Saturday, November 21, 2009

Video Games

I never write about it here, but I’m a huge video game fan. I play all kinds… first-person shooters (the ones that make you violent), role-playing games (the ones that act as a prophylactic), real-time strategy games (the ones that let you play god by having economic control over a city and sending people off to die in battle; i.e. the ones that make you Republican)… I have also played across several different platforms, from our family Apple IIe and the original Nintendo to the Playstation 2 and my very cherry computer (well, good for being a Dell).

Perhaps later tonight I’ll compile my top ten favorite video games of all time, but in particular I want to bitch about the state of gaming in general. My wife wants to get a Wii, and I suppose it might be fun, but I really don’t have any urge to get it, let alone a PS3 or Xbox 360.

New console games are awful. I remember playing Super Mario RPG on the Super Nintendo for months. When I downloaded an emulator which lets me play Super Nintendo games, I spent over a month playing through it at an hour or two a day. I got several hundred hours of enjoyment from that game, and it wasn’t even multiplayer.

I play through and finish single-player games today in about a week. What’s worse, the games are so simple that they’re not worth playing through more than once. The odds of you missing something is very small, because games just aren’t very deep in the challenge department.

“Action” video games today are choose-your-own-adventure movies at their best, and tediously sappy stories punctuated by button mashing at their worst. This wasn’t always the case. Super Mario Brothers and Sonic the Hedgehog are classic action games. Most action games today seem like they were made by failed movie producers.

Super Mario Brothers is the quintessential action game, and one which was successful because it relied on simple mechanics, several different levels, and it never gave a shit about the story. Why did a spike-shelled lizard steal a princess, and how did a plumber get charged with rescuing her? Who the fuck cares, get jumping!

Action games today are bogged down by visual eye candy, professionally composed orchestral sound tracks, complex stories, and even more complex mechanics. None of these things can make a game any good.

Every time a new game comes out, it’s the same bullshit comment when it comes to aesthetics: “Look at the water! Wow, they rendered it so realistically!” Every successive game, they seem to get closer and closer to really making you believe you’re looking at water. Never mind that any gamer who wants to see water could pour themselves a fucking glass and set it next to the screen. Mario got it right: water is blue, move on.

When you buy a game, you get an instruction manual, which has four pages or so at the end which lists the credits. I’m glad that’s there, because I can look at it and see how many people they paid to work on the music. Those are all people who should never have had a job. The first thing I do when I load up a game is open the options and turn the music off. It’s not that I dislike any of the music; I’m sure it’s lovely, but in the age of the MP3, I don’t have to listen to what someone else wants me to listen to when I’m sitting at my computer.

[The only exceptions to this tend to be games with actual songs in their soundtrack. The Grand Theft Auto series, the Madden football games, and Fallout 3 come to mind, as their “music” comes through radios that the user controls in game which play classic hits.]

The only thing that is new about action games that can be argued to be an improvement is the multiple-path plotlines. Originally common in the RPG genre, the idea of making choices that affected the outcome – and often the displayed ending – of the game is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because it is about the only thing that makes these games worth playing more than once. “Well I beat it as a good guy… I wonder what happens if I act like a jerk…”

The curse of the multiple-ending seeker is horrible mechanics. Games today are often too complex, trying to do too many things at once and forcing the player to seek help. This is no accident, as a small industry of “Guide” publishing has flourished on the esoteric solutions required of many modern titles. Of course, anyone with access to the internet should be able to circumvent the guide scheme.

I still play new games, but I find myself continually dissatisfied lately. I could probably come up with a top ten worst games before a top ten best games. I think this is because video game budgets are allocated more and more towards marketing. Commercials for video games are abundant, and every dollar wasted on getting the word out on TV is a dollar not spent on developing the game itself.

The only games that need advertising are bad games. Anyone who knows anything about video games knows about websites and magazines that review games, and that review site doesn’t care how many commercials are run for the game (only whether the publishing company paid off the reviewer…). Good games sell based on word of mouth and past success by the developers, not flashy promo videos.

I have always preferred multiplayer games. There’s really no fun in beating a program. Competing against another person is where the fun is. Cooperative play can be interesting, but it usually just opens the door to one person being frustrated at the other person’s incompetency, and is really just an extrapolation of the “beating a program” scenario.

With the internet, multiplayer gaming went beyond the kids on my block and spread worldwide. I have never been in a gang, but I’ve been in several guilds, clans, alliances, factions, and tribes (depending on the game, of course). The most fun is playing with people from other countries, since we have a jolly time ripping on the US for how horrible we are to the rest of the world. I often pretend I’m from Canada.

Which reminds me of another odd trait of mine when playing video games. Given the choice, I tend to play female characters. I don’t look at the person on the screen as a digital representation of me, nor are they who I want to be. Instead, I look at it from the perspective that if I’m going to watch my character’s backside as they run around in the game for several hours, I’d rather it be a woman. Plus, there’s nothing sexier than a woman who kicks ass.

After never writing about video games before, I’m sure this novella has turned most of you to the subject. Regardless, I’ll work on a top ten list of my favorite games of all time across all platforms, because I like making lists and my music is still pretty limited after my reformat.


  1. i can play video games all day long :)

  2. my top 10 favorite games:

    1. Monkey Island 1
    2. Civilization 3
    3. Diablo 2
    4. Day of the Tentacle
    5. Star Wars Galaxies
    6. Oregon Trails
    7. Monkey Island 2
    8. Challenge of the Ancient Empires/ Outnumbered
    9. Americas Army
    10. Lego Star Wars

  3. No way is Civ 3 better than Diablo 2, blasphemy!

  4. My favourite games is modern war fare 2. Modern Warfare remains as one of the best online FPS games out there. The game was spectacular when it came out with impressive cinematic cut scenes that put most movies to shame. However, the Call of Duty engine has been showing its age, which was evident in World at War.


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