I’m going to start right off by saying that I’m not trying to be a downer here. Of course, the inevitable result of using this phrase is that I will, in fact, become a downer. But that’s the price you pay for nostalgia.
Nostalgia isn’t all bad. Just think back to the first time you played Final Fantasy VII, or the first time you hooked up Xboxes together with your friends to play Halo. Those memories undoubtedly create warm fuzzy feelings at the bottom of your cold, cold heart. The trouble with games, however, is that they exploit these warm fuzzy feelings to separate gamers from their money.
The best metaphor I can come up with is the anglerfish, that strange Discovery Channel favorite that has a glowing light attached to its head. This light lures other fish close enough to our crafty angler so that the angler can eat them. There’s a very similar trick being played on you, my friend; game publishers use their nostalgic prowess to entice purchases.
By taking a previously loved product and creating a new shell for it, developers increase the odds of success in their favor. Homefront’s gameplay can be described as a cut-and-paste first-person shooter. Darksiders, likewise, leans heavily upon players’ familiarity with games such as God of War. Although neither of these games is completely terrible, they both fall short of their true potential.
Borrowing from others, however, is a tradition held sacred in any medium. As the old saying goes, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” So it’d be unfair to harp to long on well-meaning games like Darksiders that put a new hat on an old face. I’m not even going to spend too long harping about games like The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct, which use the love for a well-establish product to ensure sales of a game that doesn’t deliver on quality (only because how much, and how obviously, they suck).The most prevalent, and the weirdest, use of nostalgia comes into play in sequels.
All ten of the top-selling games of 2012 were sequels in some way. The highest selling game of last year, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, was the umpteenth iteration of the game. Black Ops 2 does not deviate too much from the gameplay stylings of the original Modern Warfare. For the past six years, the developers of Call of Duty (Treyarch and Infinity Ward) have been remaking the same game once per year. This constant rehash cripples innovation.
Call of Duty isn’t the only guilty party. Assassin’s Creed has released five titles in the past six years. God of War just released its fourth major installment in the series. Army of Two hit its third installment. Metal Gear Solid will soon hit five (and that’s not even counting Revengeance or Peace Walker). Every popular game franchise starts by creating something successful and then repeating that success with minor changes. In essence, all popular franchises are morphing into Madden.
The symptoms of Maddenitis (a term I just made up) are obvious.The new Assassin’s Creed, coming out in 2013, will, despite the pirate novelty, play very similar to the original Assassin’s Creed, which released in 2007. God of War: Ascension, released just last month, plays a lot like God of War, released in 2005. The newest Hitman released last year plays like its predecessor that was released over a decade ago. Re-releasing the same game formulas constantly risks the formulas becoming stale and boring. This is a problem that Madden is all too familiar with.
The problem with relying on nostalgia to sell new iterations of old games is that in order for nostalgia to be effective, it needs to be present. Like the anglerfish already knows, you can’t lure other fish in without a light. Game sequels slowly diminish this light until, like what has happened to the Final Fantasy series, the light is nearly gone. The announcement of the new Final Fantasy game on the PS4 has caused as many waves as tossing a pebble into an oil spill. People aren’t excited because, for a lot of gamers, Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2 didn’t deliver on the Final Fantasy nostalgia it promised.
Relying on nostalgia puts the ability for video games to entertain at risk. It would be a shame to see such a creative medium become an assembly line where products are made from an existing caste.
But I can sense that I’m starting to be a downer, which I already promised wasn’t my intent. So instead of continuing to be a doomsayer, I’m going to just stop typing. If you need to find me, I’ll be the guy shouting about the coming video game apocalypse and holding a wooden sign with a scrawled bible verse that indisputably backs up my claim.
Date: April 2, 2013