I’m in the beginning stages of working on the 2012 GOTY post, which is normally a fun and exciting thing to work on. This year’s edition is a bit tougher to put together than years past, though; it wasn’t a particularly strong year, for one thing, and I’ve been hard-pressed to find one title standing head and shoulders above the rest. My top 10 feels very flimsy to me – I’ve tried several different orders and none of them feel right. In previous years, there’d at least be a clear top 3-5 to choose from, with the bottom of the order eventually settling into place. Right now, I’ve maybe got a clear top 2, but I haven’t even finished one of them yet. (Hint hint.)
As I think about what I played this year, though, I’m a little troubled. And maybe it’s because I’m going to be a father in the spring, and I’m suddenly going to have to be very aware of what I play and what I let my little boy see – I mean, I’m going to be changing diapers and getting 2 hours of sleep right when Bioshock Infinite and GTA5 come out; and maybe it’s because “shooter fatigue” is a real problem for me, even if I’m loving the hell out of Far Cry 3.
I guess I’m just concerned about how much virtual murder I’ve committed this year. If I have the time (and I probably won’t), I’d like to check out the stats of each game I played and see just how many people, aliens and animals I killed. Even if I just take into account that I hardly did any multiplayer gaming this year, and even if I also take into account that there were quite a few games that I didn’t even finish, I’m guessing I killed at least 10,000 things. I’m pulling that number out of my ass, to be sure, but I did kill over 700 people just in Uncharted 3 last year, and this year I played Diablo 3 to completion 3 times – I might’ve killed 10,000 things in that game alone.
And of all the games I played, only Spec Ops: The Line had the flat-out balls to ask if all that killing was fun.
New consoles are probably coming out next year*, which means, among other things, that AAA games will be much more expensive to produce in order to look as good as they’re expected to; and as such, there’s probably not going to be a whole lot of risk-taking in the development of new IP. And the truth of the matter is that shooting still sells better than anything else. Sure, there’s always Madden, and there’s lots of non-murdering happening in the downloadable spaces like PSN and XBLA and iOS. But nothing’s making money like Halo and Call of Duty, and you’d better believe that this console generation’s swan song, GTA5, is going to sell at least 20-40 gazillion units next year. That’s a lot of virtual bullets yet to be fired.
I hope, though, that there will be developers courageous enough to create game experiences that are not focused around killing. (The Mass Effect franchise, which I adore, is certainly not only about killing, but most of the missions involve killing in order to get from point A to point B. I might also add that my favorite ME missions have almost always been the ones that don’t involve killing, but rather focus on exploration – if only because they’re such a refreshing change of pace.) Games like Journey and Fez had no death, no end-state, no obliteration – only you and the environment and a goal to achieve, and they were magical experiences unlike anything else I’d played this year. I’ve played the hell out a bunch of games on my iPhone and iPad this year, and almost none of them involved the firing of a gun, and they were all, for the most part, absorbing and interesting.
It CAN be done, is the thing. There is an audience for this kind of game experience. It might not be as large as the millions of people who play shooters all the time, but it’s certainly there, and I think it’d really be something if game designers could evolve along with the technology they’re working with to create experiences where winning doesn’t necessarily have to mean killing.
* There’s rumors now that a Steam Box is actually happening, and if it is, that might very well end up being my console of choice. If it comes with a blu-ray drive? Sold.