Saturday, February 26, 2011


Video Games Are Still A Thing, Eh?

Well LOOK WHO WAS COMPLETELY WRONG. Well, okay, half wrong. I've continued to buy video games in 2010, despite my every prediction to the contrary. But there's only been one game that I've really really enjoyed, and that was Ghost Trick. I tried Sleep Is Death, but I really couldn't get into it. I bought Minecraft and... while I understand the appeal of it, I'm just terrible at it. I want to learn and experience this sense of discovery that everybody always talks about playing the game, but if I play with monsters, I just die all the time, and if I don't, I feel like I'm not playing it the way it was meant to be played. Yeah, thanks, sorry, no. I bought Epic Mickey because I wanted to experience a Warren Spencer game design, and... as much as he's lauded for his approach to giving players interesting and meaningful moral choices, that particular game just felt kind of flat. And I guess I got the Atari and Intellivision collections for DS, and those are nice little trophies, despite the fact that I'm trying to move away from that sort of behavior.

I guess I liked Poker Night at the Inventory. And I made the upgrade to Rock Band 3.

But the general idea behind the sentiment hasn't changed much. There's not a lot coming out anymore that I really care about. And that's been reflected in this here blog thingy for the past couple years I think. When there's nothing new to stir my mind up, there's really not a lot to write about.

I keep thinking back to this excellent piece Patrick Alexander wrote about how fed up he is with the game industry and how it only takes a small handful of really good games to satisfy him. I can really relate to that. I mean, even after selling off all of my DS games except the ones I'm absolutely certain I'll ever play again, I can whittle down the ones I play regularly to a pretty short list.

When I was really little, my brother and I pooled our allowance and saved up for an NES. And the big thing at the time was Super Mario Brothers 3, and we loved it, and we played it over and over and over again. It's just such a good game that it lends itself to being played repeatedly. I just played it again half an hour ago, as a matter of fact, and I enjoyed it as much as one can enjoy a game that's become a matter of muscle memory more than anything.

Of course, that wasn't the only game that we got. We asked for games for birthday presents and Christmas presents, and we were fortunate enough to get a number of them, and we pooled our allowance for new games, and so on. And I remember games like The Legend of Zelda and Excitebike and Simon's Quest and Double Dragon II, but of all the NES games we owned back then, the only one that I really still want to play is Super Mario Brothers 3. Well, maybe a little Legend of Zelda.

My point is, when you have a lot of video games, you find that there aren't a lot you need to own. Maybe if Super Mario Brothers 3 was the only game we owned, we would have gotten sick of it, but I somehow doubt it. It seems like, when you have a game system, you have the couple of games that you really really like that you could play over and over again, then maybe something new comes out that steals your attention for a bit, but once that passes over you remember it's been a while since you've played your favorite game and you go back to it. And then when you get a new system, you keep your old one hooked up until the new one has a sufficient supply of games that you can go back to over and over again. And maybe someday, you buy a whole compilation of games from that system so that you don't even need your old system anymore, but the only games you play on it are those handful you remember, because maybe those were the only games you wanted on that system to begin with. Like, with the Wii Virtual Console, I thought, hey, here's all of these classic games I never played from all of these systems and they're really cheap, what a great way to experience new video games. But it turns out that I just downloaded the games I was already familiar with because, by and large, the ones that I missed out on were games that never interested me to begin with.

But I think there's something in human nature where we constantly crave new experiences. I watch game news sites all the time, hoping to find out about something new and great that's going to come out, and it's great when I do find out about something like Ghost Trick or Retro Game Challenge, but the problem with news sites is that there is, obviously, a focus on what's new. For months or years, you're fed tiny details about these games -- a screenshot here, a video there -- then it comes out, and there's maybe a week of excitement about it as everyone gets to play it for the first time, and then... dead silence. Like it doesn't exist anymore.

So there's this sort of preoccupation in gamer consciousness with what's coming next, what we don't yet own. And I really think it fuels this sort of sense of dissatisfaction that we feel with video games. There's never time to sit down and really play the games that you own to exhaustion when all you're thinking about is what comes next. It's criminal, especially in this age when so much money has to go into all of the art and scoring and voice acting and everything for these huge games, to be replacing things so rapidly. Gamers these days complain about having a "backlog", the games they bought just to have them, never mind where they'll find the time to play them. There's so much to get out of games nowadays, but we always want something else.

What would be great -- what I'm craving -- is some sort of stimulus to keep me interested in what I already have. But I'm sure that couldn't take the form of a message board or a website with daily updates. After all, how much can you say about the same game? One reason I'm sort of reluctant to post reviews around Electric Dilintia these days is that writing it down almost feels like putting in the final word, like I'm done with the game and I don't have anything else to think about it. And in a way, it's true. I picked up Shiren the Wanderer the other day, and it was wonderful, but it was wonderful in all the ways that I've already explained. I could do a blog with updates like, "Yeah, played Smash Brothers again today, turns out it's still really great," but would that even be interesting? (I ask that question fully aware that I'm the only person who reads this shit.)

Playing and writing about video games seemed really, really interesting for the last month or so. Maybe I'm so desperate for something new and so disinterested in what's coming next that I'm starting to return to my remaining library as a sort of last resort. I'm finding pleasure where I thought I no longer could.

I can't shake this feeling that video games would be a lot more interesting if I could figure out the correct way to relate to them. If I was better at making purchasing decisions, maybe I wouldn't waste so much money on the kinds of games that are only interesting once. If I wasn't so hyperactively aware of what's coming out in the near future, I wouldn't be as tempted to grab new games every month. If I didn't spend so much time playing them, I would enjoy the time when I did play them even more.

The nice thing is, the changing of the seasons seems to give me some impetus. Like, spring has been in the air recently, and that's reminded me of what the weather was like when I bought games like Siren the Wanderer and Wario Ware DIY and Retro Game Challenge, so I've just sort of naturally been drawn back to them. In the summer, I'll probably find myself thinking about my Wii games again, and so on.

I guess my whole point is, I've been sick of video games for the longest time, but now they seem fun again. So I'm going to keep writing as long as that lasts.


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