What happened to video games?

Saturday, November 8, 2014 | 9



When I was a child, an elderly gypsy woman told me that one day I'd be old and no longer enjoy video games. My original hypothesis was that the passage of time wears everyone down, and eventually things I enjoyed would all become mundane and predictable. The prophecy has come to pass, and I have concluded that my hypothesis was wrong.

I'm not the problem.


I still to this day enjoy those very games that I feared I would lose. I replay old DOS, NES, and SNES games from a more experienced and discerning pair of eyes, and yet they hold up and, in some cases, even surpass modern offerings that cost millions of dollars to produce. That's fucking embarrassing.


Yes, I would like some rye, actually...

Rather than using cop-out excuses like, "You always love your firsts!", or whatever bullshit an idiot might tell you, I've decided to examine the classics with fresh eyes in order to determine why we've all fallen so far. Through (mostly) introspection I've uncovered a few possible reasons...

Reason 1: In storytelling, less can be more.

Picture this: You're a weak and tiny white man, and it is your dream to win the professional boxing circuit. With each victory your mind becomes more agile as you begin to notice the subtle patterns that exist in the universe and slowly bend these forces to your will. This is the story of Mike Tyson's Punch-Out, and, while far fetched, it is far more compelling and believable than the twenty-million lines of dialog in Divinity - Original Sin.


Why kill ninjas? To save Ronnie. Good enough!

In the early 90s game developers only had an extremely finite amount of storage space in which to produce their games, and in many cases they had to choose between dialog and entire portions of the game. This forced them to design games that were self-explanatory, which worked EXTREMELY well for classic RPG's because it was our job as a player to interpret the world as we saw it. While technology now allows us to spoon feed gamers a narrative, the notion that more story means better story simply isn't true. We didn't know exactly why Mario wanted to save the Princess, but the void allowed our mind to construct a mythos around him that was far more touching and personal than Commander Shepard's alien dating sims (Mass Effect).

Would Link have been more likable if he prattled on with hit or miss quips? No. Speaking of badasses...

Reason 2: Child Protagonists are awesome.

As adults, we're all extremely aware of the danger we're in each day, so when I see adult protagonists put up against the forces of evil in any context other than running away I don't buy it. In Link to the Past, the game starts with your old fat uncle telling you to chill the fuck out (Walking Dead parallel?) and because you're a child you immediately rush headlong into danger completely unarmed. I'd like to think that Link's special power is that he's far too inept to be fully aware of the scope of the danger he's constantly in. Because of this, he doesn't tell everyone immediately to fuck off when they ask him, a child, to save the world over and over. Let's not forget that other than his willingness to die for complete strangers, Link had no special powers at all, yet we believe in his character because children don't have ulterior motives.


I know I, an adult, couldn't do shit... But you're like 8 years old now...

Many (not all) early games featured child protagonists, but it seems like they've been phased out slowly in American games as they become more realistic. In a world where numerous countries ban violence, it's not far fetched that publishers would avoid controversial characters so that their games can be played by Australians. Our culture is so fucking soft. When the aliens invade, it will likely be the children that lead the charge against them.

Reason 3: Secret shit.

With the cost of game development rapidly increasing to unsustainable levels, the likelihood that a game developer is going to make content that most people won't see their first time playing has plummeted to near-zero. How many times have you played Chrono Trigger, and actually done everything? You can't. You have to play multiple times through doing different things to experience different results because the game is tailored for the gamer's experience, not to ensure that none of the budget is wasted.


The fuck?

This, as I stated, is likely a product of game studios getting too big and pushing technical limits at the expense of creative ones. Games used to be a form artistic expression, and you could really feel the hands that worked on them, but now the most 'successful' games are developed by hundreds of people and lack the vision and continuity of small-team studios of yore.

There are exceptions, such as Bethesda, where attention is paid to voluntary and secret content, but it is also becoming more popular to force gamers to buy these side-quests in the form of DLC... which is dumb. Indie studios that are smaller seem to be more focused on making game content procedurally than actually tailoring adventures in a fun and meaningful way, so they're not really much better in this area, despite lacking budget constraints.

Or maybe I just don't play new games...

It's entirely possible that all of this is wrong because, quite frankly, I don't buy consoles. All I know is what I've seen, and if things continue the way they're going, eventually games will all become movies with occasional quick-time events. That will be the day I withdraw from civilization and become the sewer king.

I'm going to go back to playing Super Metroid now, a game with a strong female protagonist... HEAR THAT ANITA!?

9 comments :

  1. I had time for that back when I went to school and chose not to go out and party all night long. Now with a job and a fetish for unfinished sandbox mmos I might give Darkfall Unholy Wars another try.

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  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JweTAhyR4o0
    While this video is exceedingly reptitive, long, and boring. He makes some good points that relate to the whole gaming industry, not just Elder Scrolls.

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  3. Hi, awesome article I feel the same!

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  4. I was talking a while ago with some friends about this very same thing, and even while we're all from the late 80's, if you look at the modern games from an impartial point of view you'll know they suck hard.
    Why there's no more adventures like Monkey Island or Simon the Sorcerer? Do they make people think too much? Why every single game has to be a confusing story with extremely sexy womans to narrate it? Why games have to show you hours of cinematics to explain where and who the fuck are you? And most important of it all... why games are so easy?

    I think i've got the answer: younger people is pussifying, and therefore games suffer the consequences. I wanna play Rings of Power for Mega Drive again and feel the vomit inducing graphics while taking notes of the million clues i've get during my travels, all while instantly dying after getting attacked by a single bear in the middle of nowhere because i've ran out of water to sail and my companions are falling.

    I guess old people will always consider their times better.
    Cheers, great reading.

    PD: while i loved D:OS, i commented in a previous post of yours that the story is crap; so much robots and mixed gods made my head implode. I still can't understand why nobody was able to recreate a piece of art of fantasy like Baldur's Gate II again.

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  5. Agree. We, the people, want rage. Rage against the MMORPG.

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  6. There are a few fringe groups making games worth playing. Re: Monkey Island, have you tried the Walking Dead or Wolf Among Us games by Telltale? They're close to that feel.

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  7. I love android phones, only because I can fire up Nesoid and play some punch out in the middle of a boring seminar or meeting...too bad only the 30 somethings get the message.

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