Have video games lost their appeal?
Last week I watched High Score on Netflix. It’s a six-part docuseries on the history of video games. For most of the episodes, it was a walk straight down Memory Lane.
The first video game I remember playing is Duck Hunt on the original Nintendo Entertainment System. Pulling the trigger on the plastic gun came with a very loud click, following a few milliseconds later by the screen flash. Then, after three shots, the dog would pop up and laugh at you. It was revolutionary.
After that, I was hooked on video games. I’ve owned just about every video game console released in the last three decades and played everything from sports simulators to role-playing games. I enjoy any game with a good storyline.
Over the last few years, my gaming considerably slowed ( unless you count playing Sudoku on my phone, which happens almost daily). I tend to play games three or four years after their release, once they are significantly cheaper and any downloadable content is included.
Right now, I’m playing Shadow of the Tomb Raider, the third game in the latest Tomb Raider reboot. When I am running around, climbing cliffs, and exploring tombs the game is a lot of fun. However, there’s this whole other side of the game where the only option is ruthlessly killing people at every turn. This part of the game not only is not fun, but it makes no sense.
The premise of the rebooted Tomb Raider series is centered on, of course, Lara Croft. In her early twenties, Lara is adventure-seeking and a bit reckless, trying to solve her deceased father’s life work: preventing an evil secret society (Trinity) from destroying the world. Throughout the course of the games, Lara goes from running away from bears to killing Trinity henchmen ( or zombie-like South American jungle-tribesmen) on sight and without mercy.
Maybe my tastes have evolved, maybe it’s the pandemic and the ever-present death toll, but I don’t really want to finish Tomb Raider. And it’s not just this game ( which, aside from the killing actually has a compelling storyline), I don’t want to play any game where killing is the only way to move the story forward.
I’ve been drawn lately back to No Man’s Sky, a game released in 2016 that has almost no real story. It’s essentially a game where you explore various galaxies, mine resources, and trade with other species. All while trying to survive hostile planetary climates. On the surface, the game appears boring. A few hours in, becoming an intergalactic trading mogul is incredibly satisfying.
My issue isn’t about violence in games, which I don’t have a problem with as long as it makes sense in the context of the story. I guess what I’m looking for is a game where I actually have choices. No Man’s Sky provides those choices since you can practically do what you want. Avoid people? Never get into a fight? Just mine resources and build your habitat? All those choices are perfectly fine in the game.
Tomb Raider provides zero choices. I’d prefer Lara have the choice to sneak past Trinity guards, avoiding conflict like any sane twenty-something in over her head would. Instead, the choices are removed and the only option is for Lara to become a ruthless serial killer. It’s just not fun.
While there are games where your choices affect the outcome, they are rarely open-ended. The truth is, I’d love a version of Tomb Raider without the Trinity storyline. A game where Lara explores South American jungle ruins, collecting artifacts and clues to find the next one.
When you complete Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s main story, you unlock all the “challenge tombs” which is essentially the game I want to play. I just don’t want to go through the Trinity mess and senseless killing to get there.
One of the best games I’ve played in years is Horizon: Zero Dawn. You play as Aloy, one of the last humans in a world destroyed by technology. The majority of the conflict in the game comes from avoiding artificially intelligent dinosaurs. Plus, the story is fantastic. Horizon is Tomb Raider without the people and I am here for it.
Unfortunately, games like Horizon are few and far between. With the next generation of consoles releasing later this year, I fear games will continue to leave players without choices, now with better graphics! Maybe someday the industry will evolve and players will have actual choices.