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

Underwhelming “next-gen” graphics (and why they may be a good thing)

I’ve been underwhelmed by “next-generation” gameplay videos for the XBOX One and PlayStation 4.

Though I haven’t been an active gamer for nearly a decade, I pay attention when new consoles get released. I’m eager to see just how photo-realistic the new games can get. But this time around, I’m hard-pressed to tell the difference between the first crop of next-gen games and the previous generation’s latest and greatest.[1] Maybe I’ve been out of the gaming scene too long?

Or… maybe we’ve reached the point of diminishing returns when it comes to game graphics—the point where even substantial increases in processing power return less and less dramatic improvements.

This wouldn’t necessarily be bad news! I’d love to see gamemakers focus less on whiz-bang visuals and more on “under the hood” features. The games already look real. Now, make them feel real; dedicate that extra horsepower to better artificial intelligence, more responsive surroundings, more open-ended gameplay, and dynamically-generated storylines.

Some examples:

  • What if the bad guys learned your battle strategies? They “notice” that you tend to hide in A/C ducts, so they start tossing grenades into every vent.
  • Or what if you could destroy any in-game building, wall by wall, and watch the rubble crumble?
  • Or what if you could infiltrate the enemy’s headquarters any way you wished: parachute onto the roof, skulk in through the sewers, zip-line in from an adjacent skyscraper, or don a disguise and saunter through the front door?
  • Finally, what if the storyline was truly unscripted, and the game could spontaneously generate new character dialogue, responding to your decisions?

Up ’til now, games have felt static and rote; they pull the user along preset (if pretty) paths by invisible strings. But imagine if developers focused on features like these (instead of pixel-painting). Gamers would become creative agents instead of puppets. And that, more than piled-on polygons, would make games feel “next-gen”.

  1. I’ve heard that it takes a few years for developers to really unlock a console’s potential. Thus, you might not see the best graphics the PS4 or XBOX One can produce for a while. But previous console releases (e.g. going from the PS2 to the PS3) boasted dramatic visual improvements over their predecessors; I just don’t see it this time.  ↩