Is being “Mainstream” really the best option for video games?

So…am I ready to be flamed to death? Eh…probably, it’s not like we already don’t know the answer to both questions though, so…

The last two generations…the last 7 years meant a lot to the video game world, even if it mostly were bad things happening but still, after many years, gaming became a mainstream way to pass the time and a legitimate hobby without having the world look at gamers as if they were some kind of shut-in, basement-dwelling, pathetic perma-virgins, even if still sounds kinda hillarious in various regions of the world.

Memes

Despite these changes, things don’t look better or at least in the degree people may have desired. Concerns have arrived with the rise of the mainstream gaming choices such as the multitude of easy and graphically “stunning” FPSes / bare-bones games, new gaming consoles that don’t offer anything significant, DLC / “add-ons”, retraux gaming, “indie developing”, “video games are art”(*you’ll have to excuse me…I threw up in my mouth*), cellphone games overtaking actual games and consoles, the Unreal Engine used for everything, Quick Time Events watering down gameplay, grimdark reboots, GRAFIX, walking, installing game data, countless cutscenes dilluting gameplay, “grandiose, mature storylines and characters”, rushed programming & development and even gaming “journalism”. Even though some of those existed in the past as well, one way or another by the end of this year they have claimed a part in video gaming and are unfortunately here to stay.

latest trends

Being mainstream is usually treated as some kind of bane in this world, as if a lot of people knowing and enjoying the same thing as you or me is some kind of social stigma or social incopetency. In most cases, it is the total opossite and as someone mentioned in a very…raw fashion : “Being Mainstream FUCKING ROCKS! That way more people know about my favourite things, I can hit on a larger selection of girls and even get it on with them, I can walk in a shop and see my favourite shows or hear my favourite music, I can talk with more people about it and make more friends and finally stop looking like a weirdo for liking these things.” And that man is right for the most part. Being mainstream is a great achievement in the world of entertainment, even if it isn’t the most popular out there. However people complain about this and usually fall into two categories : 1.) one consists of the most well known hipster-douches who either are way too snobby to accept anything or a guy(in most cases…like 85% of them) / girl that wants to hit on someone and tries to impress the other party with their knowledge of the more “cultured”, “underground scene” and in both cases, these people are pathetic.

Becoming mainstream is great for the creators of those things and the fans as well, whether it’s music, movies or anything else. If something’s mainstream it just means it sells well enough for the people to notice it and accept it and thus the creator(s) get more money, thus more money can be spent in the product and upgrading the quality, as well as making way for more or even other projects. All around, it is a win-win situation. With a little research or just by inspecting things you love, you’ll see what I mean. Would we have as many fun and engaging superhero movies nowadays if Superheroes weren’t mainstream? Would we we have several tv shows actually being adaptions from comicbooks if they weren’t mainstream or would we have people stop treating those of us who liked all of the above as weirdos simply because they are now acceptable?

Hipsters

However…HOWEVER! Vido games fall into the “blind spot” of being mainstream, that little gray area that has zero advantages and just distorts what the hobby is meant to be. And that is where the second category of people come in : 2.)People concerned about the downfall of their favourite series in favour of “mainstream trends”. These people do exist and recently their outcry was heard worldwide when DmC : Devil May Cry was finally released…to be more precise, this outcry was far louder and more substantial than the past years ever since its reveal, since they now have the leverage and proof of “this game SUCKS BALLS“!

In comparisson to music, movies, “art” and tv, games fall into a blind spot if you will, that cannot be seen unless one either experiences it or is experienced and has been around, starting from the earliest days, to see what’s wrong with today’s “mainstream gaming”. Compared to other media, the creation of a game is far more vexing, demanding and expensive in comparison even if it gets cancelled in the end. For example, take the early development cycle movie : someone has an idea, writes a rough script of say…12 pages, explains everything and waits until it gets greenlit to go on and make / direct / produce it. Compare that to a game’s development cycle nowadays : one has to have an idea, often way too bastardised to the current standards and trends of gaming, having to write right about 200 pages detailing concepts like characters, story, gameplay, innovative ideas and even artwork and music…ONE GUY! And that one person has to present it to the top hats of his company and they must first like it to even take a further look into his work to even dare to greenlight it and go to a publisher to ask for funding(unless the company is a big one, like Nintendo or SONY where they function as developers and publishers). And even then, one has to work arduously with more changes to the original draft compared to a film director that had the worst luck with his projects. And say the game gets cancelled for whatever reason possible, even that takes away more money in comparisson to other mediums of entertainment from the developers, not to mention precious time for other projects and even mental health. It is not rarely that we hear about people in the gaming industry just plainly living on their own desks to get the job done or even suffering from life long depression brought to by their own work. Oh sure, similar things happen in other mediums too but usually they are quite often attributed to scamms, drugs, (money)whoring etc, not so much with the “I have to do my job or I’m dead” kind of mindset.

And that is true for way too many companies out there. A common sight the “journalists” usually highlight is the company employees and directors / devs / producers being nice and easy-going people…and some of them really are. The catch of that, though? They are all from extremely successful companies that make way too much money for whatever trash they put out. Look at Cliffy B. or Rockstar Games or Bioware or Activision. Yes, they are swimming in “it” but when someone asks about Square-Enix? Or Nintendo’s studios that don’t involve Mario’s or PokeMon’s easy money or Natsume…or worse, Crafts & Meister? Suddenly you are starting to see cracks on the happy image that “journalists” paint and aren’t too keen or brave enough to report, often requiring some big mess to even have them rear their heads out of their butts…or just make an unneeded mess to steer controversy and show people “they do their jobs”…kinda like the Yellow Presses or the Politicians.

