Gamers tend to complain a lot about the state of modern gaming. I'm no exception to the rule: I look around me and see naught but the endless, flaming plains of Pre-Order Bonus DLC and the crumbling towers of Always Online DRM, and lo, I despair. Why do they have to keep segmenting, expanding or otherwise screwing with the formats of our games? Jesus, can't they see all this technology is ruining our technology?! But then I stopped and realized: We have all of these amazing, fantastic, borderline magical creations in our hands that, in many ways, dwarf all the wildest predictions of yesteryear -- and we've got the balls to stand around and bitch that they're taking too long to load. So I thought we could all stop the hate-coaster for a moment, and take a minute to reflect on what modern gaming is doing right:
Game worlds today are staggering in their depth and integrity. For example:
I've been playing Skyrim for the past few months and I know now, by sheer muscle reflex, the exact timing and sequence of controls required to vault the second story railing on my house in Whiterun, turn, and land at the bottom of the stairs facing the door, so as to get to the exit fastest. I used to do the exact same thing in my real house as a child -- hand on the railing, jump at the third post, twist and hit the floor facing the front door. Identical behavioral patterns, developing naturally in both reality and gaming.
That's a world. That is an honest to god virtual world.
I know the more pretentious gamers (myself included) loudly complain that the focus on graphics and technological benchmarks is killing the soul of the industry. "This is gold-embossed crap!" we'll say, flipping the
God, if I had a nickel for every time I'd been arrested at GameStop, I'd throw nickels at the GameStop until they arrested me.
And we'll keep alternately screaming and bleating at the customers until the police come drag us away to file the world's least impressive incident report, because we know there's truth to the complaint. If you focus on pretty explosions instead of storytelling, you're producing an inferior product.
But we don't always stop to appreciate what better graphics, higher resolutions and larger storage capacities are actually adding to the stories that our games tell. The
One time I was passing by a fast food restaurant, and stopped in to watch the workers. A young man stepped out to clean the windows -- such a superfluous, compelling little detail! It blew my mind that they'd thought to include it -- so I walked up to watch him from the other side of the glass. Just then, an ambulance came careening around the corner and flattened him. He was crushed to death inches in front of me, while doing another meaningless task in this dead end job. The accident wasn't part of any pre-programmed mission or set series of events -- it was just a random occurrence in a massive, living world. This small, but effective little drama that would've unfolded totally unseen if I hadn't been in the right place at the right time.
"All right, somebody die to amuse me."
Intrigued, I followed the ambulance down the block. When I caught up with it, the paramedics were reviving a guy with the exact same character model (different clothes, of course, but the same body and face). I looked around to see if this model was common in that part of town, but I didn't see a single other one in the crowd gathering around the scene.
So the ambulance drivers accidentally killed a nameless fast food worker, on the way to save his identical twin brother. Nobody wrote that. It just happened.
The world of
I just got done writing three paragraphs about the "alternative storytelling" in Grand Theft Auto, which could very well be a pretentious bullshit justification on the part of somebody who really just liked smashing fire trucks into hookers. But GTA IV still involved more writing than basically any other game in history. Here, check out the difference in the size of the scripts between GTA III and GTA IV:
That growth is just over
If you give me the chance, I'll talk at length -- through repressed tears and whitened fists -- of the injustices that Writing suffers in modern gaming. Poor, poor Writing was beaten and left bleeding in a ditch while those sociopaths, Graphics and Gimmicks, banged its girlfriend and signed it up for junkmail catalogs. But is that really the case? Was every property you loved as a kid really a masterpiece of storytelling? Or are we collectively forgetting that for every Earthbound there was a game about sentient unicycles doing loop-de-loops on the loop-de-loop planet?
That's not fair. There was a really moving storyline about the blue unicycle's unrequited love for jumping and going fast.
Yes, quality writing in games is exceedingly rare, but that's no different from literally any medium. Blockbuster movies have always been more
If you'd asked my 10-year-old gaming self what his favorite indie games were, he'd probably tell you that
"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.
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:
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
"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:
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.
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
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
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
"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
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
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.
The main benefit of watching TV is seeing the plight of sad bastards who aren't you.
The 'wellness' market is thriving right now.
Most people have a pretty basic idea of what it's like to be a parent.
There's no shortage of downright absurd conspiracy theories out there.
Instead of rebooting and recasting, we have a chance for something new.