#3. Exposure for Indie Games Is Growing
If you'd asked my 10-year-old gaming self what his favorite indie games were, he'd probably tell you that Greatest Adventures was OK, but Super Star Wars was a way better side-scroller. Because that stupid, ugly little bastard had no idea what an Indie developer was. If it wasn't in the glass case at the Fred Meyer, it didn't exist to him. But a 10-year-old gamer today has probably played -- and loved -- a pretty hefty handful of Indie games by now. Even if they don't recognize the scene for what it is, or care at all for the ideology, they're still supporting lesser known artists and rewarding innovation. Not because of any lofty principles, but because they think it's funny when Meat Boy hits the sawblades for the fiftieth time.
"I like to throw meat at saws!" -- The generation of psychopaths we're raising.
That's not even factoring in the (usually) lower cost of independent games. That certainly wasn't the case for prior generations: Nothing was "lower cost." Video games were "those things that are $40." Period. The end. No matter what, there was one price point entirely regardless of content or quality. Whereas now an attentive, frugal parent can drop 10 bucks on a Steam sale and have their kid's gaming booked up for months. Or just impulse-spend 10 bucks on a Live Arcade game, instead of bringing their screeching progeny to the game store to pick up a $60 major release. That means more instant gratification for the kid and less time spent for the parent, plus it's keeping children inside and out of society proper, where the rotten, disease-spreading little parasites belong.
#2. DLC Can Be Amazing
This is the fallacy I'm most guilty of, myself: Thinking DLC is going to ruin the next generation of gaming. I see stuff like Arkham Asylum's Catwoman Bundle -- downloadable content that actually extracts one part of a whole game and sells it separately -- and I envision a dystopian nightmare-future where every level, character and piece of equipment is a la carte. Suddenly you're dying in firefights because you didn't buy enough ammunition before the round started, and your androgynous JRPG character stops mid-sentence while the Motherfish absorbs the Spirit World into her Soul Vagina, because you haven't purchased your next line of dialogue yet.
"The life spirit of your mother/father has mana-bonded with the [USE POINTS TO PURCHASE NOUNS]."
But again, this is just me seeing the shitty side of something and wrongfully assuming that's the way everything's going to be. But some of the most successful DLC is actually also the best: Portal 2's Peer Review, Fallout: New Vegas' Old World Blues and Battlefield: Bad Company 2's Vietnam were all major successes, and they were entirely separate but equal experiences that did nothing but extend the playlife of your favorite game for dirt cheap.
I would've loved that as a child gamer. If you'd asked me to fork over 5 bucks to play what Shadow did that time he mysteriously disappeared from FFVI, I would have checked out some sex-ed books from the library, studied up on what an orgasm was and then creamed my Bermuda shorts over the idea. It's easy to forget what an amazing concept DLC is. Now we can buy a game, love it and then have it extended meaningfully while we wait for the sequel. In its ideal form, DLC can double the gameplay of our favorite properties, if not stretch them to infinity. And the developers want to produce good DLC, for the very simple reason that it's what we're buying. That's basic capitalism at work. If you don't believe me, just look at the most famous DLC misstep of all: Oblivion's Horse Armor.
"For an extra 200 points you can buy ribbons to- OK, seriously, how are we not fired yet?" -- Bethesda's first DLC team.
We all pointed to that and foretold the end times, and rightfully so. It was a trivial, expensive, meaningless hunk of digital bullshit. If that was the inevitable future, we were all quitting this stupid hobby and learning how to knit or something.
But let's look at another DLC that those same developers released for that same game: Shivering Isles. It was arguably one of the best, "most value for the money" DLC packs ever.
The big publishers aren't going to ignore all of our pleas and ruin our favorite games, because they'd go bankrupt. If you insult a man, sure, he might turn the other cheek. But if you lift his wallet and start rifling through the bills, you're going to have his undivided attention right quick.
#1. Online Multiplayer is a Godsend
I am not an online multiplayer gamer. At all. I hate it. I hate the mentality, I hate most of the other players and I almost always find the gameplay both confining and repetitive. I'll take story or atmosphere over mindless competition, every time.
But that's just because I'm old and bitter.