Mainstream Gaming

But things aren’t that great on the more…”hardcore” or obscure side of gaming, with “indie developers” and the like, going full-blown pretentious on our asses, trying to “re-invent the long lost genres” or some other crap they think has happened. So…one would naturally think that gaming is doomed and all that other shit I keep hearing from players that don’t fall into the “gaming trends” of today? Well…no. It is a bit tricky but it seems that the reason games have become mainstream and in the worst way possible, that of “becoming what’s liked” instead of “becoming mainstream and liked for what they are” like movies and songs, something overly prevelent in Western society during those last few decades. Being on top of something and even corrupting it to get it to the top, with you along for the ride, seems to have been a major social theme. I’m a westerner, born in Europe and lived all my life there, that is no secret. But even I can see when things get rotten, when and how we should act. Perhaps it’s because of the country I grew up, but I wouldn’t say for sure, despite how oddball we can be at times.

West vs. East

The solution? For the time being, it is japanese gaming! I’m prepared to be called names and even be shouted at but I do believe that our current answer lies there. Compared to the west, Japan is much more easy going when it comes to their medias and family entertainment, a really stark contrast to us where each and every of the lesser mainstream hobbies needs to be socially acceptable, thus why modern gaming is becoming like that and why superheroes in comics or even movies are constantly rebooted. It’s not about just money, but also about adhering to a really stupid and ethereal social sterotype that is shoved down our throats for so long. Friends of mine that used to play the same games when we were young don’t even want to remember that, instead playing League of Legends or concentrating on “Mature Gaming” like Mass Effect and Bioshock. Even several japanese companies have been affected by that and had their games altered to adhere to that stereotype just to sell on the west, with the results ranging from “Eh, screw it. If the westerners don’t like what we have, we simply don’t give them that. We’ll make the games we like, the way we like and the more people that like and buy them, the better for everybody. Win-Win!”[Developers like Platinum Games or KONAMI and even SEGA] to “MOAR WESTERN STEREOTYPES, MOAR TRY-HARD GRIMDARK GAMES, MOAR GOW MONEY!“[Developers like Capcom]. Guess which of the two is hated everywhere, even by their current and former employees.

While Japan has its own social stereotypes regarding their video games and entertainment, they are way more elastic than us and aren’t too ashamed to say : “You know what, I bought Kamen Rider Battride War and played the fuck out of it. And I’m 60 years old.” That kind of stance and acceptance is one of the first steps to that but there is another step that goes hand in hand with that. Appropriate money making games, be they are spin-offs of an existing franchise or just new games made solely with the mindset of making big bucks, not a bad thing if used wisely and properly.

Final Fantasy AGITO

Think of KONAMI and think of Hideo Kojima, the main maker of the hit series Metal Gear Solid. With the money KONAMI makes from the series alone, they not only make more games of that series with excellent quality and please the fans, but also reserve some money for more tricky and even more fun games, like the spin-off Metal Gear Rising : Revengeance. Or even the excellent Senritsu no Stratus, of which the image is used for the article. Companies in Japan do this very often, so that they can both have funds for their projects and for their employees to get rightfully paid without any misshaps but also for them to have fun with game-making more often than “every blue moon”. SEGA is one of the companies that has effectively set this strategy as of this year, cutting almost all ties with the west after the Alien : Colonial Marines fiasco and focusing solely on Japan, having their arcade, “social games” such as the Hatsune Miku and Idolmasters give them money, while focusing on fun projects like Ryu Ga Gotoku : Isshin and Phantasy Star Online 2 & Phantasy Star Nova. Or as they did the years prior, earning money from the Miku games and going on to make games for the Shining series and even other games. Not only that, the companies that make use of that practise are actually making a really wise choice and putting out those games in appropriate systems, that usually change with the times. At first it was the PSP, then the mobiles, then the iOS etc.

This is a strategy that can also be implemented here with the western game studios, say for example…a game studio releases some titles on the consoles that are guarenteed to make them enough money, like some God of War or Gears of Wars clones that pander to those people so that they can get enough money out of them and proceed to make the titles they wanted but couldn’t due to not having any leverage to fall behind if it failed. Problem is…I sincerely doubt there are any western studios like that…like, at all. Seems like western studios aren’t that concerned any more with letting their ideas run wild or if some creators are, the top hats of their studio aren’t so warm to those ideas any more, save for a few exceptions like parody games(Saints Row or Just Cause 2) or guaranteed hitmakers(Uncharted or a Batman game). I guess people think that we don’t need purple dragons or platforming foxes…or good superhero games

Spyro

So…what do we do? To be honest, I have no idea. As long as we don’t get rid of these social stigmas and stop thinking with our wallets for short-term cash instead of a long-time fanbase building for actual cash and job gratification, I doubt we will ever progress. I guess that our pride is also quite huge since we can’t accept any kind of mistakes as far as game making goes, unlike the japanese(the famous Team Ninja apology for Ninja Gaiden 3 and then proceed to make NG3 Razor’s Edge). In the end of the day, video game making is a job and it tends to be one of the few jobs out there that people can like and want to keep on doing, because they really enjoy it. Bringing it down to the level of a mediocre desk job that just sucks any ounce of self respect and self gratification anyone has ever had for himself / herself isn’t something positive to look forward to and I hope this changes, since we have the means to do so. Japan already does that, why can’t we as well? What is so important in modern mainstream gaming that doesn’t allow us to go full blown crazy with excitement and awesome ideas except for some assinine social stereotype / spoken law?

Have a good one everybody. And may this year actually bring some positive changes.

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