Editor's note: I've noticed a trend lately on Bitmob — that some of us crave a gaming experience beyond shooting and killing. Daniel gets right to the point and asks us to consider a first-person shooter without the shooter. -Rob
I love first-person shooters, but I hate first-person shooters. It’s an intensely entertaining genre that’s frustratingly mired in its own conventions.
The first-person view immerses me in the game like nothing else can. When I experienced Bioshock, everything was through my own eyes. I survived the plane crash. I stared out of the bathysphere window. I dealt with Big Daddies and Little Sisters. Only afterwards did I learn that “I” was Jack.
Even when the lead character has an established identity, the first-person view blurs the line between player and character to the point of invisibility. In Half-Life, everyone called me “Gordon,” but I still felt like I was the star of the show. I played the role of Gordon Freeman rather than controlled a video game.
In contrast, the third-person perspective provides no such illusion. Playing Dead Space, I felt no connection to Issac. He was just some jerk in a suit of armor. It wasn’t me trapped on board the Ishimura, it was him.
My biggest complaint with first-person shooters is their insistence that I shoot everything. Something about that viewpoint has publishers conditioned to think only about guns. I recently tried the Zeno Clash demo and the colorful fantasy world and visceral melee combat (though a little creepy) delighted me. So what happens after my first fight? The game tells me to grab a gun. I turned off the Xbox instead.
The more I think about my favorite first-person shooters, the more I’ve come to realize that the most meaningful sequences for me came when I had no gun. The opening chapters of Half-Life (both 1 and 2) and Bioshock are prime examples — as is the entirety of Portal.
It’s not that I’m a pacifist. I understand the appeal of shotguns, sniper rifles, and rocket launchers. But when every FPS has the same progression of weapons, I can’t help but feel apathetic. What’s worse is when a new game comes out and its lone unique quality is a new gun. When finding new ways to kill things qualifies as innovation, the medium as a whole suffers.
I crave the immersion of first-person shooters, but my trigger finger is exhausted. Let’s take the S out of FPS and explore new methods of interaction beyond aiming and firing guns. Who knows what other acronyms we could create?
Daniel Feit was born in New York but now lives in Japan, where he teaches English to Japanese children and writes for Wired Game|Life and Film Junk. Follow him on Twitter @feitclub or visit his website, feitclub.com. Duncan J. Harris created the images in this story.