Media with darker themes, including dark games, has been so trendy as to be nearly ubiquitous for many years. While they don’t have to be literally dark—though that happens frequently as well—a lot of games are exploring more mature themes with gritty realism, a far cry from the medium’s beginnings in colorful plumbers and dungeon-crawling Hylians.
Games with dark themes have existed for a long time, but their prevalence right now is huge. While it’s certainly not a bad thing that so many games are taking themselves seriously, so much grimdark media has some gamers looking for a little lighter fare.
Despite all the doom and gloom of many popular dark titles, some more uplifting games are storming the market. While dark games certainly aren’t going away, a couple of this year’s most anticipated games—No Man’s Sky and Splatoon, are showing dark and gritty isn’t the only thing gamers are looking for.
Gaming’s Dark Adolescence Means Things Are Getting Serious
Taking games seriously is, overall, a good move for the industry. Games have largely been panned as little more than entertaining diversions by those not in the community, and exploring darker themes, such as those found in The Last of Us, prove that the medium isn’t all about superfluous fun.
But when dark games comprise most of our options, that can backfire—to the outsider’s eye, games kind of look like they’re going through an angsty teen phase, particularly when just about every game asks you to adjust the gamma settings until you can’t see a foot in front of your character. But that’s not inherently a bad thing—the more serious Tomb Raider reboot breathed new life into the series, and Dark Souls is a bleak but fun game.
With so many popular dark games doing so well, big developers want to keep cashing in on the trend—that, in part, is why the trend continues despite many people being sick of it. Some gaming companies are finding interesting ways to split the difference. While Nintendo is no stranger to releasing cute and fun games, their newest, Splatoon, is doing something pretty unique.
Splatoon Flips Shooter Tropes on Their Dark and Gritty Heads
Nintendo is known for their largely entertaining and colorful games, to the point that many questioned whether Bayonetta 2 would be any good because it didn’t suit the company’s tone. But Splatoon is pretty unique—rather than being their typical platformer, this game is a spin on the classic shooter game, only instead of bullets, players shoot paint.
For people looking to get away from the dark world of shooters—often literally in this genre, where Call of Duty popularized grays and browns as a dominate color scheme—Splatoon is a huge breath of fresh air. It’s decidedly different from your average shooter, as it’s not about destroying the other team by shooting them but rather by dominating the world with color.
The developers may not have intended for the game to so neatly be the antithesis of most shooters, but with Call of Duty, Battlefield, and other shooters being the go-to genre, Splatoon really feels like a deliberate divergence. It certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste, but for gamers looking for a totally new multiplayer and shooter experience, it’s an intriguing option.
No Man’s Sky Takes Us Boldly Goes to a Colorful Future
Space might be the final frontier, but many games set in space tend to take the darker road. Mass Effect and Halo both involve humanity threatened by alien races, EVE Online is notoriously difficult to get into, and Borderlands, while certainly entertaining and funny, still takes place in a pretty bleak future.
While shooting isn’t the only thing going on in these games, combat is a pretty dominant force to the point that it seems to be a standard for space games. No Man’s Sky, one of the most anticipated games of the moment, is taking a different approach—while combat will be available, the emphasis is on exploration. Players can go an incredibly long time without encountering another player, despite the fact that the game is online, making it a vastly different experience to your average dark games.
Like Splatoon, No Man’s Sky also uses color to create its world. In this case, the developers are certainly trying to change our view of this genre—David Ream, one of the game’s developers, said that they “want to make the future cool again.” With the bleak futures painted by so many games, this is a pretty unique spin more akin to the optimistic attitudes of previous eras of science fiction.
Neither of these highly anticipated games signal the end of gritty and dark games, but they could demonstrate that games can deviate from this trend while still remaining popular. There’s room for all types in the market, whether they’re lighthearted, fun, and colorful games or pessimistic, gritty, and dark games.
Do you prefer dark games or more upbeat ones?