Sunday, December 30, 2007

Press A to not die

I feel somewhat out of touch with video games lately. This is strange for me, as I consider myself not only a gamer, but a member of the gamer subculture, who follows gamer comics, reads reviews, and gets (and makes) game-based jokes. Actually, I suppose this extends to non-video games as well; from boardgames like Settlers of Catan to old-school pencil and paper RPGs, I've enjoyed all of them. Not so much, though, in recent months. It's unsettling, actually.

There are exceptions, of course. The originality and rock 'n roll of the Guitar Hero games had me hooked for a while, and I did play and thoroughly enjoy the paradigm-creating Portal. By and large, though, I've been put off of games. There's the money factor, of course - not much of it, that is; certainly I've not enough to buy any of the next-generation gaming consoles, nor replace my aging PC. It's more than that, though. It's a growing sense of enmity toward most of the gaming industry, becoming, as it has been, just one more creativity-challenged corporate-owned money black hole, where all your cash is sucked in though little or nothing of any value can escape.

Part of it, too, was a horrified epiphany some months back about all the time I'd spent in my life playing JRPGs like the Final Fantasy series, in which I was essentially engaged in nothing more than manipulation of two sets of buttons for the purpose of moving around a set of avatars and murdering lots and lots and lots of imaginary animals, soldiers, and magical... things. Sure, sure, it's all very pretty to look at, and sometimes it's even accompanied by snippets of intriguing storyline, but at the core level, every single RPG-type game is essentially a very boring murder simulator, wherein "your" characters kill most everything in their path in essentially the same way for nebulous gains in money and "experience."

For some reason it took me 25 years to realize this, years in which I'd poured more than a hundred hours per playthrough, sometimes multiple times, into many of these games.

Anyway, I think I've already discussed this part of the topic. Back to the subject: this isn't meant to be a "video games these days sure do suck!" rant. I don't know if they do or not. God knows they certainly sucked back when I was younger (You ever heard of a "spoony bard"?) but we played them anyway, and we loved it. There's a lot of talk these days about video games turning into more and more of an "art form," so perhaps they really are improving. Maybe the "problem" is just one of perception, since any game that falls into a pre-existing category is labeled unoriginal, but as time goes on, more and more categories are filled, sometimes even categories we didn't know existed.

(You see why I hate nostalgia? My fellow short-changed children of the 1980s will, in the same breath, moan about how much better video games and cartoons were "when we were kids," and crack jokes about spoony bards and samoflanges and princesses in other castles. Ugh. Look, people: those games and cartoons were awful. They were generally very badly translated, and made little or no sense even when they were made in or made it into good English. We were just young and didn't know any better. You disagree? Okay. Come on. You just try and defend the merits of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I dare you. You have your choice of the comic books, the cartoons, the video games, or even the movies.)

The long and the short of it is that I haven't been buying or playing many new games lately, but, honestly, having kept an eye on the reviews and seen the publicity, I don't really feel like I'm missing out. (Thanks, Yahtzee.) I don't expect I'll ever play another JRPG, at least not seriously. Half-Life 2, Ep. 3? Yeah, definitely. God of War 3? Maybe. I am getting a little tired of sequels, I have to say.

I am, however, still supremely stoked about Starcraft 2, so I guess there's that. And you know what? Modern video game culture has introduced us all to Jonathan Coulton, so I guess, all in all, it's a win after all.

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