Our generation will be remembered for our video games. Every generation is remembered by its popular art; when you think of the 60s you think of Woodstock and hippie music. When you think of the 80s, you think of Miami Vice and the birth of music video. So when your grandchildren think of the 2010s, what will they picture in their minds? Let's put it this way:
Seriously. God help us.
Regular readers know I made a similar graphic based on last year's games. I'm thinking things have not gotten better. Don't get me wrong -- I love shooting me some dudes in the head, and those private islands where you pay a fee to do it for real are incredibly expensive. But ... come on, guys. The futuristic game machines I dreamed about as a kid in 1986 have been surpassed by reality. By a factor of 10, in fact. And that is the result?
The problems with gaming go beyond the fact that every major blockbuster game coming in the next year seems to involve looking through glass sights at a terrorist or zombie. Here's what has me worried ...
I remember a time when I had absolutely no worries about the future of gaming. It was a period of about four hours in 2007 when me and my friends spent a whole night playing Wii Sports Bowling.
"Gaming is saved, and the global economy ain't never gonna collapse, baby!"
It's one of the most stupidly perfect games I'd ever played -- I've still logged more hours on it than Red Dead Redemption and Dead or Alive Xtreme 2 combined.
When you buy her an in-game bikini, the FBI automatically logs you in their serial killer database.
The way it translated your movements to the game, swinging your arm with the imaginary ball rather than pushing some boring old button, was somehow more satisfying than the real thing (now that I think of it, I hate real bowling). This, I decided, was exactly what games had been trying to achieve for decades.
But more than four years later, nothing on the Wii has equaled it. The tech was perfect for bowling and that's all it was perfect for. OK, it's also nice for shooting gallery type games, but about the 10th time I was told to shake my controller to get a leech off my screen, I had a revelation:
"Waaaaait a second! This is bullshit."
And in fact, the last two really big hits for the Wii (Donkey Kong Country Returns and Mario Bros Wii) scrapped motion and just had you turn the controller sideways like a very uncomfortable control pad from 1991. Now, coming up on the sixth anniversary of the Wii's debut, Microsoft is promising us the absolute nadir of video game motion controls: Star Wars Kinect.
See, the Kinect is completely button-free. You just swing your arms around. Therefore, it completely wipes out about 90 percent of your input options. Things like the ability to actually move your character. Seriously. Watch:
Because there is no stick or control pad, you literally can't navigate around the game world (you kind of slide from one fight to the next). So for most of the game, your Jedi stands there like a jackass while stormtroopers stupidly amble into your flailing lightsaber.
"Kill me next!"
We've been waiting for a lightsaber game since the day motion controls were invented, and this is what they give us? Fuck you! Gaming was more interactive than this in 1979!
Meanwhile, Microsoft's competitors are trying to compete with another kind of buttonless gaming: smartphones and iPads. So at the Electronics Entertainment Expo this year, Sony proudly showed how with their new system (the PS Vita). You don't need any of that complicated "button pushing" or "timing" or "skill" to make your character jump across platforms. It's as simple as pointing your finger at the next obstacle! You know, like an iPhone!
"Say, this is much easier!"
Nintendo, meanwhile, just said, "fuck it," and decided to include an iPad clone with their next home system, the Wii U:
It sounds like the best of all worlds, until you realize the technology is so half-baked you can only use one of the new controllers with the console -- there'll be no such thing as multiple pads for multiplayer. Though they did make it clear that you could use the pad and a stylus to draw a dong on the face of your game characters.
So there's that.
Imagine if every time you drove your car, you had to first check in with the car manufacturer to confirm that it's you behind the wheel. Let's say that this relies on an Internet connection, and if the connection is down, you can't drive. In many ways, gaming is already there. But more on that in a moment.
At E3, the big yearly event where game companies unveil all of their dazzling future technology and software, Sony led off with the unveiling of an amazing, cutting edge apology for their online service being down for three straight weeks. Oh, and for allowing the personal data of 77 million customers get stolen off their servers.
It will happen again. And in the future, you're not going to have the ability to just play the games offline in single player while you wait. The tethering of all games to an online account is coming. And with that will come annoyances.
