Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What we need more of in this gaming world

I've come to a realization recently, that games as a whole are beginning to lose touch with what they are supposed to be. And that we, as the consumers of their product, are beginning to forget why we consume their product. I'll get into my reasoning and thoughts in a bit, but first, a thought experiment. Answer the questions honestly.

Do you play video games? Yes? Good. Do you know WHY you play video games? Is it for the story? Is it for the competition? Is it for the spectacle? Take a moment and really think WHY it is you play games.

I'm sure by this point you're all wondering "Why is Eric all srs business all of a sudden?" Well to tell you the truth, this is something that has been on my mind for a bit of time now, and I figured I'd finally get around to writing it. But first, let me tell you why I reached this conclusion.

A few months ago, I lost my xbox headset. Huge tragedy yes I know, and not satisfied with simply loaning my roommate's headset which, according to reports, barely worked, I decided to hop on Amazon and further abuse their free prime shipping with a brand spanking new xbox headset. Skipping over the more cheaply made and fragile official microsoft headsets, I decided on a slightly more robust, yet not overly gaudy Plantronics set. This was going to run me about 11 dollars. Not a big deal. I did however, have $20 promotional credit towards a video game related purchase sitting there that I had not yet used. Apparently Amazon took this purchase to mean that I wanted to use ALL of my promotional credit on an $11 mic. Finding no way around their forced spending, I decided to simply bite the bullet and buy myself a new game, or in this case, preorder. Yes I put money down for the much talked about Modern Warfare 3. Up until this point I had told myself that I wasn't going to buy this game, that i was going to be a battlefield 3 player through and through, that I wouldn't go back to Call of Duty after what it did to me in MW2, but like the cliche of an abused significant other I apparently am in the Lifetime channel TV Movie that is my life, I came crawling back. (Thanks Amazon...you fuckers)

On that fateful day when MW3 arrived, I opened the packaging and tore through the single player campaign. I'm not going to do an in depth review here, but suffice it to say, it's clear that to them, the story was just a vestigial end that needed tying up. So naturally, single player missions completed, I hopped onto the multiplayer. Yes it felt like the Modern Warfare 2 that I knew and loved, but somehow, less shitty. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but things seemed to be going pretty well. But this comfort and satisfaction was short lived to say the least.

Exactly one week after MW3's release, the bullshit began. The noscoping, the trick shots, the button pictures in the clan tags circumventing the swear filters childishly spelling out words like "anal", "fart" and once, a horrifically sad attempt at "queer". Like a greasy meal at a disgusting diner, all of my contempt and hatred for the series came flooding back in one horrific wave. I remembered everything I hated about the game, everything I hated about its fans, and everything I hated about Xbox live.

It was about at this point that I realized that, playing call of duty for me, was no longer about having fun. I did not play the game to have fun. I played the game to have a bigger numerical e-penis than the fuckstick 13 year old that was constantly calling me a "fucking gay ass fag" for killing him a couple too many times that last match. The fun isn't in the game anymore, the fun is in the stats, the fun is in gloating to all your friends that you have a 2.0 kill/death ratio in a game in which you are a digital soldier running around an enclosed space killing other digital soldiers. In other words, it's FUCKING MEANINGLESS.

And that's when it hit me. Games are losing touch with their intended purpose. What's that purpose you ask? Well that's to provide entertainment, to be FUN. We play games because they're meant to be FUN. Say what you want about escapism, about telling a proper story, about character development, it doesn't matter, the underlying purpose is FUN, and I can't help but believe that the industry at large has lost sight of that fact.

A while back, I played a game called Bulletstorm. It was developed by a tiny studio called People Can Fly and produced by masters of the brown and grey palette, Epic Studios. It generally flew under the radar, didn't make any kind of real splash in the market, and nobody was really talking about it (hipster status get). But, intrigued by the notion of skillshots, I downloaded the demo. I cannot even begin to count the number of times I played that demo. So I decided to spring for the full game, and it was worth every penny in my mind. This was a stupid purchase in the minds of many. It was an 8-10 hour campaign with only a co-op multiplay that nobody was playing, so why did I feel that paying 60 bucks for a game with no replayability was a good investment? Because I had fun with it. The entire notion of adding up points for killing in new and creative ways, trying to chain together combinations of tricks and gathering multipliers was childish, inane, gruesome and every bit as fun as I had hoped it would be. I had more fun with that game than I had being called a cock loving ass clown by the hick from kansas whom I had just killed in MW3 all for the sake of being able to tell my friends that I have a 1.39 KDR as if that means something.

But this isn't the studios faults entirely. The fact of the matter is, this is what we wanted. MW3 is simply a victim of the times. From the impotent 5 hour campaign to the incessant stat tracking, THIS is the future we imagined for ourselves and THIS is what we got. Could this be the harbinger of things to come? Hopefully not. Certainly not if Bethesda, the makers of Skyrim keep doing what they're doing. And I can tell you right now that between Just Cause 2 and Saints Row The Third (which produced the best teaser trailer I've EVER seen), I will have plenty of physics breaking, madcap fun to distract myself from how much I hate everything and everyone when I play MW3.

The fact of the matter is, we have plenty of numbers in our every day lives that we can use to make ourselves feel superior to the lowly peons and assholes around us, be it test scores, GPA, paycheck, home value, number of people slept with or even just height. Why do we need another?

...And that's what I learned today. Well not today...like...last week...but you know...whatever.

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