Seeing as how yesterday was Thanksgiving and all, it only made sense to be thankful about something, and since this site is all about video games, well it seemed right to give thanks to the video games that have done the most good for the hobby as a whole. Thank you Madden! Thank you Call of Duty! And thank you Fifa (if you’re from Europe)! Without you wonderful games, where would gaming be? Well, that’s exactly what I’m here to do today. Here’s why we owe so much to these awful, awful games.
Am I trolling at this point? It’s inescapable that many will accuse me of doing nothing more than seeking to cause a stir with some seemingly ridiculous statement such as Madden and Call of Duty being two of the most valuable properties gaming has ever produced. However, I’m honestly not hoping to say something inflammatory and then step away. Rather, I really do think we forget way too much why these games and others like them are invaluable to gaming culture.
Much of this argument is going to land on the same argument that goes hand-in-hand with the Adam West version of Batman from the 60’s. In this example, hardcore fans (the ones that believe they are the truest fans) view that silly, campy property as a disgusting insult to the brand. People currently look to Adam West’s version of Batman and say that he nearly ruined all credibility to the character, when in truth he saved the character from certain obscurity.
What a lot of people don’t realize is that the 60’s Batman did two very powerful things. First, it kept Batman relevant to people and reminded them that he existed in the popular culture. Had the 60’s Batman never have been made, very few people would remember him at all. This is utterly crazy to think of now considering how much of a mega pop culture icon he is currently, but back then he just wasn’t a character most people knew or cared about.
But beyond just making people remember it, Batman managed to light a fire under the asses of comic writers, eventually leading to Frank Miller deciding that Batman is dark, brooding, and not to be taken lightly, resulting in The Dark Knight Returns. From that point on, more and more people sought to prove that Batman wasn’t this tights-wearing dancer with silly villains and bad puns but a legitimate badass with a tragic life and zero joy anywhere in his history. All of that, we thank Adam West’s version of Batman for.
This ties back to both Madden and Call of Duty by being the biggest, dopiest games released every year, which ultimately make gaming a gozillian dollars, keep certain systems alive, and remind the world and especially Hollywood that video games are a juggernaut that cannot be stopped now or ever.
If you’re not a fan of Madden, again, you can substitute Fifa in its place. Not a fan of Call of Duty? Maybe you’re into Halo. Or Gears of War. Or Assassin’s Creed. Or Battlefield. Or God of War. You know, any property that’s long since given up trying to be something fresh and innovative or push the medium forward in any way rather than just sell very comfortable numbers to very comfortable consumers.
And that’s OK! Not every novel needs to be Catch-22. Not even movie needs to be The Shawshank Redemption. Not every TV show needs to be Breaking Bad. Sometimes, people don’t want to eat a fancy meal when all their appetites and budgets can allow for is some cheap fast food.
Essentially, I’d never fault a game for doing its job correctly for a market that’s asking it to fill a very specific role. Each new Madden seeks to fulfill the needs of a specific group of fans, and while yes, there happen to be significantly more of those fans than something like, say, Shadow of the Colossus, it doesn’t make either property inherently bad.
In all actuality, what a lot of these big dumb games do is allow systems to exist to the point that the smaller, lesser-known titles can come out and not be played. Sure, it’s sad when a game appears that no one seems to play (why aren’t you playing The Wonderful 101 yet?!), but without the huge titles to get the systems in the most possible homes, the market gets much, much smaller, no matter how you slice it.
Plus, not everyone who plays Call of Duty or what have you plays only that one title. I have a brother-in-law who became a huge fan of Call of Duty and then switched to Battlefield, but while he plays one iteration of each until the next comes out, he still buys pretty much every major release for the Xbox 360 as it appears, including titles that don’t even really fit with the pew-pew shooters previously mentioned. I’d wager that extremely few gamers consist only on a diet of Madden and Call of Duty, even if you do know some personally.
Really, I just can’t keep hating on games that succeed so well. It starts to look petty and vindictive for no good reason, especially when I myself love or loved games that are so similar. I don’t get into Call of Duty, but you better be sure I’m snagging the next New Super Mario Bros. game when it comes out. Madden was never my thing, but for a while I played every single Dragon Ball Z game that came out as it updated the roster year after year. I wasn’t much for Halo, but I played GoldenEye until my thumbs ached.
Many people will say comparisons like this are blasphemy, but I say, to each his own. You want to like a game? Excellent, please continue liking that game. It’s always nice when other people like and support the games that you do, but you can’t expect that to be the case each and every time. And just because some game companies are throwing money behind creating the next Call of Duty, just as many if not more developers are hard at work on completely new projects. The next gen systems look like they’re about to become bastions for smaller, “indie” games, but without the usual fanboys buying the obvious junk food games for the consoles, the consoles won’t exist for the indie games to move in.
Plus, these sorts of games are great for us retro gamers. I know, this is getting into the realm of crazy, but just hear me out! If companies see that a system is suddenly selling really well thanks in part to these giant snores of games, then they see a platform in which to rerelease older titles. The target audience for something like Contra isn’t anywhere near as large as Call of Duty, but hey, if all those Call of Duty players already have the system, surely there’s enough of a market within them to dip into Contra when it reappears. At least, in theory that’s how this all works. But even if we skip the new systems entirely and go back to our retro games, Call of Duty and Madden will keep the systems alive for when we return.
Looking back to my 60’s Batman anecdote, tons of games are being developed by people specifically hoping to outmatch and outshine the mega blockbusters by doing something unique and wholly different. And what makes this so great is that we can’t ever predict where something like that will come from. Who imagined that Dark Souls would be so popular? Or Skyrim? Both of those appeared when modern military shooters were all the rage, and to some extent became popular because a different genre was so popular. When a roster updating game shows up and prompts another developer to make a better game with more features and more interesting gameplay concepts, them we all win.
So thank you Call of Duty! Thank you Madden! Thank you Mario, even! I salute your hard work and dedication to the quickest, cheapest buck! Who’s with me on this? What are some games you’re thankful for this year? What games are you happy exist in this world? Leave a comment and let me know! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a whole lot of McNuggets to eat and very little time in which to eat them.