The American author William Arthur Ward once said that “To make mistakes is human; to stumble is commonplace; to be able to laugh at yourself is maturity.” It’s a strange quote when you weigh it against the common belief that maturity comes with awesome responsibilities and burdens. It begins to make sense when you consider the sentiment behind the saying is that burdens will always be there, and that the mark of true maturity is to be able to laugh at your struggles.
It’s a sentiment that more and more video game developers have been echoing in recent years. This isn’t done with the games trying to change the way we look at gaming or tug at our heartstrings, but rather embrace a particular absurdity that often results from their willingness to poke fun at the gaming industry at large or, more often than not, from the game poking fun at itself.
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon dropped the darkness and horrors of its predecessors in favor of presenting a neon-fuelled nostalgic throwback to the ‘80s. Undead Nightmare populated the gritty world of Red Dead Redemption with zombies and more than a few jokes about it source material. Capcom Vancouver studio head Joe Nickolls recently had to assure fans that he knows the upcoming Dead Rising 4 has “gotta be stupid.”
On one hand, there is a value to these games because of the laughs and carefree amusement they provide. They’re the kind of titles that you play when you’re feeling a bit low and need to forget about it all. The developers clearly had fun making these games. There are times when you’re playing them that the creator’s feelings of personal satisfaction are very much contagious.
On the other hand, it almost feels insulting to simply write off these games as above average forms of personal entertainment that have an admirable sense of humor. These games exist in part because there is a proven market for them, and also because they allow development teams to flex their creative muscles with popular franchises as vessels for passion projects. They also exist as a byproduct of a growing artistic medium.
We’re fortunate to be living in an era where developers are pushing the dramatic capabilities of video games as a storytelling medium further than they ever have before, but that was not achieved without some considerable growing pains. Gaming endured a period of discontent where browns and grays ruled the aesthetic landscape while doom and gloom were seen as the only ways to convey how very serious a game’s story was.
While there will always be room for titles such as those, it is the surest sign of proper maturity that the industry is now starting to realize that the next smash hit is just as likely to be a game about the horrors of war as it is a title that allows you to stack half-naked men on top of each other in a twisted game of Jenga.