E3 2015 signals the beginning of overdue change for big budget games

Posted: June 19, 2015 in Opinion Piece

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by Chris Plante

Today marks the end of the best E3 in recent memory, and the beginning of a new, healthier era for the big budget sector of the video game industry.

After years of misguided press events that ostracized women, fetishized realistic violence, and promoted video game consoles as practically everything but hardware that plays video games, the companies that dominate E3 have made strides to better respect the medium that pays their bills, along with the people who enjoy and work within it.

For the first time, women appeared on stage in the majority of major press events, and as playable characters in many games. A handful of trailers emphasized that players will have the option to play as women in games like Dishonored 2, FIFA 16, and Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. The latter franchise made the positive about-face following last E3, when members of the previous Assassin’s Creed development team cited a lack of time and resources as the reason a woman wouldn’t be a playable character in their game.

“Gamers engage most deeply with games when they can find something to identify with,” said Microsoft Game Studio head of publishing Shannon Loftis, during an interview with The Verge. “Including more diverse characters in the game, it just makes sense. It makes gaming sense. It makes business sense.” Loftis is right, and other publishers and developers are finally catching on.

Take for example Guerrilla Games, best known for a sci-fi military shooter so masculine that nothing more need be said than its title: Killzone. This year the developer announced a new franchise: a robot-dinosaur hunting game, in which a woman plays the lead. Titled Horizon: Zero Dawn, it’s proof women too can be the stars of beautiful, exciting games with utterly meaningless titles.

There’s plenty of room for improvement in inclusivity, from the scope to the breadth of representation — minorities still get little to no public recognition at the conference — but we witnessed progress in an industry that more often than not behaves like a petulant child, kicking and screaming and refusing to grow-up.

Without publishers kindling controversy dumpster fires, the games had an opportunity to speak for themselves, just as it should be. The event was by no means a celebration of risk and undiluted artistic integrity, but not everything was baked in a board room. Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst, For Honor, and even Mario Maker scan like ideas that exhausted developers fought a thousand little, corporate fights to get green-lit.

Last, and I struggle to describe this, is the new vibe VR and AR bring to games. Virtual and augmented reality projects, of which there were countless, released this mysterious energy into the Los Angeles Convention Center that made a walk through the halls feel like trip to Disneyland. In years past, virtual reality was a lark to many of the attendees, but this year you couldn’t walk down the hall without hearing about this opportunity for video games (and their publishers) to be at the forefront of something truly futuristic. I’ve never seen so many people in Los Angeles smiling.

E3 2015 played out like the industry’s cotillion. After much encouragement, publishers are coming together to take ginger steps into adulthood. There’s plenty of maturation left — hello worker rights! — but for the first time in a long time, the future of big budget video games looks like a place hospitable for players, raised on the medium, who have already grown-up.

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