Reality Check: First-Person Shooters Are Not Really Ruining Gaming

Reality Check: First-Person Shooters Are Not Really Ruining Gaming

Last Friday, I heard that Activision and Terminal Reality would be making a first-person shooter out of the Walking Dead. Shortly afterward, I witnessed people (read: co-workers, folks I follow on Twitter) freaking out.

Why does everything have to be a first-person shooter?, people howled. This is not what The Walking Dead needs, others exclaimed.

I am both an optimist and a contrarian, so I started to shake my head.

Why is this anti-FPS spit and snark always the reflex? What do people have against first-person shooters? I think the problem must be that there are so many of them, but what to make of the fact that so many of them are very good? Are we not counting Portal 2 as a first-person shooter? Are we not counting 2012 zombie-survival phenomenon DayZ? Does multiplayer Battlefield 3 not count, or is it that the millions of people who enjoy Modern Warfare 3 don’t know what a good thing is?

Remember the side-scrolling Metroid series being mangled into a… uh… magnificent, critically acclaimed trio of first-person shooters? Star Wars? It had Republic Commando, among others. That Syndicate remake? Turns out it was a pretty good FPS,

I think some people groan about the possibility that something they love will be ruined because it is being turned into a first-person shooter. We all remember how James Bond games were ruined by turning into first-person shooters, right? GoldenEye, anyone? Oh, no. That was a good game. Remember the side-scrolling Metroid series being mangled into a…uh…magnificent, critically acclaimed trio of first-person shooters? Star Wars? It had Republic Commando, among others. That Syndicate remake? Turns out it was a pretty good FPS. It wasn’t all that Syndicate-y, but it was good. Remember how they ruined X-Com by turning it into an FPS? No? Of course not. It hasn’t happend (yet?).

The only franchise that was turned into a first-person shoote that I believe there is actual negative consensus about is Shadowrun. Right? Am I missing any?

Last year, I played parts of the newest Zelda in first-person. It was fine. I liked Mirror’s Edge enough — and I trust Nintendo enough — that if you told me I would be playing a first-person Mario platformer someday, I’d be cool with that. I recognise that people’s objections aren’t really about the first-person part. First-person is, after all, gaming’s favourite camera angle. The objection is to the damaging impact the “shooter” part of the equation could bring. The objection is, I believe, to the fact that first-person shooters reduce the complexity of interactions characters can have with each other to shooting them, being shoot by them or maybe something involving the burying of a knife into flesh. There’s not much emotional range in that. (Don’t tell these critics about BioShock.)

First-person shooters introduce the opportunity for a more intimate connection to a game character. They enable the player to feel like they are in a virtual world instead of just manipulating a puppet that lives in one. They let you see a narrower breadth of the world, but they let you see it more closely. They often compel you to shoot, shoot, shoot, but they don’t always. Sometimes, they simply want you to be able to look someone in the eye. At worst, they’re as wonderful and as flawed as any other style of game.

I understand that the reflex against the announcement of a new first-person shooter — from Terminal Reality, the main studio behind Kinect Star Wars, no less! — is seen as the lazy, easy decision flow-charted by an Activision marketing team that may want to marry a hot licence with the a crowd-pleasing genre. I understand that the news of an FPS Walking Dead published by Activision feels like an affront to the subtler, more lovely and acclaimed Walking Dead adventure games from scrappy Telltale Games.

But, really, what’s so bad about first-person shooters? What series and franchises have they actually ruined?

If you choose to bash the FPS, don’t let the people who are making The Unfinished Swan here you. They’re busy making one of the coolest games of the year (and it’s an FPS).


  • First Person Shooters aren’t ruining gaming, games like Call of Duty are ruining the first person shooter genre. There’s my two cents.

    • You are spot on the money my friend. I find it kind of funny that even up until CoD4, CoD was embracing innovation. Now it seems to be stifling it.

      • This is something which annoys me to no end cod 4 mw was a great fps and to me really was the up there with other fps innovators like goldeneye but it just went no where. Way to many sequels and to son with little or negative additions to the sequel games. If cod 4 support australian host there is no reason to ever purchase mw 2 or 3 they are both inferior games particular 3. Really black ops shouldn’t exist and cod 2 & 3 should be one game with a new visually impressive engine and signifcant gameplay advancement. BF3 is so far ahead of cod as a quality fps atm it’s a joke. I dislike EA but at least there BF is decent. Cod will go down as one of the largest accounts of a portential ridden game being destroyed by greed. Thanks Activision.

  • First person shooters aren’t ruining gaming, cash grab games are… Go and play the Land of the Dead game and tell me that there is much higher hope for this game?… hell, name one show/movie tie-in game in the last decade that has been good (with the exceptional niche games like Telltales Walking Dead)?

  • You hit it bang on the head with this statement “is it that the millions of people who enjoy Modern Warfare 3 don’t know what a good thing is?” basically YES!

    Not so much FPS’s themselves, just shitty FPS’s that are lacking the basics or use stupid things like, host systems, no anti hack software, no ability to Ban people who hack, spawn points that are so useless you can be killed before you’re screen has even rendered that you are back alive.

