No, not all of the best games are about guns and violence

When the best game of the year is about a stray cat, it's time to reassess those annoying gaming stereotypes

This Week in Games is a weekly column where Vikki Blake pulls apart the biggest stories in gaming each week. This week, she’s reflecting on the success of Stray and how it bucks the misconception of what “popular” games are all about.

All fandoms endure their share of stereotypes, I know, but few are maligned as routinely, or as riotously, as gaming. We’re frequently reminded – sometimes by our closest friends and family – that our favourite hobby makes us fat, lazy, thick, sexist, and/or violent. We’ve seen the misconceptions. The moral panics. The outright lies.

I grew up with games a long time ago, but even then, the misconceptions were rife. There was a smorgasbord of delightful adventures and tales on offer, games that shaped not only my childhood, but the person I went on to become. Today, that choice is gargantuan, and we’re able to select from more genres, mechanics, styles, and stories than ever before. Games are maturing both a medium and an art form, as are the people who play and make them. So why do so many people default to the tired stereotype that games have nothing more to offer than guns, gore, and violence?

To be clear, I’m a big fan of guns, gore, and violence, and will defend our (read: my) right to play them until the end. The older I get, the more I gravitate towards games that let me stomp around killing anything that moves, and I’ve reached the conclusion that playing shooters is what keeps my mental health and I happy. (I know a recent study found there’s “little to no evidence” gaming affects wellbeing, but I’m firmly of the belief that you don’t know how much your wellbeing can be improved by headshotting aliens until you try it).

Stray. Credit: BlueTwelve Studios.
Stray. Credit: BlueTwelve Studios.

That’s why the success of Stray – the purrr-ty (sorry) new game that puts you in the paws of a stray cat looking for their family – is so welcomed. Although it only released on July 22, it has already clocked up almost 50,000 reviews on PC platform Steam, the majority of which are categorised as “overwhelmingly positive”. My favourite endorsement – written, ironically enough, by someone called DoggoStorm22 – simply says: “I got a cat because of this game”.

It’s so popular, in fact, it’s now the best-rated game of the year so far on PC. According to Steam250, which assigns Steam games a score determined by aggregating players’ negative or positive reviews, it’s even surpassed fan-favourite God Of War (a game that does have all that lovely gore and violence, by the way), which debuted to much acclaimed on PC at the beginning of the year.

Take into account the number of games released every year on PC – thousands, at this point – as well as the common practice of “review-bombing” games because some small, sad corner of the internet doesn’t like LGBT+ people/women/Black folks/insert other -phobia here in their treehouse, and it’s doubly impressive. And it’s proof that despite what some corners of the media like to say about me and my penchant for shooters, video games are so, so much more than simple murder simulators.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Image credit: Nintendo

Look at Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Admittedly, there was a touch of fortuitous timing as it released at the exact same time the entire world learned what a coronavirus was and found themselves imprisoned in their own homes, but it offered each of us our own private beachfront paradise to escape the hell that had become the evening news. So much of Animal Crossing‘s magic lies in its gentle activities, sweet dialogue, and cute roster of characters that even I was captivated, guns or no guns.

The truth is, games have never been so diverse, and the gobs on sticks that shout about video game violence have likely never perused Nintendo Switch‘s wholesome catalogue, or stopped to peer a little more closely at the games that get the biggest audiences on Steam.

Sure, that Steam250 chart lists many mature games that delight in violence and viscera, but the top three games of all time are currently listed as Portal 2, Terraria, and Stardew Valley, which are a puzzler, an adventure game, and a farming simulator respectively. The third best game of 2022 after Stray and God Of War is PowerWash Simulator, for Christ’s sake. No guns. No explosions. Not even any naughty words. Seems to me it’s well past time we revised the dated stereotypes of what games are and appreciate the joy they bring to the world… whether you kill stuff in them or not.

What else?

To catch up on the rest of gaming’s biggest stories, check out This Week In Games

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