Video games need a kick up the arse and an attitude upgrade. Put on your ear-goggles and pump up the volume.
Video games are soft. There’s nothing shocking about video games anymore, nothing rebellious. When did video games get so tame, so afraid to offend, so designed by committee? Video games are mainstream entertainment and they’re all the more boring for it. “Edgy” is a marketing term, the industry is so predictable it lives on a yearly cycle of releases, updates and sales that you could set Flavor Flav’s clock by.
Which is why video games need to learn some serious lessons from the world of hip-hop. Like these.
01 – Smoke weed everyday
I’m too old and responsible to do drugs now. And besides, I know the fantasy of doing drugs (a higher state of consciousness) is nothing like the reality (chewing your own face off). But video games do fantasy really well, as witnessed by Far Cry 3’s Kick The Hornest’s Nest mission, in which Jason Brody torches fields full of weed as his vision trips-out, sound warps and his accuracy with a weapon goes to shit – all to the accompaniment of Skrillex and Jr Gong Marley’s Make It Burn Dem on loop. As Brody says himself: “Holy fuck, this is awesome!”
Or GTA V’s Yoga mission, where Michael is drugged by his own son, trips out, mocked by screaming chimps, kidnapped by aliens and skydives through a rainbow of flavour. And then pukes up. Game creators embrace horrible violence everyday but they’re afraid of hitting the bong? From Cypress Hill to Flatbush Zombies, hip-hop has been inhaling from drug counterculture for years and it wouldn’t hurt the video game business to drop a molly once in a while.
02 – Get shot
Tell us what war is really like. Using military advisors to check if a machine gun has the right recoil doesn’t really count and it’s not that interesting. What if your game designer experienced a sucking chest wound while Tina from accounts struggled to patch him up with superglue under heavy mortar fire? It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “hold your stomach in”. Now make a video game about it.
You know the story about how 50 Cent was shot nine times and he milked it for his early marketing to full effect? As cynical as that was, the Get Rich or Die Tryin’ LP is authentic because he caught a bullet through his cheek and then wrote Heat (and starred in the cheapest GTA “inspired” video ever made, see above).
03 – Convert to Islam
Develop a game from a different perspective. You know, not one made by and for straight white males. I learnt about the 5 Percent Nation through the music of Gang Starr, Brand Nubian and Poor Righteous Teachers. Imagine the understanding of other religions and cultures that video games could promote with such a captive, interactive audience.
04 – Fuck the police
The games industry is so desperate to be accepted it’s not in the slightest bit challenging. It’s mainstream entertainment and is about as controversial as a Transformers movie. N.W.A. were targeted by the F.B.I. for releasing Fuck Tha Police. People who play video games are just as political, opinionated, campaigning, questioning and intelligent as everyone else – why does the content of video games so rarely reflect that?
05 – Get down and dirty
Why is sex for fun such a taboo in video games? Is it because as advanced as graphics in games are, any attempt to convincingly show two adults going at it hammer and tongs would look as erotic as FemShep trying to fuck a door handle?
I’m not saying video games should get as crude as 2 Live Crew or any in a long tradition of sex rhymes, but that upfront, everybody-does-it attitude wouldn’t be a bad one to adopt. Loosen up.
06 – Root for the villain
Gabe Newell is the video game Rick Ross. You look at Gabe Newell and see someone who wants to bring PC gaming to the masses. I look at Gabe Newell and see an obese recluse who collects knives and wants a monopoly on the biggest gaming market. He talks shit about the competition when they step in his way. That’s boss status, right there.
07 – Burn hollywood, burn
Why the continued obsession with movies? Hollywood has been abusing video game licenses for years. It grabs the IP, mangles it with cheap production values and b-list actors and pukes it out to make a decent profit with no regard for the source material or the damage it does to the brand long-term. Someone’s coming out of this relationship richer at the expense of the other.
