Video games are a lot like Saturday Night Live or The Simpsons. They all typically have audiences who form bonds, and then by virtue of simply getting older suddenly find themselves having moved on to new forms of entertainment, like Bob's Burgers or cocaine. By the time they're in their late 20s, those crusty aficionados have wizened edicts about when the thing they loved peaked, exactly when it became irrelevant, and can tell you why what they're into now is way better instead. What many of us are blind to, though, is that we simply "aged out" and stopped being the audience. It isn't supposed to appeal to us anymore.
In the case of video games, this is harder to identify, because they have on the whole not really changed much in the last few decades. If you think E.T. for the Atari is any different from Overwatch, you're the wrongest wronger who ever wronged. If you haven't been keeping up, just imagine that every big band is Guns N' Roses and every big album coming out is a single of "November Rain." You can only shoot a guy in the face so many times, in so many countries, in so many time periods, and in so many dimensions while Slash plays a wicked guitar solo before shooting one guy in the face is just like shooting every other guy in the face.
Look at the video game titles that make the most money and what's in them, and the correct framing of the video game industry isn't that it's forgotten to change -- it's that it doesn't want to. The video game industry is the South, sitting on the porch with a Confederate flag, sippin' sweet tea and not giving a good goddamn. And if you grew up playing video games, cursing out titles like Battletoads for being dirty, cheating pieces of garbage, and wonder why in hindsight nothing seems to interest you anymore, there are plenty of good reasons that isn't at all your fault -- and a few that are.
Before reading on and concluding that I'm just some guy from the internet weighing in with a bunch of half-formed opinions formulated over a bottle of gin and hard boiled eggs for one in a dingy studio apartment: I'm an entertainment journalist who has spent countless hours over the last year and a half essentially giving the game industry therapy, having about 200 conversations so far on how and why video games are losing and frustrating people. These aren't only my opinions. They're also yours. I'm like the Lorax; I speak for the trees ... if the trees had spent the last few years honing their GTA skills.
4You Can't Find a Sense Of Community In Games
It's no mystery that a lot of the atmosphere around gaming can be poisonous. Large portions -- or a vocal minority, it's hard to measure -- of the audience are afflicted with a hybrid of a hijacking complex and a level of defensiveness so pronounced that they choose to give the hairy eyeball to anyone who dares share the hobby. If you have memories of growing up and meeting someone unlike you who was into the same thing as you and thinking, "Oh wow, cool!" then you would be among the stifled portions of the video game audience quietly suffering and indulging others.
Thanks to the internet and how it brings extreme minorities together, the "wrong" kinds of people into the "wrong" kinds of games can find themselves receiving death and rape threats just because they're curious about Firewatch or Undertale, neither of which are pornos or even euphemisms. Other sure ways to get ostracized including being someone who is enthused about video games that explore relatable topics like depression or social anxiety, or someone who just isn't "good enough" skill-wise at the "right" games. If none of that makes sense to you, pat yourself on the back, because you still have a soul.
What largely has not changed are the types of games which major companies put onto store shelves. Criticizing violence in video games typically gets you labeled a prude, but within most gaming communities, there remains in 2016 a lack of widespread acknowledgment that maybe it's getting boring to do the same things over and over. Ask anyone grinding toward a new mount or sword or armored bra in World Of Warcraft.
And people need a sense of community to truly and meaningfully coexist with a thing that they love. Just look at furries. It's hard to grow with a thing that doesn't want to grow with you, and given the blinders one needs to meaningfully engage with the video game community online -- nebulous and widespread as that is -- it's no wonder you'd unhook from that world when most of what you see is misogyny, sanctimony, Italian plumbers, and marketing. Reaching that conclusion is a slowly crystallizing reveal as you age, not an obvious fact when you are younger. Though maturity has a hard time taking hold in this culture. Even when it gives focus to a meaningful and worthwhile topic, it tends to have a narrowness in its approach. Take, for example, diversity. As it's being explored today, triumphs for diversity boil down to: "What color person am I killing with, and what color person am I killing?"
We can't say that video games are just for kids anymore, because that wasn't true in the first place. The generation we said that about have kids of their own now. But when you look out across the internet, you rarely see adults and human beings with emotional depth, unless you know exactly where to look. You hear reports of internet terrorists trying to prove their virility self-congratulating themselves, and rightfully wonder, "What the hell does this have to do with video games? Is this one of them prank videos from the YouTubes?"
3You Just Want To Complain
Video games growing as risk-averse as they have is no mass conspiracy by corporate evils. It's a byproduct of real-world economic factors compounded by industry irresponsibly allowing its budgets to swell by a factor of 10 every hardware generation, even after the crash of 2008. Remember that crash? Donkey Kong is still suffering PTSD from it.
Rather than empowering their teams' creativity and ensuring that everybody has health insurance, CEOs and producers are choosing instead to practice Slash's soloing and remeasure his top hat size for the next sequel. Since game companies largely communicate with their audiences via tightfisted marketing points, this has created a dynamic whereby consumers think they know "better" about how a game should have turned out, or its ending, or the entire series in hindsight. They spent $60 and have no experience making video games, but they've read about it through marketing, so listen up, companies! First we tackle why Call Of Duty is as fun to play with as old man balls, and then we work on the healthcare system.
But what a lot of people issuing condescending and entitled mandates don't realize is that they are making declarations while absolving themselves from the personal responsibility mature adults demonstrate when they feel dissatisfied. To be fair, if you haven't grown up with video games, the landscape seems daunting, full of cliques, and impossible to navigate for a foothold. There are no olive branches; just burnt twigs people have been using to poke poo. The websites have intimidating, foreign-sounding names like Kotaku and Destructoid or The Lusty Hedgehog's Lament, and their vocabularies make no concessions to newcomers. Compare this to trying to get into indie music, which is relatively easy: Pitchfork, many MP3 blogs, and even Rolling Stone have shifted their coverage, and that's in an ecosystem in which Arcade Fire won a Grammy when mass market folks didn't even know who they were. We know who they are, though. The thing that they do is just the tops.
Where the heck are you supposed to go to learn about different and more creative video games if all you've ever seen is what's on the shelves at Target? Most adults would rather dive into their new love of pig wrestling or Thai cooking than spend their free time researching all the interesting video games.
And honestly? The enthusiast media does a poor job of taking risks on championing truly unusual or oddball games. So there's a widespread feeling that what you see out there is all there is. But it isn't. Video games are not as stagnant as they seem at a glance, but they also aren't much better than that, either.