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Switching Weapons – The Other Side of the Loading Screen

Posted by Jim on February 6, 2012

I know it’s been quite a while since my last entry, but rest-assured, I haven’t gone anywhere. Well, that’s a lie. I’ve gone many places. The move from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas to Germany has been a daunting one, and frought with setbacks and obstacles. I am, however, finally settled in, and ready to resume work on my column. And there was much rejoicing.

First thing’s first. I want to send out my heartfelt thoughts and condolences to everyone who was touched by the life of Triforce Mike. I know it’s so clich√© and corny to say something like “I wish I’d known him better,” but I truly do. The wonderful words and emotions I hear from my friends, mostly Tony, of the man, make me truly wish I’d had the opportunity, no, the fortune and privilege of knowing him. From a soldier who’s lost his share of friends, you all have my thoughts and prayers.

That said, I thought it’d be fitting to touch on a topic I’ve been mulling around in my head for a while, but never actually put down on paper; or webspace, so-to-speak. This is something I think has hounded the game industry for years, fueled by gamers, spurned by publishers, and craved by developers. Something that we all want, but are afraid to receive.

Change. Transition. Metamorphosis.

When I left Akron, Ohio on October 5th, 2002, to get on a plane and fly to Fort Benning, Georgia for Basic Combat Training, I was engaging in one of the greatest changes of my life. I had no idea what would be on the other side of that 1.5 hour plane ride loading screen. I had no idea what I was going to be doing, who I was going to be with, or where it would eventually take me. I took a leap of faith, and almost ten years later, I’ve been living the greatest adventure of my life.

Did I take risks? Absolutely. I went to Iraq. I went to Afghanistan. I got wounded by a frag grenade. I’ve dodged bullets while driving a humvee through heavy Baghdad traffic to chase insurgents over medians and through marketplaces. Did every great risk come with a great reward? Heck no. Sometimes surviving it all was the only reward I needed, or wanted for that matter. What I didn’t do, however, was sit inside a hut the entire deployment, afraid that taking risks would lead me down a path I couldn’t return from. I changed, and I assumed a plethora of risks in doing so, and found myself far better off for it.

Now, I know the game industry can’t really be likened to a soldier in the matter of risk-taking, but hear me out. Mirror’s Edge was amazing. It broke molds. It had wonderful art direction, an engaging story, and a gameplay style no one had ever seen before. It sold decently. EA took a risk. The risk only kind-of paid off. What happened there was a thing of beauty. A publisher embraced change, metamorphosis, and took a leap of faith. (You didn’t honestly think I was going to reference Mirror’s Edge without that pun, did you?) While that risk wasn’t necessarily rewarded, EA didn’t suffer major stock downfall either. The game sold. They planted a seed. They weren’t afraid of the other side of the loading screen.

This kind of innovation in gaming is what we need to see more of. The problem is, the game industry is a business. No one will be taking these risks if they’re going to lose heaps of money over them. We have small studios getting strangled by the big name developers, shoving their awesomely innovative IPs to the side to work on clones of “whatever’s big these days.” We need to find a way to show these publishers that taking a chance on a new idea won’t be the financial suicide that a decade of Call of Duty games has led them to believe it is. (Honestly, I don’t hate Call of Duty… it just makes this argument so easy.)

Fast forward a few years, to Activision. Call of Duty seventeen, or whatever just came out, has been released. It’s the biggest, baddest, most-selling game in history or whatever, some nonsense like that. No risk. No innovation. It’s the same damn game as the multitude of Call of Duty games that came before it. This is frustrating. Nothing has changed, nothing has evolved. We have shown the industry that staleness brings in more money than innovation. We have proven that we’d rather sit and remain with what makes us comfortable, than take a chance on what’s on the other side of the loading screen. Stop that. Bad gamers.

It truly frustrates me to think that some day video games, this medium that we have been fighting tooth and claw to be recognized as art; a form of expression that portrays both our ideals and imaginations, as well as provide an immersive and interactive role in our lives, may turn into the same humdrum, droning, factory-built drivel we created it to combat. Gaming should be about expression, fun, creativity, and innovation. This is something we cannot achieve if we refuse to support… just that. Creativity. Innovation.

I’m not saying anything that hasn’t been said a million times before. I’m not telling you to not buy Call of Duty games. I am telling you to buy innovative, unconventional, new-idea games. Take a risk. Take a leap of faith. Buy Mirror’s Edge. Try Syndicate. Give Lord of the Rings: War in the North a shot. Show the industry that samey shooters by the big dogs at Activision aren’t the only things we’re interested in. See what’s on the other side of the loading screen. If you take that risk, like I did when I enlisted two days after my 18th birthday, you might find yourself enjoying the next 10 years of your life a lot more than if you’d have just been playing that other shooter I’ve mentioned way too many times in this article.

You’re a good sport, Call of Duty. Although I would feel much worse about bashing you if I didn’t suck so hard at you. So we’re even.

About Jim

Sergeant Jim Beverly is a Pharmacy Specialist in the U.S. Army, and, for much longer, an avid gamer. A purple heart recipient and veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, Jim is always looking for ways to connect with his inner gamer, despite his obligations to his country. He strongly believes that the medium of gaming can be used to help servicemembers cope with adversity, post-war trauma, and strengthen relationships. His philosophy on life, the military, and being a nerd is shared in his column "Switching Weapons."

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