According to David Cage, the guy behind Heavy Rain, games need to grow up, be more mature. They need to have meaning. In his viewpoint, every game must be serious and act like his own game, Heavy Rain.
Sigh. Mr. Cage, hate to break it to you, but your game wasn’t even all that good, and not all games need to have some sort of socio-political undertones. In fact, many games do better without taking themselves seriously. I would even go so far as to say that most games do better without some bulls%#t meaning injected into them. Games can be, and often times are meant to be, stupid fun.
That’s not to say that games can’t have meaning, or that they shouldn’t have meaning. One of my favorite games of all time is Journey, a game that isn’t really fun in the slightest. It’s a game that explores the Hero’s Journey with a partner, and with no traditional means of communication or speaking. It’s awesome. I also enjoy To the Moon, a game that also isn’t really fun in any sense. It’s a touching story about going in a dying man’s mind to fulfill his deathbed wishes. It’s awesome. And I also enjoy Just Cause 2, a game that is the polar opposite of To the Moon and Journey, a game with practically no story beyond the opening cutscene and a game that is meant purely for you to jack around and blow thing up in a giant sandbox.
And all of these games are good. Journey, To the Moon, and Just Cause 2 all work really well with their subject matter. Is Just Cause 2 a worse game because it doesn’t explore political corruption and propaganda in an in-depth and critical approach? No, of course not. Does Torchlight 2 fail to meet up to what it could be by not analyzing the repercussions of mindlessly slaughtering monsters by the thousands? Nope. Most games work just fine without meaning or controversial themes. A game can be just stupid fun, and be amazing. When I say stupid fun, I just mean fun that doesn’t require to to think much in order for enjoyment. Games that have stupid fun are games you can just fire up, turn your brain off, and be amused. Stupid fun is not bad. It can be bad if you rely on it in a game that tries to be serious, like Journey or To the Moon. But many games can just be mindless distractions. If the only games that were made were ones that try to deliver some sort of hard hitting, personal message, I would probably not enjoy video games. I probably wouldn’t write about games like I do here if I had to devote time and energy into enjoying myself 100% of the time.
There are plenty of games that are more serious in tone and are meant more to deliver commentary on something. We need those games as this industry matures. We also have tons of games that aren’t serious, and fall back on fun to sell units. The industry and consumers need those games too. But for games in general to lean too far to one side of the see-saw of somberness would cause a lack of direction and possibly a complete implosion of the industry this late in the game (no pun intended). That means that not all games need to be Citizen Kane-s or Schindler’s List-s. And chances are, we will only see those kinds of games every once in a while. That’s fine.
So in conclusion, stupid fun games are cool. So are serious fun games. We as an industry need both, but not entirely one or the other. Let’s keep it that way.