Thoughts on Game Legacies

Monday, we wrapped up our discussion on the Final Fantasy series, which brought to mind the notion of “legacies” in gaming in general.  A lot of titles spawn sequels, though it’s not every series that can really be called a “legacy”.  Some series go above and beyond merely creating sequels; some go on to change the way we view a genre, or gaming as a whole.

Take the rather iconic Street Fighter series, one which started as Capcom‘s attempt to cash in on the growing popularity of hand-to-hand combat games.  It didn’t start out trying to set any bars; it just set out to sell and be a part of a genre that was becoming more and more popular.  The first title was nothing new or different; from the design of the characters on up, it was just that attempt to cash in.

It enjoyed a moderate success in Japan, but when it hit North America, it caught on like wildfire.

As the series progressed, it consistently provided different styles of fighting, a control scheme retooled to be efficient easily accessible, and in general just better.  It became more than a video game series, it entered the gamer consciousness.  Whether you were a fan of fighting games in general or not, you knew who Ryu and Ken were.

The games became the subject of jokes that far more people “got” that would have been expected, they brought older and/or experienced gamers together with younger and/or inexperienced gamers as they passed down the knowledge of the secret moves, and the growing complexity of the series inspired the numerous followers, thus helping change the genre from simple button-mashing to requiring the player to discover the right tactics to use and be able to use them in the blink of an eye.

Then you have something completely different—the Tomb Raider series, or, perhaps more accurately, the woman whose arguably grown beyond her games, Lara Croft.

Up until her debut, action/puzzle games were somewhat more basic, at least plot-wise.  Some games didn’t even give much of a reason for why you were running around maneuvering random levers and pushing random blocks.  You just did it.  The enjoyment was in solving the puzzle and dodging enemies in the process.

Then the developers at Core Design—a company who until then had been doing easy-to-access games in every genre they could—decided to try something new.  Well, they were going to try a lot of new somethings.

For starters, they’d never made a three-dimensional game before, but that best served the idea of actually working through interesting locals such as pyramids, jungles, and so on.  For another, it was going to be more story-driven, they were going to shoot for a cohesive plot that drove the protagonist around the world.  The third new something almost wasn’t new at all.

Originally, the protagonist was male, and a not-too-subtle riff (or, if you like, “homage”) on one Indiana Jones.  Ideas were kicked around, and eventually what was settled on was then unheard of—making the protagonist female.

Before then, women in video games were, at best, princesses in need of rescuing.  At worst, they were simpering hostages in need of rescuing.  The idea to make a woman—not just any woman, but a strong, confident, independent woman—the protagonist was jumped onto.  There were a few changes in her look and background, but eventually Lara Croft, that sassy heiress with a penchant for thrill-seeking, hit the store shelves.

It was a gamble that paid off immensely.

Female gamers had someone other than a muscle-bound brute of a man to control, and male gamers saw a woman who would be doing the rescuing, thank you very much.  It’s no wonder, really, that the series has gone on as long as it has, that Lara Croft has become the iconic figure she has.

That’s the sort of thing a good legacy series has going for it—when it rises above being “merely” a video game and becomes something that branches out into the public consciousness.  Even non-gamers are aware of them, have some level of knowledge about them.

The characters appear on magazines not even tangentially related to gaming, the development is talked about by those barely interested in gaming—legacy games do more than churn out another entry.  They can show non-gamers that the hobby isn’t just mashing buttons to blow things up, that it’s not just about smacking something enough times to “win”.

They bring the hobby to a wider audience, and, just as importantly, all but demand gamers to take another look at the hobby.  Where would we be without Ryu, Lara, and the rest?  Where would our hobby be without the developers who had a wild idea and dared to see if it would fly, or who simply wanted to push boundaries?

We’d be in the midst of stagnation, and all too likely we’d not have progressed much beyond the era of Pac-Man.  Legacy games are an incredibly important aspect of the hobby; they’re cornerstones, really.  They’re fundamental aspects of our hobby, and it’s worth it to remember them, to watch out for new legacy series.  There are plenty to find already, and more just waiting to emerge.