"If you want a vision of the future, imagine SecuROM slapping your face with its dick -- forever." -George Orwell
The thing is, publishers ultimately want to get to the point where you're connected to their servers at every moment. This way they can continually check to make sure you have a non-pirated copy of the game and can then sell you downloadable extras and monthly subscriptions to play multiplayer. They also want you to buy all of your games via download so that you won't trade a physical copy in to GameStop (who will resell it and not give a penny to the publisher). After that, they will move to a model like OnLive, where you never get a copy of the game at all -- you simply play it off their machine, streamed over your Internet connection. For this, you pay a monthly fee, hopefully for the rest of your life.
All of this requires a constant connection. Which requires constant security. Which requires constant bullshit. Ask any PC gamer, they're already there.
Ahhhh, the thrilling sign-in cut scene from Fuck Gamers 3.
That brings us back to the analogy of the car. Let's say you want to play Starcraft II's single player campaign. A few weeks in, you sit down to play the 20th map. At startup, it logs you into their server at battle.net and asks you for a password. If it can't make the connection, or you can't enter the password, you can't play your single-player campaign. Your only option is to start over from the beginning. And it's the same if you want to take your laptop with you and play the game on a plane or in the car or at Grandma's house.
Many other games, meanwhile, won't let you play until you first set up a Games For Windows Live account and give Microsoft your contact info. This comes bundled with so many glitches and annoyances that if you go to Google right now and type "GFWL" the very first suggested result is "GFWL offline" -- people searching for a way to somehow turn that shit off.
That's the thing -- it's not just about privacy or Big Brother, it's that these online services fuck up constantly. Even before the PSN network took, well, everyone offline, you had horror stories of EA blocking somebody from playing their own single-player game, because they used offensive language on EA's message board.
I had my Xbox Live account locked (unable to make any purchases of games or videos) for 72 hours for suspicious activity. What was the activity? I bought three episodes of Battlestar: Galactica at two in the morning, then came back at 5 a.m. to buy more. What, is that the behavior of anyone other than an upstanding citizen? Were they somehow able to detect that I was nude at the time? And that I kept shouting at the television that I wanted "one of them Asian robot girls who light up red when they touch my boner"?
Whatever it was, Customer Service couldn't lift the lock, even after I called and assured them that it was me and that the purchases had been made on purpose. It was in the wake of the PSN outage, and they were erring on the side of caution. They couldn't risk Sony's nightmare.
That's your future, gamers. Take a good look at it. It will work like this:
A. Eventually, all gaming must be online in order for publishers to make money;
B. It is next to impossible to secure gamers' online data without many annoying security measures;
C. All future gaming will come with many annoying security measures.
Their bottom line depends on it. But that leads to a different issue ...
The difference between the games you played as a kid and the games you'll be playing in the coming years is the difference between owning a car and having to pay for a cab every time you want to leave the house.
Or the difference between a nice Ukrainian bride and a hooker.
In the business, they talk about transforming video games from "a packaged goods model" to a "service model." So instead of buying something and taking it home to use it, you pay smaller amounts, monthly, forever.
There are several problems with this:
A. As I explained in detail here, instead of making games that explore new worlds and experiences, design becomes all about addiction and repetition. Games that are all about making the player endlessly grind for the purpose of earning items that can only be used for one thing: grinding for more items. Forever.
B. Much of what you will be charged for are things you were used to getting for free. Like the new Call of Duty series holding back some maps and features for their "elite" service, for a monthly paid subscription. This will be on top of what Microsoft already charges Xbox 360 users for online service, and the $60 you paid for the game. They're testing the boundaries of how far they can push it.
C. There will, with time, be zero reason for game companies to spend substantial money on games that can't be stretched out with multiplayer or downloadable episodes. How can they justify single-player, story-driven games? It's leaving money on the table.
I'd still be playing Final Fantasy III if they'd sold DLC for it.
That's the point: There's nothing wrong with online multiplayer games in and of themselves, or with a publisher selling me more of a game I loved. It's just that this is going to further shrink our choices. Not every game lends itself to this kind of thing. Which brings me to the larger problem ...