I have been incredibly lucky to meet, by pure happenstance, a very notable indie game designer. This is incredibly fortuitous for me, a lowly indie game maker with no work as of yet and a student working towards a degree in game programming. I'm not going to name drop, nor leave any clue as to whom it may be, even if you don't really give two shits. I just wanted to write a little about how talking with someone on the "inside" made me feel about games and the future of narratives in them.
Basically they are going to shit, but it wouldn't take a meeting with anyone to figure that much out. After talking with him, I reevaluated the way I look at all games, even the one I used to believe were "top-notch-best-of-all-time-zomg-this-is-great!". Games like Zelda:OOT. I used to think it was excellent, none better. Looking back now I see that I was entrapped by the awe of discovering a rich land with amazing visuals. I mean it really was the first game I played where I could walk through a 3-d world and swing a sword. In retrospect, it did nothing for me story wise and the dungeons were mediocre at best. The person I spoke with put it best by saying key elements of the dungeons(keys weapons etc..) were simply abstractly hidden and all the player had to do was find the best vantage point to retrieve them, which could take hours.
And the whole time your simply enjoying the scenery and swinging that sword.
I'm probably not representing his statements entirely accurately, hence the desire to not reveal him, but I understood what he was saying. These game that we idolize are probably never as good as we remember them.
This conversation also led me to realize what some games are doing right. The decision you make in Bioshock, even being a rather simple one, it is an incredible decision to ask the player to make. To leave that in the hands of the player, when they could have just as easily made it a cut-scene where you save a little girl, is incredible. Games like Braid that give you just as much control as you need to feel empowered and have everything in that world react to that power. The story was choppy by design, but the ending where you see that everything the princess was doing was in an effort to stop you. Incredible.
No ones copying these things. No one is trying to imitate these decisions or examine these controls. Instead we get cut-scenes that look incredibly ridiculous and attempt to portray human emotion through very non-human looking characters and laughable animation(I'm looking at you Mass Effect). Game designers are not Hollywood screen writers and their attempts to move us usually fail within the first 5-minutes of gameplay. The RE series does an excellent job with suspense, but I feel the same feeling of anxiety when playing any game that forces me to accomplish a task before an obstacle stops me. I was never frightened by the infected, simply tense as to whether I could blow its head off before it hit me. The mechanic made me feel the rush, not the in-game situation.
So, armed with these series of conversations I was lucky enough to have had, I have a new outlook on games in general, indie or otherwise. I will no longer tolerate flaws in games simply because I enjoyed their predecessors as a kid or because I hold some glimmer of false hope that "This time it will be different". I will not be entertained simply because I wish to be entertained. The fact is people, most games just suck and we are being taken less seriously than ever before. Videogames went from being this emergent form of entertainment to a family of morons wagging a stick in front of a screen.
The cool thing is, that their are people out there like the one I talked to that are still doing things that are different and they are taking chances. There are developers that are creating games that involve more than putting a vibrating controller on your girlfriends crouch, and they need our support.