Hello and welcome to In Too Deep, where I over-analyse a certain section of pop culture.
Now it’s a common thing to complain about how games like Call of Duty are bringing down the industry due to how they’re always the same. Next game, same as the first, only a little bit louder, and a little bit worse. But does that mean innovation is always a good thing? Or are we judging some video games unfairly? Well lets find out.
First off, lets look at one of the most successful video game franchises to come out: Pokemon. Pokemon is a game series that has essentially stayed exactly the same since the dawn of time. There have been very little additions or subtractions to the game series as it goes on. Each game is pretty much identical to the last. Capture a group of Pokemon, train them up, beat the Pokemon League. Figure out what your opponent is weak too and use that in the eternal game of elemental rock paper scissors. Hell even the Pokemon are starting to look sorta similar, since there are only so many animals and objects in the world. When it comes to stagnation in the video game industry here is the perfect example of it. All that really changes from story to story is better graphics and more Pokemon to catch and collect. So does this mean that the Pokemon franchise is terrible due to its lack of changing?
Short answer: No. Long answer: No, because you don’t fix what is already perfect. Because Pokemon Red and Blue are perfect in their mechanics. Oh sure, there’s a few glitches when it comes to the game. Sometimes the A.I. is a bit stupid, or the typing chart don’t line up. But, on the whole, the simple, core mechanics of the game work. They worked in 1998, they work just as well in 2014. There really isn’t much you can do to change the game all that much at this point. The team at GameFreak hit on gold the first time round and stuck to it. But why do we continue to support Pokemon but decry how much damage Call of Duty is doing to the game industry?
Well the biggest reason is that no one has really tried to copy Pokemon. Oh sure, the concept of it exists. That idea of catching animals and making them do your bidding. That exists in a lot of games… but nothing quite like Pokemon. Nothing that automatically makes you think ‘oh yeah, this is a Pokemon clone’. Compare that to Call of Duty. Pretty much ever modern day first person shooter has strong ties back to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. They saw that it was popular and tried to copy it in order to get popular as well. Now anyone with even the basic understandings of common sense can point out the obvious: If you flood the market with cheap imitations you end up cancelling each other out. No one is willing to buy a cheap imitation when they can buy the original, better version. Simple bandwagon paradox. But that’s only one reason. Are there any others?
Well this could be a biased opinon, but Pokemon has always attempted to push the envelope and do something new with the games every time they make another entry in the franchise. Whether it’s a new type combination, or a new post-game concept, each game builds off the last in the hopes of offering something new. Compare that to Call of Duty that… well, okay, since I haven’t played the games I can’t really comment, but from what I’ve read and seen most of it tends to be exactly the same. But Call of Duty does ‘same’ well. It does it far better than most people do. Why is it that it gets so unloved?
Well I suppose it ties into the central question of the blog: Why do video games need to evolve? Why does a series need to have a drastic change in innovation in order for it to be considered good? Well I think it mostly comes from its history and how that’s shaping its future. In the early days, video game stories were whatever the manual said the story was, nothing more. Story began at ‘shoot these things’ and ended with ‘you’ve been shot’. Mechanics is what sold the game to people. And as time has gone on, that’s what has become ingrained within the public subconscious. That’s what we think all video games should be focused on. That gameplay is more important than story. This has the negative side effect of making the idea of a ‘good’ video game story being very difficult to pin down. Is a good story one told in cutscenes, or one interwoven with the gameplay? While that is a blog for another day, the key thing here is that we’ve tied ‘new mechanics’ with ‘great games’. In the arcade days this made sense, since the game with the best mechanics was the one played the most. But nowadays, in our world of home consoles? Surely at this point story is more important than gameplay? But at the end of the day, we feel the need for games to evolve because we’re use to thinking that evolving gameplay made a series good. But if it ain’t broke, why fix it?
So there you have it. A very disjointed look at video games and the industry in general. If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.