There are tons of FPS games hitting the market. It's not exactly a big secret that developers are pumping out games faster than manufacturers can make copies, but it's not likely to last for too much longer. The next 'genre trend' will appear in its place, like how shooting replaced platformers, and in general the industry will move on. Looking over the horizon, there is still a barrage to come, yet at the same time an identical complaint is layered against them - the idea that some of them are 'generic'. I, for one, am not a fan of this term applied to games in the slightest, its definition vague and generally leveled against things that displease the person accusing it of being so. In general, it's an opportunity to dismiss something without even thinking about it - it's generic, what is there left to say? However, I feel a discussion is merited about generic being a legitimate complaint at all, and if it is, where it falls in the broad sense of criticism.
First of all, we have to discuss what 'generic' really means. According to www.thefreedictionary.com, the term means, when used as an adjective, 'relating to or descriptive of an entire class, general.' Unfortunately for those who enjoy the word, the games industry is not that simple. Take a look at some of the shooters stepping up to bat for top honors this year. Bioshock Infinite, for example, takes place in the skies of a fictional version of the 1920's, and is full of epic action, philosophy and dizzying heights. Spec Ops: The Line, however, is set in present day Dubai ravaged by a sandstorm. This creates all kinds of tactical situations, from sandstorms or pits that form beneath your feet from shifting sand. (Personally, I'm really excited for this game, especially because from what I hear it deals with morality extensively. Consider it with my personal seal of approval for what it's worth.) Then, a game I held specifically in mind when I wrote on Monday, Aliens: Colonial Marines is finally coming out this year. Existing on a dark alien planet, players must band together to survive and figure out what happened in the aftermath of the movie Aliens leading up to its sequel that I like to pretend never happened, Alien 3. When placed side by side, it is clear that they are all shooters, yes. But guns are where the similarities end.
So what is generic, really, in comparison to anything else on the market? Most argue shooters with a military theme can be marked down as 'generic', yet some of the most popular shooters on the market are science fiction, like the Halo series or Gears of War. The market is diverse enough, it seems, that one subset of the genre cannot come to define it as a whole. Ultimately, the term generic implies that a game is too much like everything else of its genre, yet the genre in question doesn't appear to have many tropes outside of guns. Shooters would have to be divided into possibly dozens of sub categories, and how would they be defined? Besides, we haven't seen everything guns can do for a game. A gun, like a jump button, is a means to an end. Most games, they have only one end - killing or defeating the thing immediately in front of you. In some games, they can do all kinds of things, like shoot interlinked portals or grapple you to new heights. Guns in games are ultimately tools to complete tasks at range. There are so many places to take the idea, and developers have merely scratched at the emotional possibilities guns can have in games. As of right now, not many games have analyzed how a situation changes when the player is given a gun. How does their perspective change? Would their response to the situation have been different had they not been armed? (Hopefully Spec Ops does this... fine I'll stop now)
Games are, as Extra Credits once put it, the ultimate way to explore the human condition because they are totally interactive, thus forcing players into making choices and more than any other medium revealing who its participants are inside. I hope as the era of shooters begins to wind down, developers may begin to explore these sorts of ideas and attempt something truly raw and emotional, something truly great. A gun in a game is far more than a weapon like it is in the real world. It's ultimately a tool, a sign of power, a dangerous thing in the wrong hands, and a simple yes/no choice in the palm of the one using it. If more shooters begin to turn away from its more obvious uses and towards the great fields of potential yet untapped, there may be more life to shooters yet. It's perhaps this feeling of missed potential that the 'generic' label arises as a means of dismissal, to lash out at games that are simply content to live in the shadows of their predecessors or simply don't push their boundaries far enough. Maybe it can be used as a sort of rallying cry, one to bring shooter fans together to demand innovation. Perhaps the term generic must mean something different in the game world for it to hold meaning, even becoming a key part of a game player's vocabulary. One thing is clear however: it needs to stop being used to compare games to other games, and change to compare games to ideals. Or we could just use another word entirely. That works too.