This week’s Friday blog (and, likely, next week’s too) is going to be focussed a little bit on games of various sorts, because I find the whole subject of play to be totally fascinating.
It recently dawned on me that, as I approach my 30th birthday, very soon I will be taking my passion for playing video and computer games into my fourth decade on Planet Earth. Age-wise, I’m at the tail-end of the first proper generation of children that had video games as a major Thing in their lives, and I’ve been playing computer games as a serious hobby (and without any breaks) for 23-odd years now. Video games have been a constant presence in my life for as long as I can remember, and I’ve always fanned the flames of that passion by throwing myself into gaming at every possible opportunity and with every major console generation at, and since, the 16-bit era.
It’s only now, though, that I’ve sensed that I’m not really in touch with gaming anymore. I’m at a point, now, where I feel no great urge to make the leap into the current console generation of PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Wii U; nothing that draws me in to new hardware, nor encourages me to invest in the short-sighted output of AAA-studios and cash-hungry publishers. At least for the time being, I’m perfectly happy with my PS3 and my PC (and my Wii, my PS2, my GameCube, my DS, yada yada) and don’t feel like a few more pixels or some extra ultraFLOPs of processing power are going to lead to me having any more fun than the fun that I currently have with the machinery I already own, or owned in the past.
It used to be different, though: I remember the days of playing blocky, LucasArts point ‘n’ click adventure games where it was 100% about story and gameplay and not a jot about photorealistic textures, and hashy polygon-based stunt racing games where the absence of car physics and multi-reflective surfaces were no hindrance to the process of having a blast. I funnelled umpteen hours into Lemmings, The Simpsons: Bart Simpson vs. the Space Mutants, Sleepwalker, Soccer Kid and Lotus Turbo Challenge II, even though they looked like crap, didn’t necessarily play that well, and routinely broke or glitched out because of bugs or because the floppy disk was knackered. That was my era of gaming; one where I recall – with a misty-eyed expression – the simultaneous joy and frustration at having to constantly insert and eject Money Island 2’s ELEVEN floppy disks in order to load new scenes or dialogue to the game. Of course, while Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge has lost none of its charm and brilliance in the intervening fourteen years, the likes of Race Drivin’ on the Amiga 500+ have long since been eclipsed by genuine progress in design and mechanics, and all but forgotten except by Nostalgia-nerds like me.
Looking at the broad spectrum, games are better now than they were when I first engaged with the hobby: they’re more shiny, better written, work better and are far, far more accepted by the mainstream than I ever dreamt that they would be. The leaps that were made throughout the 32/64-bit era (PlayStation and Nintendo 64) and then onto the 128-bit one (PlayStation 2, GameCube, Dreamcast and Xbox) were genuinely mind-blowing; where the improvement in graphical fidelity was also joined by progress in game engines (and hence gameplay), along with improved cinematic awareness and well-written dialogue and storylines. There’s a reason why many of the most highly-regarded video games (Final Fantasy VII, Super Mario 64, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Half-Life) came from those eras: it felt like mainstream/’AAA’-games were just improving in every way; but never at the expense of fun, and never forgetting that they were there for play.
In the last four-five years, though, I’ve sort of felt like I’m not the target of mainstream games anymore – The need for even better graphics (beyond what we have now; which I could call ‘perfectly adequate’ for representing an immersive virtual world) doesn’t really grab me, and the prevalence for newly-released games to have Day One bug patches or pay-unlockable DLC sort of makes me be a little sick in my mouth. Furthermore, I’m not into sports games like Fee-Fuh; nor ones where fourteen year-olds go around shooting each other with realistic military equipment whilst calling every other player a homosexual. The term “Gamer”, these days, conjures up visions of spotty teenagers playing FIFA 15, Call of Duty and Candy Crush Saga. I’m a person that plays games, but I’m not a gamer.
I’m also not loads into disrespecting women or doxxing anyone that doesn’t 100% believe in the same views as me, which seems to be a big part of calling yourself a “gamer” these days.
Nothing about the PlayStation 4/Xbox One output from their first 18 months or so has shown me that we’re any closer to the asymptote of Gaming Perfection than we were, say, eight to ten years ago, and there’s no sinew in me that feels the urge to make the leap to the next gen. I’m not here saying that “old games were better” or anything like that; my gaming collection still spans over 25 years’ worth of digital fun, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. All I am saying is that – Oculus Rift and VR aside – I don’t truthfully foresee anything truly revolutionary happening to my gaming palate as I turn the clock over from twenties to thirties. It’s been a long time since a new AAA video game truly took my breath away (BioShock Infinite was probably the last one that did that), so it seems like – for now – it’s still up to the indie gaming scene and my existing collection to continue to produce the most interesting and relevant contributions to my gaming buffet.
So yeah, excuse me while I crack on with some Borderlands, Chrono Trigger and Citizens of Earth. Boom.