Thomas Deehan looks at the dearth of children’s video games, and whether Nintendo can keep picking up the slack.
If I were to list a bunch of beloved children’s films from the last five years, the usual suspects that come to mind would be Inside Out, The Lego Movie, How to Train Your Dragon 2, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, etc. Now if I was to make a similar list but for children’s video games of the same era, it would probably include Super Mario 3D World, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Splatoon, Pokémon X&Y and Super Smash Bros.
Did you catch the difference? Anyone can easily select a number of films from different production studios, all well respected, that have made a name for themselves as being distributors of high-quality children’s content. Children’s video games on the other hand have become something of a niche market as far as the console industry is concerned, leaving Nintendo as the last bastion for the genre.
As a child of the 1990s, the range of games aimed at kids was unparalleled. We had movie tie-in games that didn’t suck (think of the critically acclaimed Disney projects for the Sega Mega Drive, such as The Lion King and Aladdin) and platforming gems that have rarely been improved upon since. The heavy market flow of content for children dates even further back than this, when marketing video games to children was what helped to bring the industry back from the crash of 1979 and a generation of adults who had become disinterested in the medium.
The industry focus towards a younger audience was the widely recognised status quo until games like Grand Theft Auto III hit the scene, which went on to sell 14.5 million copies worldwide, only to be later eclipsed by Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas as the best selling PlayStation 2 game of all time. Recognising that the children who grew up playing Crash Bandicoot had matured, the market scrambled to release ‘edgy’ video games that were desperate to push the blood-soaked boundaries of violence and gore.
That’s all well and good as the coming of age of video games has led to a variety of titles that society can respect as modern art (Bioshock, The Last of Us, Limbo). The issue here is that with said maturity, publishers seem to have forgotten the audience upon which this great medium was built.
Children have found themselves ostracised by the Xbox One and PS4; the cute and cuddly mascots of yesteryear are long gone, mowed down in a hail of bullets by the likes of Call of Duty and Halo. Only the toys-to-life genre remains as a way of maintaining some hold on the demographic.
This isn’t to say that the child gamer has been wiped off the face of the earth by omission, on the contrary, where modern consoles have failed; the mobile industry has swooped in and hooked a generation on touchscreen games. The likes of Angry Birds, Flappy Bird and Pokémon Go have taken the zeitgeist by the reins and ridden it all the way to the bank. I myself am guilty of having spent copious amounts of time with all of them, but even the most ardent fan must admit that they do very little to broaden the scope of what video games can be. By the very nature of the control scheme they employ, very few mobile games inspire the act of exploration, or engage its audience from a narrative perspective.
There needs to be a wealth of options across the board that children can access to create an informed perspective on the medium of video games, instead of being marginalised into a series of endless runners and high-score guzzlers.
It’s a shame that Nintendo has found itself in this position, as their precarious financial situation caused by the commercial failure of the Wii U could spell bad news for young gamers if their successor, the Nintendo Switch, suffers a similar fate. If the industry doesn’t inspire the next generation of gamers and developers, then we could be losing out on the next great masterpiece and we’d be none the wiser.
Featured Image: Pawel Kadysz