Ever since the early days of video games, guns have been a major part of the genre. Gaming had players take their guns and shoot up all of the bad guys they could find in a myriad of ways. While Pac-Man was a huge success in those early days, so were games like Space Invaders, Centipede, and Galaga, all games where you shot stuff.
Almost forty years later, games still have players shoot things. It’s a staple of the medium, and arguably part of why so many people enjoy it.
That doesn’t stop one gaming site from asking whether guns are holding the industry back, though.
It’s here that we come to the crux of the issue. As developers try to tell stories beyond the theme of ‘survival’, they’re bucking up against an increasingly archaic central mechanic that has long since lost its ‘one-size-fits-all’ shape. This status quo is limiting the stories we can tell in our games, and as the likelihood of success in the AAA space gets smaller and smaller, it doesn’t look like it’s going to change any time soon. Recently, Watch Dogs 2, Dishonored 2 and Titanfall 2 all performed significantly lower in sales than their predecessors, which only encourages a more risk averse climate in the blockbuster space.
“AAA games can’t afford to take all that many creative risks,” says Cifaldi. “If you’ve got to sell a game in the millions to break even, then you’re going to have to play it safe and stick to genres people immediately recognize.”
The article claims that the gunplay in games like Watch Dogs 2 felt out of place, and that kind of gets to the crux of the issue.
Guns aren’t holding back video games. Game creators who can’t figure out how to create an action-packed game without guns, however, are.
As much as I love guns and shooting, even in video games, it’s important to remember that it’s not everything. There have been a ton of video games that have focused on other action types that have done very well. Car racing games, for example, are also an industry staple, as are martial arts games. No guns needed.
However, in game design, the story driver of tension isn’t quite enough. Players need to engage with the tension; they need to have a means of resolving the conflict in an active and satisfying manner. That’s why there aren’t any diplomacy games.
Guns will always be at least one means of doing just that in video games, and any attempt to change that will inevitably backfire. The problem is when game designers don’t understand their customers and insert guns — or anything, really — into a game where they don’t belong. If you’re playing a survival game where you have to gather resources and evade hostile beings, a shootout that comes out of nowhere will always bomb.