A Guest Post by Brad Hagar
I’m writing this small piece about my thoughts on modern games at the request of Mr. Davis. I’ve been a fairly “serious” gamer for the past 14 years or so, and although I started playing videogames at a very young using my parents NES, I’d prefer to start with the time I truly realized that videogames were my favorite pastime.
I’ve always been a huge RPG (Role-Playing Game) fan, so I’m going to go ahead and trace my roots back to my favorite RPG I’ve ever played, Final Fantasy 8. Now before the hate starts, yes I have played all previous installments of the series, all of which have their own positive and negative qualities. The game gave me a story that engrossed me as well as a battle system that was fairly easy to grasp but hard to master. I was so amazed by what a game could do at the time—it conveyed a simple story to understand, but the game itself was very character driven. So after my experience with Final Fantasy 8, I have compared every new game that I’ve played thereafter. Many people might say, “How can you do that? It’s a JRPG (Japanese Role-Playing Game), one of the stalest genres in existence.” I argue that I can do this because it was my first true feeling of immersion and being attached to a character in a virtual setting. After all, that is what a good story or book does for you—it gives you a connection to the characters and to the narrative being told around the characters, one that ultimately makes you feel something. If videogames are a medium of entertainment, should they not, on some level, be immersive? My biggest gripe with the majority of current generation games is that they are just made for the consumer to buy, beat, download more content, and then beat again—wash, rinse, and repeat. It’s a game of greed within what would otherwise be an art form, and it depresses me.
In this day and age, games are no longer made for the target audience of “RPG-Lover”, “Sports-Lover”, “Puzzle-Lover”, or “Shoot’em-Up-Lover,” they are being made for the widest audience possible. This hurts genres greatly because publishers have to look at the bottom line of how they are going to attract the biggest audience to make the most money. It starts to water down what used to be a very distinct number of genres, melding them together to try and create the largest possible profit. However at the same time, this melding may be used to bring genres together in a good way. Look at the original Deus Ex as an example; it’s a great melding of RPG and FPS (First Person Shooter), which turned out to be a great game. But on the other hand, you have games such as the Mass Effect series where the first installment does a fairly good job of crossing the two genres together but then leaned towards the more profitable action based game in the sequel. I know gaming is a business at its heart, but I feel as though the differences of genres have been bastardized over the past decade or so just so that the games can cater to everybody.
This isn’t meant to bash on those who are casual gamers, which make up quite the large proportion of gamers today. I myself am currently working a full-time job and don’t have anywhere near the amount of time that I used to have to put into gaming. However, I feel as though I’m part of a sub-culture that can tell the difference between someone who truly loves games and a person who just plays them to beat them and not get involved what it is they are playing. If you don’t think there is a difference between these types of people then you are a tad ignorant. There are those of us out there that truly enjoy sitting in front of our T.V. screen or computer monitor, seeing what our favorite characters or teammates are up to. That to me is what makes the difference between a true gamer and a casual one: caring.
The real problems with gaming today all stem from corporate greed. I’d have to say that ninety percent of the time, I’m one hundred percent extremely angry with paid DLC (Downloadable Content). Now with some games it’s fine, such as a year since a game has been released and the DLC gets you back into it; or if the DLC is a true expansion to a game, then it’s worth the money. But then there’s the crap that unfortunately makes up a large amount of DLC out there. I remember the day that I read about horse armor in Oblivion… I was livid. Why would someone pay real money just to make his or her [virtual] horse look cooler? Then people proceeded to buy into the bullshit scam that was horse armor, thus “Pure Shit DLC” (as I came to call it) arose into existence. Though you may think horse armor DLC is as bad as it can get, it doesn’t compare to on-disc DLC, which is locked on the disc only to be released at a later date by the publisher in a money-grabbing scenario. Seriously, DLC made to ship with the game—it’s ridiculous to think that a customer should have to pay for something that is on the game that they paid for already. Most of the time DLC is nothing more than an add-on that can improve the game or extend the story in some small and insignificant way. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me being old fashioned; I want my game to be full when I buy it and if it needs more, release an expansion pack totally full of more stuff to do and experience, which, oddly enough, Oblivion got right with the Shivering Isles expansion). TL;DR for the paragraph: FUCK HORSE ARMOR.
