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Videogame tropes I am officially over

4:00 PM on 09.12.2009 // Jim Sterling

The videogame industry is known as one of the most innovative and creative art mediums in recent memory, so it's quite ironic that hardcore videogame fans consistently lament the lack of innovation and creativity found in the most popular games. I always say that if a game's good, it doesn't matter if there's no innovation, and that's something I still believe.

That said, there are a number of overused scenarios and settings that are getting incredibly boring. While not gameplay elements, these tropes have appeared in so many titles recently that I am officially over them. A number of them were cool or cute to begin with, but as more and more videogames chose to exploit them, I grew more and more tired to the point where their inclusion in a videogame no longer elicits a reaction. 

Characters, enemies, settings and plot points that need to be put out to pasture. That's the focus of today's article, a discussion of videogame tropes that I am officially over. 

As Seen In: Dead Rising
Got Old: 2009

Outside of Resident Evil, it took a very long time before decent zombie games started appearing. During the last generation, I actively wondered why there weren't more zombie games on the market, but this past year has demonstrated why we should be careful what we wish for. Dead Rising, Left 4 Dead, Plants vs. Zombies, Burn Zombie Burn, Onechanbara, The Last Guy. These are just a handful of the zombie-themed games to appear in recent years. 

It's not just games that specifically deal in zombies, either. Call of Duty: World at War and Saints Row 2 both have special modes that involve the reckless slaughter of the walking dead. As much fun as it is to kill zombies, it's really gotten old now. Their pop culture irony has withered away thanks to continued use, and it's getting to the point where zombies no longer make a good game better. They're very, very tired. 

It's not going to end, though. On the horizon: Undead Knights, Zombie Massacre, Possession and sequels to Dead Rising and Left 4 Dead are all slated for next year, and you know that more are on the way. Really, we get it, zombies are cool. Videogames are making them less cool with every new title. 

Grizzled Veterans
As Seen In: Gears of War
Got Old: 2008

What would a sci-fi shooter be without some grizzled, cynical, gravel-voiced space marine that's either bald or wearing some sort of cap? We've all seen him. The same hulking brute who can't go three sentences without saying "fuck" and whom we're apparently supposed to revere and idolize -- even though he displays the sort of callous disregard for sentient life usually found only in the clinically psychopathic. 

The truth is, it's hard to "get over" a trope I've not been fond of to begin with, but any potential charm these characters may have had is swept away by the fact that so many games nowadays need their characters to be identical, and it's hard to get attached to someone you've seen a hundred times before. Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid is an exception, because Konami actually worked on fleshing out the character to create someone more deep, someone who didn't rely on saying "ten shitloads" in order to convey his emotions. 

I wish game developers would strive to create more original and complex characters rather than the usual cookie-cutter space marines. This is one archetype I could definitely stand to see less of. 

As Seen In: Ninja Gaiden
Got Old: 2003

Very much like zombies, Japan's most enigmatic assassins carry with them a measure of ironic pop culture charm. Again, like zombies, that charm has been dramatically reduced thanks to the constant milking of the stereotype. Ninjas have starred or appeared in countless games over the years, with notable ninja games being Ninja Gaiden, Shinobi, Tenchu, Ninja Blade, Mini Ninjas and, of course, Ninjabread Man

A ridiculous amount of videogames need at least some sort of ninja cameo. Metal Gear Solid had one, Final Fantasy and Suikoden had them, and all manner of fighting games like Tekken and Mortal Kombat seem to throw in the obligatory ninja (or five). They hit their peak at the beginning of the century, when ninjas and, to a lesser extent, samurai seemed to be thrown into everything. By 2003, I was getting really bored of them. These days, there is very little awesome left in the idea of being a ninja. I think that particular udder has been milked so hard that only white dust is spluttering out of the cracked, dry, red-raw teat. 

