4 Insane Ways Video Games Changed During My 9-Year Hiatus
For Christmas of 1988, Santa Mom and Santa Dad took one look at my skinny body and awkward approach to everything and reacted the only way they could: They bought me a video game system. I was hooked immediately, and I remained wriggling on that hook for 17 years, like a trout caught on the line of the most patient and sadistic fisherman in history.
Then, starting in 2005, a combination of work-doing and kid-having slowed the button-mashing train down significantly, and I all but abandoned the gaming world for years on end. Recently, though, I've found myself playing more often, even though it's like stepping onto an alien planet where everyone understands the customs except me. I simply can't wrap my head around how ...
Games Will Play Themselves Now if We'd Like
It's taken me a while to get back into the groove of pressing buttons until I find the one castle that actually houses the fucking princess, but I do remember some stuff about my gaming past. For one thing, I actually had to beat the levels myself. Even when gleaning unlimited lives and power-ups from my Game Genie (like a Game Shark, only its users now complain about loud music and achy hips), I still had to make it to the end of the stage all by my lonesome.
And I had to input the codes by myself, too! God, that thing blew.
Not anymore, though -- you can build an entire library of games that, in one form or another, will conquer themselves for your convenience. Want to make it to the next dungeon but can't take your eyes off the latest animal to go viral because it's an animal? Activate the self-play function, put the controller down, and let the YouTube party commence!
You can start with my current favorite source of happiness right here. You're welcome.
The New Super Mario Brothers and Donkey Kong Country Returns both have Super Guide features where, if you die enough times, the game offers to finish the level for you. Just toss your protagonists into the abyss until the game gets the point, and then you're free to run off and poop. You know those crappy parents who will gladly finish their child's homework if the tyke struggles too much? This is the same thing, only slightly less detrimental to humanity.
Don't worry about them using Luigi for the worst part of the game. He's used to it.
Another game, called Bayonetta, streamlines the process even further by including an Automatic mode, perfect for any hardcore gamer who finds "Very Easy" to be the most frustrating thing on the planet. Tell them to turn on Automatic and sit back as the game does literally everything for them. Now you're just ordering your parents to do your homework, which they'll gladly do because otherwise you'll feel bad and that's child abuse now apparently.
"Man, can you believe kids used to LOSE at these things? What a bunch of weenies."
Then there's Ryse, possibly the silliest example of all. It doesn't technically play itself, although it might as well. During the game's quick-time events, if you press the wrong button, or something shiny this way comes and you forget to press any buttons at all, the event is still successful. So maybe your parents didn't do your homework for you, and you bungled every question badly. That's OK, though; the teacher still gave you an A+ so you feel good about yourself.
"Hey, kids, death is inevitable, and there's nothing you can do about it!" -this game
Consoles Hate Us and Want to See Us Suffer
I enjoy a good machine every now and again, as long as it works. That's probably why I took such a shine to video games; from the NES to the PS1, every system I owned did its job every time, turning on without a hitch and activating the game with efficiency and a smile. The worst thing that ever happened was dust in the cartridge, but the "blow on it until everything's better" technique never failed once in the history of games. This is probably why almost anyone born between 1985 and 1994 blows on everything as a first, and oftentimes only, resort.
"Maybe if I shake it?"
Recent systems don't approve of such an easygoing lifestyle, though, and are intent on making it as inconvenient as possible to sit down and play a stupid game. Overheating, memory failure, the inability to remember how to load -- any of these things could come up at any time, with no warning or rationale whatsoever.
The Xbox's Red Ring of Death surrounding a green, sideways middle finger.
If you're the kind who loves statistics, eat this one: 33 percent of Xbox 360s will up and die at any time. Where's the fun in that? If 33 percent of the dogs in the world just randomly went crazy and mauled their owners half to death before feasting on their still-beating hearts, would anyone still own dogs?
And yes, this has happened to me on multiple occasions, even though I just started playing again recently. I had over 20 hours of Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time saved up, only to see it all disappear because the game failed to load one stinking time. Needless to say, I have not restarted that game. I may or may not be using it to chop vegetables as we speak.
Another reason I'm glad they stopped using cartridges.
And Skyrim? That game is beyond awesome -- well, the parts of it I could play are, anyhow. I got about 10 hours in before my system decided it didn't want me to have fun anymore. Seriously, the fucking thing just refuses to load. I've cleaned the disc, the disc tray, the jewel box, my computer screen because I had Googled "Skyrim" at some point -- anything related to the game, I shined to a sheen. Nothing. Because New Sony hates my guts. Just as it hates yours.
