Jun 052012
 

Watching the trailer for Tomb Raider: Crossroads, I was taken back to what it was like to be dysfunctional 12 year-old growing up in England.

Like an angry pre-pubescent male showing his “maturity” by swearing loudly in public, talking about all the girls he’s “done it” with and trying to start fights, the games industry has for the past 15 or so years been trying to distance itself from its “kiddie” heritage by ham-fistedly thrusting ever-increasing quantities of tits, violence and social ineptitude upon us. Only an industry with such a high quota of social retards could interpret “mature” in such a comical fashion. Normally, I would find examples of such clumsy incompetence endearing – “Awww bless… Little Jonny’s gone to tie up his laces and crapped himself” – but in the case of the games industry it’s galling for three distinct reasons:

  • Publishers have an annoying habit of destroying the charm in franchise by re-pitching it to a “Mature” audience – Shadow The Hedgehog is perhaps the single greatest example of this. I’m guessing the kick-off meeting went something like this: “Right… We’ve got charming classic franchise loved by millions the world over which is famous for blue skies, green hills and cute animals. Now, let’s remove all that pussy shit and add a ‘dark’ Hedgehog with guns, heavy metal and explosions!” – What could possibly go wrong? Well, the execution was a bit like this.
  • For years the games industry has been obsessed with being taken seriously as an art form. Many games (especially within the Indie scene) are examples of creative excellence, but the streams of charmless and largely interchangeable shooters, which clog the charts like kebab grease in a fat man’s arteries, do nothing but reinforce negative stereotypes.
  • All things being equal your average “man on the street” will sooner pick up a charmless turd (that’s the technical term) with boobs and explosions, than a better game with a more accessible setting.

This final reason, is I suspect the real reason why the games industry is so obsessed with projecting its awkward interpretation of adulthood wherever it can.

I’m not against adult themes in games. I think when the styling/content of the game justifies a mature approach then it’s only natural a game should follow that path. Games like Heavy Rain, Skyrim and even Kane and Lynch are great examples of this, and these games in their own way push the medium forward without feeling forced or contrived. It’s just a shame that it was felt that the charm and magic of exploration and epic set-pieces wasn’t enough sustain Tomb Raider (even if in an act of  cynicism, Lara Croft’s tits have been getting bigger and bigger down the years). Instead they decided what the franchise really needs is to be more like Uncharted, but grittier. Great. I wonder how much attention will be paid to Lara’s funbags in the run-up to launch? Earlier this week a friend suggested that the marketing meeting ahead of the creation of the website might go something like this:

 

Marketing chump 1: “Huh, so we can’t make the bigger? Well.. how about we make them move? Would that be possible?”

Marketing chump 2: “Hmm… We could pretend she’s breathing!”

Marketing chump 1 & 2 together: *GUFFAWS*

 

It’s not funny because you know it might just happen…

 

Games provide enjoyment and bring a little escapism to people’s lives. You don’t need lashings of gore, coked-up babies and pneumatic bimbos to do this. In fact, if you adopt a more “accessible” and charming approach then you’re far more likely to reach people of all ages and even people who are traditionally non-gamers. Games like Little Big Planet, Super Mario Galaxy, Rayman: Origins and Psychonauts are great examples of games with tremendous depth which also manage to appeal to people of all ages. There’s space in the market for all kinds of content to keep everybody happy, but “mature” does not necessarily mean better or even more emotive - Shadow of the Colossus, Journey and Braid all achieved this without resorting to  schlock. Attempting to prove how “mature” and “sophisticated” you are by recreating the fantasy world of a hormone-crazed and sexually frustrated angry young man achieves quite the opposite.