A frequent complaint from gaming fans is that this or that genre is becoming stale, often this complaint is leveled at RPGs or FPS games and more recently Open World titles. Why is this such a common complaint? There are plenty of games that fit into these genres try to be new and innovative, but what is it that makes a genre ‘stale’ despite this?
There are a few different arguments regarding what makes a genre stale, it was suggested during this week’s Idle Thumbs podcast that repeated play reveals systems that are less than fabulous, in this particular example Final Fantasy was being referred to. The suggestion was that when one plays these games initially the novelty seems to help us gloss over lacklustre systems such as the menu-based, turn-based combat in Final Fantasy games and the majority of JRPGs. With repeated play of the same formula the novelty wears off revealing the combat system to be unengaging and tedious. The sheer amount of combat and grinding usually included in RPGs of this kind is enough to make the game less than enjoyable, regardless of how compelling the narrative might be as suggested by Zac Gooch at OKgames.
“Sadly these exquisitely-crafted worlds are often undermined by the repetitively stale gameplay and emptiness devoid of life we’ve now come to expect along with them.”
Gooch also suggests another reason for staleness of genre, using Ubisoft as an example he suggests that this is caused by an inundation of similar games such the current craze in open-world games, see Assassin’s Creed, Watch_Dogs, or Far Cry. These games are only the examples that Ubisoft has released, there are dozens more from other developers, especially in the AAA scene. While these games appear popular they often fail to innovate and become boring quickly to all but the most diehard fans.
“I guess in a way Ubisoft is like a popular fast food chain; the food is good but not great and you always know what you’re getting. They’ll add new things to the menu every now and then but often they’re only temporary items. It keeps some people satisfied but for others it’s just not something they can live off for too long.”
In their biggest franchises these developers release new titles yearly, leaving little time to polish each game and flooding the market with too many like experiences.
While mechanics and repetition can be the bane of a genre, so as well can narrative. Arguably the largest cause of staleness for RPGs in particular is the re-cycling of narrative. Meuter suggests that RPGs recycle the same or similar stories about saving the world, collecting artifacts and evil entities that want to destroy the world.
“I love RPGs. There’s something about making numbers go up and down that attracts me to this genre above others. Despite this, I hate RPGs. There’s something about the lack of diversity in the characters, bad guys and plots that have made this genre stale and unappealing recently.”
The repetition of narrative is what allows parodies like “Every JRPG Ever” to exist. Often character types are also reused with a new coat of paint and slightly different names, most of these games still have their Fighter, White Mage, Black Mage and Thief.
There are several facets that contribute to causing a genre to become stale; one can’t necessarily say that there is one singular cause, especially when this can be so subjective. Games should be a marriage of narrative, mechanics and innovation in order to keep things fresh. That being said, nostalgia is entirely based on enjoying what we have done before, harking back to our younger selves, but sometimes nostalgia is not enough. Some of the most successful games are those that use something we are familiar with and add something new to the experience, Crypt of the NecroDancer comes to mind as it takes the sprite driven RPG dungeon crawl and combines it with the fast paced action of a rhythm game, thereby tapping into nostalgia but keeping the game fresh with mechanics that are new to that genre.
Meuter, T 2015, ‘I’m tired of saving the world from evil’, Technique, < http://nique.net/opinions/2015/11/13/im-tired-of-saving-the-world-from-evil/ >.
Gooch, Z 2015, ‘Ubisoft is Making Open World Feel Stale’, OKgames, < http://okgames.com.au/2015/05/13/ubisoft-is-making-open-world-games-feel-stale/ >.
Crypt of the NecroDancer 2015, Computer Program, Klei Entertainment, Vancouver.
Every JRPG Ever 2015, YouTube, < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IptvSQY9Qa8 >.