Approaching the age of thirty, there is one question bugging me more and more often. I’m sure if you’re of a certain age it’s occurred to you too: Are children today having more fun than I did? Our generation pretty much grew up alongside video games. We were born around the time the Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Master System were released. As we were starting school the Megadrive and Super NES hit the market and the graphics changed from what looked like they were made out of poorly constructed Lego models to looking like they were made out of really high quality Lego models. We watched as Starfox introduced 3D polygons and marveled at how realistic the graphics were in Donkey Kong Country and Mortal Combat. We pioneered the controls of the first person shooter. Now, we simply aren’t happy with a game unless it has a fully realized, photo-realistic environment with A-list voice actors, the books are comprehensive and available and there is a reasonably wide choice of TV channels.
But here’s the thing – as we’re getting older, games are continuing to get better. We live in a world where the fully immersive virtual reality sets we all fantasized about while watching Lawnmower Man are on their way to becoming a reality. We are facing every generation’s worst nightmare: our children may grow up having a better childhood than ours.
Fortunately, the gaming industry, like the comics industry, has long since abandoned trying to appeal to children. Instead, they seek out the far richer thirty-somethings. To appease us, the gaming industry has been taking measures which ensure gaming becomes a far worse experience than ever before, allowing us to wax lyrical about a “golden age of gaming” later down the line.
They’re doing this by:
Keeping You Online, All the Time
A long time ago, we were introduced to an exciting new concept called “The Internet.” You could take games you were playing on your computer, use the Internet to connect to other people with the same game and shoot them. It was a great system and fun was had by all, even though we all had dial-up connections and the games ran like really old, poorly-maintained clockwork.
Flash forward to today and Microsoft is currently in a public relations quagmire because they wanted to sell their new console, the Xbox One, so that it was online all the time. If you didn’t check into your Xbox at least once a day, it would shut down. They have now backtracked on this, but that doesn’t mean an end to it. In fact, the rot has already set in.
Try something for me. Go to your local outlet of Game, and buy the very latest new release. Buy it on release day if you possibly can, first thing in the morning. Then run back home as fast as you can, power up the Xbox, rip the cellophane wrapper off your game, put the disc in and… before it loads up, your Xbox informs you that you will need to download a patch.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. That’s not getting into Kafkaesque DRM or games that insist on being connected to your social media account. Or of course:
Making You Pay For Your Fun
When we were kids the rules were simple. You saw a game you liked, you downloaded the demo or installed it off a disc on the front of a magazine. Then, you would play that demo to death until you could persuade your parents to buy you the full game. Once you had the full game, that was it. You might get the occasional add-on pack, but the rule was once you bought the game, you had access to everything in the game.
Oh how naive we were!
One of the earlier, subtler examples of this was the Catwoman storyline in Batman: Arkham City. It was a simple idea – if you buy the game new, you get a code that unlocks the Catwoman story. If you buy the game second-hand, you have to pay for it. It was simply a way to encourage cheapskates, like me, who get all their games from Cash Converters to actually put some money into the games industry.
As with any idea like this, it wasn’t long before someone looked at it and thought “How can I make this evil?” And so, Skylanders was born. The ingenuity of Skylanders is that your avatar in the game changes depending on which toy figurine you place on the “portal of power” that plugs into the game console. The best part is huge chunks of the game, from secret treasure to bonus levels, are blocked off unless you have the right figurine to give you the right powers to access them.
So, after you’ve pestered your parents into buying the game, you still can’t complete it until you’ve pestered your parents into buying all of the accompanying toys!
They’re Trying Too Hard to Be Movies
Let me tell you about the first level of the first real first person shooter, Wolfenstein 3D. You start off in a prison cell, with a gun and a dead Nazi. Another Nazi opens the door and you shoot him too. Then, you walk out of the door and… and anything. There are multiple ways you can work your way through Castle Wolfenstein, killing Nazis and the odds are you’ll probably get lost doing so.
Now, watch the walk-through of the first level of Call of Duty: Black Ops II. It starts off with a short intro film explaining the plot. Wow, it’s been five minutes already…six minutes. After six minutes of watching a movie, you appear to actually be in the game. Now, you have to help that guy. Oh no, he’s dead. Now, this guy is talking to you. Okay, maybe now you can go and explore. Oh wait, no. You’ve have to ride on this truck. You’ve been “playing” nearly ten minutes and ahh, here are some baddies to shoot. Well, I say baddies. I don’t really know why you’re shooting them.
The point is, there are nice, big, yellow letters marked “Target” telling you exactly where to go at all times and BOY does it look pretty and… oh, you’re back watching a film again. Of the first 15 minutes since pressing “START,” not counting load times, roughly 6 minutes have been spent playing an actual game, which is perhaps the biggest tragedy. The graphics of our games have become so good that developers are putting more energy into showing us the pretty pictures they made than giving us an actual game to play.
Of course, there are games that are going the other way. At first glance, Minecraft has graphics not much better than Wolfenstein 3D, but the gameplay options (on a map that is actually bigger than the planet) are limitless. Unless there’s a bigger demand for games that are supposed to be fun, rather than graphically amazing, online micro-transaction machines, the peak of gaming is probably going to remain around the time Half-Life came out.
Jason Falls is a freelance writer and avid gamer working with Butlers Bingo. He misses the old days of video games and also thinks those damn kids should get off his lawn.