games Uncategorized

Falling out of love with video games

When I was a kid, my life revolved around video games. I spent every free moment mashing buttons. When I couldn’t game—at school, on the bus, or drifting off to sleep—I dreamt about gaming. Each month, I’d pore over the latest Electronic Gaming Monthly magazine, scrutinizing each screenshot meticulously.

My childhood memories can be divided into distinct console eras. First, the NES epoch, when my brothers and I salivated over—then received—Super Mario Brothers 3. During the Sega Genesis years, I became an adrenaline junkie, addicted to Sonic the Hedgehog’s reckless speed. In high school, I graduated to the PlayStation and immersed myself in the  dense gameplay of Metal Gear Solid.

Them something changed. Somewhere along the way, I began to lose interest in video games.

Part of it was simple cost; my family sometimes struggled to pay the bills. Video games were a luxury we couldn’t afford. Even back then, single titles sold for $50-60 a pop.

But even after I started earning my own spending money, my love for games waned. In high school, girlfriends, sports, and the nascent Internet claimed my free time. 

Then came college. For many young adults (especially men), college is when gaming takes hold. Even then (in 1999), network gaming was huge. Many guys in my dorm played Madden or Halo day and night.

Meanwhile, I was overwhelmed with schoolwork: piano practice, ensemble rehearsal, papers and assigned readings. There was no time for Halo LAN parties. Besides, I was exhausted. Often, I’d leave the dorm room before seven, then not return ’til long after midnight, when both roommates had powered down the Nintendo 64 and climbed into bed. I’d stumble through the dark and collapse onto my bed. Video games had dropped off my radar entirely.

Eventually, I graduated from college, found a job, and was surprised to find myself with hours of free time every evening. I tried to recapture that teenage magic and leap back into the gaming scene, picking up where I left off. I blew through Metal Gear Solid 2 and, later, Metal Gear Solid 3.

But that was the end of my gaming renaissance. Somehow, I couldn’t bring myself to spend time or money on games again. Part of me still enjoyed playing, of course. But another, louder part of me despised myself for binging away a weekend. I’d feel guilty, grimy, and unhealthy by the time I dropped the controller. Eventually, I buried my PlayStation 2 beneath a pile of DVDs; it’s sat there ever since.

Since then, I’ve watched two hardware generations pass me by. I can’t justify plunking down three or four hundred dollars on a modern console. A cheaper product—say, an Apple TV with an app store—might tempt me back. I doubt it, though. At some point, it seems, my gaming addiction lost its grip over me.

I wonder… is this the normal progression—to abandon games as the demands of work and home ownership and family press in? Or am I a millennial aberration? I’d love to hear from other one-time, adolescent gamers; did you maintain your obsession into adulthood?

games Uncategorized

Why Nintendo shouldn’t make iOS games

Apple pundits keep clamoring for Nintendo to make iOS games. The argument goes like this: Nintendo’s hardware business is circling the drain. To save itself from disaster, the Japanese gamemaker must adapt its many valuable franchises into kick-ass iPhone versions. After all, what developer wouldn’t want to leverage Apple’s thriving App Store to bolster its sagging quarterly results?

Let’s assume, for a moment, that Nintendo did release its most popular games on iOS. Imagine an iPhone version of Super Mario Brothers, or Zelda on the iPad. And let’s assume that the games prove hugely successful and send the gamemaker’s profits soaring.[1] Why wouldn’t Nintendo be thrilled?

What if this isn’t (just) a profit deal? What if Nintendo has higher priorities than sheer earning potential? What if Nintendo has evaluated iOS as a gaming platform—and found it wanting?

For example, maybe Nintendo balks at the prospect of developing touchscreen-only control schemes. “Finger-paint” gaming works great for Angry Birds and Scrabble. But it fails miserably for intricate platformers like Mario and Metroid. It’s hard to envision Nintendo’s developers—so committed to quality gameplay—plastering a D-pad over their careful level design. Would the button-mashing battles of Super Smash Bros. work with no buttons? Until Apple (or some third-party partner) bundles a credible hardware controller with every iOS device, you’re asking Nintendo to compromise on user experience—to risk alienating their biggest fans.

Even if Nintendo were satisfied with the hardware, the iOS gaming ecosystem itself might turn them off. What if the microtransaction economy repulses them (as it should)? Nearly every top-grossing iOS game these days is “free to play”, demanding frequent in-app purchases to unlock the full game experience. What if Nintendo refuses to pervert its classic franchises in this way? What if they’d rather bow out gracefully than prey upon their users’ base, lizard-brain impulses? What if they’d rather go bankrupt than treat Mario as a glorified Skinner box?

No true geek wants Nintendo to operate in the red. Its loyal fans, grateful for decades of incredible games, are rooting for the gamemaker to stave off fiscal catastrophe. But the best companies—companies like Nintendo and like Apple—refuse to prioritize short-term profit margins over user experience. That’s bad for business, in the long run.

An exclusive iOS version of Mario would undoubtedly help Apple (it would permanently establish iOS as the definitive mobile gaming platform). But it’s a riskier bet for Nintendo, whose treasured franchises could quickly lose their cultural cachet.

  1. This might not be a safe assumption. Check out Lukas Mathis’ blog post, just published today.  ↩