One of the few lifelong passions I’ve had besides gaming has always been reading.
I probably enjoy them both for a very similar reason. That of being transported to a world very different to my own, of someone else’s creation, and experiencing something alien to me as a result.
There are other similarities too. I share the same busy schedule as most of us these days. I have a wife, a child, a business, other hobbies and social commitments, so when I can find the time, I both read and game obsessively, consuming all I can in the brief period available to me.
For example I recently managed to grab a last minute getaway to the Costa Del Golf, where while I sat in the blistering shade doing literally nothing, I read five books in a week. Five. I loved every minute of it.
So, like games, I find it really hard to tear myself away from a good book, and like games, I tend to have genres of books that I like as my staples. In general, I read either thriller or crime novels, punctuated with the occasional comedy, sci-fi or high brow art novel simply to allow me to think I have expanded my horizons a little, or because it has some recommendation on the front that grabs me (I am a marketing persons dream).
And so it was thrillers that I read whilst sat in the sun the other week. And it left me thinking, why doesn’t this genre exist in gaming?
The action whodunit, where the goal as well as to crack some heads, is to actually use your own. I spend most of a thriller novel looking for clues, trying to work out who the bad guy is. It’s never obvious, and for the most part they do their damndest to cover their tracks, and not give the game away.
The world of gaming however tends to stick to the action blockbuster mould, littering itself with screaming extroverts, each more desperate than the last to make it more obvious that they are ‘the bad guy’. They tear off their shirts, sprout strange metal or biological limbs, and rage at us from the screen with wildly staring eyes, leaving no room for doubt.
Games try and give us stories that could be considered thrillers of course. Max Payne is a classic example of the film noir done as a game, and more recently games like Bioshock have delivered compelling storylines with twists that I genuinely didn’t see coming. However, I was still told the secret rather than having to work it out myself. The simple levelling system employed in games since their very beginning is still prevalent today, where our reward for completing the last piece of action is to see the next part of the story.
What about trying something different? Let’s break up the action with something cerebral, where we have to work out what to do next, who’s on our side and who isn’t, and perhaps unearth the next part of the story by looking for clues? Could we even take it to its natural conclusion and say you would not be able to progress until you do so? Make uncovering the conspiracy an integral part of the game? Wouldn’t it be nice to have to work it out, as well as sort it out? Wouldn’t it be great if the bad guys tried to hide? Even pretended to be good guys? What if one of your team of NPC’s was secretly picking off other members during fire-fights, but you’d only ever know if you found them out? What if Sheva was secretly an Umbrella spy, and if you worked it out you stopped getting caught in so many traps? What else could we do? Could multiplayer games brief each protagonist of their true intentions secretly before a match began, allowing for player on player sabotage? Could we be rewarded for our cunning?
What about a game like Driver where not blowing our cover was actually a game mechanic that can affect how the story plays out, rather than just a story element itself? Or a GTA with real and lasting penalties for getting caught? Where you have to try and carry out your crimes undetected, the reward for which is progressing faster up the criminal ladder?
If any of you out there know of games that already fill this gap, I’d love to hear about them. Maybe developers feel the two types of gameplay will clash, or one might be inferior to the other, causing the game to suffer in the eyes of the critics. Me, I think it’s an opportunity for a whole new genre, the thinking man’s action hero. Personally I’d rather be Lee Child’s Jack Reacher than Cliff Blezinski’s Marcus Fenix any day.