I've since convinced myself that battling fearsome dragons is incredibly boring, so I'm OK now.
It doesn't sound like the machines have sowed their rebellious oats yet, either. The new PS4 is just as bad, with the only real difference being which part of the rainbow they used. Meet the Blue Light of Dozing.
This is an indicator that the machine does not recognize that somebody plugged it in. You know, the most basic aspect of getting any machine to work? Honestly, going the fuck outside sounds real inviting right about now.
The graphics on this outdoors are so realistic.
They Spoon-Feed You Everything
Imagine you're in first grade, and the teacher mentions that Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States. Always good to know. Now imagine every teacher you see for the rest of your life repeating that fact, every time you see them. Wouldn't that get a trifle old and aggravating?
"Two plus two is four. Remember, it is not three, or five, but four. Are there any questions about two plus two equaling four?"
Modern gaming tutorials are the same deal. Instead of quickly teaching you the basics and then freeing you to learn the rest on your own, games now reinforce the basics from start to finish, telling you what buttons to press and when to press them, no matter what you've done in the past. They also tell you exactly where to go and what to do, like Dora the Explorer's map entered your home and never, ever shut up. Effectively, the game is holding your hand the entire time.
You've got Fable II's "golden breadcrumbs," which tell you exactly where to go to progress in the game:
Because who really plays adventure games for adventure?
The Legend of Zelda's recent sidekick characters spoon-feeding you obvious hints every 10 seconds:
"Treasure is valuable. That is why I said you'd want to hear this information. You heard this information because there is air in this room, and that is how sound travels."
The rebooted Tomb Raider, which doesn't believe mashing buttons until something happens comes naturally to gamers anymore:
"Now breathe. Then breathe again. Take another breath. Another breath. Take a breath ..."
Assassin's Creed III, which takes place during a war for independence, something you the player have not earned:
"We're kidding about "finding" it. Just follow the green circle like a good little derp."
Call of Duty: Black Ops, which reminds you who you need to follow and where to find them. At all fucking times.
Just like real war!
Cutesy Mascots Are an Extinct Species
If you worked at a game company in the '80s and '90s, you needed a colorful, adorably cartoonish mascot in your advertising arsenal. And they were everywhere: Mario, Sonic, Mega Man, Link, Crash Bandicoot, Kirby, and so many more that I could write a sequel to this article featuring nothing but their names.
Whenever I opened up a gaming magazine (it's like a gaming website, only you could poop while reading it), out popped at least 10 new goofy characters. It almost didn't matter how good the game was; if its main character was adorable enough, it was going to sell some copies.
Well, most of the time anyway.
But now? We'll be lucky to get five new mascots this century. The concept of using cutesy, silly, colorful cartoons to attract kids is all but extinct. I'm not talking about Mario and company; those guys get new games more often than famous people get retweets after typing absolutely nothing. But how many new characters have popped up in, say, the past 10 years? We've got Little Big Planet's Sackboy ...
"The zipper is actually my genitals!"
... and shit, I think that might be it. Unless you find the Big Daddies from BioShock utterly huggable, that is.
They're good with kids, so that's a plus.
Honestly, though, Big Daddy, Master Chief (Halo's 7-foot, half-ton-in-armor, mute military man), and all their gritty compadres have become the new mascots. It's like companies realized that people like me, who grew up on their endless parade of digital thumb-wrestling matches, had given up the controller in favor of work and family. They had two options: pay me a couple thousand bucks a week to just sit on my butt and play all day, or offer me grown-up sprites to gawk at because I'm mature now. Sadly, they chose Option B, although A's always on the table. I'll even take one thousand. I'm not greedy.
I can't help but fear that game companies are shooting themselves in the dick by ignoring the new generation of kids who still like colorful cartoony shit. I see my son happily playing New Super Mario Bros. and wonder how much he'd enjoy a dump-truck load of cutesy characters straight out of the Nickelodeon reject bin, like I did at his age.
Then I see him use the Super Guide to finish a stage without doing anything, and I get depressed all over again. Then I go outside for a while. It's probably for the best.
"Sit on chair and press DRINK ALL THE BEER to enjoy sunset and advance to next level."