Last week I played two of the games in my back catalog: Metal Gear Rising Revengeance and DMC: Devil May Cry. The former, I played for an hour before giving up; I played the latter all the way through. I thoroughly enjoyed 'DMC: DMC', whilst 'Revenenegenenance' annoyed me greatly. This was partly due to gameplay. (I'd take DMC's a little-too-easy, combo frenzy over the pat-head-and-rub-tummy attack and parry system from MGRR).
However, another reason was the seriousness. MGRR is a game with cyborgs in it. There is a robot wolf with a chainsaw tail. At one point you slice a Metal Gear Rex clean in two with an electric sword. This is all brilliant and bonkers. So, what's the evil scheme behind all this colossal, colourful chaos?
The villains are creating war so that they can profit from the war economy!
Oh... right, that's... fun? You're using chainsaw-wolves and robot-men to influence how many guns people are making? Are you sure you don't want to go with "we're killing people and breaking stuff because we're evil"? Because the demons in DMC are going with "we're killing people and breaking stuff because we're evil", and it saves a lot of time. Neither one of these games is sensible, they're definitely not serious, so why does why waste time by adding a serious element?
This led me to leap on board a train of thought I travelled with some time ago: sometimes games try very hard to appear all grown up. Sometimes, this can back fire, and a game can look very silly... to me at least. Below are just two fundamental examples, which I believe prove that games should never try to take themselves seriously.
The Far Cry 2 & 3 – Real First Aid.
Some games have health bars; some games have lives; more recent games do that black-and-white-vision thing and you need to hide in a ditch until you feel better (I still remember the first Call of Duty had health kits). There is a multitude of ways to get that health back. You can use magic or potions if you're in a fantasy game. In Left 4 Dead you can 'use' a health kit by patting yourself down (or a teammate, if you're feeling frisky). In Resident Evil you have herbs that you can...spray on yourself...
Far Cry wanted to be more grown up. Oh, you get medicine, which gives you your health back. However, when things getting really tough and health is sapped, that's when things get gritty. The player can wrench bullets out of wounds, thumb pesky bones back into place, snap dislocated wrists back into their socket, and of course, bandage your arms.
By the time I reached the end of both games I had been injured multiple times. I'm not ashamed to admit that. I must have pushed the same arm bone back into my arm at least half a dozen times. I can't remember how many bullets I pulled out with the same rusty pliers or crusty knife. How my skeleton had not taken on the texture of chalk dust, I will never know. I began to regard my own elbow joints with contempt. "Not again..."
Grand Theft Auto VI & V – Wheel of Weapons.
GTA wants you to take it seriously – it's all grown up, honest. The story is darker, the violence is ruthless, the usual wacky-silliness has been toned down or replaced with biting satire. The driving and shooting elements are meant to feel more real than ever. Yet there's one aspect that GTA can't put down – all those guns.
Games have a choice when it comes to firearms. They can give you a small handful – because that's how many a person could carry, so that's sensible – or you can let the player carry all the weapons because that's fun and stuff. GTA wants to appear more grown up, more mature, but can't resist allowing the player to carry too carry an arsenal of firearms and ammunition so vast that the three playable characters could just takeover San Andreas City by force.
Stop pretending to be grown up, Grand Theft Auto, and hand me that minigun. And don't ever tell me where you were hiding it...
There are other examples I could give, but I think that will do for now. My hope is that these examples simply prove that games want to be taken seriously in without losing what made them fun in the process. That we can still have games where we only need to rub first aid kits against our faces and gun collection to rival a private army, ready to be plucked out of the air.
Do you like when games try to be silly or serious? Alternatively, am I over-thinking this issue?