My 10-year-old self was all about multiplayer, whether it be the competitive gameplay of Street Fighter, or the hardcore, PTSD-inducing co-op of Contra. As adults, we're all bemoaning the fact that we don't play games in person anymore -- consoles don't even give us that option! But all I did back in the "golden age of multiplayer" was bemoan the fact that my friends came over to play games so rarely. Even as a child with a to-do list whose most intensive items were "practice jumpkicks" and "learn how to masturbate," it was almost impossible to get everybody in one place for a gaming session, and certainly not with any kind of regularity. Back in the so-called golden age, we were so desperate that we actually left the house to play video games with strangers in a dark room that smelled like Mountain Dew and feet.
I'm not saying child molestation went down proportionate to the fall of the arcades. I'm just saying that I'd like to see the statistics.
I would hit up the 7-Eleven after school every day to routinely get my ass beat by the Asian kids (who were always there first. When is Asian school, you sons of bitches? Did the Koreans invent hover-bikes? Is there a goddamn wormhole behind the monkeybars that I don't know about?!) at Street Fighter II. And we didn't bond, or learn to respect other cultures, or build any character; we just silently hated each other while standing 6 inches apart, because this was the only way we could guarantee multiplayer gaming. And I did all of this despite owning the SNES version of SFII at home. I biked my chubby ass all the way to the convenience store, where I'd get yelled at by the constantly, inexplicably wet clerk, for the privilege of burning my allowance at the altar of the Asian pre-teen, despite having the same game for free in my living room, which was only like 10 feet from the box that dispensed free Hot Pockets.
Outside of childhood parties and your college dorm mates, you were seriously lucky to get the whole gang together for games once every few months. Now you can hop online, check your friends list and be in a game with somebody halfway across the world within 5 seconds. Any kid playing the newest version of Street Fighter will never, ever have to go without an opponent. As a gamer child, I would've killed for that ability. Literally. I would have butchered you without hesitation if it meant that your ghost would somehow be leashed to my SNES in the afterlife, doomed to play F-Zero with me on command.
"Boom! Into the wall, bitch! No, you can't say goodbye to your family; we're doing Mute City next."
And though I will say again and again that I despise online multiplayer, that's really only because I despise people in general. I can't stand the things. With their "wants" and "needs" and "opinions that aren't mine" -- quite frankly, it's disgusting. But that's not the fault of the game or the genre: Even I will play the hell out of online multiplayer if it's done right. Not to beat a dead whore, but let's revisit GTA IV. Aside from Team Fortress 2, that was the last game that really got me into online play, and that was because of one simple thing: Free Mode. What a brilliant, amazing move that was. Finally somebody paid attention to what we, as gamers, really wanted to do ... which was apparently "nothing special." I once spent a whole night with some friends on Free Mode, just screwing around. While they were experimenting with the swing launcher, or playing Car Tag in the streets, or just good old fashioned gunfighting, I spent the entire time stealing helicopters, carefully hovering directly over the other players, then bailing out and sending the machine plummeting down on top of them while screaming, "HELLO-COPTER!"
For added horribleness, try doing it in a series of increasingly racist accents.
Sure, I lost some friends that night, but that may be the most fun I have ever had with a video game.
I'm not saying that all of our complaints are invalid or unwarranted. I'm just saying that we're all so busy bitching about what this hobby should be, and what it's not doing quite yet, that we rarely look back and see how astoundingly far it's come, and all the amazing things that it is right now. My wildest dreams as a child gamer have been exceeded a thousandfold -- I literally would not have believed you if you'd shown me Skyrim and told me that was only 20 years in the future of game development; I would have burned you as a time-witch (they were a serious problem back in the early '90s). And yet it seems that, whenever it's time to talk seriously about gaming, I invariably spend most of my time complaining.
And honestly? I'll probably be doing it again in a week or two, because I'm a fickle bastard with attention deficit disorder. But not this week. This week I'm setting the controller down for a minute, turning to my 10-year-old self, and asking in reverently hushed tones: "Did you see that shit?!"
And he will answer: "Yeah, that was badical!"
Because he's a fucking idiot.
You can buy Robert's book, Everything is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead, or follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+. Or you can hold select and start while refreshing this article and get INFINITE ARTICLES.
For more from Robert, check out Why Ebert Is Wrong: In Defense of Games as Art and 5 Personality Flaws Skyrim Forces You To Deal With.