Too Serious or Too Goofy? A Look into Current/Future Tonal Shifts in Videogames

Tonal Shift Image

So I was reading up on the interweb gazette today, that’s what I call reading news on the internet, and found out something interesting with the development on Sunset Overdrive. In an interview with Siliconera, the creative director of the game, Marcus Smith, stated that maybe things are a little bit ‘too serious’ in the gaming community. “Games are kind of like uber-serious right now. In a lot of cases, people are trying to make interactive movies more than things you are entertained by. For us, we just wanted to divert and go back to our roots. Insomniac has always done games that were pretty self aware, always had a sense of humor, and are fun for different groups of people.

While I certainly am glad that Insomniac is returning to what made their games great in the first place, this brings up numerous interesting points about the current state of the industry. Have videogames gotten too serious that now we’re returning back to an era of fun and light-hearted titles? Should we absolutely return to this frame of mind after what’s been going within the last ten years? Can we reach over-saturation with having games that are colorful and are just based on mindless entertainment value?

Of course I grew up with colorful platformers when I was a wee dino-lad, so to me I absolutely have no problem with returning to making games be about…fun (I know, it’s hard to imagine that). However this really could be the proper dose of medicine the industry needs right now.

Since the beginning of the PS3/Xbox 360 cycle, major videogame titles were developed with the mentality of ‘we have the tech to make this as realistic as possible, so let’s go for it’. This type of thinking was fed into people’s minds, along with shooters like Gears of War, Halo, and especially Call of Duty making a statement that shooters were here to stay. But most importantly, it started the birth of ‘Realistic-Gritty-Unshaven-Masculine-Men-Games-That-Also-Happen-to-Have-Shooting-Elements’ genre that even greatly influenced other studios to go in that direction with their software (Mass Effect, Uncharted, inFamous, Resistance). However it wasn’t the games themselves that influenced the change in direction, it was the fact that publishers found out that making games realistic and gritty would allow for profitable sales. This is especially apparent after the success of the Call of Duty franchise once Modern Warfare became a huge success (this was the game that transitioned the whole ‘I’m tired of WW2 shooters’ to ‘I’m tired of modern military shooters’ phase), which led to the regenerative health system and the linear level-designs with occasional interactive cinematic moments squashed in between.


COD: Advanced Warfare


It’s kind of like that moment when Max reached 16, and was like, “Ugh, I’m so tired of wearing shoes with bright blue colors and listening to the Dave Matthews Band! I’m gonna start dressing up in nothing but black clothes and wear Kiss make-up. And every time I turn on the radio I’m gonna make sure that The Smiths are on! Because I’m a reflection of this world  I’m living in, nothing but pain and misery!”

Of course you slap him, because you’re the mother or father, and say, “Son, you stop taking everything seriously and quit reading your crappy poems out loud! Even the cat is tired of listening to them, look at that, he’s curled up into a ball because you can’t stop saying the word ‘bleak’!”

This is what I felt about the past generation of gaming, a lot of developers want to be taken seriously, but just don’t have the writers or knowledge to be taken seriously.

But what makes Max as a child any better? All he was doing was making fart noises, writing inappropriate messages on the bathroom wall, and scribbles all his belongings with various amounts of crayons that just don’t complement each other. Max was an annoying little shit, and so was 16-year old Max, but in both their own unique way.

It reminds me a lot of how Saints Row became super successful after 3. Saints Row 3 features a lot of immature elements such as giant purple dildos, nude para-shooting, doing silly dances in front of public authority, and features a lot of crazy costumes. The third and fourth ones are pretty fun, but they also, and here’s where I’m probably going to receive a lot of angry messages for this, have terrible writing. It’s a colorful GTA mod where the writers and designers work in unison just to throw shit on the wall, and see what sticks.
However it never grounds itself, does it want to be a wacky slap-stick game or does it want to be the videogame equivalent to Airplane? Where everyone is taking things seriously, but they’re put in extremely ridiculous environments? The voice actors do their damnedest to sell their performances, especially Nolan North in Saints Row 4 who just sounds like a slightly different version of Deadpool, but the material they’re given is too minimal, redundant, and has not a whole lot of proper set-ups to the jokes they are telling. “Hey, look its Keith David – he’s Keith David! Hey look, it’s Shaundi, she’s dressed provocatively, but deep down is a tough woman even though people still call her a whore!”
Of course these games are known for their ridiculous missions, and the fact that it’s a sandbox game where you can do whatever the hell you want. But I feel like the franchise’s success is based on when it was released, which was around the time when GTA 4 was being mocked for being ‘too realistic’ and gritty military shooters were becoming popular. To many, it was the shining light of absurdity at the end of a tunnel that also had a lot of military shooters that looked the same. Personally I think there are other games out there that achieve the same sense of madness, but work so much better such as Deadpool and Bulletstorm.

Although that’s besides the point.

Thing is, I don’t think you can over-saturate the market with nothing but games that are made just for entertainment value and nothing else. Like, “Oh my god games these days are made to look colorful and are entertaining, where are the ones that make me shoot stuff and make me feel like shit?” No sane person says that, and if they are out there, they’re what’s holding the industry back. Realistic and gritty shooters will never go away, and no one’s going to take them away. It’s just that the amount of gritty realistic shooters is too damn high!

What we want to achieve as an industry is to have the perfect balance that we had with the era of the PS2/Xbox/Gamecube console cycle. An era where one genre wasn’t overshadowing the rest, and where developers were being experimental with the genre’s they were working in. The result would exhibit a wide spectrum of genre’s ranging from silly action games, to light-hearted adventure games, to realistic yet fun racing games, and of course your super gritty and depressing shooters. Instead of having an emphasis of one specific genre, and having occasional brief appearances of other obscure genre’s.

If Sunset Overdrive does extremely well, we could be seeing a refreshing start to more colorful and entertaining games that don’t have a strong emphasis on just shooting stuff. Or maybe we just can’t get enough of our big-chinned and scruffy white protagonists. Maybe we could reach an agreement by just removing the ‘scruffy’ part, and having them just be big-chinned white protagonists. There we go, yep I finally found a compromise that everyone can get behind!


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Filed under Brut-Op Piece, Gaming

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