4 Responses to “Thoughts on Game Legacies”

  1. Elisa Michelle Says:

    I never got into Lara Croft (mostly because I didn’t hear about it until a lot later), but I did appreciate how the character made it so women aren’t total damsels. That’s something that, being a woman, I despise in most movies, TV shows, books, and games. She definitely broke that norm.

    And I love Ken and Ryu. They’re awesome. I played the SNES (at least I think it was SNES, I was only 8 or so) Street Fighter III when I was a kid. Man, that game was so much fun — Chun Li was my favorite character. Again because she was a woman who could kick butt (despite the enormous, bouncy boobs). I used to watch the anime and, for the sake of the series, watched the live action version of Chun Li. Never watched it again, of course. The older Street Fighter was better, definitely a B movie, but still fun. That Chun Li was better, too.

    • I liked that version of Chun Li, too. I didn’t make it beyond the first ten or fifteen minutes of the “sequel”. It just–yeah. the first movie, well–I liked it a lot, actually, as I’d said before, though the awesome acting of Raul Julia had I think the most to do with that. Though I also liked Cammy, in the movie. Strong, confident, can rough it up with the men and only too happy to prove it. A simpering princess in need of rescuing she was definitely not.

      That even extended into the video games; I liked Chun Li (though her hundred-kick-of-doom move was a pain to pull off, heh), but the win animation for Cammy was fantastic. Had that “Yes, I just kicked your butt. Go home and cry to mommy” feel about it.

      As for Lara, I actually had a similar reaction, even though I’m not a female. I’m a fan of strong, confident women, and get almost as irked at the simpering bints in various fictional media as I would expect women to be.

      • Elisa Michelle Says:

        Oh, man, the guy who played Bison was great. He made me laugh because of the cheesy quality of his acting but at the same time I was having so many nerd moments it wasn’t even funny. Needless to say, I scared my non-gamer cousins, haha.

        I didn’t remember Cammy until you mentioned her. She was in the movie, but I don’t remember her from the game I played. Just Chun-Li, Ryu, Ken, and Vega. But again, I was really, really young when I played it. Titanic came out around that time, too, so I’m not sure which version of Street Fighter I was playing.

        In books (since I’m a writer and reading is a very big obsession of mine), the damsels frustrate me, especially the bad-ass damsels in disguise — the women that claim they can handle themselves and yet, in the end, men end up saving them from bad situations. It’s usually a cultural thing. The Chun-Li in the Street Fighter movie was always getting into trouble and getting captured, but she got the last laugh in the end with the help of the other characters, you know? But still, she needed the guys, specifically Jean Claude, to help. She couldn’t do it on her own, and that tends to frustrate me. I would love to see a female character completely own in a movie without the help of a guy, you know?

        But that’s a different tangent.

      • I forget, off the top of my head, when Cammy debuted in the series, but I think it was a bit later. I can agree with the frustration, though didn’t find Chun Li too bad in the first film. I didn’t get the sense that her needing the other characters to help was because of her sex as much as because she was a reporter, not a soldier. She didn’t have the training for much besides standing there and looking gravely into the camera, really. Plus, all the crap going on and I seem to recall that she held up rather well–didn’t turn into a simpering, sobbing mess, at any rate.

        Have you seen the Lara Croft movies, starring Angelina Jolie? I thought she pulled off the character wonderfully, and no matter what happened to Lara, I never got the sense that she was merely a “damsel”, in hiding or not.

        She pretty darn well owned her films, and anyone who helps Lara does so because it makes sense, not because of their sexes. E.G., this person has a skill-set she doesn’t, that one has information she needs, et cetera. That kind of help-needing is fine, really, since it doesn’t rely on what’s between a character’s legs. It is, I think, perfectly fine to not have a certain bit of knowledge or a skill and thus requiring aid.

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