Gaming In The Shadow Of Fallen Giants

This Sunday marks the 10th Anniversary of the tragedy that occurred on September 11, 2011. While I could meditate on this past decade in solemn revery I’d like to focus instead on what effect these years has had on gamers and the Gaming Industry. You may ask, what significance does this have over everything else that has happened? When it comes down to it, entertainment has always served as an outlet through times of great loss as well act as a reflection of cultural trends.

During the late 90s the Industry’s top games were almost all Nintendo based games that were either racers, RPG’s, or platformers. For the most part the best selling games were focused on family-friendly entertainment like Crash Bandicoot with a sprinkle of long-form games like Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Final Fantasy VII. Sure there were games like Metal Gear Solid topping the sales charts, but what really sold were fanciful games that took you away from the world we live in.

The first five years of the new millennium saw a shift in the games that topped the video game sales charts. After 2001 gamers began to seek out games like the Grand Theft Auto series which traded whimsy for a skewed view on modern culture and a dark sense of humor. This was also around the time that military shooters like Metal of Honor and Call Of Duty first laid down the groundwork for their best-selling franchises.

This sudden shift within the Industry seemed to harness the help that many American’s were feeling deep in their souls. It’s almost as if we had no power over what happened and gamers looked to shooters and action titles to help alleviate that feeling. We were suddenly looking for games that mirrored the real world, where we were given full reins over everything within those worlds. In those games we could affect the worlds we were put in by exerting control one bullet at a time with little care of consequence.

With the mid to late part of the decade we see a glut of games that are still shooters but pushed the envelope when it came to over-the-top events in realistic environments. Games like Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Battlefield Bad Company had you participating in areas that looked a lot like scenarios that our own service men and women have been experiencing for over a decade now. Once Modern Warfare 2 came onto the scene we had soldiers invading American soil with suburbia being the backdrop for these skirmishes, which added a whole new level of surrealism.

It’s almost as if the real life spectacle of that early morning tragedy ten years ago created a spectacle that games were trying to up the ante on whether they realized it or not. How can you wow your players if they’ve already seen tragedy broadcast-ed repeatedly whenever a television was turned on. One of the reasons why I decided to write this piece was Crysis 2, which is set in New York City. Seeing the smoke and debris filling a fictional version of my former hometown only filled me with a slight uneasy feeling when it would have set off deep emotions before.

What also emerged in the latter part of the decade was a renaissance of sorts which was lead by the Nintendo Wii. Nintendo’s console helped bring to the world at large a rekindled love of games based on their fun factor rather than realism or spectacle. Along with Nintendo, Apple’s iOS platform has provided a wide array of affordable casual games. Games like Angry Birds broken onto the gaming scene and have captured the minds of both gamers and casual folks alike. This casual gaming trend has been a thorn in many a hardcore gamers’ side but when it comes down to it, they’re fun lil escapes that are easy to learn and a joy to play.

One last thing to emerge from that time-frame was online gaming becoming widespread. MMO’s like World of Warcraft have become addictions for hardcore gamers as well as folks just looking for a distraction from time to time. Many gamers may hate this, but I’d also group social games like Farmville as being a part of this development within gaming. When it comes down to it, what both games provide for you is a way to connect with people while also passing the time doing other, mostly monotonous, things.

These last 10 years have seen many developments occur within the gaming space. While not all were directly influenced by what happened on that September morning, I do feel it has influenced some of the cultural trends that have occurred. We may have originally looked towards realistic games to help cope but we now embrace them for the immersion they can provide. Gaming has provided an outlet for a multitude of emotions that have been felt over the last few years, but it’s also evolved during that time. There is a reason why gaming has become this big in this short of a time period, I just hope the hardcore fans learn how to be a little less exclusive and a bit more inclusive as this growth continues.

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