Do American Gamers Hate Japanese Shoot Em Ups?
November 29, 2011 1 Comment
Trends in the video game industry, much like everything else in this world, are cyclical. They may change slightly, but every trend comes back in vogue. Such is the case for the Shoot Em Up (SHMUP), what many consider to be the first genre of video game. From 1962′s Spacewar! to 1971′s Computer Space, the growth of the Shoot Em Up genre has grown much like the video game industry has, from crawling for years to being so over saturated at times, it proved disastrous for the industry. It never went away though, that is until it was seemingly treated like Judy from Family Matters by American gamers. It’s really a sad affair, but I think I know why American gamers seem to completely disregard the traditional Shoot Em Up.
It’s actually pretty interesting that gamers seem intimidated by Shoot Em Ups when they jump at the latest First Person Shooter and it’s twitch heavy gameplay.For my money, Playing Halo on a high difficulty feels a lot like turning up the difficulty on a game like Giga Wing or Batsugun. Dancing around enemy fire is just as exhilirating whether that enemy be some faceless enemy aircraft, or a soldier with an assault rifle taking cover behind a truck. It always seemed strange to me that the First Person Shooter genre has flourished while something that is in so many ways similar has been relegated to niche status in America.
Then I realized the main reason why American gamers flock to one and not the other: competition. While I see points leaderboards and Death Counters as prime competition for a fan of SHMUPs, gamers who consistently play First Person Shooters thrive on that direct(via online multiplayer) competition against others. They are rabid when it comes to consuming every new map pack that is released and conquering the tops of every leaderboard they can find. It can be almost an obsession for some, while for others it’s merely a mild distraction for the stress one faces on a daily basis.
Another issue that many gamers have with the modern SHMUP is the overwhelming degree of difficulty with the modern SHMUP, also called “Bullet Hell” Shooters because of the large numbers of projectiles on a screen at any one point. This wrinkle made SHMUPs largely inaccessible for gamers not willing to learn enemy bullet patterns and relegated them to niche status among American gamers. For many gamers, a Bullet Hell shooter can be a gamer example of John Henry vs. the Steam Engine. The game will throw bullets at a player from almost every conceivable angle and the player has to find that small spot on screen where the hundreds of bullets fired by the boss character can’t reach. Watching someone play a Bullet Hell shooter well can be an intimidating experience, one that can scare an inexperienced player away.
The same can easily be said about most genres of video games, especially those that involve direct competition between two people. Before online gameplay and high powered game consoles were the norm, gamers were in arcades, and the ones who were really good at a particular game either showed you the basics and helped bring you up so they’d have competition or they’d plow through “noobs” and turn a person against the game they’d lost in. The same thing has happened with a lot of games now, and many experienced gamers see playing something like a SHMUP as beneath them or something that a truly skilled gamer shouldn’t play.
No one particular genre of video game can be considered superior to the other, though some less informed parties would have you believe otherwise. Being the first genre of video games has a heavy responsibility, especially considering how many consoles launched with SHMUPs as a part of their software offerings at system launch. The proliferation of an evolved form of shooters (Bullet Hell) has driven many away from it, but many gamers continue to flock to SHMUPs with a vigor seemingly reserved for the latest edition of a much more well known game in a more commercially viable genre. Most gamers who have cut their teeth on more recent games probably couldn’t tell you the difference between R-Type and Raiden, and they probably wouldn’t buy either on first glance, but the Shoot Em Up Genre is as woven into the fabric of gaming culture as Master Chief and Mario are.
Below is a French documentary on Shoot Em Ups that I stumbled upon on youtube. Don’t worry, it’s subtitled…