Losing Interest In A Pastime: Videogames

Losing Interest In A Pastime: Videogames

Videogames are the most popular they have ever been. They are accepted (mostly) by society as a thing to do and no one really thinks ill of someone playing a mobile game while waiting for a bus, train or appointment. However in spite of this, I have lost a lot of my interest in gaming. So why is this?

Preface

To preface this, I want to establish that I have played videogames for pretty much the entirety of my life. My brother and I received an NES for Christmas when I was four. The following year a GameBoy(original) and the next(or soon there after) an SNES. I grew up with Mario, Donkey Kong, Kirby and a slew of other characters. I received an N64 and GameCube for Christmases later and even went out on Black Friday to preorder a Wii with my own cash. A few years ago I purchased our latest consoles, the Wii U and Xbox 360.  (Don’t worry, I also enjoyed mobile gaming with a GameBoy Color, Advance, DS, DS Lite, and 3DS)

So with this, gaming has been a defining piece of my life. I have taken great enjoyment in games up until a few years ago. That’s when I noticed a change. However what the change is I am not entirely sure. This article tries to convey my thoughts on why I no longer find enjoyment with most of what gaming offers.

REMINDER: This is my opinion about what I do not enjoy about modern gaming. I have met many people who agree and disagree with me on this so I thought it may be fun to share my opinion. So please be respectful and if you choose to comment, only post constructive and thoughtful ideas.

Games are Art or Can Be

Before I continue explaining the changes, I feel my view of games as an art form is rather important to note. I am a firm believer that games are an artform or rather that they can be. Similar to how many paintings are art, but not all are(no some paintings are just portraits or advertisements). For me, I enjoy games that provide an ‘artistic’ experience. This isn’t to say something off the wall or require deep analysis. I just like games to make me think and give me an experience or insight to not only the world it pretends to exist, but also something a little more that can be taken from it and applied to life or provide insight to others lives.

This isn’t to say I feel all games need to be art. I enjoy some fighting game franchises(Smash Brothers/Soul Calibur), your average FPS (Halo, 007 etc) and arcade style games and third person action games. Exploring these worlds and playing for fun is always welcome. Except when it’s not.

Something Changed

Around 2010-2011 I noticed games starting to change or perhaps I was changing. I honestly feel it’s a combination of both. Not only have I been playing games my entire life, but back in 2003 I started teaching myself game design. I was in high school then and have been studying it as a hobby ever since (failing to get my act together to make anything more than a few proof of concept demos). However this is when I started using software to make my ideas a reality. I have sketches and papers outlining game ideas as far back as elementary school. So I think I may have started to look for more from gaming. Regardless around this era (2007-2011), console capabilities were becoming incredible. Realism was attainable(Crysis). However games weren’t living up to the grand revolutionary schemes they touted.

The Pinnacle Of Gaming

Personally I feel like gaming peaked back in 2007-2010. This is the era of Half Life 2, Halo 3, Halo Reach, where revolutionary changes were still happening and games seemed to take these advances and see how they could apply them and make things more artful(at least more than previously). Perhaps this is the main difference. This was the last major leap that I grew up seeing, and now things are evolving at a slow incremental rate. I feel like this was the last era where games really tried to be most like themselves and different from everyone else and really bring something unique to the table.

Padding

However aside from innovation (engine tech from physics to lighting becoming powerful and more accessible) something else seemed to change. I first noted it with Smash Brothers Brawl. Brawl was a good game, however, unlike it’s predecessors it included a massive list of characters and even worse so many events and achievements that it was discouraging me from even trying to complete things. See while growing up, beating games and completing them 100% was something that I thought was fun. However, those games, although sometimes unfairly balanced, didn’t feel padded out with check boxes to complete.

Additionally I played the new Donkey Kong Country and felt the same way. Something changed and it just didn’t feel the same as it did when playing on the SNES. So, I explored this idea and purchased DK Country on the WiiU shop and have been playing through it. I found something interesting. Things have changed. In addition to the original KONG letters you collect in each course, it now records these, with additional collectables. These collectables are no longer just adding up to a total of greater than 100% completion in the save file. No, like the new mario games, you have to collect all the items in each level to unlock additional areas of gameplay. Effectively this walls off content to only those dedicated enough to play through each level multiple times.

I understand wanting to add replay value, however this feels more like padding to enable “hard core” players something to aspire too while leaving the additional experience unattainable to those who don’t have the skill or time to put into it. This also feels hallow and arbitrary to me as most of the time the collectables are hidden and not a test of skill to attain. So for me it turns into a pure time sink instead of a challenge, although I believe many still see it as a challenge. When all it does for me is try my patience.

Rise of Achievements

Achievements seem to predate this practice though and have similar effect, but without walling off content. I dislike them as well and turn them off on my systems. I feel they are one of the worst things to happen to gaming. Oddly enough they really weren’t a large part of gaming until 2007 onward with Steam receiving achievements sometime in 2007 and then back porting to older games (I remember HL 2 getting them once I was half way through my playthrough a few years later).  Xbox was the first to use them and from then on, many games excluding Nintendo’s platforms have incorporated them.

