And if it does send a certain message, what does that message say?
If you haven't noticed, GameSpot has handed out their illustrious award for this year's overall Game of the Year. It went to the Nintendo 3DS game, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds .
Because I haven't played the game (I don't even own a 3DS, but I kinda want one now), I was interested to see it in action, and to hear the staff's reasoning behind the pick. But above all else, I started to wonder if this was precisely the message the video game industry needed. For the record, I'm not saying GameSpot purposely sent this message; it's just a healthy, positive byproduct of their choice.
Let me explain-
The world of gaming has changed so rapidly and so abruptly over the course of several decades, that it's sometimes difficult to fathom. It wasn't that long ago that a game like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past ruled the world. Nor was it that long ago when video games, despite not having the technical prowess of today, revolved around one primary premise: Fun. I hate to use that word because it implies that older games were more entertaining than newer games and really, that's not what I mean. It's tough to accurately describe what I mean, but I think most know what I'm talking about. They know it in their gut.
These days, gaming really does seem to take itself way too seriously. Perhaps it's a side effect of developers pushing gaming to grow up, to leave its "toy" days behind, to legitimize the industry and prove to everyone that video games really aren't just for kids anymore. And I do applaud that push because it's the only way to kill deeply entrenched stereotypes. That's why I will praise Quantic Dream no end for their ambition, and I will praise Naughty Dog for finally delivering an experience that really does feel like playing an action movie. But there's always a part of me that feels as if the balance is off, and it has been off for years.
It's not that we don't have great, family-friendly games. It's just that these aren't the games that seem to be pushing the industry forward any longer. The games that push the envelope are, for the most part, M-rated. All our effort appears to be going toward bigger, better and more realistic. Or rather, more realistic is , somehow, automatically better. Furthermore, the games like A Link Between Worlds get virtually zero attention when compared to the aforementioned "big boy" blockbusters; from 2013, that would include The Last Of Us , Bioshock Infinite , Grand Theft Auto V , Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag , Tomb Raider , etc. Nowadays, it's almost surprising to see a "kiddie" 3DS game get any headlines at all.
To see one win overall Game of the Year from one of the industry's leading sources does send a distinct message. It's a reminder, really. It reminds us that despite the ridiculous speed and appreciated forward progress of the industry, despite the obvious advancements and newfound technical superiority, we've sort of adopted a form of tunnel vision. In other words, if a game is going to be more realistic, it's automatically better and furthermore, that reality needs to include adult content. If it doesn't, gaming will still be seen as a kid's hobby and we're sick of that. I understand the concept. I really do. In many ways, I embrace it as well because I can't stand the stereotypes, either.
But there's a reason why smaller indie games in the digital space have started to broaden our scope again, why the puzzlers and platformers and adventure-type games have once again found a place in this industry. It's because those titles are seeking to restore the balance, and that's precisely what I think this award for A Link Between Worlds does: It's a reminder that excellence can be found in small packages, that wonderful interactive experiences can be colorful and silly (really, it's still allowed), and that when we say "fun," we often refer to two very distinct types of fun. The first has you riveted, sometimes with whitened knuckles and other times with your jaw on the floor. The second has you grinning like a kid without a care in the world; life is that much rosier.
Both impart very different feelings of pleasure. So, why not have both?