Will your Gran be the Saviour of the games industry?
Shoot, race, fight; fire, drive or hit. Aim, accelerate, uppercut; bang, zoom or thwack. Cover, brake, block; reload, refuel or regenerate.
It gets repetitive, doesn't it? Yet the chances are that whenever you fire up your console or PC to play a modern videogame, you'll be doing at least one of these things; and the worst thing is you'll have done it all a hundred times before.
Perhaps the flimsy plot is slightly different to the previous game you played, or you view the action from a first-person perspective instead of third. Maybe you get to control a whole army instead of one soldier, or it's F1 cars instead of rally driving. You may even be able to carefully monitor and control the attributes of your characters, instead of mindlessly hacking and slashing.
But still you shoot, you race, or you fight.
Okay, there are some exceptions - I haven't mentioned sports games. But that's only an even more depressing area: EA have such a thoroughly uninspiring stranglehold on the market that you'll find even less variety than in other genres. Puzzlers? Ha! If you can name as many as five that don't involve rearranging blocks or shapes I'll send you a prize.
Some people might tell you this isn't a problem. In spite, or even because of genre constraints, videogames have reached dazzling levels of technical sophistication. Grand Theft Auto IV is undoubtedly a more engrossing game than the original on the PlayStation, and few would have dared imagining that Liberty City would ever get so close to the feel of a living, breathing city.
But still you shoot, you race, or you fight.
There are probably already too many words on the internet about the genius of Nintendo in creating and marketing the Wii and DS, but what did Nintendo really do to reclaim their position as market leaders after so many years playing catch up to Sony? Most obviously they created an intuitive new control system which captured peoples' imaginations, but I think more importantly they took a long hard look at what a videogame could be.
Whilst the controller (or touch screen in the case of the DS) helped, it could so easily have been a cheap gimmick if Nintendo didn't also come to the crucial realisation that a good chunk of the world's population aren't particularly excited about the idea of spending their spare time shooting, racing and fighting. Providing games that allowed people to think they were doing something to better themselves, or that were fundamentally different in concept to everything they assumed to be true about games, caught absolutely everyone's attention. Inevitably we now get lazy cash-ins on the popularity of Brain Training and Wii Sports, but the important thing is that Nintendo have demonstrated that innovation sells.
Infuriatingly, people now resent Nintendo for this. Some backward-looking videogame conservatives moan that the Wii is killing games for 'hardcore' gamers. Not only is this utter nonsense (Super Mario Galaxy is surely the purest, most 'hardcore' AAA title of this generation on any platform), it is massively counter-productive. You may not be particularly keen to play Pippa Funnell's My Little Pony simulator, and maybe even the sight of it in your local game shop offends you, but you need to get over it. The fact that there now exist games marketed solely and unashamedly at eight year-old girls isn't stopping you from playing 'Final Fantasy VII: Advent of the Cash Cow' or 'Obscure Japanese Shoot-em-up 14b', and is in fact helping us move closer to a world where videogames are no longer perceived by the masses as a hobby for only the most sexually frustrated and socially retarded.
Sony and Microsoft are no doubt already working on plans for the Playstation 4 and Xbox 1080 (or whatever atrocious name Bill Gates & Co. decide on next time). They'll look at the Nintendo strategy and know they need to do more with their next machines than simply appeal to the lust of technophiles for expensive hardware and bleeding edge graphics.
Nintendo successfully targeted a demographic that had been written off from ever enjoying videogames, and these new customers are arguably more discerning than anyone who reads this website. They won't grind through the first three levels of a boring game because they've read in a review that there's an epic boss fight at the end of level four; they'll refuse to struggle with fiddly controls for hours in the vague hope that eventually the game becomes worth playing; and they certainly won't consider easy Achievements or Trophies to be a redeeming feature of a bad game. They're fickle in the way everyone should be: if games stop being fun to play, or no longer surprise and intrigue them, then they'll stop buying games.
We need to welcome these people with open arms, not snigger at them for being unable to name the voice artist who plays Solid Snake. I've slain Goblins and Orcs, sped through the streets of London, and beaten up scantily clad women too many times. It brings a huge smile to my face when I'm given the chance to be a Cooking Mama, a Piñata gardener, or an Elite Beat Agent, and this new 'videogames for all' era will only last for as long as developers and publishers realise that they can no longer get away with reselling last year's game in a different box.
Will they listen? Give us less of the shooting, driving and fighting: and a bit more of the innovating, rejuvenating and inspiring? Inevitably, only time will tell, but if it doesn't happen now, I fear the whole industry will have missed its one big chance to gain the genuine widespread appeal its craved for over thirty years.
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