The Conservative Gaming Party of Joystickistan

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I suspect that a plethora of people, like myself, are currently wandering the wasteland of “Fallout 4”, scavenging, skirmishing, interior decorating… and enjoying themselves. It’s a familiar feeling, as you listen to 1950s tunes while blasting super mutants in the face with lasers and pretending you can carry 50 times your bodyweight in guns. A little too familiar…

In essence, not much has changed in the land of Fallout, apart from the home improvement and from what gaming magazines tell us we may be looking at “Game of the Year”. But is this because it’s truly such a fantastic game? Or because we are actually getting the nostalgia fix we anticipated?

Did we buy Fallout 4 because it introduced game-changing new mechanics? Improved graphics? A mind-boggling story? Super deep well-written characters? I think you know the answer to this one. We bought “Fallout 4” because it’s “Fallout”. A word which has become synonymous with wasteland, lasers, pet dogs, radiation and mutant baddies in a rich, open-world environment. It’s nothing new but according to the internet, it may as well be the Messiah because the “Fallout 4” hype train is the equivalent of a Japanese Shinkansen strapped with explosives – ready to slice naysayers to pieces and go out in a mushroom cloud of glory.

There’s nothing secret about the powerful influence of nostalgia on the video games industry.

The reason for the hype of course, is the sudden and unexpected announcement at the Bethesda conference of “Fallout 4”, which brought with it a 7 year wave of “Fallout 3” nostalgia. There’s nothing secret about the powerful influence of nostalgia on the video games industry. Gamers have and continue to be incredibly conservative and devoted to certain games and series. From early 8-bit “retro” titles like “Pac-man” to full-blown AAA series such as “Fallout”. Whether it is a form of escapism or merely a hobby, part of the reason we play games is to remember the good times we’ve already experienced. But have we reached the point where the industry has become oversaturated with nostalgia?

From a business point of view, it’s obvious that making more of what the paying customer wants is a good way of ensuring a profit on investment and that ‘Game Company X’ will not go out of business in a time when the economy is so unstable. This explains why we are up to “Final Fantasy XV” (yes, that’s fifteen games that bear the same name and mostly the same game mechanics.) Games marketers are acutely aware of this in the West where the growing numbers seem off-putting to consumers, unlike the East where they garner respect for quality and integrity. It’s the reason why the new “Assassin’s Creed” game is called “Syndicate” and not “Assassin’s Creed 9” (not including mobile and handheld titles).

However, the growing enumeration of games still suggests that developers are creating new stories, characters and artworks despite retaining the same name and mechanics. Whereas the ancient art of video game remakes continues to retread sacred ground with an already existing fan base. While a remake of a really good, albeit old title is often a fantastic way to reinvigorate old fans and introduce some new ones, it still takes quite a bit of development, particularly on next-gen consoles. Nintendo has probably been the worst offender of this since it remade most of the games we played as children in the 80s and 90s.

Yes, I’m talking about the infamous 90s kids, to whom each tiny crumb of nostalgia means the world and will be defended with a white hot passion. We’re the reason they remade Ocarina of Time for the 3DS. We’re the reason EB Games is selling Mario plushies and Donkey Kong dongles. We’re the reason that there is a special edition Monster Hunter new Nintendo 3DS console bundle and a million Amiibos (but only at the Target in the middle of Woopwoop). It’s because we buy all this stuff.

Nintendo planted this seed when we were young, and now they need only recreate the same titles they released 10 years ago to rake in the rewards and the remains of my wallet. Did you know that the Pokemon Company™ alone makes $1.5 billion dollars annually? Because that is a lot of money. The sales figures for “Pokemon Alpha Sapphire/Omega Red” alone are pushing 10 million copies sold. That’s 10 million people who were willing to buy the same game they played a decade ago.

We’re the reason EB Games is selling Mario plushies and Donkey Kong dongles.

By continuing to buy the same thing over and over, we are fueling an industry that is content to give us more of that same thing which leaves new ideas gathering dust in the mind-shelves of the developers working on things like Call of Duty Black Ops 55: Plants Vs Zombies Edition. Sony is just as guilty of remaking games except they use the term “remastering”, which implies that it’s simply a graphics update. Instead of waiting for a successful game to be missed, they release the same game with better graphics a few months later on a different console instead of creating backwards compatibility. And again, we buy them.

When “The Last of Us” was released on Playstation 3, it sold a whopping 1.3 million copies in its first week and went on to sell 5.67 million in total. But why stop there? “Why not tweak the graphics slightly and sell it on the Playstation 4?” said a snazzy looking businessman twirling his luxurious mustache while overlooking a conference table in his offices at Sony headquarters. That probably didn’t actually happen but “The Last of Us” did go on to sell 3.48 million copies on the Playstation 4 which means a lot of us who had traded in their PS3 for a PS4 around that time, had to buy yet another copy of the game because it was actually amazing.

When conferences like E3 come around, we show the greatest enthusiasm for older titles being remade such as “Final Fantasy VII” which was met with a roaring crowd of enthusiastic gamers ready to pull money out of unsavoury places and throw it unceremoniously at the Playstation execs on stage. At the same time, when Media Molecule presented a new game called “Dreams” which allows you to create worlds within worlds for other gamers to explore seemingly from scratch, the audience remained apprehensively silent until they were shown another familiar title. Which is a shame because that game looks amazing and the majority of conservative gamers will probably spend their money on something else that they’ve already played instead of going out and trying something new.

When did we become so conservative? Is it because games have become so expensive that we are simply trying to get the most out of our money? That certainly can’t be the whole story since we spend so much on special editions, consoles, season passes, etc. Perhaps we have become elitist fanboys/girls who fervently defend our one and only true console. Then again, a PC is the best platform for most games and all of us own one. Is it because our time is so precious that we absolutely must be having fun when we do play and the only way to ensure it is to play something we’ve already played before?

Even if we don’t know the reason, the truth is that we fuel this industry with our money and what’s it’s been saying so far is: “This game good, me want more” which is a little sad and insulting. I think the only way to change this is to evolve past the point of mindlessly buying sequels and remakes like sheep and try something new every now and again.

This game good, me want more.

So when Christmas comes around in a few weeks and you roll up to the games store with your hard-earned money, are you going to spend it on something you’ve played before? Are you going to buy the new Call of Duty because you played the last one? Are you going to buy Star Wars: Battlefront, because of the movie hype?

Ask yourself: am I buying this game purely out of nostalgia? And if you are, is it ok to miss out on all the other games out there just to play something you’ve probably played before? Why not try something new? How about “Life is Strange”? Or “Rocket League”? What of “Splatoon” or “Everybody’s Gone to Rapture”? Why not “Ori and the Blind Forest”? Or “Bloodborne”? “Evolve”? “Code Name S.T.E.A.M”?

Dang it, I just bought “Fallout 4” again.