There’s rock. There’s rap and hip hop. There’s dubstep. Different people like one of the three while completely disregarding the other two as ‘trash,’ ‘sound poisoning,’ or some other creative insult. How do the big record label companies make money? By pleasing everyone, of course! But how can they reach out to the rock crowd as well as the rap crowd, while perhaps making inroads towards the dubstep audience? Simple. Make a track that combines elements of all three genres and have a popular platinum artist sing/rap/warble to it.
What comes out is pop, the music of Katy Perry, Selena Gomez, Britney Spears, and the archnemesis of the internet, Justin Bieber. There’s probably a generic hip hop beat, a generic bass drop, a generic song about making it rain in the club, hitting on people, or a combination of both. It can be safe to say that most pop music tends to come not out of artistic inspiration or creative vision, but a desire to appeal to the lowest common denominator.
Something similar is happening to the gaming industry. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare introduced a persistent profile into multiplayer. Persistency was something that was normally associated with role playing games (RPG), particularly, massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPG).
Mass Effect, a game that started out as a RPG, started evolving into an action game with RPG elements. By the time Mass Effect 3 rolled around, it was, in this writer’s point of view, Gears of War, but with a deep story that had noticeably less testosterone in it. The game even had that ‘press this button to notice a really important event,’ that Gears of War popularised.
Ever since 2007, when Call of Duty 4 was released, it appears that almost every first person shooter has adopted aiming-down-the-sight mechanics and a customisable profile that levels up. Wolfenstein (2009) could be best described as a Call of Duty 2 clone, but instead of the player killing Nazis, the player kills Nazis who sometimes turn into demons. Even Call of Duty’s most vocal competitor, Battlefield, has adopted similar mechanics and even a single player campaign that would not be out of place in the former’s recent release.
Square Enix is finally catching onto the fact that some elements of the Japanese RPG, such as grinding, random encounters, and frantically scrolling through the menu for Blizzaga before the enemy stomps your party, are no longer popular. Final Fantasy XIII did away with some of those features, incorporating a more dynamic combat system that felt more action-packed along with scrapping random encounters altogether.
It seems that the most popular games have started merging genres, leaving most games a hodge-podge action RPG platformer first person shooter abomination thingy. Of course, to this writer’s knowledge, gaming has not yet gone the way of pop music, at least, not yet.
Fortunately, most games tend to blend multiple genres in a way that still preserves the creative spirit of the developers. Players of Mass Effect were able to enjoy increasingly intense moments fighting the Reapers while still being exposed to the rich, multi-faceted universe filled with krogan, elcor, and turians. Likewise, Call of Duty players can brag about their stats to each other, comparing profiles and sharing their favourite loadouts, complementing frantic action that games with the first-person shooter.
If the above is to be believed, cross-pollinating between genres should not be a bad thing; it can introduce their genre to fans of other genres. However, this writer still cannot shake the feeling that, with a few exceptions, he feels like he is always playing the same game, no matter what that game is. Titanfall feels like Call of Duty with jetpacks and mechs, while Battlefield, in spite of the anti-Activision rhetoric, is actively aping Call of Duty’s gameplay, Uncharted feels like a lovechild between Assassin’s Creed and Tomb Raider. God of War is simply Devil May Cry set in Ancient Greece. On top of all this, it looks like it has gotten to the point where the player cannot open up a game without setting up a profile and cannot play multiplayer mode without gaining experience points and rewards to customise said profile with.
The tragic thing is that whenever a new game is announced, gamers and journalists tend to immediately circumscribe it within the familiar. Lords of Shadow, meant to be a completely new IP, was described as having ‘God of War mechanics.’ John Carmack described Doom as “Aliens meets Evil Dead 2”. The latter example was perhaps during a time when games were a lot more diverse and had clear-cut distinctions between the genres (i.e.: a fighting game is a fighting game, an RPG is an RPG).
Perhaps the singularity that the gaming genres are heading toward is paradoxically symptomatic of the fact that, while the developers are taking bold new steps in revolutionising their respective genres, they also seem to be stuck in follow-the-leader, risk averse mode. Perhaps the lack of diversity in today’s games could explain the rising popularity in indie games, from the ultraviolent Hotline Miami to the literal sandbox that is Minecraft. However, even there, most indie games, at least that the writer knows of, have a tendency to go retro, sporting eight or 16-bit graphics. It seems that, no matter how far one might go creatively, the work must be anchored in familiarity.