Ninjas are often seen hand-in-hand with pirates, a trope tha has been mined to a lesser extent. While I originally was going to include pirates, I have a feeling that there is still life left in that particular theme, helped by the fact that truly great pirate games are few and far between. 

Ninjas fighting pirates, however, has been done to bloody death. Enough with that, please.

Androgynous 16-year-old boy heroes
As Seen In: Nearly Every RPG Ever
Got Old: Years & Years Ago

I hate these. I really, really hate these. I'm guessing it's a cultural thing, since Japanese people love youth and are literally obsessed with twee coming-of-age stories. The 16-year-old androgynous boy hero is the main character in nearly every other RPG that ever comes out, and appears in a number of other Japanese games as well. He's typically whiny, with impossibly floppy hair and a clichéd moment in the game where he realizes his destiny and learns the value of friendship.

He will more often than not get involved in a love triangle where he will remain completely oblivious to the affections of the two warring females, even though they are beyond obvious about it. If he doesn't remain oblivious, he'll start drooling over the slutty stupid one with big tits while the smaller, more child-like girl who he is actually going to hook up with at the end of the game gets jealous, which is her own fault because she was being a bitch to him anyway. It always happens the exact same way, and I don't know how Japanese audiences are still captivated by a story they've already seen a dozen times that day. 

RPGs have really just become a whole mass of tropes and something really needs to be done to shake them up. Or really ... just ... stop ... doing ... the ... cliché ... shit. It's really not that hard to see something that's been done, and then do something else. There are hundreds of settings and characters you can revolve an RPG around. Why do they only use the same one, tired routine?

World War II
As Seen In: Call of Duty
Got Old: 2007

I don't mind World War II games if they have something different to say or interesting to do. However, I think we've stormed the beaches of Normandy enough times to get the picture. I love shooting Nazis as much as the next guy, but there's only so many times you can hear the word "schnell" before you get bored. When Infinity Ward decided to boldly change the Call of Duty franchise with Modern Warfare, it was almost pathetic to see Treyarch follow up with yet another World War II game in World at War. Sure, throwing in the Pacific conflict was a nice way to act like parts of it were different, but it still felt like the same old WWII game, and had absolutely nothing new to say about the situation.

I still think World War II has potential if people do interesting things with it, but rarely does anybody want to. It's just so much easier to put a rifle in your hand and say "NAZIS ARE QUITE BAD AREN'T THEY?" Yes, they are quite bad. We established that about thirty games ago, didn't we?

Gritty Realism
As Seen In: Killzone
Got Old: 2008

If a developer uses the words "gritty" or "dark" to describe his game and he isn't being ironic, I instantly get cynical. Gritty realism has become such an overused trope that the words associated with it are almost a parody by this stage. Don't get me wrong, I think that there is a certain beauty in bleakness, and sometimes a game that's grey and miserable can look quite stunning. However, I feel that the best looking games this generation are the brightly colored ones -- Viva Piñata, 3D Game Dot Heroes, Uncharted, and even Wii games like Super Mario Galaxy look infinitely more beautiful than most of these so-called "realistic" games, and when technology moves forward and old visuals are obsolete, it will be the artistically superior games that stand the test of time, not the graphically superior ones.

Gritty realism all looks the same, and I've had it with people trying to claim their gritty realistic game is the best. I'm done being impressed by so-called "realistic" graphics and while I'll always acknowledge when a game looks good, I don't know if I can be impressed by another Gears of War or Killzone. I am most definitely over being wowed by the brown, grey, war-torn dystopia.

Those are the videogame tropes that I am officially over, but what about you? What themes and archetypes have you been exposed to so much that you're now done being impressed by them? State your cause, and let it be known that there are some dead horses that need to be buried.

Jim Sterling, Former Reviews Editor
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Destructoid reviews editor, responsible for running and maintaining the cutting edge videogame critique that people ignore because all they want to see are the scores at the end. Also a regular f... more   |   staff directory

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