As you may have guessed, we love single-player games. We share our love every day through the work that we do, but the pace of this industry means that we rarely get the opportunity to stop and look back.
Join us this week as we celebrate the best that single-player gaming has to offer as part of Single-Player Appreciation Week.
The gaming industry is in dire need of more family-oriented titles that offer depth, story, and challenge without using gratuitous violence. Working in a game store, I have found that giving parents suggestions for games that their children is difficult. Many kids and youth play games with little selection that offer engrossing narratives and themes, especially those that are marketed well.
After the days of the PlayStation 2 era, the industry has seen a decline in family-friendly games that can be enjoyed by all ages. The PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 era was known as the boom of the first-person shooter where franchises such as Call of Duty and Halo grew to be major successes. At the time, the industry continued to move towards more adult-oriented titles, leaving kids and younger audiences out of the loop. Now, Nintendo has a majority of the market for family-friendly games that all ages can enjoy with titles such as Mario and The Legend of Zelda. Developers need to make a push to be more creative in ways that are not just on how to make enemies spray bodily fluids all over the place.
While more family-oriented titles can be found in the indie scene, those titles are not well known to kids or even parents outside of YouTubers playing them. The Lego games are some of the only games made by triple-A developers as many have abandoned the days of cartoonish graphics and light-hearted gameplay. For instance, in an attempt to reboot the Jak and Daxter series, Naughty Dog came out with the ultra gritty and dark title The Last of Us. After having a long day at work or dealing with daily struggles, not everyone wants to continue that hardship in a game; sometimes, having a light-hearted story is the best way to unwind. Furthermore, a softer delivery of darker tones is a way to get kids and youth thinking about themes that can apply to daily life.
Many people are huge fans of Nintendo products such as Super Smash Bros., Mario, and The Legend of Zelda because they offer refined gameplay with memorable characters without glorifying the violence. Super Smash Bros. is a huge fighting game filled with many kinds of characters using all kinds of weapons but never does the violence go far enough to show blood or death. Instead of death, the characters fly off the screen with a trail of smoke and then reappear at the after match results. The characters are never excluded after a match, giving a sense of presence and the lack of killing is helping lead the title to be a major fighting game for those in and out of the fighting game community.
The last big family-friendly title that was heavily marketed in recent memory would be LittleBigPlanet, a property that started on the PlayStation 3. LittleBigPlanet is a game that saw players jumping around a world that looked to be made out of arts and crafts, solving puzzles and collecting items to customize their Sackboy or even create their own levels. The game never focused on violence; rather, it had strong aspects of exploration and creativity. LittleBigPlanet gave people a place to jump around and have adventures while giving them the tools to create something new.
Additionally, PlayStation’s Ape Escape is one of the fondest memories I have playing games; what originally started on the original PlayStation grew into a monkey catching franchise. The game had a cheesy story about a super-intelligent monkey named Spector trying to take over the world in some titles and destroy it in others. The destruction of a planet or taking over the human race is dark but never felt scary. The story featured a colourful amount of comedy mixed with a light-hearted tone to it all while keeping the gravity of the situations at the focus. Ape Escape would shine with the many unique worlds that the player would explore to find all the monkeys, with their own personalities, and capture them with a net. The game would offer a challenge as the little rascals would run away, drop bananas, or try to fight back, but never was a drop of blood shown, because it was not needed. Ape Escape is one of the few titles that used cute creatures and less-violent means of saving the world.
Another amazing family-friendly franchise was the Spyro series, which seldom saw human-like characters but mystical and animal-like beings. Charging horns-first or breathing fire on an enemy was handled with comedy and a puff as they disappeared. The first title saw Gnasty Gnorc use a spell to turn all the dragons to stone—not killing them. Never does the player have to revive a fellow dragon but rather release them. The game made the player a hero for a species that was turned to stone. and later titles saw the player as an outsider but loved by friends. The original Spyro trilogy offers a narrative that could seem very dark if the characters were replaced with humans but the game uses mythical creatures to lighten the mood.
AAA studios such as Sucker Punch and Insomniac Games have created franchises that delve into heavier topics like being a thief and galactic war with a light-hearted comedic approach with their titles Sly Cooper and Ratchet & Clank respectively. The stories in these franchises touched on topics of comradery and morals in a way adults can enjoy but more importantly a younger audience could grasp. Now both Sucker Punch and Insomniac Games are working on more violent games such as Ghost of Tsushima and Marvel’s Spider-man, respectively. Major studios with amazing talent could create games that offer a deep story and great gameplay without the use of blood and violence, drawing in a younger audience and introducing them to games outside of multiplayer titles like Fortnite.
Today, we see games use violence as a selling factor, such as Mortal Kombat’s fatalities or Sniper Elite’s slow-motion organ explosions. We can bring back the golden days of challenging games that could be played by everyone, or titles that can engross both adults and kids in the activity of exploration like Rare did with the old Banjo-Kazooie games. Developers and players need to review the games we play to see if violence and gore is truly necessary to push a narrative that excludes certain age groups.