PC gaming could use more Nintendo-style charm
Right now, Steam's featured games show me a brooding warrior, a corpse, another corpse, readied space marines, another brooding warrior, a lone survivor, a Nazi, a brooding soldier with a sniper rifle, a snarling dinosaur, a ghost, a brooding hacker, and a lost astronaut. It doesn't sound like a diverse set, but it is: some are indie, some are from big studios, some tell linear stories, some generate stories with the systems-based gameplay I love most. The PC has the most variety of any platform, but it's missing one thing: smiles. Can someone please smile?
The murky depths of human morality and the struggle for survival are great subjects for games, but what of color and whimsy? Not Goat Simulator whimsy—that's a ten-minute physics joke—or Super Meat Boy's grotesque humor. I'm talking sincere whimsy: Costume Quest, Rayman Legends, the LEGO series.
Those cheerful games exist on PC, yes, but mostly as smaller experiences and not nearly to the degree they exist elsewhere in gaming. I want more games made by developers who say earnestly, "How do you play with a pile of yarn or some cloth? We thought about those things pretty hard."
That's a quote from Nintendo's E3 conference this morning. Yeah, I want Nintendo games on PC, and yeah, it will never happen. I'll never buy a Wii U, either—I love Zelda, but I'm not going to pay $300 to play it and then spend years stubbing my toe on a box full of Miis. Still, as excited as I was by the games shown at Microsoft, EA, Ubisoft, and Sony's conferences yesterday, seeing the new Zelda left me with the dopiest grin of all. A little more Nintendo inspiration on PC would be very welcome.
It's a tough problem. Nintendo can dedicate great resources to making a game about yarn because it's building a first-party console package: the Wii U experience. Its business is about creating value within the Nintendo ecosystem, and it results in big, uniquely Nintendo visions with high quality standards. But thrown into Steam's mix, would Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze really be a viable PC game?
Maybe not right now, but PC gaming is growing. More and more, the PC is absorbing games that might have once been called Console Experiences. Local multiplayer games especially are becoming more common—TowerFall Ascension, Nidhogg, The Cave—and in-home streaming has made us capable of playing those games on our TVs without lugging a gaming rig into the living room. Not that those games need anything beyond a low-end system, and that's another reason it's becoming easier to play wherever we want, given some old hardware and a DIY mentality.
As PC gaming continues to grow, I want to add an acquisition to the list: big, colorful, unabashedly cheerful worlds that favor gathering around a screen to chatting on headsets. I'm not suggesting we should have less of anything else—I want all the Witchers the industry can throw at me—but that there's a gap to fill. Nintendo could fill it, but since it won't separate its games from its consoles any time in the foreseeable future (let's say, a thousand years), there's an opportunity here for someone else.
I think the opportunity will be seized soon, and I can't wait to see what a modern Nintendo-like developer will accomplish with the PC's freedom. Until then, we do have Arma Kart.