Thursday, January 3, 2013

Three trends in gaming: 2012

Well, 2012 is finally over and done with, and quite a lot happened.  To be honest, I didn't play that many new video games in 2012 (you'll see that pop up later), so I figured a more important article I could actually write about would be a brief analysis of three trends in the larger "gaming community". Here they are, in no particular order:

Feminism in gaming finally gets some news, or "Why I don't want to identify as a gamer"

Gaming and gamer culture in the past have been particularly patriarchal, and despite a few important improvements remains strongly in thrall to the straight white male demographic.  Incidentally, I am a part of this demographic, and in addition haven't really done serious research into these topics, so MASSIVE DISCLAIMER, I can't really speak for any of this other than my perspective.  However, they were definitely big news in the gaming community this year, which should be a good sign.  Anita Sarkeesian and Tropes vs Women  caused a firestorm of controversy basically by existing, and showed everyone who had forgotten just how disgusting "gaming culture" truly is.  Ditto for some of the backlash towards Jennifer Hepler, a writer at BioWare, whose opinions on the state of gaming were for the most part attacked not for their validity, but because of her gender (yes, yes, there were several valid critiques, but they were exceptions to the rule).

The idea that lauched a thousand hateful comments

On the gaming side of things, the big problem seems to be trailers.  The truly skeevy new Tomb Raider trailer, and the information released by the developers.  Apparently, you make female characters more interesting by shrinking their chest size and putting all those extra pixels into making sexual assault (nice try, PR department, nobody bought it) an integral part of character development.  Lovely.  And of course, who could forget the Hitman: Absolution trailer with the infamous naughty nunsploitation?

So, after all that bad news, there are glimmers of hope on the horizon.  For one, the mainstream press has actually been on the ball in expressing condemnation of this blatant asshattery.  If nothing else, the fact that these things are recognized as problems by the establishment is a good thing, and hopefully the article in a years' time will be more positive.  We can all be better.

The king is dead, long live the king, or "BioWare did not have a good year"

In September, the last two cofounders of BioWare left their company for good.  For better or worse, BioWare was one of the more respected gaming companies as far as narrative in gaming goes, a topic of particular interest to me.  This year, the news has not been good, to put it lightly.  Last year, Dragon Age 2 was released with a mixed reception, with most of the complaints focusing on samey gaming and particularly poor storytelling, which turned out to be a sign of things to come.  They had two grand failures this year.  Mass Effect 3 unleashed the largest amount of nerd rage I've seen against a popular developer in recent memory.  Everyone knows the ending is bad (in my opinion, it's preceded by a bad beginning and a mediocre middle), but what hurt the most is the bad press for the company.  Again, they missed wiffed a chance to tell a great story, and while caving to fan pressure was the correct decision on a storytelling and business level, they probably will lack the confidence to do anything interesting for the next few years.

The beginning and middle weren't that solid, either.

And even if they didn't have the confidence, they might not have the money.  Star Wars: The Old Republic lasted for a few months on a subscription model, but it quickly became clear that it would have to go free-to-play.  The game was in development for years, and managed to compete against World of Warcraft for ... what, a few months?  For a game that was supposed to revolutionize MMOs by crafting a strong narrative for each player, the response was overwhelmingly "bleh".  Dragon Age 3 and Mass Effect 4 are in the works, but the tides of history appear to be against BioWare, at least for the moment.

Thankfully, video game storytelling has not vanished from the public consciousness.  Special mention is given to Spec Ops: The Line and The Walking Dead, neither of which I have played but their visibility in the market is based on the strength of their narrative.  I can't say if they're good or not, but thank god people still care.

Pro gaming goes global, or "One of the most successful DotA 2 teams was from Kazakhstan"

This is more personal than the others, but the game I spent the most time playing this year was DotA 2.  While it did have a presence in the pro gaming scene last year (The International in 2011 had a 1.6 million USD prize, for a game in beta), it really exploded this year with a more worldwide rollout of the beta, which itself was much more complete.  DotA 2 is unique in ways most progames aren't, by being team based and by having a large international fanbase.  There are two large and dominant "scenes", Europe and China, but there's strong competition among Southeast Asian countries and both Americas.  League of Legends was basically uncontested among games of this type, and it's great to see such strong competition around the world.  Here's hoping it continues strongly into 2013!

Only slightly biased!

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