There has been a common gripe levied at the many forms of popular media today. That gripe is about the fanboy’s outright hatred towards the remake/reboot. For movie fans, it’s the comic book character that has taken three reboots to get right (The Hulk), or the awesome classic tarnished by a remake (Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes). For television, it’s the reality show that started as a cultural phenomenon milked to death by laziness, scripting, and typecasting (Survivor).
Fortunately for video game fans, the remake/reboot is a different kind of experience. Because games don’t usually feature physical actors, an aging protagonist doesn’t effect the plot (unlike Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull). Instead, game developers can feature a central character who never has to age (Mario and Luigi’s mustaches should be grey by now). And, if they are lucky enough to not need voices in their games, developers have yet another advantage.
What this means for game developers is that as long as the series is making money, there’s no reason to stop making sequels to the game. If the series has a strong narrative then the games act more like individual episodes of a good HBO series instead of a one-off novel. As we already have seen, the developers can put out a new episode every year and gamers will pick it up like an annual subscription — as an aside, I’m kind of surprised that Call of Duty and Madden haven’t put out two editions per year rather than just one.
What this means for gamers is two-fold. First, we’ll be stuck in a cycle of buying new editions of a game forever. For EA Sports fans, they’re likely already in this cycle. Second, gamers can follow the story of a game for almost their entire life. Theoretically, if a game is good enough, we could be playing in that universe for decades to come. Even after the original developers are dead and gone, we can still enjoy the universe that they’ve created.
In a sense this concept is insane. Do I really want to know what’s new about the Covenant army when I’m 97 years old? In another sense, it will allow a specific video game to be a constant in your life. For me, the travels of Mario have been a part of my life since I was about 8 years old. I fully expect that this silly plumber will still be around when I have grandkids and beyond.
The only medium that I can think of that has this kind of a lifelong impact is comics. Because characters don’t need to age in comics they can continue to have adventures for entire lifetimes. I feel bad for Robert Kirkman, creator of The Walking Dead, because he has to figure out how to make a zombie holocaust go on forever… without killing off all of the survivors.
With all of this in mind, I want our readers to remember this when game companies announce another sequel to their favorite franchise. It’s easy to castigate a sequel for being an “obvious cash grab.” I fully expect that I will live to see "Halo 17" in my lifetime. That’s not a knock on Microsoft or the business people behind the wizard’s curtain. It’s just a reminder that video games don’t ever have to end. Just look at Mass Effect, Commander Shepard's story might be over, but the story of the ME universe is far from finished.
The only real guaranteed end to a series is if the last game fails completely. And, even if that happens, expect some brilliant executive to figure some slick new way to bring the series back to life. That’s why I’m still holding out hope for E.T. 2…