Video Games Are Dead: The End is Here

Video Games Are Dead: The End is Here

Physicists talk about the end of the universe. Literary critics talk about the death of the author and philosophers muse about the end of history. Maybe it’s time we starting thinking about the end of videogames.

This is not to say that one day soon electronic entertainment will disappear from the planet. Instead, this thought about some sort of conclusion to the grand narrative of videogames just suggests that maybe we’ve seen about all the new stuff we are going to see.

What’s next? A bigger, more realistic World of Warcraft? A more exciting Call of Duty? A more accurately simulating Gran Turismo? Another Grand Theft Auto?

We are faced with the reality that games have fallen into a glorious echo chamber of repetition. Every year, we see titles super-sized, cranked up to 11 and going for broke. But it’s the same old stuff.

When faced with this carbon copy gaming culture, fans cry out: What about Flower? What about Braid? What about Spy Party? And while these gems of design genius and passion glimmer hopefully, upon closer inspection, they are made out of the same raw material as Madden, Mario and Metal Gear Solid.

Flower’s poetic experience of playing the wind in a field of flowing grass is beautiful as it is peaceful. But it’s barely a stone’s throw from Pilotwings, a game that is 20 years old. Braid’s aching story of loss and clever time rewinding might be better done than most of the Prince of Persia games. But the detailed distinctions are mostly obvious to people who play a lot of games. And even the recent Spy Party, a game that asks you to figure out who in a crowd of computer-controlled party goers is a human-operated spy, has really only exploited the machine’s inability to act human, and played up the human player’s ability to act dumb.

Because just as important as these games, and many games like them, is the fact that it’s been ten years since The Sims changed our definition of gaming and almost 15 years since fully 3D worlds entered our lives with Super Mario 64. Innovation may regularly appear in games even as the basic experience stays the same.

Like film, theater and stock car racing, the gaming industry has less run out of ideas than reached a level of maturity where it’s hard to see it growing anything other than older and wiser.

So where do we go from here? Maybe nowhere. Maybe it’s time to stop talking about games and art and just settle on the idea that games don’t need to grow into a more expressive form. Maybe games can just be fun and repeat, endlessly, the good ideas they’ve already had.

Or maybe, just maybe, there’s a bubble of creative energy developing deep down in the game development psyche. Maybe it’s only a matter of time until a new era of games bursts on the surface, releasing untold creativity on the gaming console.

Let’s hope this isn’t really the end.

About David Thomas
David Thomas is a game critic, researcher and teacher who writes for top game magazines and websites. He’s covered games for many newspapers, teaches courses on the history of digital media and is completing his PhD in architecture to ask:“What makes a place fun?”

11 Comments

  1. It’s great to have a new voice here, and to bring up a good topic. Food for thought for sure.

  2. It’s an interesting question, but one I think you’re considering with unwarranted immediacy. Gaming is barely half a century old, and the modern game industry is, as you say, considerably less old.

    For comparison, did people in the 1950s worry about the death of cinema? If they did, their worries were obviously unfounded.

    We can’t see into gaming’s future, and perhaps there are valid concerns that the industry is repetitive and same-y, but just because we can’t see the future doesn’t mean there isn’t one. If we could see the future, well, we’d be out there making those games.

  3. Certainly, there is no real sense in arguing the accuracy of a prediction! But what I think it is fair to raise this kind of question. Because while videogames adoption rate might be slower than some technology, it’s artistic and technical development is really unprecedented in the entertainment world.

    Of course, the rhetorical deceit in this article is that I don’t really think we are at the end of videogames. Rather, I think we will be unless there is more effort to move them forward as a medium. On that note, I am somewhat optimistic.

  4. It seems like every so often, we see a new genre of game come to be. Major innovations IMO have been games like Wolfenstein 3D for FPS, Warcraft 2 (or Dune) for RTS, Tower Defense for, well, tower defense, most recently Infiniminer (or Minecraft) for world-building, to name a few. Innovation used to come from major publishers, but with all the money going into development, it’s too risky to take changes. However, innovation DOES come from the indie game scene I believe.

    It sounds like the question here may be “Has the basic periodic table of gaming elements at last been fully realized?” That may be true for the most part. Is there a “score”? Are there “lives”? Do you jump on platforms? If yes, does that make a game derivative? I think we may be in a lull, but new formats and gaming styles will keep coming, just not from companies investing 75 million on a game. Look for it from that guy in his bedroom that can’t find what he wants to play, so he makes it.

  5. It is not the end, yet it is an era which happens when the business side of things take over. They want to spend as little money as possible, take less risk, and manufacture to the masses. The rate has slowed. There are still stories to tell. Maybe some of them will come from smaller humble places.

    Only something a rise of the independents can help quelched… New ideas will come out of large publishers when they have a very charismatic individual with in that can drum up the funding or from an independent developer and the publishers will follow up with enhanced copies.

    That is always the way it works when a particular market hits critical-mass. But in the case of video games, the rate of technological advancement also plays a role. If the PC gaming market continues to decline in the development of better technologies, the rate by which gaming hardware evolves will be left up to the consoles which have really big life cycles compared to the rate of PC evolution… and with consoles it could be a hit or miss…

  6. Sean, I love that idea of a periodic table of game elements. Perhaps we have ended the rush of rapid discovery. So, all the most common elements are around. And maybe there are more to be discovered.

    Also, Kode, I think you are right about Minecraft. That is the only game that I am playing at this point for fun (read, not because I am reviewing it or otherwise need to play it for a writing assignment). Why is that? In some sense, Minecraft is nothing new. But at the same time, it seems to be going in the right direction. I mean, Call of Duty or Rock Band is fun. But as much as we want to feel like we are not on rails, we are. I like the expressive qualities of Minecraft. And maybe due to its insane success, we will see some AAA games go in that direction.

    I suppose if I was more clear in the first place I would have just said–feels like we are at the end of an era of gaming. Time for the innovators of tomorrow to come out of the shadows and show us what’s next!

    — David

  7. Funny that you should bring up Metal Gear Solid. I realize you’re using it here as an example of a “basic” game of a genre, like Mario is to platformers or Madden is to sports games, but nearly all of the MGS games have been pretty innovative for their time. The one that stands out the most to me is “Sons of Liberty”, for its postmodern attack on the player, but granted, that’s more of a storytelling technique than gameplay innovation, although it does use gameplay as part of the intended message.

  8. Uncl:

    Good point.

    But, just to be provocative–is MGS really that different? Does it do more than borrow some 4th wall ideas from cinema? And even if it was once a great game experiment, does it still have more to offer?

    Me, I am not sure.

  9. I think that being reductionist like this is the mistake. It may well be that there are not that many founderworks to be made simply because over time all the big discoveries have been made, but that does not devalue modern interpretations of them. I for one think even more impressive takes on first person shooters, or flying games or puzzlers is to be welcomed.

    Getting trapped in the reductionist viewpoint is a miserable place to be.

  10. Hmm. Not sure how this is reductionist. I mean, it is just a simple, provocative claim, with a little bit of supporting evidence.

    Or put it this way: How would we know if there was a great, untapped well of gaming creativity out there? How would the business look if we really were in a period of creative growth? Would it look different than today, or the same?

    — David

  11. So sad reading the comments from video game addicts lol.

    There’s a big difference between a video game (for entertainment) and a virtual simulation for training purposes. A very very big difference.

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