Whenever I flit my eyes over to a site that I don’t happen to write for (although, let’s be honest, why would anyone look at any other site than Screen-Shaped Eyes, the holy bastion of games writing, the Mecca of videogame nonsense?), it seems like this year is getting a bad rap. It’s a year, we’re told, marred by the juvenile attitudes of gamers and those marketing to them alike, by legendary franchises crushed into the dirt and of our biggest hopes for the year being riddled with flaws. I’d like to suggest though, via the traditional annual list article, that 2012 was the best year for gaming.
Marketing For Idiots
I’m looking directly at you here, Square-Enix. You’ve brought nothing but ignominy and shame and embarrassment to our beloved hobby. Between your dressing up of nuns in sexy outfits and your diabolical attempts to persuade us to send death threats and vile insults to our friends, you’ve left a sour taste in the mouths of those gamers who are desperate to be seen as mature. The thing is, you’ve helped us far more than you ever imagined. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m as sure as anyone else that these campaigns were deliberately marketed for the controversy. The alternative being, of course, that they genuinely believed that sort of silliness is what gamers want. The stereotypical image of gamers flailing with controllers while desperately cussing and satisfying their priapic urges was the direct target of these marketing campaigns.
This, however, is the year that the gaming community and press began to show signs of growing up. Square-Enix gave us their sexy nun trailer for Hitman, a panoply of ultra-violence and tits shot straight into the hindbrain. We gave them nothing back but scorn and overwhelming contempt and we wrote articles defying their gruesome idea of what we wanted to see. They asked us to virtually assassinate our friends on the basis of their physical characteristics, as if small breasts and penises define a person. It took just over an hour for the public outrage to force the dissolution of the marketing campaign and an apology to appear from the company. Even if you subscribe to the view that the latter was manufactured controversy, and it’s not hard to agree with that take on the situation, Square-Enix had a high enough opinion of us to know we’d storm their walls with our disgust. That may be a very thin silver-lining, but it’s there.
Gaming still has a long way to go before it can be considered even half as mature as any other hobby (hobbies considered more mature: food fights, finger-painting and crawling), but 2012 is where we took our first steps towards maturity. We stood up, and we declared that we’re just not going to take it any more. It’s a start.
The Walking Dead Genres
Right, so maybe Syndicate died on its knees, begging to be relieved of the horrible curse of life, but that doesn’t mean this year couldn’t surprise us in other ways. 2012 was the year of once-great genres rising to the esteemed heights they once inhabited. Adventure games, old-school platformers and strategy came back in force this year.
Adventure games, long the target of “X genre is dead!” remarks, stormed back into our lives with the release of The Walking Dead. A streamlined version of the genre, perhaps, but one that realised the twisted logic of adventure puzzles should step aside for real emotional contact with the characters. Let’s remember that the adventure game genre was still niche at the beginning of the year and let’s applaud The Walking Dead making it onto so many game of the year lists, just through its excellent characterisation.
XCOM is a funny thing. It’s entirely possible I care more about my soldiers than is emotionally healthy; while I’ve yet to weep a single manly tear over the loss of one of my experienced troops, I’m pretty sure I’m getting closer to that inescapable moment. Goddamned super-explosive cars. While you shouldn’t really need me to expand further on the game itself, the fact that a strategy game made it out to the shelves, let alone joining The Walking Dead as a common game of the year, is a miracle. It takes the perma-death of its predecessors and the refined mechanics to create a game that will stand as the example of how to do a reboot well.
You might have heard whispered comments about the ending to the Mass Effect trilogy. Nothing major, you know, just a comment or two here and there. Or, you know, maybe you heard the month-long clusterfuck of comments and responses that spawned after gamers finally reached the end of a much-loved trilogy. Players felt they’d been screwed over by the ending which didn’t let them walk away as champion of the universe and disliked that they were forced into choosing an ending by pushing one of three multi-coloured buttons. The fire and fury of the comments was characterised both by many outlets and other commenters as typical gamer entitlement. They’d been given well over one hundred hours of top-notch entertainment, an involved story and memorable characters and they throw a hissy fit over the last ten minutes of the games? How churlish, how rude, how completely right.
I may not agree with their opinions, but I’ll defend to my death their right to say it. I personally felt that the ending wasn’t as much of an issue to me as to others, but I’m in favour of the principle at stake here. Bioware delivered an ending that hundreds of thousands of players felt was sub-standard and didn’t live up to the standard of their previous work. They felt that a game primarily about difficult choices and lack of moral certainty shouldn’t end on a magic button push from a star-child. So they complained. They did it loudly and continually over weeks (no jokes, please) and that should be lauded. A completely passive audience that accepts crap is the opposite of where gaming should be heading; even if the fans were wrong this time, there’s no reason to denigrate their efforts. They were standing up for something they believed in and trying to effect a change for the better. That’s damned admirable.
Speaking of player choice, 2012 was the year that brought the surging waves of Kickstarter crashing around our established AAA islands. The ultimate in player choice, Kickstarter told us to shut up about our favourite fallow genres and put our money where our mouth is. Do you want XCOM to feel more like the original, complete with complex base-building? Then here’s Xenonauts. English countryside based survival against robots? Sir, You Are Being Hunted. God games? Maia. Spaceship-based roguelikes? FTL. It’s an explosion of choice and while we’ve yet to see many released from Kickstarter yet, it’s positively wonderful that we now have a system that will take the risks, and allow us to take risks, on games that major publishers wouldn’t touch with yours, mate.
Fuck it, even I can’t spin that one into something positive. Contempt, lies and alleged copyright theft, there’s nothing good to say here. Thankfully, the negative points have been ably and wonderfully collected by my comrade-in-arms Callum over at Gamesparked.
I’m not naive. I know this year had a lot of downsides, but I don’t want to spend the end of my year wallowing in the filth that’s accumulated over the months. We often forget that videogames are a form of entertainment and the amount of time we spend tearing our hair and beating our chests over the controversies is probably more than we spend happy with our hobby. So that’s my message for the end of the year: everything isn’t shit and things are getting better. It’s not wise or witty, but it’s worth keeping in mind for 2013. To the best year yet!