Oh No! Gaming is Dying!

September 9, 2009 § Leave a comment

I have already regaled you with too many stories of my childhood. Consider it a trademark of mine. That way I get to be as unoriginal as I like.

When I was a young ‘un, I didn’t enjoy the same games as my friends. My tool of choice for sabotaging my fingers’ natural development was a keyboard rather than a gamepad. Growing up in a Nintendo-free household meant that I missed out on all the child-oriented games I should have been playing, and instead frittered away all my free time on glorious titles like Descent II and Prince of Persia.

Not that I regret it, mind you. It gives me an outlook that most people I know don’t share. You get a lot of people (read: everyone) who moan about PC games changing for the worse or the better or sideways or whatever, but I don’t think that’s right. Sure, there are different trends now than there were ten or twenty years ago, but that’s all they are. Trends. Reality being tinted brown or green or whatever in games like Gears or Fallout is a passing experiment, just like bullet time, stealth sections or (apparently) local multiplayer. No; I don’t think games have changed that much in their base elements, and I don’t think that is a bad thing.

It’s us. We have changed. The real issue here is the attitude people are now taking towards games.

Once, we didn’t think too much about video games. Art style, control systems and political ideology didn’t warrant a place in our magazines, or in the arcades. It was a completely untapped medium. No company struggled to come up with interesting ideas, or agonised over whose controls they might be ripping off if they did this or that. Gaming was a massive, untouched world full of promise, and people struck gold with every other step they took. Naturally, this couldn’t last forever, and that’s okay! It’s an inevitable process that any medium must go through. We simply find it difficult to put in context because all other current artistic media went through this phase a long-ass time ago.

Look at film, for example. Compared to fine art, music and literature, film is a mere child of a medium. However, we were not around to witness film in its first years. People were happy to watch anything: people strolling along a boardwalk, a balloon inflating or simply a man reading aloud a favourite book. Eventually, catalysed by invention and technological progress, people began to expect more. They wanted a story, an illusion or some sort of hook to attract them to these spectacles. After a while, the feature film was born, and cinema took off faster than most anyone could have anticipated.

Are you starting to see the parallels here?

We moved from innovative, small projects to massive, story-driven epics. We started to really take advantage of the entire sphere of human knowledge in the creation of these setpieces. Anything was fair game: history, biography, imagined futures and fantastical worlds were all borne from the minds of our finest screenwriters. The same applies to these early stages of gaming. Our pong and spacewars were the equivalent of those boardwalk recordings. We progressed, and created more and more complex games with incredible feats of technology. The creation of the first three-dimensional environment within a computer was an advancement not just of this niche entertainment form, but of the whole of humanity. Without it, no space travel, no radiotherapy and no human genome project. And all through this, the ideas still did not run dry. Nothing had been overdone, so everything was original. Each game provided a new, thrilling experience.

This is no longer so. The industry appears to produce more and more games, with fewer and fewer original ideas to power them. We see sequel after tie-in after rhythm game and complain that games were better before this or that came along. People come up with the most ridiculous scapegoats. Halo was blamed for corrupting the First Person Shooter with its stripped-down and enjoyable gameplay, but no-one seems to remember how stale the genre was becoming by that point. It was successful because it was different. Any influx of new ideas is a progress, regardless of whether or not they’re good ones. Just ask Darwin.

It’s a common misconception that all old games were good. They weren’t. We only think this because the shit ones were forgotten completely. There will always be bad games, and the gaps between truly good ones will always be painfully large. Give it ten years and not even the developers will remember The Witcher or Wii Sports Resort. They will be forever banished to the corners of obscure 4chan nostalgia threads, never to be loved again. The idea well isn’t really drying up. It just looks that way from where we’re standing because the well of repetition is overflowing and drowning us in ULTIMATE FIGHTING CHAMPIONSHIP. As long as we have the entire sphere of human knowledge, experience and creativity at our fingertips then our literature, our art and our games will always have the potential for greatness.

And those with genuine creativity will always find a way to get their creations out there. Rest assured, until the nukes start dropping and killing us all, there will always be someone with an awesome idea for a video game.

Love and cuddles,

Niall.

P.S. I have been away for some time so I had to release the bullshit in one go. Next week: an actual review!

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