Why so serious?
Perhaps it’s the shrinking window of innocence, but ‘toy’ has become a horribly loaded term. To adults, it carries an air of infantilism, of childhood things put away for a stable job and a swelling ISA. Others take the defamation further. Hadn’t you better stop playing with toys and grow up?
In light of this, proponents of games have long argued against that label. It’s reductive, they argue. Games should be taken more seriously. Yet this medium is still primarily about play and, however we disguise it, still thoroughly dependant on toys. A sandbox is just a boring mound of grit until you put things in it and apply a little imagination, after all.
Hitman (p44) is a perfect example. On the outside, it’s a game about contract killing, but its globe-trotting assassinations would be fatally dull if not for reactive AI systems to poke and a toybox full of methods with which to do so. Falling chandeliers, sabotaged catwalks, detonating heaters: all are options. And what smacks more of childhood afternoons than playing dress up – a bartender’s uniform to deliver a cocktail of poisons, perhaps? Capy’s resurfacing Below (p60) is also full of systems you need not use, giving you the freedom to toy with the ingredients it offers without enforcing approaches as you plumb its procedural depths. It’s even daring enough to snatch your PC, PS4, playthings away, a secret-revealing lantern gone forever if
Vegas 2 dropped and not recovered in your next life.
Funomena and Keita Takahashi collaboration Wattam (p58), meanwhile, is gloriously aware that it’s a toy, its very inspiration being some play time shared between the
Katamari creator and his son. It asks you to repopulate a XCOM 2 town by playing around with an unusual clutch of residents, using their powers to create living towers, which you then send hurtling into the sky to explode.
Toys aren’t hollow. They should be emblems of wonder, joy coalesced into playable forms. And who doesn’t want a little childlike amazement when they sit down to play?