Feedback Loop: Long Live the Shooter, the Shooter is Dead

The dispatches from E3 seem to indicate that the shooter remains the same. How long can its dominance last? What comes next?

Is it High Noon for shooters? In his latest post on Brainy Gamer, Michael Abbott seems to think so. He compares the current generation of shooter games to Westerns in 1959, the last year before they started to disappear.

Abbott identifies four similarities between the small and large screen Westerns and today’s shooters:

“1) Genre Fatigue and homologous products; 2) High cost of production; 3) Public outcry over violence; 4) Narrow target audiences.”

He’s right of course. It’s difficult to see the end from here, but the era of the shooter-as-we-know-it is on its third act. We’re already seeing the scratch marks on the balcony as games iterate identical ground with more wallet-milking machines thrown in. Our own Ethan Gach was disappointed in E3’s AAA announcements for their “pernicious mix of backwards thinking and risk averse apathy.”

Big Daddy (BioShock)

Big Daddy (BioShock) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once we finish choking down the latest tetra- and pentalogy titles, there is likely one great act still left for shooters. Recalling Abbott’s comparison, we have yet to find our Gunsmoke.

Heralding the end will be a number of games that show characteristics of dissatisfaction with the shooter’s status quo. To see the type of games that will express the shooter’s fading light, we can look back nearly 5 years to BioShock. 2K Boston’s masterpiece will lead the way for developers suffering ennui with the standard shooter. The game showcased an awareness of the genre and a willingness to exploit the tired standard as a mechanism of play. That type of analysis through play will increase as audiences slowly reject the current shooter’s trappings.

Then, in an E3 two to four years from now, we’ll see the swan-song of the shooter, likely to bring forward quality world-building and storytelling that is rising as an overall value in the industry. The last of the shooters? Perhaps the arrival of a successful MMORPGFPS or even the apocryphal Half-Life 3. It’ll be one last shotgun bang before the end of the era.

The Adventures of Gilligan's Island

The Adventures of Gilligan's Island (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After the shooter’s arc ends? The video game take on the Flinstones? Gilligan’s Island? Perhaps the return of a real sense of humor to mainstream video games?

The post-shooter world is coming. It will contain games that leave room for the imagination, with the best video games of the future (as those of the past) allowing us to daydream within. The modern shooter’s grays, browns and terrible storytelling quash our imagination. Instead, we’ll see more colorful games with significant fiction in world-building and storytelling, the result of inevitable audience push-back against realism.

The groundwork is arriving already. Though we may love violence, the next generation could move away from the player-character as mass-murderer, a change visible in Camouflaj’s Republique. We’ve already seen a game where players, even when they hold weapons, find value in not killing, Eidos’s Human Revolution. Alternatively, we may see games where combat is not the focus, along the lines of narrative-manipulators Dear Esther or The Stanley Parable.

The next genre to sweep E3’s stages may have nothing to do with the first person at all. Psychonauts, a game out of its time, is a direction the future may follow. Perhaps environmental concerns will bring games addressing those issues to the surface. Other societal problems may birth their own sub-genres.

Then again, the future could be completely different. I just implore you to remember the lessons of 1966’s Gunsmoke; when color comes to the shooter try not to resist.

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