#2. You Think Originality is Dead
The complaint is the same on every gaming message board: "Every goddamn game on the planet is a first person shooter." They're all Call of Duty (or before that, Halo) clones -- same mechanics, different outfits. Every sports game is exactly the same as the 15 versions of the series that came before it. Innovation is abandoned in favor of tried and true brands that guarantee sales. Shelves are a blur of Mario and zombies.
And holy shit, do not get me started on the zombies. Forget the actual zombie genre games like Left 4 Dead or Dead Rising or Dead Island or Dead Zombie Deathkill: the Dying. They even cram zombies into Call of Duty: Black Ops and the Red Dead Redeption expansion "Undead Nightmare" (a fucking cowboy game).
It's like being a real cowboy!
But the Truth Is...
From the first days of console gaming, and we're talking Magnavox Odyssey here, each hit game spawned a shelf full of clones. Tennis, Hockey, and Soccer were just modified versions of Pong. Track the top-ten best selling games down through the decades after and you see these fads come and go in waves. In later years it was Mario-style side scrollers, then Street Fighter-style fighting games, and so on.
The industry looked just as cookie cutter then as it does now. Which you don't mind, if you're young enough that games themselves are new to you and your parents can only afford like three games a year anyway.
"Oh, mom, you really are too good to me!"
Then you get a little older, and you obsess over games in the way that only a kid has time to do -- buying all the magazines and talking games with your friends, hunting down the cool stuff that isn't on the shelf at Walmart. It's the same as getting into unsigned bands or indie films -- you don't just shop among the bestsellers. But that takes time, and energy, and a willingness to try new things.
So now I'm approaching 40, and I often am surprised to find games I had been anticipating suddenly show up on the shelf. Hell, I obsessed over Diablo II back in the day and somehow missed that they were all the way up to doing a beta on Diablo III -- and that's a AAA, blockbuster game. Following that sort of thing takes time. And these days, when it comes to the smaller, more innovative titles, you generally have to look to the PC. For instance, those user-created mods for GTA IV look like the most ridiculously awesome things ever:
But me? The first time I spend two hours tweaking physics settings to make cars go shooting around the game world, only to have it glitch out and freeze on me, I'm going to feel like I've been cheated. It's the same if I download some indie game that's both innovative and impossible to play. It's easy to forget that discovering great new bands in college meant listening to a lot of shitty new bands in between.
So you reach that age when consuming entertainment becomes a passive rather than an active thing -- you sit back and say, "Bring me new, polished, original content. And feel free to take risks, but God fucking help you if I don't love it." Scroll up and skim all of the game titles I've mentioned owning in this article -- can you find a single one that isn't a blockbuster, AAA mainstream game?
SHUT UP, A MAN HAS NEEDS !
#1. You Miss When Games Used to be "All About Fun"
You know what the real problem with games today is? It's all about graphics and technology and flash, rather than fun. Whatever happened to simple, joyful games that you could just pick up and play? I remember playing Donkey Kong Country until I could hit those jumps with my eyes closed, circling back through the old levels to collect red 1-Up balloons. Over and over again, never getting tired of it.
And never questioning its logic or my own sanity.
Whatever happened to games like that? And why do people buy these new games by the millions? Do they really not know what they're missing? Are they that brainwashed, that they can be fooled into thinking they're having fun when they're clearly not?
But the Truth Is...
And now that I think of it, when did they change the ingredients of Kool-Aid so that it started tasting like a fist full of sugar painted with harsh red dye? Why were the Transformers cartoons I saw as a kid so amazing, but today the huge-budget Michael Bay movies featuring the same characters and plotlines just punch IQ points out of my brain? Why are toys today so lame compared to what I had as akid? Why do McDonalds cheeseburgers taste so cheap and bland to me now, when as a kid that was the shit straight from the Five-Star restaurant where God himself works the grill?
"I said NO PICKLES, ASSHOLE!"
And why do my kids so happily consume all of this stuff? Don't they know it's bullshit?
They play Gears of War and laugh their asses off when they chainsaw an alien, and then proceed to do it over and over and over again, never getting tired of it. I swear I watch them play these modern games and it's almost like... and this can't possibly be true, but it's almost like they're having just as much fun as I had when I was their age.
It's like the poor bastards don't even know any better.
For more wisdom from a rapidly-aging John, see 5 Bits of Advice That Don't Make Sense Until It's Too Late and 5 Crucial Lessons Learned by Watching Kids Play Video Games.