Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Why Shouldn't Gaming Franchises Age With Us?

A survey conducted by Rocket News asked Japanese children why they loved Level-5's Yokai Watch so much, which is the latest of Level-5's multi-media projects that has recently bloomed into national reverence. Interestingly, and what certainly caught me off guard, was that the large response was, "Yo-kai Watch doesn't have annoying adult fans like Pokemon does."


But it's certainly reasonable. Kids like to be separate from adults in interests and culture, reveling in the modern while rolling eyes at the aged fads that adults have a bit more trouble (or less interest in) letting go of.
Creating a brand that meets the interests of young people is a delicate business, one that is limited to the elementary education of its intended audience, and also the more optimistic tone that children respond to, but still different enough from that which has existed prior to allow for that generation separation in identity from that which modeled its adults, an essential facet in growing up for all children regardless gender, nationality, etc:. Essentially it's all the same thing (bright colors, cool animations, and some sort of collectibles merchandise that bleeds mum and daddy's bank-account); but it's not the thematic similarities that matter, but instead the exclusive separations between them. And often, it is those differences which baffle the increasingly planted-minds of adults but make perfect sense for children that are most important to a youth franchise succeeding or not.

In many ways though, franchises are subjected to the process of age no different than human-beings; they're born into the world, flop or succeed, and eventually die regardless. Series' stagnate, their audience walled at solely the attached, and the process of those followers dying out serve as the slow-falling guillotine onto the franchise itself. No matter retro-resurgences or historical spotlighting, ultimately all franchises become "a product of its time," and then nothing other. This isn't limited to entertainment but all franchises also, such as grocery stores [Jamesway, anyone?] restaurants [ESPN Zone], etc:. Even Jeff Bezos, CEO of Internet giant Amazon, said during a 60 Minutes segment, "Companies have short life-spans... Amazon will be disrupted one day. ...It's inevitable." Hard to think of a world without Amazon anymore, but Bezos is spot-on; companies and franchises, whether major or minor, depend on their being fresh and capable of adaptation, but will "inevitably" reach a point that, no matter the services provided, are met without interest from the young and upcoming crowd that simply, and perhaps solely, want difference.
As the title of this blog proposes though, why shouldn't gaming franchises age with its consumers? This question I first asked myself months ago when I'd viewed Jose Otero's review of Pokemon X/Y for IGN. Otereo's review of Pokemon is glowing, but in middle he proposes a strange, and what I consider very brave, comment about Pokemon in reflection to himself and other long-term gamers: "I know that it's aimed at kids. But as a Pokemon fan for the past 15 years, I couldn't help but wish for a story that appeals to fans of all ages."

It's an interesting comment, but is also one that enlists a greater image of adult sensibilities not only with story, but character, complexity, and rationale also. We can parallel this Pokemon longing with series that have successfully aged alongside of its fans, particularly with literature such as Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings. Both series begun as children stories, but between the spacing of their sequels and the overall lessons construed within each the books undertook a significantly more adult-oriented design with each addition. As the worlds within the books aged so too did its majority of readers, and recognizing this both authors created a world that not only recognizes and honors the increasing intelligence of its audience, but that also allows for themselves as creators greater range to explore in their own creativity.

I suspect some might be rolling their eyes though. "But that's The Lord of the Rings! Pokemon isn't on that level!" I couldn't disagree more, because that same minimizing of the elements within the Pokemon world was once applied to Harry Potter and LotR also. "It's just a school for kids to do magic in." "It's just an adventure where little people fight goblins." And really, both of these literature series could have been just that, as there are dozens of long established children's series that do not age with their readers and continue to recycle that same face-value entertainment as found in The Sorcerer's Stone and The Hobbit over and over again, ignoring the growth of those who've been with the series in order to capture the annual tide of new readers. But they didn't, and each following book in these series continued to evolve from their initial premise and proved to provide what may be the most thorough representations of fictional characters maturing than any other literature. Most important though is the significance and passion of the stories and worlds within, and how thoroughly honored these tales are by the millions of fans who followed these series around the world.
I'm not critiquing series that ignore long-term fans, but what is important to point out is that there is no such thing as an impossibility in regards to creative conduct. Being in the same shoes as IGN's Otero, I too would like for a Pokemon entry that actually recognizes me and the numerous adult wonders I have about the world of Pokemon, and I can also say the same for many other long-established series also. And this isn't exclusive to a children's series becoming mature neither; all decades-long series can, in some form or another, recognize the growth and adaptation of its long-standing fans and provide a far richer experience because of so. Where Pokemon could grow from acknowledging the age of its fans, series such as Resident Evil and Silent Hill could likewise expand by acknowledging their fans. Instead of being constructed to hit off the artificial checkmarks most videogames follow in regards to what is expected of them, these games can slow down, tell the stories desired, or show the characters revered, and focus more on the overall world within its series. To achieve the cohesive complexity that is sought of these titles rather than fumble over how many high-commercial designs can be jammed into the package.

At this point, with how often negative responses from fans follow the latest release within a long-standing series, I should think it's clear that what so many of us are looking for really isn't the next "big game," the "competitor to X game," or anything like that. Really, we're not looking for anything other than the series itself, the unique imagery and design it brings to the table, and the acknowledgement of those roots that brought us so much reverence for the series in the first place.

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