The arts are stuck in a rut.
How many more sequels, prequels, remakes, reboots, and re-imaginings do we have do see before we admit that the film industry is, creatively speaking, in dire straits? How many fifty shades of vampires-in-love must we pass in bookstores before we accept that publishers are playing it so safe as to be stale?
Games are no different. Want a fantasy game? Then you’re sure to be dealing with the elves, dwarves, orcs, and dragons. Want horror? Line up for the latest mob of unoriginal undead. From apocalypse to zombies, the real challenge is not how many Xbox achievements can be unlocked, but how to find something truly original in the marketplace.
Having just chatted with my friend Douglas Sobon (who you will be seeing soon in Selene Hollow) on this very subject, I thought I’d list out a few off-the-top-of-my-head games I’d love to see. (I won’t list the books and films I’m anxious for, because I’m busy making those!)
1: A Fantasy Game that isn’t possessed by the ghost of Gygax and Tolkien
For the love of Isis, can we please table the orcs for a while? Let’s have a game set in a fantasy world that isn’t Middle Earth. How about a setting in ancient Ireland, with rich Gaelic mythology materializing from the mossy damp? Or perhaps a setting among the ghastly bestiary of Aztec legend? Or would you rather explore the haunted Congo? How about the unsettling world of mythical Tibet; maybe you get a free saving throw against butter tea.
2: A Lovecraft RPG
Aside from the very decent Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, and the criminally underrated Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, HPL games are as rare as they are terrible. And that’s a crime, since the man’s fiction ignored ghosts and ghouls and vampires and gave the world something wholly original.
So how about a game where Miskatonic University is the main hub, and where you can explore it’s campus? Sign up with its impending expedition to Antarctica. Go meet with a correspondent in the backwoods of Vermont. Go check out that creepy “witch house” near campus the students keep whispering about. At the end of each episodic horror, you return to campus to collect your sanity, while chatting with fellow professors and students or investigating the basements of the university’s garish library. Maybe the deeper into the game you get, the less your character wants to look in the mirror…
3. An alternate historical game
Yes, I know the Fallout series posits an alternate timeline in which the 1950s never fell. What about a game in which Rome never fell. Or the dinosaurs never fell? Or where Pangaea never broke up? Or where Britain was conquered by Han Dynasty China? Or where Genghis Khan conquered North America in a timeline when the natives had already domesticated the wooly mammoth and a genius Sioux inventor comes up with carbon nanotubes so that when Europeans get here there are sky-high arcologies dedicated to Mongre Tenke, Lord of the Four Winds?
My point is, give us something creative.
4. An apocalypse without mutants or zombies
How about a game in which a new plague wipes out most of humanity, and only one town appears to have survived. Your goal is all about what you do next. With a population of 100, you need to find water, learn to gather and grow food, scrounge for parts to bring back to your townsfolk. Getting to know those townsfolk might help too. Maybe the mechanic can start mentoring young kids to be future mechanics. Maybe the doctor should get some acolytes before he dies and the next generation returns to thinking that diseases are divine punishment. The conflict comes not from mutants with miniguns, but from your fellow men and women. How do you handle the fundamentalist who is setting himself up to be a new messianic leader? Do you execute a murderer, in a world where humanity is already on the brink of extinction?
Think The Stand over The Walking Dead… without a psychic old Mother Abigail. No psychics.
So what about it, game developers?