Gaming is built on shooting.
Ever since the first aliens invaded our space our medium has been fixated on pulling triggers and creating interesting new holes in a variety of bastards. Already dozens of counter examples are probably swarming in your head of games where not a shot is fired, because you’re a savvy gamer and you- apparently- just want to prove me wrong all the time. But I’ll bet it’s still pretty rare to see a game library entirely devoid of games involving guns. Your own collection will, I bet, be more than half full of some form of bloodshed. And ask yourself, honestly if even peaceful games like The Sims or Ico wouldn’t doubtless be improved by the inclusion of at least one heavy chaingun (you’ll find that the answer is a resounding yes). We’re so used to shooting that even the most random combination of combatants will do: archaeologists shoot tigers and monks, physicists shoot marines, rappers shoot people in the middle east for diamond skulls. Even Mario, the cheery plumber who usually prefers to stomp on his enemies like Edward Norton in American History X likes to shoot fire bullets out of his Italian hands whenever he gets the chance. But over the years what we’ve shot at has gone through periods of transition that have largely been consistent with the technologies that permit them.
In the early days of gaming with a poverty of graphics and the roving adventurousness of a new format finding its feet, the enemies could be outlandish and cartoonish- animals, aliens, furniture, sharks, fruit, if it existed or could be rendered in a fistful of pixels you could fire slow moving pellets at it. Wolfenstein can be said to be the first FPS but it was Doom that set the precedent for nineties shooters, the graphical evolution of which allowed fully realized moving forms for the first time and designers took to crafting the demons and aliens that fused in that ill fated but oddly well armed Mars space station. The Duke Nukems, Quakes and their countless bastard children littered the nineties with a sprawl of rocket spewing goblins either teleporting in from a mothership or a hell dimension. There was a reason for this, of course; the graphics were advancing with the times but were still recognisably rubbish. Human soldiers in even high end early FPSs looked like Duplo projects run by particularly drunk children so the ostentatious spikes, snouts and eyeballs on your demon/alien made them both vibrant and, more importantly, visually distinct.
But ask anyone that owns a thunderdome and they’ll tell you the truth: everyone at heart simply wants to hunt humans. The millennium hit and brought with it graphical technology that finally let us soar with the eagles and shoot men in what was recognisably their throats and genitals. Parties were thrown, toasts were drunk and the game shops started stocking up on games in which you could almost see the light leaving an enemy soldier’s eyes. Medal of Honour and Call of Duty started up their franchises on the bodies of an incalculable amount of notional german corpses- the age of the nazi had dawned.
The Nazis provided developers with the perfect mixture for their games since the exhaustively documented atrocities of rascals like Hitler and Goering gave a blank moral cheque to any gamer while on the other hand you still got to glory in the thrill of opening a soldier’s head wide open with a skilful headshot and imagining the memories of the wife and children fall out of his shattered cranium in chunks on the indifferent battlefield. Then you could teebag the corpse. Admittedly there were still plenty of stand out games about fighting the ever invading alien hordes but the indisputable fact was that between 1999 and 2003 if seven hours went past without a game hitting shelves wherein someone in the SS could not be shot in the ear then someone within the games industry got fired.
Absurd as it may seem, re-winning world war 2 got tiresome after several solid years and series’ like Halo, Gears of War and Resistance pulled our gunsights away from central Europe and back to the stars once more. These games brought graphical fidelity and the newfound tactical aspect of real life war to the pew-pew world of firing laserguns at xenomorphic abominations. The genre transition also brought an absurd sombreness and military tubthumping to the genre. Consider the Halo games which managed to mutate from a fun and colourful killfest in a big alien ring behind the eyes of a bouncy green tank that walks like a man and turn that into a sombre collection of military sacrifices, mournful trumpets and ads that played like a bizarre mix of propaganda and warnings about a future war.
The most recent transition is to zombies. An amalgam of influences in the zeitgeist are responsible for the resurgence of interest in undead hordes from movies to books to Max Brooks to the creeping misanthropic horror of fellow human beings seizing the unconscious mind of the species, but the last few years have belonged to zombies as much as the early noughties belonged to the Fuhrer. As usual gaming’s adoption of the newest bullet sponges had as much to do with cold technology as it had to do with human fads since more powerful processors could finally bring to life the numbers and diversity of a true horde. AI developments like Left 4 Dead’s director could also summon the unpredictable shifting battlefield required of such an enemy. As usual the bandwagon’s been picking up extra weight as it’s picked up momentum since every developer has been jumping on and cramming their games with the undead. In a beautiful union they’ve been Nazis, they’ve been on the moon, they’ve been shot with every weapon and- with Dead Island and L4D2- been bludgeoned with a few too, they’ve even been fought with intelligent plants and cunning gardening. Suitably enough zombies are stale now and the shine has come off that particular rotting apple. The industry is facing a creative schism- if we’re done shooting Nazis and zombies, what do we shoot next?
Here’s a sensible proposition:
Have you ever wanted to shoot all of the homeless people in the world?
Of course you have. You’re an intelligent person who knows how the economy is going. Shooting homeless people now is a preventative measure as much as it is a lark. Nobody would dispute that the homeless need to be scrubbed from their shop doors and ditches and sewer lairs by a cleansing rain of righteous violence- they smell bad, make us feel socially negligent and they often have an unfounded but loud relationship with Jesus so killing them makes fiscal and moral sense. But I’m preaching to the converted, I can tell.
My main point is that the video games industry is looking for a new enemy that’s hiding under our very noses and I propose that in our entertainment we should begin to kill the homeless. Think about it; like Nazis we feel an absolute moral superiority over them and largely view them as a sub human species that we wouldn’t blink at ending violently. We view them as a uniform mass of the same set of pleading faces and crazy eyes so most sane gamers would have no qualms about ending a homeless with a well placed shotgun blast. They also provide the numbers of a good zombie game as anyone who lives in the city will attest to their proliferation and the downturning economy is providing more and more ranks; the recession acting like a T-virus or ‘rage’ infected monkey if you will. The primal thrill of taking a human life that is rendered recognisable through our cutting edge graphics can be retained since they are still considered biologically similar to us. Also they fall naturally into ranks with the undernourished youths filling the numbers as grunts, belligerent old drunks being a class above them like snipers or heavy machine gun guys, the yelling crazies being elite units and the meth head with a kitchen knife strapped to his shin is a kind of boss. Some of them even have dogs.
Art resonates with us when it’s relateable and what could possibly be more relateable than wanting to kill homeless people? Frankly I’m surprised this idea hasn’t come up more often. Now, there have been games laying the groundwork for this. Condemned 1 and 2 prided itself on its depiction of a police officer cramming fists, pipes and splintery 2 by 4’s into an endless succession of homeless faces but that world was unusually bleak considering its positive subject matter and besides, it's now time to bring that to the next level. The gaming world is crying out for a new enemy that hasn’t been done to death but can incorporate all of the elements that make the most of current generation systems and the shifting masses of almost human homeless people with their addled approximation of intelligence is the next big thing.
Call me, EA. We can make this happen.