A funny thing happened on the way to today. The video game world prior to 2015 was filled with bubblegum pop sounds, digital pings, and the occasional gong, but the video game world of today is full of flying bullets, primal screams and the occasional thermodynamic nuclear explosion. When the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Atari 2600 before it debuted, the video game landscape was a kinder gentler place. The focus of games was not necessarily on death and destruction, and on the occasion that it was, it was focused on repelling or defeating alien hordes that derezzed into a blip rather than becoming eviscerated, dismembered or disemboweled. What was the shift in the degree of gore and why is it that it’s far more common to spend your time on aggression than fun?
When Doom debuted in the early 1990’s, it was the first popular marker that the times “were a changin’.” There were certainly other games that dealt with similar elements such as Death Race and Custer’s Revenge, but those games were on the fringe, and nothing else had quite the impact on both gamers and popular culture as the much beloved first person shooter. For the first time gamers who’d cut their teeth walking through the blocky mazes of Atari’s Adventure, or leaped and bounded across the world of Super Mario were allowed to peer into the anti-civilization emotions that Stephen King argued needed to be expressed despite their, well, anti-civilization nature.
Still, the shift in leaning toward the darker side of the human experience doesn’t necessarily fall on the head of the proliferation of video games. It is more a symptom of a larger phenomenon than the cause of the phenomenon itself. Harking back to simpler times, there was once a era when children were allowed and only expected to be children. In general as a society we are much more cynical than we were in decades before, but also the content that reached the eyes of the impressionable was often deemed only for them, and the world of adults was strictly for adults. Those same children of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s carried with them their love of the things that fueled their imagination on into adulthood, and now with the power to create their own content for the masses were able infuse it with their more adult sensibility, coupled with the mindset that on a certain level they weren’t making these things for children exclusively, they were making it for themselves.
In the end it’s not to say that playing Modern Warfare, God of War, Fallout or Grand Theft Auto isn’t its own kind of fun, but it most definitely falls into a category that your average psychiatrist might suggest alternate forms of entertaining oneself. Every once in a while we get a reminder of this with games such as the LEGO series which manages to capture that same level of innocence and fun that those early games of the 70’s and 80’s had.
And it’s not all doom and gloom out there either. One has only to look toward the massively popular Minecraft for an example that even though we do like to release those once in a while unsavory vibes, we still only ever want to just have fun, laugh a little and call it a day.
What are some of your favorite games, and where do you think they fall in the “fun” spectrum, and why do you like to play them. Let us know in the comments.