2012 is almost over and while the “best of” videogame lists are soon to come a reflection on the general trends of the medium are in order. Michael Abbot:
The games of 2012 suggest that designers are discovering and exploiting more channels of communication with players. In the past, these efforts have mostly been about experimenting with genre. Limbo is a great example of a developer mixing familiar gameplay mechanics with macabre horror elements to make something that looks familiar, but feels different. Filmmakers have done this for years, mimicking or reframing genre (e.g. zombie movies, westerns, vampire tales), applying a canny modern sensibility to address contemporary themes. Quentin Tarantino has made a career of it.
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But few filmmakers stray from conventional storytelling forms. They may play with linearity or occasionally rethink the screen space (television is actually more ambitious in this regard), but most thematically ambitious films conform to standard presentations of time, place, and character.
Not video games. In 2012, many of the best play-worthy games were built by designers who found their voices by re-thinking the essential structure and function of games. This year, the very definition of “game” was thrown into question more often and by more designers than ever before.
Most of the lists that will come out will likely be full of AAA titles that were good, but didn’t do much to mix up the dynamic of the last decade (and unfortunately were not great). Games like Journey are testaments to abstraction as much as beauty, whereas a game like Minecraft (2011 I know) shows that features like good grahpics and story are far from necessary.
Abbot is right that other mediums rarely deviate from traditional storytelling methods. A lot of videogames still stick to the proven recipe of success, but others are showing a willingness to explore and are both receiving acclaim and sales. Hopefully this trend only rises in the years to come, and if the movement of the past few are any indication for the future, it will.