    I grew up in the FPS glory days, CS1.5, Q3, Unreal and even as late into FPS gaming as BF1942/DC or BF2 if you enjoyed that game i spose.
    These Days unless your older than 25 you dont remember how great FPS gaming used to be. (no thats not a dig at 12 year olds, its an observation)

    • Gotta agree with you here – CS 1.5 and Quake 3 have given me far more enjoyment than any multiplayer FPS in the last ten years, except perhaps Timesplitters (and that’s pushing it). I think it’s the purity of the gameplay and the reliance on skill which made them so brilliant. Nowadays, if you invest enough time in MW3, you can destroy anyone on a lower level, regardless of skill.
      Put me in a CS 1.5 version of Inferno, in a group of five, up against another group of five , of comparable skill, and I’m in gaming heaven. Until we play Aztec, that is.

      • I realise you weren’t trying to make a generalisation, but at 22, I grew up playing Doom and Quake (cut my teeth on Q3A clan servers when I *was* a 12 year old, got rage-booted for owning people).

        I don’t think it’s fair to say that the glory days of FPS are behind us, I mean, Unreal 3 was basically the same game we had in 2004 with better graphics. I think the inclusion of RPG elements into competitive FPS is what’s going wrong here (it’s been mentioned below that there’s less of an emphasis on skill, which I completely agree with), and unsurprisingly, our collective crosshairs are pointed at the COD swallowers again. So I don’t think it’s necessarily an issue of age, it’s an issue of popular taste – and the flavour of the day seems to be COD for most people, however turgid that might seem for people looking for something a little less… formulaic.

  • Yeah, I read a lot of generalisation and misclassification in there. You mentioned Mirror’s Edge, and although I thought it was an awesome game (and a surprisingly risky IP to back, on EA’s part) but the first person shooting in that was often cited as its weakest aspect. I don’t doubt that if Dice had been given free reign over the development that there would have been any guns in the game, which would male it a first person *platformer*. And let’s not forget about successful indie title Amnesia: The Dark Descent, which, while it takes place from a first person perspective, would be better classified as a survival horror/adventure, what with the inability to defend yourself in any way other than hiding and crapping your pants. I do.t think our “favourite camera perspective” is necessarily the problem here, it’s more that fps is the safe route for IPs to develop, and the constant stream of them is a sign that developers aren’t interested in pushing the boundaries that gave rise to games like the ones I’d just mentioned, let alone anything more daring.

    • First person perspective does not mean that the game is a First Person Shooter. Mirror’s Edge isn’t really a FPS. Amnesia definitely isn’t.

  • Nicely written Stephen… It really is tiring listening to constant FPS bashing. Let the majority speak the same language that sales figures speak; FPS is the best selling genre. Sure its not for everyone, but obviously for the majority.

    You cant bash an entire genre for a few bad eggs. Every genre has them. Stephen hit the nail on the head; i enjoy FPS’s as they offer a higher sense of involvement that i just dont get from a 3rd person perspective.. i still enjoy my 2d platformer, 3d platformer, indie games, sims etc…

    The biggest annoyance for me was the controversy with the Syndicate FPS, and X-Com FPS. i was a HUGE fan of both the original PC classics. When the fps’s were announced everyone kicked up a fuss. after playing syndicate reboot, i honestly enjoyed it. as for X-Com, time will tell.

    People shouldnt be expecting the same gameplay experience they had 17 years ago; times change. I agree it would be nice however for FPS’ to start experimenting a bit more (credits to borderlands & rage).

    if you really do have that sense of nostalgia, you may want to visit

  • Depends on your definition of “ruined” I guess. The problem isn’t simply that an FPS is bad, it’s that it’s a simplified, less nuanced way to tell a story AND it quite often diminishes the chances of seeing a non FPS version.

    When these FPS conversions happen, at best you produce a mediocre FPS that few people are genuinely excited about, and the risk is no future investment in the IP if and when the mediocre FPS tanks.

    The reason that the FPS conversion are almost univerally mediocre is that it’s hard for an FPS to be wildly successful, in a glutted market with existing dominating IPs to contend with. All of the genre tropes fully pre-defined, and stepping away from them is a huge risk, yet to be wildly successful you need to take just that sort of risk. But lets face it, if you were a risk taker, you wouldn’t be remaking an existing IP as an FPS in the first place.

  • People may want me dead for saying this but I enjoy COD. I certainly have to agree with it’s lack of innovation since WAW though. I think the last decent innovation they made was in regards to the zombie mode (which I enjoy thoroughly). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, a lot of my friends don’t really play games. Actually the vast majority of them only play EA Sports titles and COD. This is probably the main reason I continue to play titles like COD and FIFA. I might be missing something but I seriously don’t see the issue in regards to COD. As an example how innovative will the new CS:GO be? I’m assuming it’s basically CS with updated graphics which IMO isn’t necessarily a bad thing even though the innovation in the idea is basically zilch. I should also note I play all sorts of games and I’ll list a few of my current favorites to give you an idea… Day-Z, Starcraft 2, LoL, DOTA 2, FIFA, COD, Heroes of Ruin, Civ V, The Witcher 2, Minecraft. So I hardly call myself a casual gamer (although I wouldn’t say I’m hardcore either) and I still enjoy the odd game of COD, I don’t see how it damages the gaming community or industry at all. In all reality it’s opened it to a whole new market, people who would have never played games before… Is that a bad thing in itself? I think not.

  • First person shooters totally ruin immersion… Take real life, how we look through our eyes. That’s not immersive at all….

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