Recently, I purchased (and gifted!) the fifth Humble Indie Bundle, a collection of independently made video games sold at the fantastic cost of name-your-own-price. While some of the included games have established commercial success (and all of them have well-earned critical acclaim), none of them are hyper-violent war games, full of over-sexualized men and women. How can this be? Surely their developers should at least add ultra-competitve multiplayer arenas, lest they be left in the lurch by triple-A titles! The indie market is growing, and with it, a demand for games that are not filled with super-soldiers, space marines, and zombies is emerging. But even with this rising movement, there still seems to be a trend with most mainstream video games: violence-heavy stories and hard-boiled protagonists.
So many games present the player with a future where they have already failed. A world where their ancestors or political leaders or *insert-scapegoat-here* went wrong, and now the main character gets to suffer the consequences. In these games, there is little hope of victory, and often the instinct to survive is the point of the game. Sure, there are some exceptions on the market, but on a whole, there is a theme of ‘making the best of a bad situation.’ When one looks at the current news stories, this is not surprising. There is so much violence and suffering in the world right now, and when an individual puts themself into the scale of it, anyone would seemed overwhelmed. With this in mind, why would we want our leisure time filled with gory reminders of the violence and sadness that exist in the world around us? Instead of reinforcing stories of a survivor in a defeated world, doing what they can to fix problems that were too big in the first place, video games could present the player with a world that isn’t ruined, merely in need of some help (like ours, for example).
What if there was a hero who didn’t wait for the world to turn to crap, but took the steps to make an average world better? Just imagine this game and the impact it would have on design and the player. A game where the player uses tools to rebuild instead of weapons to destroy, and your score would be based on how much goodwill you accomplished. A main character’s missions could involve disarming and neutralizing violent situations where any fatalities (on either side) would lead to a failed operation. There could even be a game where a cute little alien comes to Earth to roll up litter and turn it into stars (oh wait…). The power of hope and an individual would be praised, instead of some lone bad-ass seeking bloody revenge in a desolate wasteland. So many games present a brooding protagonist, filled with anger towards an equally malevolent antagonist, answering ‘bad’ violence with ‘justified’ violence. To me, a true hero tries to fix the world around them without harming other people in the process.
Maybe we could even bring bright colors back into mainstream gaming. You remember those, right? They are the colors other than dirt brown, gun-metal grey, and gore red.