Games should reject Hollywood. Video games are a bigger cultural reference point to the young. I’m not saying video games have had to put up with years institutional racism and the damage that’s caused, but it would be quite refreshing if people who played video games actually made a decent movie either about them or based on the content. Will the Warcraft movie be the one that breaks the mold? We’ll find out in 2016, I guess.
08 – Tour
Properly tour. Take the game around cities and put it in people’s hands. Talk to the fans directly. Don’t filter your message through the press. There are at least two games industry conferences a month where old rich white men tell other old rich white men how to make money and yet there’s only a handful of consumer shows in Europe and the U.S. Stick your game in the back of a minibus, partner with a games community, tour the country and sit down with your fans. You’ll create a customer for life.
09 – Respect the OGs
Now Warren Spector has finished his little vanity project with Mickey Mouse, can he make a new conspiracy thriller about oppression in a bleak iron-boot future? When Cliff Bleszinski isn’t writing about how to pick up chicks, let’s hope he’s getting back to making games about chainsawing aliens in two. And David Jaffe… no, actually forget Jaffe, he can carry on making his daft gun-car games.
My point is that rappers don’t really retire and the good ones stick around for years dropping LPs, projects and guest appearances. Video game designers have flit between free-to-play, Facebook, teaching and mobile companies over the past five years – which is fine – but all that consulting, advising and lecturing means they don’t work on a magnum opus, they just chip in to a game that barely anyone remembers, let alone plays. People over the age of 40 can still be relevant, I’m sure.
10 – Start beef with the press
“Rap mags try and use my black ass / so advertisers can give ’em more cash for ads… fuckers,” rapped Jay-Z on 99 Problems.
The press and the development community could be a lot more real with each other. That Dishonoured dude who called journos “press sneak fucks” – the man’s got nuts and an honest outlook. That’s basically how a lot of developers see the press unless they’re being handed 9 out of 10 scores. Don’t pretend to be friends. There’s nothing more sickening that journos flirting with developers and vice versa. We want quotes and exclusives, you want coverage and promotion. Let’s not stand around squeezing each other’s ass cheeks.
11 – Assassinate a politician
I said it earlier – video games are fantasy. Fight back against the mindless tabloid hacks, the clueless politicians and the self-righteous pressure groups that use video game horror stories to further their own agenda. They already hate you, what’s a little flash game where you portal gun a world leader’s head into a different universe going to matter?
12 – Sample your influences
Hip-hop was originally built on sampling, stealing, and cut and pasting other artist’s music. Developer’s can’t outright pinch material, but they can be a bit more honest about their influences and let them shine through.
Some games already do this but not nearly enough. Trials Evolution featured a neat level influenced entirely by Limbo. Resogun is basically a reskinned Defender and Mike Bithell has pinched the entire style of Metal Gear’s VR Missions from Kojima for Volume. Good start, must try harder.
13 – Do you
In 1994, MC Hammer – a rapper known for a catchy pop song, wearing ridiculous pants and novelty dancing – recorded a hard gangster rap album called The Funky Headhunter. He was laughed at and lost his original fanbase.
Last year Insomniac – a developer known for well-crafted knockabout shooters with novelty guns and daft-looking aliens – released Fuse, a moody 4-player co-op war game. No one played it.
Now Insomniac looks to be back on form with Sunset Overdrive, a daft knockabout shooter with ugly enemies and contaminated soda pop. Doesn’t that sound like fun again? No one wants to see Ted Price in a pair of Speedos.
14 – Negotiate like Wu-Tang
When the Wu-Tang signed with Sony in the early 90s, Method Man cut a deal where individual members of the group were free to sign with any other label for a solo album. That was unorthodox and a reinvention of the music label business model.
When a development studio agrees to be bought up by a big publisher for an obscene amount of money, imagine if as well as going on to create a bigger, better game, those individuals who wanted to could break out and still make their indie side-projects.
As RZA said in the PlayStation beat-em-up Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style; “Plug in, son. Get connected!”