Ironically, the day I sit down to write my first article on video games is the day I decided to try and sell my Xbox. Not because I’ve outgrown games, or because I’m some sort of recovering World of Warcraft lunatic who’s suffering from a chronic vitamin-D deficiency – it’s because I’m so skint after leaving university (about a week ago) that upon deciding to sell my Xbox I realised I’d have to borrow bus money from my sister. She’s 16 and works in JD Sports 5 hours a week.
Never mind that though; selling my Xbox. So after finding out a 20gb Xbox translates to about £30, not forgetting to factor in my ridiculous bus debt (did I mention my bank is 16 and works 5 hours a week in JD?), I decided to call it a day on my latest graduate venture into spiralling bleakness. So, with my dignity somewhat dented, I got back on the bus and started to reflect on the importance video games have had in my life and the evolution, or de-evolution as the case may be, they’ve recently gone through.
To clarify, I would categorise myself a game enthusiast (strictly video games, I’ll sit through about 4 laps of the Monopoly board before I start stealing money from whatever poncy idiot insisted on being the banker and making the ever controversial Monopoly-mergers), but I’ve never exactly fit the archetypal “gamer” description. I’ve played and been passionate about games from an early age; I was never a lurking corner of the room type, yet I’ve never shied away from being vocal about video games.
Let’s be truthful though, when I was 16 I couldn’t turn round to my fellow ragamuffins and say, “this’ll have to be my last can of Strongbow tonight chaps, I’ve got a clan match at 2 in the morning. These Americans are having a right laugh with their time-zones”. I had to sneak off and make outlandish excuses like I twisted my ankle last weekend, fleeing from the police over the golf course.
The point is, I look at the genres and style of games I was playing at that age (this was around 5 years ago, so I’m talking about Counter Strike, Battlefield 2, Soldier of Fortune and, yes I’ll admit it, World of Warcraft) and it’s remarkably reflective of the state of gaming today. The archetype of the “gamer” has undergone a complete deconstruction in the last couple of years, ushering in a new broader audience that appear to have hit the hard times of puberty. The industry and audience have gone mad, hormones are running riot and the new generation of gamers are satisfied with bludgeoning out their adolescent rage in hours of mindless Call of Tea-Bagging Duty (…5-6? I’ve no idea where we’re up to with that, I assume there was a new one unveiled at E3) and FIFA.
From what I’ve seen of Halo 4, there’s a conscious effort to turn the Chief into a sort of invincible super hero
The problem is though that the all too tempting economic potential of serialised games has cast a shadow over how creative and outspoken Developers can be, no one wants to risk a flop in other words, and the result is, to put it bluntly, that there’s a lot of bollocks out there right now.
We can interpret this in two ways: one way is that this is it for gaming to a certain extent, serialised games are the future and the next generation of consoles will be tailored towards household media, leaving anyone interested in gaming as an art form to flounder in a market dominated by the safe option. Or, what we’re experiencing is simply a stage in the evolution of the industry that the long-time gamer will have to patiently wait out.
I don’t play games nearly as much as I used to now. I still keep up on industry developments out of interest and sheer habit but I think the experienced fan is largely alienated from the modern gaming culture. Maybe it’s just unfortunate that as I grew out of FPS grinding and fitness games (only joking), everyone else grew into them. It raises all sorts of worrying questions though, such as: how long will it be before there’s a place for Gordan Freeman (protagonist of Half-Life) in the hearts of the current generation; do people want to be the silent Alpha-Beta hero and sacrifice time to gameplay that demands genuine problem solving; or are the next x amount of years going to be dictated by mad Scotsmen with beards, reeling off one-liners that would make Steven Siegel sit down and rethink the scripts he’s accepting.
Skyrim simply dazzled you into thinking you were interacting with an immersive and complex universe, but ask anyone to define one of the characters and they’ll probably reply with, “well he’s old…he wears a hood all the time…he pretty much obstructs the flow of the plot after that first bit on the mountain…ermm”. From what I’ve seen of Halo 4, there’s a conscious effort to turn the Chief into a sort of invincible super hero, when really part of the joy of Halo was a semi-present fear that this really could be it for the Chief and his foxy AI sidekick.
Like every fashion or market trend though, there’s the eventual decline. Personally, I’ve found myself retreating into the fragile world of indie games and in this respect Xbox Live, and of course Steam, has been useful. Forget the big titles, my most valued gaming experiences over the past few months have been Fez, Bastion and Braid (If you’re looking for a unique experience then I especially recommend Braid).
I’m not sticking my nose up in the air or anything here; I’m merely trying to raise the question of what eventual outcome the surge we’re seeing in video game popularity is going to be. I think a big indicator will be the reaction to GTA 5, then again there will be a certain amount of people whose response will be, “F’ this social satire, where’s the unlimited guns/I’m deeply repressed cheat? Up, down, left, right, touch your toes. Shit, that’s not it!” If it’s a success, which of course it will be commercially, will it result in a sizable space opening in the market for similarly progressive story-driven games? We’ll have to wait and see really.
As a side note: anyone who’s interested in indie games should give Indie Game: The Movie a watch, great insight into the development and effort that goes into these often one-man projects.