Yep, we're talking about Far Cry 2 again. But don't flee just yet, this is both brief and mostly meta-discussion. This is in response to a couple of things (insightful, as always) Michael Abbott wrote recently, and it's just a little too long to be a comment there. Michael noted that he just couldn't bring himself to care about the characters in Far Cry 2. Several of us said, well yeah, that's sort of the point. I specifically posited that the NPCs are not supposed to be characterized or behave as real, believable people. Their shallowness is symbolic, intended to convey how anonymous and replaceable those grasping for power truly are.
It's entirely possible I'm reading too much into it, but on the other hand, is it possible that we've just been conditioned to expect as much realism as possible in AAA titles? Realistic simulations of physics, environments, facial animations, interactions; these are the things frequently held highest when discussing new, big-budget titles. When we're told to anticipate and expect these things, do we accidentally filter out things more subtle?
It seems our (and by "our," I mean the audience at large) expectations have become binary- either games must strive for complete realism and any shortfall is an error, or it's an utterly ridiculous/purely ludic (a la Mario Kart or Katamari Damacy) without thought to realism. I've been pleasantly surprised by symbolism in games, but I don't think I could name one where my excitement and anticipation came from looking forward to interesting symbolism. I was excited about Far Cry 2 because it looked like a dynamic shooter with an interesting setting; I wasn't looking forward to a meditation on violence and nihilism.
Only a handful of popular titles can really be seen as explicitly symbolic, and most of them have to truly bellow to have their symbolism noticed. Braid might be the best recent example. While the interpretation thereof is a bit ... contentious, I think everyone can agree that the game is meant to be heavily symbolic. Flower is similar. Perhaps this represents a growing trend. I'd like to think so.
I think part of the contribution we brainy/serious/intelligent game bloggers make is digging into symbolism in games. I've become a lot more aware of it since becoming active in this community; prior to a year ago, the only games I could probably discuss the symbolism of were Planescape: Torment and Psychonauts. We've still got a ways to go though. Audiences need to ask for and reward meaningful symbolism, and developers need to refine their language to make things less obtuse.
Of course, if that did happen, we might just run out of things to blog about ... or we'll just get to argue with more people about interpretations. Probably the latter. Excellent.