Last week, as some know, I finally managed to pick up a copy of the last CGW. After reading all the nostalgia stuff, I flipped over to an interesting article entitled, “Six Million Ways To Die”.

It was a discussion of violence in games, from the viewpoint of the industry being stuck in a rut, churning out endless clones of “see monster-kill same” products. What really caught my attention, however, was something at the end of the article.

David Cage, creator of Indigo Prophecy, related the problems he had shopping around for a publisher. His conversations went something like this:

Cage: Mmm, well, in fact, there is no weapon. The hero does not shoot”.
Publisher: “So how many cars can we drive?”
Cage: “Well, in fact, you cannot drive”.
Publisher: “Then it’s not a game?”

That little exchange really throws light on the thinking of the upper levels of game companies. It isn’t just that the executives see that shooter-type games sell, they can’t imagine a game without some violence in it, period. If it has no weapons or no fast action, it can’t be a game.

With that focus, it’s no surprise that so many shooters are in development or on the shelves. If developers want to sell a game, it has to conform to a very narrow definition. And along with that comes, of course, more pushing the envelope to be attractive both to the publisher and an increasingly-demanding crowd of players.

However, as we’ve discussed before, that crowd tends to be the “young male demographic”, for which action and violence are especially desirable. I found interesting a remark by Andrew Stern, developer of Facade, at the very end.

He recalled enjoying, as a teenager, a game titled Barbarian, where he could cut off his opponents’ heads. That was a big thrill for him at the time. Today, however, he couldn’t play such a game; he’d be bored stiff by the endless “shoot-em-down” action.

So one reason – perhaps the primary one – that there is such a glut of shooters and action/this, action/that games, is more the fault of short-sighted game company executives than anything else.

They see only the one market. It hasn’t occurred to them that the market grows up and looks for something better. Of course, the teenagers of today are replaced by new ones tomorrow, so there is always a group ready for violent games, and the cycle continues.

Yet as time goes on, that pool of “older” gamers continues to grow. And I think a lot of them drop out of gaming, simply because there are few products of interest to them.

Cage believes that anything ground-breaking, in the sense of away from shooters, will come from independent developers. Given the current situation, he’s probably right.

And that’s really too bad, because I have no doubts that there is a big crowd of mature gamers who’d love to see some really good, involving games, that didn’t rely on having the biggest weapon, fastest car, or quickest reaction time.

I believe the only way to break the “shoot-em-down” cycle is for some basically non-violent game to come out and be a surprise hit. It did happen once, with Myst, but that may well have been a fluke, since nothing like that has occurred since.

The game industry, like any other, has a follow-the-leader mentality. What we need now is a new leader.miniscorp