America's Love Affair With the First Person Shooter and the Rise of "Call of Duty: Black Ops 2"

America's Love Affair With the First Person Shooter and the Rise of "Call of Duty: Black Ops 2"

Baseball is boring. We have a new national pastime. 

No other genre in the world of gaming is as maligned, or rabidly embraced, as the First Person Shooter (FPS). Regardless of where you stand on the matter, the sheer popularity of the genre cannot be denied. The combined Call of Duty franchise gross has outsold the top 10 grossing films in 2012. A record that previously belonged to James Cameron's Avatar. Istill begs the question 'Why'? In a gaming industry saturated with every conceivable genre, sub-genre, and sub-sub-genre, why has the FPS maintained such a strangle-hold on the industry, for as long as it has? Look at the numbers for American pre-orders in 2012. The top three games are all FPS.

Why, depending on who you ask, has the FPS become the American gamer's new national pastime?

Why has the genre transcended every demographic—regardless of sex, age, console preference—and done so consistently for the better part of the last decade and a half? 

Apparently we as a nation love to lock, load, and (digitally) blast fools to kingdom come.

Call of Duty: Black Ops II has shattered all  previous release-day sales records by earning $500 million its first day, nearly doubling the $220 million Halo 4 pulled down its opening day.

Just re-read that last sentence and let those numbers sink in—half a billion dollars in 24 hours. This game is not a game. It's a phenomenon. Money could be the driving factor for saturating the market with as many shooters as we are currently drowning in, but if the player-consumer is the final arbiter of the industry, why hasn't our collective ADD forced us to move on to the next shiny bauble down the road? 

 

Just re-read that last sentence and let those numbers sink in—half a billion dollars in 24 hours. This game is not a game. It's a phenomenon.

 

Look at any AAA (the industry designation for huge titles with massive budgets) video game release of the past few years. All of them have some sort of competitive online component, because players have demanded it. The FPS is largely responsible for this trend in gaming.

Now we could go on and on, spouting all sorts of college-professor-type insights, but what these numbers won't tell you is one simple truth. There are lots of different types of games to play, but they're something about an FPS. Proving that you're faster, more clever, and more skilled at running and gunning is just damn fun. There's something so simply and immediately gratifying about killing before being killed. Who hasn't wanted to be John McClane, Dirty Harry, or The Terminator at some point in their lives? Guiltlessly blasting away in a Zenlike trance of primal, bullet-riddled catharsis, these titles tap into something so basic in our monkey brains, it's no surprise that the FPS is at the top of the gaming food chain. Who can be mad at a baby-proof murder-simulator? Who doesn't need a safe place where your rage issues can be worked out, while at the same time improving your hand-eye coordination? What's not to like?

RELATED: 50 Best First Person Shooter Games

At the time of this writing Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 has grossed over a billion dollars in sales in less than a month. That's a massive number that has both fans and industry professionals coming to the same realization. The FPS genre is a dominant entertainment behemoth, and it shows no signs of slowing.

Daniel Suarez is the VP of Production at Activision. He knows what he's talking about when it comes to the Call of Duty franchise, and the FPS genre as a whole. He shared some of his thoughts about the title and where the industry may be headed.

 

The fans will always have expectations about what should be included or discarded in a title, and we try and get out in front of that. Ultimately it's the fan's game.
—Daniel Suarez, Activision

 

"What we've wanted to do from day one was create a product with entertainment value that goes beyond just being a video game," says Suarez. "We know how much fans expect from these titles. We know that we have to provide fans with something new and innovative. That's where all of the new modes come in within multiplayer—campaign and zombies. Particularly with the 'Pick 10' system in multiplayer. It's just another level of customization and personalization within the game."

Some fans and critics have predicted that the FPS genre is heading towards an inevitable plateau. Pessimists maintain that current limitations of game-play and console capabilities will lead to a creative dead end. Fan retention is another major concern for franchises like Call of Duty. These issues may keep other developers up at night—but not Suarez.

"This is the ninth Call of Duty game and we are experiencing constant growth," he says confidently. "This franchise, and Black Ops specifically, has become a pop-culture phenomenon. We are hugely engaged with the fans. Direct engagement via Twitter has allowed us to look at the things that fans were asking for, or things fans didn't like, and take all of that into consideration when we were developing the game." For example, a map that was  going to be pulled from the title—the wildly popular 'Nuketown 2025' map—had been reinstated after cries of outrage from gamers. 

