What Defines Video Games from the 2010s? [VIDEO]
We’re nearing the final years of the 2010s, which means we’re nearing the final years of a decade full of great video games. How will video games of the 2010s be remembered? What style of video game defines the 2010s?
Hey Future Caleb, don’t be mad at me. I’m, I’m sorry…I know we haven’t talked in a few weeks. It’s not you. It’s me. Which means it’s you.
Maybe this will help. TravPlaysGames (one half of the excellent Polykill Podcast) has a question for you: Each decade from 1900 on has a distinct theme. These things are always obvious in hindsight. Years from now how will games portray the 2010’s? What are key elements that make it unique years from now as a set piece in a video game?
I’m going to adjust this question a bit, and talk about how games themselves, released in the 2010s, will be remembered. Because the easy answer to TravPlaysGames actual question is: fidget spinners will be every character’s’ secondary weapon, magic points will be replaced by outrage reserves, and all characters will wear pastel shorts and Polo shirts. So, look forward to that, future.
Come on, Future Caleb. You’re still mad at me. I can tell. Look, we’re two different people from two different decades, me, here in the 20-teens, a time history has come to know as the greatest decade for video gaming ever, and you, in 2078, living in a decade nicknamed the wistful 70s, following of course the we-can-do-better-30s’, the this-is-harder-than-we-thought-40s, the reboot-every-franchise-again-50s…yeah it was all downhill since the 10s, both in terms of videogame quality and nickname quality. You future people just sort of gave up after Half-Life 3 came out in 2024. The eventual reality of that game caused the world to collectively shit itself upon announcement, piss itself upon release, and punch holes in every wall the day after release upon realizing Valve just gave the portal gun to Leisure Suit Larry, turning the hallowed Half-Life series into a truck stop glory hole sim. Sure plumbers, perverts, and Carpenters were happy, what with the shit, piss, wall punching and bathroom stall defacing, but fans of Half-Life didn’t appreciate it, and the game’s existence cast a shadow over the entire game industry, a shadow that looms until this very future 2078 day.
I feel bad for you, Future Caleb. So much video game greatness has preceded your lame decade that a Leisure Suit Larry glory hole sim isn’t simply a leftover concession but is a logical inevitability.
I can tell you’re still mad, but you shouldn’t be mad at me for that! You should be mad at TravPlaysGames. He’s the one who asked the question that caused me to call out your crappy decade!
Okay, all that’s bull crap. For you current viewer, Future Caleb and I are just fine. I just wanted to imagine a world where the pinnacle of gaming is something so basal. The truth is, and we see this all the time, that games, and technology at large, never atrophy. As new features become ubiquitous, and therefore expected and necessary, smart people don’t simply stop being smart. They find different ways to accommodate the ubiquity in question (turning our cell phones into personal computers, for example). And by bringing all these ubiquitous dots closer together, other smart people start connecting them in ways never thought possible. And as more smart people create more impressive things, the cost of those impressive things goes down, so that even more smart people have access to all of the dot connection tools. It sounds complicated, but it’s not.
So if this process is so simple, shouldn’t it be easy then to mine the current 2010 trend that will become our collective referent in the future?
Well, it’s easy to identify prominent trends right now. The SoulsBorn combat mechanic has become popular over the last few years, walking simulators were introduced and became popularized this decade, and interfaces that use motion control and VR have been, if not embraced, at least tepidly accepted by the gaming community, and that’s got to count for something.
But I’m willing to argue that the 2010s won’t be known for a specific genre or mechanic, but for its volume and variety. Take a step back and think about the sheer variety of games we have today. At no time in our lives have so many new releases looked so different. And I include retro-inspired games here, even though we’ve technically experienced their aesthetic already. I include them because these games are often created by smart people with access to cheap tools, in ways previous decades, or at least previous generations, couldn’t fathom. Take Undertale, for example. Here’s a game that looks like one we’ve seen before, but the fact that it was made by a single person, using free Game Maker Studio software, and eventually found its way into the hands of the freakin’ Pope, is incredible. I can’t imagine an assembly language NES homebrew cart finding the same audience.
But let’s back up and first align ourselves to the decades past. Where have we been? Will that help us see where we are now and what you are, Future Caleb, looking back on from the future?
Let’s begin in the 1980s. If I had to choose one word to define the gaming landscape of the 1980s, I’d say: difficult.
