Narrative is Growing Faster Than Gameplay

Bioshock Infinite's best moments and characters had nothing to do with violence.
Bioshock Infinite's best moments and characters had nothing to do with violence.

A lot of folks out there are arguing that Bioshock Infinite is too violent. Sites like Polygon and Kotaku are frowning upon the gory aspects of the game’s combat. Since Infinite released I’ve seen a growing amount of people on Twitter complaining about how reliant the game is on you not simply shooting dudes but cooking them alive, unleashing flesh eating ravens, and electrocuting them until their heads blow off. I think a lot of our gaming community is growing war weary of violent games.

At first I snickered at these comments, it seemed to me that is just folks finding something to bitch about for the sake of doing so. For lack of better phrasing, I wanted to sweep this issue under the rug, think everyone is just a giant vagina, and move on with my life. Yet after playing through Tomb Raider and Bioshock Infinite I find myself crossing the fence. Videogames have a massive creativity issue right now.

Right now I share the same complaints as a lot of you probably have. It doesn’t make sense why Lara is mowing down dudes by the dozen. I mean, how many of those guys are on that island? That’s what turned me off to the game. Why can’t we have engagements against one or two guys but make those engagements more enticing? Heavy Rain has the player kill less than a handful of people and those were powerful moments. I’m no game developer. I don’t know how you solve this issue. I saw an article about Infinite asking why it couldn’t just be a puzzle game. However, that’s equally stupid. How many times in your life have you opened a door by solving a rubix cube?

The Walking Dead's few instances of violence were powerful.
The Walking Dead's few instances of violence were powerful.

I want the combat to remain but have it be more meaningful. Take The Walking Dead for example. That game was fantastic because you weren’t killing thousands of zombies. Every violent encounter in that game mattered. There was a high level of tension anytime you were thrown into a fight with the undead or even another human because the player never became desensitized to violence. The moments that stuck with me from The Walking Dead were scenes such as Lee and Clementine bonding or the suicide at the end of the first episode. Thankfully TellTale didn’t feel the need to throw in a dumb action scene with Lee getting behind a .50 cal.

The issue seems to be that narrative in games is growing faster than the videogame part. Columbia is a fully realized place with a rich back history and breath-taking aesthetics. Infinite sets itself to be a super serious game tackling powerful issues and even being one of the first games to examine religion’s place in society. I took Infinite very seriously whenever it was time for the plot to develop. Then unfortunately, I walked out a door and into some massive war against me. It’s jarring that such a cartoonish level of violence coexists with such serious subject matter. Hysterically the people in the slums opened fire on me for walking too close to their merchandise. The one time the game seemed to break away from fighting, there’s an unexplained contrivance forcing the player to engage what are supposed to be allies.

I tolerated it because the combat is fun in Bioshock Infinite and Tomb Raider. Lara’s bow is one of the most satisfying weapons I’ve used in a game in a long time. The juxtaposition of the videogame part doesn’t match the maturity of the narrative. This didn’t matter with older games because the plot was just an excuse to get into another room full of dudes to murder. But enemies can’t be treated like targets anymore. Lara is a struggling survivor and like Booker is merely defending herself. Games are at the point where the plot is the game and that’s making the shooting guys element feel dumb.

Don’t ditch the combat and make games strictly an interactive story. At that point I might as well get into movies or books. However, the days of facing waves of nameless enemies have to go. Videogames have evolved beyond needing that. It’s time to grow up. I still want my mindless Gears of Wars and Call of Dutys but when a developer wants to make a serious commitment to communicating a message or story, they can’t follow the path of the mindless shooter.

Perhaps this is just an audience issue. Do people like you and me just want something from games the masses don't? I'm sure there are plenty of folks that bought Bioshock Infinite not giving a rat's ass about the plot, Elizabeth, or even the setting. It's why I'm sure The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct will outsell TellTale's Walking Dead. Average Joe that shops at GameStop has a specific idea of what a videogame is and doesn't think about what they actually are or can be. But I'm also the kind of guy that paid to see Evil Dead (and loved it) instead of going to the Shakespeare playing downtown.