It’s the Year of the Caveman. The entire industry seems intent to deliver a definitive hunter-gatherer experience as gamers are thrown back to the first week after man climbed down from trees. Right now, 2016 and early 2017 will see the release of no fewer than six high-profile games with a caveman-style, “let’s commune with all the nature” bent.
At some point, it’ll be time for developers to start thinking about new locations to send gamers. Before game creators start devising new places to stick a zombie or new ways to destroy civilization, they should consider looking at the backlog of unexplored human history for inspiration.
So, in an attempt to prod those developers into actual uncharted territory — and no, we do not need another space opera, either — here are a couple of potential video game settings from our own historical backyard.
In all fairness, Egypt actually has been the setting of several video games, but very few have taken the time to explore the country’s truly unique scenery and expansive history. Even the ones that have succeeded were released more than a decade ago. It’s time to revisit Egypt.
The cool thing about the location is that you can do pretty much whatever the hell you want in terms of gameplay; it’ll still be fresh. Your game could be an empire builder where you concentrate on grand structures. It could be a survival horror where you’re a tomb raider running up against ancient booby traps. It could be an open world actionner that sees you fighting the pharaoh or an encroaching Roman force — or both. You could even do a science fiction epic that lends a little credence to the rumor that aliens constructed Egypt’s most magnificent monuments.
When you head to a sand-swept country that’s steeped in unexplored lore and history, there are few avenues that don’t offer some rewarding gameplay or unique opportunities for set design.
Okay, admittedly, I’m just stealing this idea from WGN and Netflix, but that doesn’t make it any less alluring. Let’s set a game in the backwoods of Tennessee or North Carolina and explore the cultural history of America’s blue collar outlaws.
Not only is the area stupidly gorgeous, it also offers tons of exciting and emergent gameplay opportunities. Will you need to protect your moonshine still? Build a hideout in the woods? Evade lowlanders? Show a general lack of concern for both hygiene and book learning? It’s all possible.
From the turn of the twentieth century up until today, the people of the mountainous Southeast have stood apart from society, stubbornly committing to a simpler life lived on their own terms. That entrenched way of life could set the scene for some solid simulated violence and maybe even some decent drama.
Considering society’s never-ending love for Japan’s token pajama-clad murderers, it’s surprising that the only remotely decent game set in feudal Japan is a top-down RTS. What video games need, though, is a more intimate introduction to Japanese culture, something that lets players encounter firsthand the island’s history of elegant, brutal, efficient warfare. And maybe something that doesn’t have Warriors etched into the title.
That’s not to say that lots of games haven’t tried to set a game in feudal Japan. It’s just that most of them suck mightily. From Tenchu Z to Way of the Samurai, no video game has ever done justice to what could be a truly spectacular adventure story.
Feudal Japan is a time of great division on the island, when the country has been separated into various, small city-states — that each have a unique flavor that’s based almost entirely on the shogun who sits atop the local throne. Some were conquerors, some farmers, some men of devout religion. Beneath them were an array of warriors, artists, and farmers that would make for an extremely compelling cast of characters. And who wouldn’t want to spend several hours lopping people’s limbs off with a sickass katana?
Yes, any game that was set in Jerusalem would be extremely controversial. Considering the inherent possibilities for heavy storytelling, though, it’s simply amazing that Israel hasn’t been featured more prominently in video games. Thanks to the region’s history of violence, you could make a compelling game set in the region in pretty much any time period after the death of Jesus.
Of course, if you’re going to set a game in Israel, there are two time periods that would make for something really special. The first would be the week surrounding the Six-Day War, a 1967 conflict in which Israeli forces tripled their territory and lost less than a thousand soldiers compared to the 20,000-plus losses suffered by Egyptians, Jordanians, and Syrians. It’d be ideal for either a first person shooter told from both sides of the conflict, or an RTS that re-charted the biggest battles.
The second option would be right now. Israel is a country that’s filled with ex-military who are under constant threat of danger from a wave of hostile countries. Imagine an open world game that focused on that conflict while also blending gameplay elements of both Grand Theft Auto and every war game you’ve ever played.
While you’d probably want to steer clear of any God’s-eye view city-building games during this dark portion of America’s history, there’s still plenty of rich fruit to be plucked from antebellum America. It was a time of brewing conflict, where the country was invariably split on just about every conceivable level: economic, cultural, and moral.
Exploring that dichotomy could make for some incredibly storytelling. Sign me up for an Assassin’s Creed-style game set in a border state that follows some industrious members of the Underground Railroad.
Or, perhaps a story set amid the brutal warfare of the American West. It’s been six years since Red Dead Redemption did the West correctly and it still stands head and shoulders above all of its competition in the genre.
As video games continue to exploit the Stone Age for all its myriad possibilities, gamers will inevitably get bored of crafting spears and taming animals. Eventually, game developers will be forced to think of something fresh (or they’ll just begin the cycle all over again).
Here’s hoping some innovative developer will try to explore the rich tapestry of human history before choosing to fart out another zombie-themed murderfest set in the European theater.