Another big problem I’ve experienced in the current generation of games, is finding a game where the experience really leaves me speechless and immersed in what is going on. Skyrim was quite close, but just not quite there in the same way that Morrowind was. It was missing the exploration factor that was destroyed by the fast-travel system in those games. “Fuck it. Why walk when I can fast-travel, right? Not like there is anything interesting or worthwhile between here and there, right?” Immersion comes from feeling that you are in the heroes’ shoes and can sympathize with what the hero is experiencing throughout the narrative itself. Immersion is a big part of why we read and watch movies, so why shouldn’t it be a large part of why we play a game? When I game it’s because I don’t want to be in the world where I am now; I want to travel to Tamriel for a few hours as an Argonian assassin sent to kill a key player in the government because of some backstory I may have created myself; I want to be an elite warrior armed with magic to stop the true end of the world because I can’t do that in my real, mundane life. Immersion is what allows me my escape, and it’s really difficult to find a game that does that these days.
I know I’ve bashed on the casual gamer for a portion of this article, but it’s not that I hate them or wish ill will on them, it’s just that they’ve entered a very interesting subculture where there have been problems with over-saturation in the past, and those of us who play for the game don’t want to see it all collapse. I’m not trying to be the old guy that hates change in gaming either. I’m not afraid of change, but it seems that many of the changes coming into games nowadays are aimed at getting a wider market and not trying to make the quality of the game the best it can be. For instance, I enjoy playing League of Legends, and many people who played DOTA (Defense of the Ancients) in the past sit around and call League a casual piece of shit. I can see where they are coming from; the game that they have is much more complex than what League is. League took what DOTA was and “casualized” it for a wider market, which I like because it made the game much easier for entry and it also brought many fresh new ideas to the MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) genre. So in short, changes are fine as long as they really do try to bring fresh ideas to the table and aren’t just there to money-grab from a wider audience.
Another argument that people bring up in the casual vs. hardcore debate is the current difficulty of games compared to the difficulty of older games. Some people believe this idea to be true because when were younger—and frankly not as smart as we are now—we had to try harder to get better at the game we played. After doing something for a good portion of your life, you tend to just naturally get better at it and find that things come naturally to you, so what may have been a difficult part in a game years ago could now be easy because of the experience that one has gained over the years. However, difficulty is different from person to person; for casual gamers, they haven’t really had the same amount of time that others have had with games to gain the skills that others may have. What irks me with difficulty is when producers just make the enemies have more health or make you do less damage—it seems like a cheap way out. I rather enjoy when enemies get different abilities or more advanced and complex AI; it makes for a greater challenge and less of a sense of “fake” difficulty. When I go through a game I like to be challenged, and frankly it’s difficult to find a challenging game these days that isn’t just challenging because of a silly mechanic or a ridiculously high learning curve.
What I’m getting down to is that for those of us who find videogames to be our favorite way to pass the time, we are in for a rude awakening here in a few years. We’ll have Just Dance 7 as the top selling game on the market, while many small developers will either be too scared or too poor to produce a quality game that may be difficult and turn a large portion of the market away. I know that there will always be a few places that will churn out quality games, but the problem is that there are now fewer and fewer producers that try and do this. (While on this subject, allow me to tip my hat to the developers and publishers that create great experiences such as Journey, Limbo, Braid, Minecraft, Bastion and many other indie titles that really push the envelope with quality experiences for those of us that appreciate immersion over the Michael Bay-esque bullshit—cough, Call of Duty, cough—that seems to take up the majority of sales these days.)
What we need to do is make a stand and say that we will no longer take this crap that is being fed to us in the form of videogame entertainment. We need to go back to quality games to spend our hard earned money on and not just buy the same old rehash that is released every year. We need our dollar to demand creativity and new thoughts rather than year-to-year franchises [and umpteen sequels] and other such enemies of creativity [such as Call of Duty 1,000].
[This has been a guest post by Brad Hagar. If you’d like to hear more about Brad’s thoughts on things such as games, movies, or horse-shit, comment on this post and let us know! Now, go play Journey. Or Morrowind. Or both. ~ Chad]