Today, MachineGames announced a new Indiana Jones game. The teaser was a bit scant, but it showed all the bits you’d expect – map, whip, hat, etc. It’s a natural fit, isn’t it? The first few of their Wolfenstein games are some of the best times you can have killing Nazis, which makes them the perfect studio to handle the preeminent Third Reich puncher.
Yet I couldn’t help to be reminded of the other Indiana Jones game – the one from the mid-aughts that got cancelled prematurely, mind you, not the whiz-bang Tomb Raider clone or the decent adventure game. Announced in 2005, the PS3 and 360 title was pretty hotly anticipated at the time, and marketed as yet another instance of, “games are so serious now, they can tie into your favorite movies.”
And as much as I’d like to say that mentality died with that generation of consoles, that just isn’t true. Licensed games are still a constant – they just don’t exist in such multitude anymore. With video games being the big business they are, companies put more time into licensed releases now (for the most part,) and more thought is given to preserving the integrity of whatever brand is being tied into. Other than that, they’re still as much of a threat as they have been in the past. In the past few weeks alone, we’ve gotten promises of new games from Indiana Jones, James Bond, and Star Wars, to name a few.
Yes – fifteen years later, and we’re still supposed to be excited for an Indiana Jones teaser.
My issue with this is that it’s 2021, and every single franchise I just mentioned is at least four decades years old – Raiders of the Lost Ark celebrates its 40th this June, Star Wars is 44, and James Bond is a borderline geriatric at 68. These are not things that most of today’s youth would organically discover on their own. This isn’t to say old things are bad and not worth updating – many of my favorite movies, albums, and games came out before I was born.
But the way in which these particular IPs have been immortalized is stifling, to say the least. They’re quintessential dad favorites – stuff that my generation’s fathers rented from Blockbuster, put on the TV and said, “this is important.” Movies like The Last Crusade, Empire Strikes Back, and practically any James Bond flick are dad classics. They’re the kind of movies that our dads preached like scripture, and the kind of stories that made them feel a little more important in their ordinary lives.
Because that’s what they were designed to do. They’re stories designed to make boys feel powerful and convince them of their importance in the world, then mold them into independent, take-charge men. They espouse a particular set of values and ideals that are quintessentially post-WWII America and Europe. Men are cocky and rude but righteous and well-meaning, women are nagging and frigid yet always succumb to rugged masculine charm, and evil dictators and seductive femme fatales exist purely to disrupt the “normal” way of life. Women and nonbinary folks can (and do, myself included,) like these franchises, of course, but there’s no denying that they were originally created for the explicit purpose of making men feel good about themselves.
There’s nothing wrong with men feeling good about themselves, of course – everyone should! But the way that men’s self-importance has been codified by popular art is toxic and self-repeating. Instead of focusing on the parts of James Bond, Star Wars, and Indiana Jones that maybe don’t hold up, we’re not allowed to criticize them because they’re big, important franchises for big, important boys. And because we’re not allowed to criticize them, and because they continue to be shared and taught uncritically, capitalism does what it does best and sells them to us again in new wrapping.
That’s how we get to 2021 and are expected to be excited about expensive new takes on Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and James Bond. Just like we were supposed to be excited about expensive games based on The Godfather, Taxi Driver, and Dirty Harry. Because these are important. They’re things our dad showed to us. They’re classics. But instead of letting them be classics, and allowing them to exist as just that, companies have to remind younger generations that they exist and keep making money off of them as long as possible.
Unfortunately, the consequence of this is that millions upon millions of dollars are lavished upon old movies that old men like. As smaller devs struggle and scrap to tell stories that are actually pertinent and relevant to their lives, companies allocate vital resources to glitzy retellings of and fauning homages to the same shit we’ve seen before. It goes beyond licensed games, too – titles like Cyberpunk 2077 and series like Borderlands are ornate tapestries stitched together by patchwork pieces of this multi-million dollar big boy art. As an industry, we’re in this perpetual state of finding the prettiest and cruelest ways to make expensive homages to old movies. It’s sad.
I’ll probably play the new Indy game, of course. It’s Machine Games, and I love everything they’ve done (we don’t talk about Youngblood.) Hell, I’ll probably play that new James Bond thing, too, and I’ll check out any Star Wars thing they slap a Twi’lek or Ahsoka in. These aren’t franchises I hate, and in the right hands, they can still fill me with the same wonder they once did.
But also, I’m tired of this. I’m tired of seeing the same things get rehabilitated for the sole purpose of making money off of nostalgic boomer dads. I’m tired of being told monolithic blockbusters made before I was born are worth continuing to invest in, when some devs don’t make enough cash to put food in their mouth. It’s a lavish and tacky display of wealth being funneled into unchallenging opiates, and truly, this medium is capable of so much more.
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Bella Blondeau is a lovable miscreant with a heart of gold… or so she says.
She likes long walks in dingy arcades, loves horror good and bad, and has a passion for anime girls of any and all varieties. Her favorite game is Nier: Automata, because she loves both robots and being sad.
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