The reality is, the biggest franchises in the current video game space are so-called first-person shooters what comes to genre specification. The franchise that most likely comes to everyone’s mind is the Call of Duty series that is nowadays very common to label as the lowest common denominator of interactive entertainment due to its popularity. Personally, I try my best to avoid seeing artifacts through their social stigmas, and I think it’s quite ridiculous sometimes how far some people go in order to make themselves appear superior by bashing popular pieces of entertainment or art.
Anyhow, it’s not a coincidence that top selling video games are more often than not about shooting people with firearms: people generally like shooting. And one doesn’t have to have real-life experience of an actual combat rifle to recognize that holding and using one is, in a way, an ultimate power trip, as in utter dominance over others. Moreover, the fact that we have this established, massively popular genre known as first-person shooter is indeed telling that the act of shooting is a central theme particularly in first-person games in general.
In fact, there really aren’t any other major genres with the first-person prefix, even though there perhaps should be. It seems that a game to qualify as a first-person one needs to include not only a first-person view (most simulators are depicted from first-person), but also offer a certain level of freedom for the player to wander around the 3D space as a person. Therefore, I guess, Doom (1993) was considered as a first-person game but Microsoft Flight Simulators aren’t. Many times I wish there was a flight simulator or a racing game that incorporated meaningfully such a freedom into the gameplay, but it’s always about guns, guns, guns.
So, shooting people is such a profound way of interacting with the virtual from the first-person point of view that it feels strange and out of place when an AAA game with said perspective comes along that involves barely use of weaponry, like Mirror’s Edge (2008). Mirror’s Edge was based on finding a right path to come over the obstacles, keeping the momentum going, and avoiding the enemy fire at the same time. However, occasionally the player got a hold of a gun and could fire back, which made the shooting feel that much more special and meaningful, if you will. Now the weapon wasn’t a fundamental part of the player’s character like in most first-person games, but a luxurious object that one kind of cherished and which radiated genuine authority.
This all comes down to the fact that I find it highly fascinating when a first-person game (=shooter) introduces functionality that’s not directly connected to the core ethos of the game, a fascination which dates back to Duke Nukem 3D (1996) that famously contained all kinds of extra stuff to play with. What’s amusing, then, is that in the case of Mirror’s Edge, that functionality was indeed shooting. Also, I remember how exciting it was to be able to drive civilian cars in the original Operation Flashpoint (2001), which had little to do with the actual militaristic gameplay, but which transformed the game as a whole into something much cooler, even if being quite cool to begin with.
I’m not saying shooting isn’t necessarily enough for a game like Call of Duty. I’m saying first-person games should aim a bit higher than being mere shooters in terms of functionality. Crysis (2007) was an ambitious endeavor into that direction in that the player could pick up and hold almost any object, not only a gun (the system is unparalleled even today), and drive around freely with vehicles, military and civilian.
The first-person view is not an artistic statement, but the most natural and obvious way of portraying the virtual, and it frustrates me that the most prevalent first-person genre is tagged with such a specific and limiting term as shooter. At the end of the day, I guess, I want genuine first-person Grand Theft Auto -esque games that deliver on-par experiences in all fronts. Please.