As I reached the decision not to invest in this year’s versions of NCAA Football and Tiger Woods PGA Tour (because I liked the previous editions, but do not like redundancy), a larger point occurred to me: Do I need another video game?
I don’t mean now. I mean ever.
An obvious opening note would be that my general appetite for gaming has subsided predictably as I’ve gotten older. I use my Playstation 3 mostly for watching streaming Netflix content, watching baseball via MLB.TV, and watching Blu-ray movies. Still, firing up the PS3 or Wii for a half-hour once or twice a week for some button-mashing can be a lot of fun.
The thing is, I’ve noticed that I’m playing throwback games almost exclusively of late, either through the Wii’s Virtual Console or via old PSN games or Sega Genesis classics on PS3. My interest in complex, “modern” games has given way to a desire to pick up and play easily with a more limited time commitment. Mobile app games have also reminded me that simplicity is a huge plus for someone who doesn’t want to spend dozens of hours per week on a video game.
There are exceptions. I found the elaborate Old West setting and gameplay of Red Dead Redemption to be compelling. I still delve into NCAA’s Dynasty mode once in a great while. Although linear, the movie-like and cutscene-heavy Metal Gear Solid 4 is one of the best games I’ve ever played. For the most part, though, I leave that sort of gaming to people who are much more interested in an immersive experience than I am.
I bought the arcade version of Golden Axe on the Playstation Network a few weeks ago for $5.00, probably one-fifth the amount of money I spent in quarters on Golden Axe machines in my youth.
Here was the revelation: It took about 25 minutes to beat the entire game, and, rather than being irritated about the brevity of the experience, I was pleased that I received the correct “dosage.”
That’s my level of investment at this point. Playing some tower defense game on my phone briefly in bed before I fall asleep. Jumping through a level or two of Super Mario Brothers on the Virtual Console. Taking an eight-minute 80’s music quiz on Sporcle. I might obsess over a new game or app and play the hell out of it for a day or two, but it quickly becomes something I want to pick up for a few minutes once in a while—if that.
Nothing clarified that shift in attitude more sharply than my experience with a game called Skyrim. After reading some rave reviews and internet chatter and seeing some of the stunning visuals, I bought it with store credit accrued after trading in a bunch of other games I no longer played. I was a little skeptical, even at the outset. While I had loved Red Dead Redemption, and knew there were some parallels in “sandbox” gameplay between the two, RDR grounded itself in the real world. The story and locales were a pastiche of reality, to be sure, but they were at least evocative of a time in our history that once actually existed. Skyrim was set in a land of dragons and wizards and swords. I get why this appeals to
nerds others, but that’s never been my thing.
I progressed twenty hours into the game over the course of a couple of weeks. Then I put the controller down for good. It wasn’t that the game experience didn’t live up to the billing. Quite the contrary: Skyrim does exactly what it sets out to do. But that’s also the problem.
Walking into a room in Skyrim and being able to pick up EVERY single item therein may be an impressive technical achievement, but, when you’re 34 years old, the desire to peruse a virtual bookcase full of fictional volumes about fictional religions practiced by fictional ethnic groups seems utterly pointless, even if you do get additional skill in picking locks or casting healing spells or archery for taking the time to do it.
That brings me back around to my original point: Because processing power and data storage are more abundant than ever, this is where games are headed in a big-picture sense. More detailed, immersive experiences. “Bigger is better.” Tens, if not hundreds of hours of gameplay.
That landscape is ideal for much younger people, and with good reason. Even as a single man with no children, I’ve got better things to do with my life. In all seriousness, I think the concept of “killing time” is much more palatable when you’re young enough to believe that time is essentially infinite.
There’s also the notion of games being a poor facsimile of something superior that’s equally attainable. For example, why would I play Wii tennis for an hour by myself when I could go play tennis or racquetball with a friend? Or, as games migrate toward a more cinematic experience and claim that as a huge selling point, I realize that I can get my fix of cinematic storytelling from actual movies that do it better than any game has to date.
In truth, I’m sure I’ll purchase additional games going forward, but I do wonder if any of them will be games I haven’t played previously. Improved size and graphics notwithstanding, I think video games represent a more finite medium than, say, literature or theater. Whereas other forms of entertainment still seem to hold a lot of potential for showing me things I’ve never seen before, part of me feels like I’ve seen all I ever need to see (or realistically will see) from video games. That, coupled with age, has led me to the conclusion that, in many respects, it’s time to move on.
I suppose if I continue down this path and reach its logical conclusion, I’ll be playing Pong on my deathbed for five minutes at a time.