Guest Article : Steven Harbor
The current generation of video games is stricken with a curse. To my memory, neither the previous generation nor any of the generations before it had this problem. This problem was introduced way back in 2006 when Nintendo finally announced its new gaming system, the Nintendo Wii. Nintendo touted their new “innovative” motion controls. These motion controls would supposedly usher in a new era of “innovative” games. Nintendo, after decades of repeatedly remaking their key franchises with marginal improvements and updated graphics, suddenly became the harbinger of innovative gaming. Ever since then, Microsoft, Sony, and every developer in the world have been trying desperately to jump on what I would say is an imaginary bandwagon. It’s a bandwagon of innovation that does not actually exist. The Wii obviously did not usher in an innovative era of gaming. There isn’t a single game on my girlfriend’s Wii collection (which is quite large) that I can say uses the Wii remote in any meaningful way. Nintendo blinded everyone with a hail storm of marketing and hype over its product, acting as if it was the second coming of Jesus, but what motion controlled game came out last year that you just absolutely loved? That’s what I thought. You were holding the controller sideways and using the 1 and 2 buttons as A and B buttons on all those games. Now that’s a real era of innovation right there. “Oh, but there was that one thing where you have to shake the controller up and down to—“ shut up before I smack you in the face.
This article is not a Wii bash fest, though from the preceding paragraph it may seem like it. What I’m really bashing is the obsession with innovation that has clouded the minds of the industry. It’s not innovation that this new mentality has brought to the industry. It is an endless onslaught of intrusive gimmicks. By intrusive, I mean intruding on gameplay. I always notice when a game shoe-horns in a motion control gimmick to satisfy the Wii fanbase when it was completely unnecessary. I also notice when Microsoft’s first party gamer lineup for 2011 vaporizes in favor of supporting the wildly successful Kinect doorstop that I wish I could ignore. Believe me, if it were real innovation that was being brought to the table by any of this new “motion era,” I would be completely on board. However, I don’t see innovation. I see “waggle remote to pick up sword.” Or, even more innovative, “point remote at screen to aim gun.” Call me a fat-ass (I’m 6’4” and weigh not even 140 pounds), but I am just not into having to wave my arms around to do tasks that could just as well be performed by the slight movement of my finger pressing down on a button. People treat innovation as if it’s commonplace. It’s as if just adding a function that involves moving your whole arm rather than just your fingers equates to innovation.
This is not even a motion control bash fest either, though from the preceding paragraph it may once again seem like it. I believe motion controls have their place in the industry, though I also believe that place is currently a bit too large. No, I’m talking about the fact that what I define as innovative is not what the industry defines as innovative anymore. I’m not sure I really care if anything is innovative. I’m not so concerned with innovation as I am with creativity. Creating something rather than outright innovating is something I value. You may ask what games I feel truly are innovative or creative recently. Or you may ask me to stop ranting and let you waggle your controller. Well, let me tell you what’s better than waggling a controller: portals. The geniuses at Valve shocked the gaming world with what would soon become a cult hit and a really repetitive meme about cake when they released The Orange Box, and bundled in the brilliant and hilarious game Portal. The sequel is currently on track for this year (though knowing Valve it’ll be delayed until 2015), and now is as good a time as any to reminisce the true genius behind the original. Portal revitalized and revolutionized the first-person puzzle genre. “What first-person puzzle genre?” you might ask. To that I say…good point. That just means further proof that Portal is a beast of creativity. You shoot a portal one place and then a second portal somewhere else. You go in one portal and come out the other. It’s simple, easy to understand, and ushers in a complete avalanche of creativity with each new puzzle in the game. No motion controls were needed whatsoever to achieve this.
Besides Portal, I can’t really think of anything that I would consider truly innovative for this generation, and you know what? That’s completely okay, because I don’t care. I just don’t care if a game is innovative or not. We have survived so many years without innovative games popping up left and right, that the point is truly null and void. There is no need for innovation. No one should give a shit if a game is innovative or not. What was the last innovative film you’ve seen? What about the last innovative painting you viewed, or the last innovative book you read? You don’t even have to think about those. Books are books, paintings are paintings, films are films, and video games are video games—motion controls or not. Innovation is not commonplace, it is the extremely rare exception to the rule, which is the way it should be. Innovation would be boring if it were so common. What we need more of is creativity. Creativity is extremely prevalent in this industry, with inventive games truly popping up left and right. Do we need motion controls for creative games? Hell no. You get those waggle controls AWAY from my creative games, thank you very spanking much. Give me more delightfully irreverent games like Katamari, give me more atmospheric and story-centric games like Bioshock, and for the love of mercy please no more motion-controlled mini-games. The year 2011 is an extremely promising year for video games, and there isn’t a single “innovative” game on the calendar. Thank goodness for that.