We tend to be very critical of the video game industry here at Cracked, and damn it, the industry deserves it. They charge more per-copy of their product than any home entertainment medium, and are always looking to squeeze us for more. If they don't like being held to a high standard, tough shit.
But ... a lot of the bitching I hear about games (some of which I hear out of my own mouth) isn't really about the games. It's about us, and the fact that once you hit a certain age, you're no longer the target audience game makers have in mind. Here are some signs that, sadly, you might be outgrowing your favorite hobby.
Hey, remember when a game was a wondrous adventure you could totally get lost in for weeks on end? Alone?
Depending on your age, there's a good bet that in your teens at least one Final Fantasy game sucked you in with a force that no novel ever could. What happened to games like that, when the single player was a sweeping, epic story rather than five hours you could blow through in a Friday night?
"Now let me tell you the entire history of the War of the Magi."
Of course, those games were created back when the main story was something other than a one-day crash course intended to train you up for the multiplayer. These days, multiplayer is like a "get out of a bad game free" card. Game makers don't have to worry about AI or plot or progression or variety, because the real game is out there on XBox Live, where it's all about players shooting each other until the time limit expires or a point cap is reached. Everything else on the disc is just window dressing for, "point, shoot, die, respawn."
Add in gamer shit-talk from emotionally stunted teenagers, and suddenly most modern gaming is about as fun as being held down by a bully and repeatedly slapped with your own hand until you black out. And if you don't live up to your teammates' expectations, it's even worse -- you have to get yelled at by some stranger who thinks the veteran/n00b relationship is basically employer/employee. What I'm saying is, I'd rather fistfight a wolf than play multiplayer.
But the Truth Is...
My complaint isn't really with multiplayer. It's with the fact that I can't stand teenage dipshits. Of course multiplayer games don't have to be random matchups with children and assholes -- some of the best times you can have in a game involve gathering friends and laughing your asses off as one guy ramps the Warthog off a cliff, sending everybody flailing through the air. And the technology makes it easy to set up those gaming sessions...
... when you're in high school.
"You need your own computers, dipshits."
When you're older, getting even four people your age together on the same night could take literally months, and requires the construction of an intricate scaffold of babysitters, vacation days and placated spouses. And then, when it finally all comes together, the novelty wears off after an hour or so and all that is left is the frustration of being absolutely horrible at the game. These games are electronic sports, they require practice. That's why my own kids can head-shot me on the run while jumping off of a building and switching weapons in mid-air.
And you know what? Not once do I hear them complain about what a fuckjob move it was for the industry to focus on multiplayer. I can whine right into their ear about how it's bullshit to have to pay separately for an online account, and how only an asshole would pay $15 for a pack of five recycled maps. They don't listen. They're too busy sneaking up behind me and laughing wildly as they knife me in my old, arthritic back.
Of course, not every game is "beat it in an afternoon" length. The very next notch up the scale of game length is the "you will never fucking see everything even if you play it for three years" games. Skyrim is promising "over 300 hours of gameplay". Games like that have endless tricks to stretch out the game experience forever and ever -- from assloads of side quests, to the promise of a completely different experience if you go back and choose a different character class or skill set (see: Borderlands) .
You can always spot these bloated games immediately, because you have to invest 10 hours in the intro mission that teaches you the menus ("What, you mean Fallout 3 isn't about a dude who spends his entire life inside this fucking underground vault?").
"Press X to party."
But more does not mean better. I didn't have to skin too many coyotes in Red Dead Redemption before I realized I was playing a time wasting simulator. Now please, somebody tell me if this letter icon on my map will actually advance the fucking main story, or is just another side mission to earn $35 so I can buy bullets for the next side mission. Since when is entertainment about making the audience wander around aimlessly so you can boast about the sheer tonnage of hours you gave them?
But the Truth Is...
Boredom is a young man's disease. For me, every minute I spend playing, more shit is piling up in my work inbox. No, I don't need a game that will kill time. I need a game that will give me the most possible fun in the precious few hours of spare time I get in a week. Trust me, if you ever see me reopen my World of Warcraft account, it means I probably got fired from my job.
Thank you, hot mage chick. That money was really weighing me down.
And this is when I realize that these are the games I specifically asked the industry to make 15-20 years ago. Back then, one of a game's selling points was the amount of hours it took to beat it. A 40-hour RPG was a big deal, and even after you beat it, you still wanted more. There are RPG's I've beaten a dozen times. Grinding and leveling was such a "rinse and repeat" set of motions, there were times when I'd snap out of a daze and realize that I had been killing the same monsters for three hours, increasing ten levels on autopilot. I fantasized about endless games that you could just get lost in.
Well, game developers listened to the 17 year-old me. It's just that by the time they got around to figuring out how to make a 300-hour game, I had a job and three kids, and 300 hours represents every minute of gaming time I'll have available to me in the next three years. In other words, selling me that game is the same as taunting me, reminding me that the same obligations that let me afford to buy games also prevent me from playing them.
"And then you just hit the squat button to teabag him..."
When's the last time you actually cared about what happened in a video game? Between the stiffly-acted cutscenes and bullshit recycled plots, you can't help but wonder what happened after the golden age of Role Playing Games in the 1990s and early 2000s.
I got absolutely hooked on a series of Nintendo games called Dragon Warrior in the 1980s. Jump ahead to 1994, and regardless of the day you arrive, you'll find me camped out in front of a Final Fantasy III (or FF VI, for you purists) marathon that lasted five years. When we got a hand-me-down Playstation, the first thing I bought was Final Fantasy 7. In 2000, it was The Legend of Dragoon, or the more aptly named "Final Fantasy with an Extra Button."
That's Dragoon on top. FF7 on bottom.
And what modern game can possibly match that amazing 20 minute-long ending cinematic for FFIII that wrapped up the storylines for each of the characters we'd come to know and love in the course of beating the game? And then again while beating it eight more times?
Now, all of those deep, engrossing games are gone, replaced by "point and shoot" games for the kiddies who could care less about story and just want action, action, action, hitting the "skip" button half a second into each cut scene. If they're playing Mass Effect, maybe they keep watching to see the fucking.
But the Truth Is...
Let's go back and watch one of those cut scenes from Final Fantasy III/VI:
Huh. That seemed... way more powerful when I saw it as a teenager.
And even weirder, I watch my kids play games now that barely have a story at all, yet they're transfixed. It's almost like they're seeing something I'm not. For instance, I let my kids mess around in a Grand Theft Auto game (supervised) and the first thing my son does is steal an ambulance. My youngest daughter then pretended to be injured and dialed him on her pretend cellphone. He drove the ambulance around town until she told him, "I'm there on that next block." He'd then pull over and pretend to pick her up... and drive her to the actual in-game hospital. The whole trip, he'd bark out things he'd heard on medical dramas and pretend to save her.
"Be advised: incoming six year old female, acute myocardial infarction, BP steadily dropping..."
Wait a second. Is it possible that those old games didn't do anything magical with their programming to create "immersion," and that, like my kids with GTA, I "immersed" myself in those games because I was playing them at a time before I was dead inside?
I can play a zombie game now, and I just see a bunch of boring, repetitive enemies. My kids can't even be in the same room with me -- they find those games terrifying because they're imagining themselves in the game, fighting the zombies.
"If I hear you scream 'motherfucker' one more time, you're grounded."
The older you get, the less elastic your imagination becomes, and the less able you are to fill in whatever gaps the game leaves in the narrative. It's why a toddler can open a birthday present and then immediately disregard the toy in favor of spending the next three hours playing with the box. If you see an adult doing that, suddenly it's time for an intervention.