Impact Gaming went along to  journalist Leigh Alexander’s presentation at Gamecity 8, to see what he thought about shifting trends in gaming. Here we give you a debrief of his thoughts on a gaming world trapped in 1980s corporate climbing.

Leigh began by outlining the characteristics of 1980s North America, namely big hair and big money. Naturally, this was reflected in nearly all forms of culture; children played with GI Joe, an all-American action hero, and watched programmes like He-Man, which epitomised masculinity and strength.

Video games were still finding their feet, ironically not yet reflecting these surroundings but already somewhat independent of society. TRON and Centipede were methodical (sometimes even silent) games that existed in a bubble outside everything, played by a similarly alienated minority of people. Perhaps Sim City and Pac-Man can be interpreted as simulated stockpiling of resources mirroring the stock market’s operations, but it is certainly a stretch.

Video games were still finding their feet, ironically not yet reflecting these surroundings but already somewhat independent of society.

As the 1980s became the 90s, Leigh says, a new generation felt lost and the counter-culture began. Just like before, cinema and music followed the trend and produced works which questioned our actions and even our own existence. The 1999 film Office Space  nailed these feelings and summed them up in one memorable statement, “Human beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles staring at computer screens all day, filling out useless forms and listening to eight different bosses drone on about mission statements.”

Bands like Nirvana explored this meaninglessness and teenage thoughts of revolution, most famously in ‘Smells Like Team Spirit.’

We can define our childhood and adolescence with music and film, but not with video games

But video games didn’t follow this trend and saw the rise of DOOM, Duke Nukem and Medal of Honour which harkened back to the boisterousness of the 80s. Minor exceptions include the release of Tomb Raider, finally giving feminism some kind of accompaniment in video-game form with its powerful female lead. However, the decade was dominated by the aforementioned series which yearned for the 80s’ hedonism and decadence.

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Leigh expressed understandable disappointment that 1980s power fantasies have stayed with us to this very day. Call of Duty and Battlefield now have annual releases which place the player into the shoes of mass-murdering ‘soldiers’ that, despite very high production values, are growing more stale with each iteration. Nostalgia arguably plays a smaller role in this movement than in the 90s, as developers have realised this is what sells.

Nostalgia arguably plays a smaller role in this movement than in the 90s, as developers have realised this is what sells.

Each Call of Duty outsells its predecessor and achieves absurd retail figures which rival blockbuster films. And whilst Grand Theft Auto attempts to satirise what society has become, it’s still a symptom of the system as well as a critic; a typical player will massacre hundreds upon hundreds of NPCs during one playthrough.

One question asked by Leigh stuck with us in particular: “Who is gaming’s Nirvana?”. We’re yet to have a game developer that challenges gun-use as opposed to smothering players with weaponry, which is admittedly understandable from a commercial standpoint. There needs to be a voice of expression, wanting to examine events happening around them.

 There needs to be a voice of expression, wanting to examine events happening around them.

Leigh concluded with the thought that we could define our childhood and adolescence with music and film, but not with video games. Must the only sign of the times be consumerism’s domination of the industry itself? Surely we can do better than that.

Thomas Welshman

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