"We are our own worst critics, by far. The landscape for shooters is so competitive, fans are immediately able to tell if the effort wasn't put in. We here are all gamers, and we live this. There is a passion here that has allowed us to maintain our foothold at the top. We are always trying to be more flexible, more dynamic, and more critical of our efforts. The fans will always have expectations about what should be included or discarded in a title, and we try and get out in front of that. Ultimately it's the fan's game."

Some critics may be tempted to write off the genre, and the CoD series specifically, as meat-head fly-paper, a self-devouring Ouroboros of bro-tense gamers who are taking a break from their MMA-themed circle jerk to play some Team Deathmatch. But this would be short-sighted, and a massive oversimplification of the cultural juggernaut that Call of Duty has become. Sure, some of the titles may seem shallow, even disturbing at times. And the charge that story and plot take a back seat to action is probably a valid one. But have you seen a summer blockbuster in the last decade? Leaving nuanced plot with the babysitter, and figuring out how to incinerate the bad guys with a laser-guided flame thrower appears to be what most Americans want. We're surprised that Explosion: The Movie hasn't been made yet.

 

 

Chad Ochocinco proposed to his girlfriend while playing Call of Duty—without ever putting down the controller. 

 

As Americans, if there is one thing that we love more than blowing shit up, it's celebrities. Actors, rappers, comedians, and athletes of every stripe can be found talking smack about their abilities as gamers on Twitter at any given moment. The FPS, and the Call of Duty franchise in particular, has been embraced by a near endless list of celebrities: Aziz Ansari, Chad Ochocinco, Aubrey Plaza, Olivia Munn, Will Arnett, Ice-T, Jimmy Kimmel, Warren Sapp, Andy Murray, Michael Boley, and Tito Ortiz are just a few of the celebrities who can be found aiming their sights at the competition.

Robert Downey Jr. and Jonah Hill were featured in the live-action trailers for the last two Call of Duty titles. Ice-T has openly claimed that he is a "beast" at Modern Warfare, and has gone so far as to give out his gamer tag to take on any would-be challengers. Chad Ochocinco proposed to his girlfriend while playing Call of Duty—without ever putting down the controller. 

What else could bring together such a wildly varied cross-section of celebrities? Playing this game has become the cultural equivalent of seeing a summer blockbuster—either you're a part of it or you're out of it. Celebrities and video games are a perfect marriage. Celebrities have gotten behind gaming because it's a ton of fun, and yes, because there is gold in them hills. Any major AAA release is choreographed in the exact same way as a Hollywood premiere. And no wonder: there are billions to be made in the gaming industry. It's only a matter of time, and technology, before the industry merges with Hollywood completely. With all the cross-pollination that's going on, it's inevitable that the two industries will breed, and their progeny will lay waste to the entertainment realm. 

Competitive eSports, through outlets like Twitch, have transformed video games from something done casually between friends to a spectacle that can attract over 5,000 active viewers watching matches at any given time. Those 5,000 people are just watching how the pros do it—they're not even playing. And that's not even taking into consideration the prizes that some of the competitions throw at pro-gamers.  The notion of being an avid gamer is no longer something that has to be mumbled about while the cute girls stifle snickers. There is no 'gaming culture' any more; only pop culture. This fact has shattered the stigma of gamers being shut-ins allergic to the sun's rays. If you're good enough at it, gaming can even be your career.

 

The FPS genre is a perfect reflection of our national identity. It has become as American as celebrity worship and gaming itself. Like it or not, you have to admit that emptying a clip into some stranger's face could become a new American tradition. And how new is it really? After all, this is the nation that gabe the world cowboys, gangsters, and Rambo. The fact is that the FPS genre will be with us far into the life cycles of the next-gen consoles and beyond. Celebrity and mere mortals, athlete and accountants, rappers and high school students—there is no one type of FPS enthusiast anymore. It has become a vehicle where ordinary players can become professionals in the realm of eSports, attaining their own measure of celebrity in the process. Regardless of what critics may think of the content of these games, it's time to accept the fact the FPS genre has become our new national pastime. So why not just relax and heed Biggie Smalls' immortal words of advice: stay low and keep firing.

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Tags: first-person-shooter, activision, pop-culture, video-games, call-of-duty-black-ops-2, call-of-duty
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