Admittedly, reducing the 1980s to a single term is unfair. This was a time when home console gaming came into its own here in North America, a time when story became a staple of gaming, and a time dominated by 2D platformers. But, I’ve given myself these restrictions, so I’m going to adhere to them.
Games in the 1980s were difficult, I think for a couple of reasons. The first, quite simply, game developers hadn’t yet fully figured out the directional pad. I know this seems crazy, as there were plenty of games that felt great, but for every 1 Mega Man we were given 5 or 6 Tag Team Pro Wrestlings. The 80s were full of unfair unresponsive controls. It’s just the truth.
The second reason games in the 1980s were difficult is because arcade games, which represent the experience home consoles were trying to reproduce, were hard. Difficult was a convention. It’s as simple as that.
It’s like how 1920s Hollywood films were over-acted to compensate for the lack of sound, but even for decades after sound was introduced, over-acting continued to be a matter of course. In fact, the term over-acting probably didn’t exist, because back then it was just called acting.
Video games did the same thing, adopting arcade tropes and mechanics–specifically in terms of quarter-eating difficulty–because that’s the way it had always been. Home consoles also had to fight software space limitations, meaning that for customers to feel they got their money’s worth, a short, easy game was simply out of the question.
Let’s speed this up Future Caleb, because you’re probably going to die soon.
The 1990s gave us 3D platformers, fighting sims, first person shooters, but most impactfully, gave us violence. Violence in video games was even discussed during a US Senate Subcommittee, which lead to the Entertainment Software Rating Board and their system of rating video games based on content. In the long-run, this was actually great for video games, as it essentially gave game developers permission to make more, and increasingly violent video games. No longer did developers have to fear legal action when it came to violence.
The twenty-aughts gave us realistic–for the time, anyway–environments and began to explore open-world game experiences. Increases in computing power and software storage meant theretofore unrealized expanse. In one word, the 2000s were big.
So here we are in the 2010s. Games don’t have to be difficult anymore, so with artificial challenge removed, developers can shift focus. With violence no longer encouraging gamemakers to be culture warriors, developers can focus on what’s important to the game, rather than what’s important to validating gaming itself. With size limitations no longer a hurdle–and more importantly, with size no longer being something to brag about–developers can focus on the right size for the right game.
Fold in the ever-decreasing cost of computing power, the bevy of free game engines available, and the increasing acceptance of video games at large, and you’ve got unfettered freedom in the 2010s, leading to a never before seen variety in the video games we play.
I also understand my difficult position. I’m currently experiencing the very thing I’m attempting to dissect, making a truly objective viewpoint impossible. An intestinal worm couldn’t tell you the skin color of its host, right? That analogy actually makes sense. You don’t often see that on Hey Future Caleb episodes.
I’m sure every person, if asked mid-way through their present decade, would look at the shelves in their local video game stores and be awestruck at the variety of games. But I do think the 2010s are unique. We have more varied games than we’ve ever seen before, because all those dots I mentioned earlier have an unprecedented number of smart people finding an unprecedented number of smart ways to connect them.
Before I go, how about I do the truly dangerous and attempt to predict the future. I feel the next decade will be summed up in the one word: personal. Already we’re seeing games that tell very personal stories or have been born of personal circumstances. From Gone Home to Hyper Light Drifter to Bound to That Dragon Cancer to We Are Chicago, games, free from the software limitations, censorship concerns, archaic arcade conventions, or the need to simply be different, will be used more and more to emote with intent from personal experiences. We will see games told as memoirs, perhaps. We’ll see games react, in almost real time, to shifting political climates. But above all, games will, hopefully, remain fun.
But only you, Future Caleb, knows for sure. Unless you’re senile in your own age, in which case, you know that nurse you think is stealing from your sock drawer…she is.
Present viewer, what do you think the 2010s will be known for? What do you think the 2020s will be know for? Maybe 13 years from now I’ll come back to these comments and pick a random person to win a copy of that really hard to find game that was released in 2021. You know the one. Yeah, that one.
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Thank you for watching.
And to you Future Caleb, say hi to your grandkids for me.
- Video Dungeon Crawl Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com), Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
- Video Game Trends by Decade: Games That Reigned In the 80s, 90s, 00s
- Violence in video games : hearing before the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and Finance of the Committee on Energy and Commerce
- Half-Life 3 image