond memories of those originals because they were NEW. Hollywood still really seems to misunderstand the concept of Novelty and New.

TL:DR- If I can make a drinking game out of your game/movie/book, then you've made a clone. Take some risks

Smithnikov:

Thanatos2k:
Here's a question for you then, does Super Metroid quality as one of these games? It pioneered the bleak world exploration genre.

Not really. Samus Aran wasn't some scared kid, she was an armored, combat capable character with means to destroy the horrors within.

People keep saying this, but Ori and the Blind Forest has your character with magic powers fully capable of smashing everything in your way too, but that qualifies for some reason.

SiskoBlue:
Star Wars - Sci Fi had been largely psychological thriller, action adventure. Sci Fi fantasy exploded after this.
Ico - Although it had been done before this clever original game became the template of the rash of SCSW games Yahtzee is talking about
Lord of the Rings (both books and films) - Medieval fantasy wasn't much of thing in books until Tolkein first succeeded. The fantasy film genre has been hit and miss (mostly cult favourites by fans of books) until Peter Jackson's films.
Harry Potter - Try to think of a successful a triple-AAA blockbust movie based "magic" prior to Harry Potter that doesn't involve Xmas
Twilight - Teen drama with fantasy twist. See True Blood The Vampire Chronicles
Hunger Games - teenager survival genre

Even though I've only seen Queen of the Damned, that series seems to be so much better than Twilight. And, it does have quite the dedicated fanbase.

SiskoBlue:
Snip

The problem is with more money and attention being shifted to big releases, they have to play it "safe". Millions are being invested into movies/games that are going to have mass media coverage, if they fail, people are going to know in the first seconds. They are almost forced to play the usual cards and try not to aim much higher. I am going to talk about movies and games separately:

What's hot right now is Cinematic Universes and reboots of old franchises, anything slightly popular in the past is being done or re-done (still scratching my head about Stargate of all things being in it). 2 of the most famous movies of last year were The Force Awakens and Mad Max: Fury Road, we didn't give Fury Road awards because we were being generous, we awarded it because it was superior and did improve on everything of its predecessors, unlike the Force Awakens, who did almost everything the first Star Wars did, the fans rejoiced that Star Wars was good again, but it wasn't until the sequel got announced that they realized it was back at square zero. And considering the MCU is really starting to show signs of stagnating, with only the Captain America branch showing signs of improving and everything else falling short, the safe zone can't be the only option.

Now games are more tricky, thanks to the indie market, those can take more risks, but the AAA market has to put its most famous names in the spotlight and when they do decide to innovate, they have to go with it, right now The Last Guardian is the thing that is on the minds of everyone, the success or failure its going to decide how AAA studios approach anything new. And the biggest problem is games like Mighty No. 9 or Bloodstained were overcrowdfunded because people think they know what they want, recapture a familiar experience, instead of diving into new things they might like, putting things like "passion of the developers" in front of the nostalgia goggles.

I would totally play a game where you were a kid shaking leeches off his bollocks. Oh man, I'm on a watchlist now, aren't I?

Seriously now, I wonder if it has to do with the fatigue (for lack of a better term) we see in games, where if it's a child or a dog (or animal) you immediately think "That thing's dead." There's no emotional connection anymore because we are too burned out. Perhaps it's this burnout that has rendered Small Child in a Horror Game boring.

Thanatos2k:
Here's a question for you then, does Super Metroid quality as one of these games? It pioneered the bleak world exploration genre.

Well, no. Samus Aran even by the point of Metroid 1 is a famed and feared galaxy trotting bounty hunter. She's the one the Marines turn to when they're out of their depth.

Even losing all your powers (as is traditional) Samus is never played as innocent or lost, it's just a matter of time before she reaches the bottom of the pit and kills the beast residing in it. The tone of the games lacks the vulnerability required for lost innocent child.

On a different note, Heart of Darkness is a game that I both never finished and was utterly terrified by. Surely one of the first million ways to die type of games and very, very hard.

Bedinsis:

I should mention that I haven't finished playing Bastion, so it's possible it goes in directions I have yet to experience.

Ok, you get a pass, but everyone else that was saying "Bastion isn't bleak," have you mothers actually beaten Bastion? If you have, you can click the following, but if not, don't:

The game is very dark once you realize what is going on, and why. It is the literal End-of-the-World scenario.

Transdude1996:

I'd like to point out that there's also a problem with that trope too. To my knowledge, the parent/child relationships in games are always father/daughter relationships. Outside of perhaps Amy, and maybe the upcoming GoW (If the kid lives past the first act), I cannot think of a parent/child relationship in a game that breaks that formula.

Why is that? What does a father/daughter relationship do to a story as opposed to having the parental figure be a woman, and/or the child figure be a boy?

The Park uses the mother/son dynamic, but you are right, it is used less often than the father/daughter angle.

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