When developer Pixel Titans released a new trailer for upcoming nostalgia-bleeding, fast-paced shooter STRAFE, safe to say what they unveiled could be regarded as material that goes against the tide of contemporary “gameplay” promotion, trailers and all. The decision to take its blocky, pixelated aim at this thematic and quote-unquote cinematic direction modern games have often approached and blindly lavished over worked wonders for two completely opposing and quite ironically-positioned reasons. One: the developers are clearly confident enough to add a an extra flair of presentation and direction to their still ongoing project. And two: they’re more than willing to be the butt to their own joke — opening up the flood-gates guarding not just the industry they’re a part of, but more prudently, of themselves as but one more studio in a grand sum of thousands.
This isn’t a first for the video game industry and it’s certainly not one that should be heralded as anything but a pleasing distraction from the ample drone of marketing claiming x, y, z and so on. It certainly helps alleviate the noise of timed exclusivity, pre-order incentives and other aspects pertaining to financial agendas as opposed to…the love and joy of the medium. But the issue I’m meaning to deviate towards is not what trailers are meant to feature or even represent – developers/publishers are perfectly fine with detailing the abundance of content and activities players can get invested in or may even benefit from if they choose to go down a specific route.
Rather, there’s a more pressing issue that has become increasingly more important as we enter (or instead, have already entered) a new era of video games that evolves from out its infancy as but a mere medium or a hobby…and transforms into an industry, a business. And that’s self-awareness; the notion that, perfectly fine as it is to show pride, professionalism and posterity as a creator/director/manager/whoever (be it for consumers, audiences or share-holders alike) it’s just as important to take your eye just that little bit out of the epicentre and look beyond the stained-glass windows to your splendid ivory towers. To see how the industry might be perceived-come-translated across to the community. No matter the intensity. Oh yes…there are obviously so many other matters to attend to such as…perhaps…not treating consumer bases like docile piggybanks; not deliberately miscuing information; not letting every nit-picking, social media-sappy, correctness-avid serial complainer dictate the who, what, when why of your games.
And yes, I’m bringing this up for lack of recent head-shaking, society-questioning ‘controversies’ coming to mind.
But beggars can’t be choosers I guess. So let’s chip away at but one small piece of the matter.
Safe to say that the expansion of the internet as not just a tool for communication, but hub for “creativity” (putting it mildly) has given users the means as much the confidence to feel they have a platform to express their feelings without coming across as aggressive, or even saying a solitary word in their respective language. They have the power to reflect the consensus of the wider community, be that their original intention or not. Being the video editing novice that I am, it never ceases to make me smile how even the most simple chop-and-change can shine a ravenously merciless light on, say, the over-indulgent marketing ploys of a game and turn what was a passively-forgettable moment into something entirely more worrying. Least of all when said game ends up being, to a considerable number at least, a rather lacking – if occasionally fun – experience. But anybody can load a video with crazy effects, whack the infamous ‘MLG’ stamp on it and find itself but the latest entry in a long-running, if staple, example of gaming culture having a pop at its own over-zealous indulgence and self-gratifying crotch-handling.
To that end, there’s only so far community/consumer-made satire can go and as hilarious or as insightful or indeed unsettling some of these “creations” might be, we’re not the ones in charge. Or better put, the ones who lie on the other side of that seemingly impervious wall that separates “the industry” from the rest of us. If there’s ever to be a time when that barricade at least feels like it’s been breached, it’s when a developer or creator does the [hard] work for us. So when the likes of Hideo Kojima proves (yet again) he’s more than happy to poke fun at what should be his pride-and-joy…that’s great. Admittedly funny too, while I’m at it. It’s great because, as mentioned, it helps de-myth this alleged disconnect…and proves that those working hard behind the scenes, are not (as much as you might think) all in it for the green. That some of them actually care about the reaction and presentation of certain themes, characters, whatever as they as much the critically-analysed presentation of the end product.
If you can go out of your way to make something (that could be deduced as) rather bonkers — knowing full well when and where to walk that perilous line between genuine and forced humour — you can at least walk away knowing players will credit you with falling into the “they made it even though they didn’t have to” sub-section. And believe me, alongside “surprisingly addictive” mini-games, 2D backgrounds and actual reflective mirrors, humour is another opportune asset that can go a long, long way to appreciating what said game actually stood for at the given time. Away from the regular check-list on what specifically to critique. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with having a game that’s entirely, unapologetically dry, perhaps perceived initially as far from comedy as one can get — narratively or otherwise. But, ironically, this is why a “one last thing”-type of satire or bit on the side, works far better than when it’s already wrestling for attention amidst a game that not for one second takes itself seriously and is instead its own fuel for fun and folly. Even if it is for the intent to promote something else entirely (video game-related or not) I will commend any developer who’s willing, for example, to throw together the good guys, the bad guys and the in-between guys into some surreal comedy skit-meets-daily life send-off to a game’s campaign.
There have been recent attempts by some studios to permeate some raw idea of ‘satire’ to be the glue that binds a game together. But the problem with this strict reliance, is the fact this is simply a ham-fisted and superficial perception of satire for the pure sake of it. That something is satirical, if it merely says it is; that the main objective in promoting your game in a trailer, is to simply shove humour in one’s face — to paint it in a kind of overly-confident, overly-exuberant fashion. Doing so will only bring about one of the most unrequested anecdotes of feedback from your typical viewer: try-hard. Could this be why so many of Microsoft’s past E3’s have been “funny” when (and only when) they weren’t intending to be? To avoid going off-topic, the point is, satire stems from understanding the rules and laws of an established concept…and then looking at it from a sarcastic, ironic or equally-critical viewpoint that’s not so much about exploiting possible flaws, but drawing on the potential disbelief. Because after all…games aren’t real (least not with VR in its current infancy) and while you may want to rely on realism or emotion or established formulae for certain genres – fantasy, for example – everything…and I mean everything…is a target for ridicule and intimidation. Why? Because comedy and laughter are both fundamental states of mood.
By offering players something that goes against the grain or, taking it one step further, warps the entire establishment prior into nothing short of practical tomfoolery, you help keep the notion that for all this medium’s praise, PR, pretentiousness and pointless gratification at its own numeric sales figures…video games are still just video games. That you yourself are more than happy to let either yourself or your own creation be the punchline, rather than the one delivering it. The kind of punchline that takes the appearance of a cute-and-cuddly, child-friendly platformer yet winds up dishing up a brilliant bait-and-switch, as much a cleverly-written pot-shot at what games represent (with quite the ending while I’m at it). It’s up to developers and publishers from hereon as to how far they’re willing to go, if at all. And for those willing to swallow their pride, they’ll realize that, albeit a short-term distraction, satirizing and giving joke to this medium, culture or indeed industry is what’s needed (among many more pressing issues) at this present time.
Countless thousands of “fans” with video editing software are more than happy to take on the job…but are they?
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