What’s wrong with achievements?

So why do I find achievements so wrong? Usually they have no baring on the experience and are just random tasks for a player to do to increase their overall gamer score. So you do tasks to look better in your profile if you care. This isn’t bad per say, but taking the focus off of the game and doing tasks that ‘confirm your ability’ or are random just for the sake of being credible that you did such a feat seems to miss the mark of experience first that I desire. I don’t want a pop up telling me I got some score increase while watching a cut scene. I don’t want to hunt them down to get a better score. So I don’t do these things, but I feel it draws others into this mindset that makes the focus more on having a higher personal number and less of enjoying or experiencing the game as you please.

Before achievements you could do the same kind of tasks if you so choose. You could try to break the game, do random things and then have the personal satisfaction of knowing you did it. Now, these things interrupt your experience (unless it’s multiplayer, but there are still things there that annoy me too) to let you know you completed the mission (really?) or that you killed x enemy with x gun. I love the stats in older games such as Smash Brothers on the N64 which tell you all sorts of data on each character used, but please don’t interrupt me to ‘make me feel awesome’. I would hope the game can do that without text to tell me.

These have even crept over into multiplayer as well. Allyson and I love to play Halo Reach and one of the most annoying thing is getting a ‘skill’ while playing split screen online. ‘Yay I got a bronze “tank” award?! Not sure what it is but it’s now taking up my whole half screen while I’m in a firefight! Arggghh!’ Glad I could end my streak of ‘awesome’ by dying at the hands of the game telling me how ‘awesome’ I am.  Seems counter intuitive no? Why not show me AFTER the match if you must. Or just let it sit under stats so those who care can check and those who don’t, aren’t pressured into thinking it’s something they need to do?

Achievements aren’t inherently bad though and arcade games can benefit greatly from them by encouraging different play styles or point goals. However my experience with them is that they are a way to help pad a game out. Want 100% completion? Well you need to do all these arbitrary things to do so. With some being absurd such as HL2 pinning a combine to a billboard with the crossbow. These seem to just detract from the overall experience by funneling players through arbitrary tasks and padding out the game instead of focusing in making the game fun enough that it has an inherently high reply value. However I can see how using this method is just easier and people seem to like them so companies support it to make gamers happy and increase engagement, regardless of how it may affect the original view and experience designed for the game.

Mainstream and Pro Gaming

In addition to achievements and a feeling of padding out content with random collectables that may or may not even be relevant in game, mainstream/pro gaming seems to be directing how games are developed now. No, I don’t dislike esports. As a matter of fact I enjoy watching high level players show their skills. With that said, as esports have cropped up in popularity (going more mainstream at and after my perceived pinnacle of gaming time frame) I see more games being designed solely for pro players. This isn’t terrible, but I feel it leaves those of us who want a casual experience out of the equation.

My biggest complaint is the steady churn of games that are similar or have morphed to be similar. We got the Call of Duty and Battlefield franchises churning out games that are similar to one another. Halo, one of my favorite franchises was redesigned in 4 and more heavily in 5 to cater to the esports aspect. Changing from kill counts to points and ‘updating’ the characters to act more similarly to COD or Battlefield has felt like they forgot their roots or have abandoned the old experience for something new. There isn’t anything really wrong with this, but having enjoyed the uniqueness of the franchise for so long it’s redesigns to make it more like another now more popular franchise just seems like they are doing it to fit in and try to appease this other playerbase instead of making what they feel is the best revision of their game. However I do see some merits as the sprint function in Halo 4 felt like a breath of fresh air. So, it isn’t all terrible, just disappointing to see other changes that aren’t to enhance the series and more to fit a particular play style or crowd.

RPG Elements Everywhere

Lastly, I want to touch on RPG elements and how they have permeated just about every genre I can think of. Leveling up for new weapons is no longer just for adventure games. Now you level up for guns, skills and ‘perks’. Sorry you need to grind through hundreds of hours before you earn that right to wear that armor, because this is now Halo. What? You want the better sword in Legend of Zelda? No it’s not a quest, go find 3 of these bugs, 5 of this ore and 2 of these rare crystals.

RPG elements are enjoyable in the right setting but I feel they are being tossed into everything to help pad games out to last longer. Similar to extremely hard games of my youth, instant death is now a long slow boring death of my interest as I need to collect, scavenge and increase XP to unlock things that were previously available or one time events in game.

It makes sense that in Skyrim you gather materials and make stuff with your bare hands. However, that game is trying to help simulate the time and world you live in. This adds depth and understanding (through needing to know who can help or what materials are needed and even how to find rarer materials). This helps build the world.

Now, let’s look at Halo. I have played Reach off and on for years online and still have not had enough credits to complete my armory. What does this add though? I am not in the academy. Technically they make me feel like Noble 6 since my armor choices show up in game, I get the impression that even outside the campaign it is my Noble 6 character. So why does an elite spec ops soldier need to work up through all of the ranks to pick armor types? Yes they are cosmetic and don’t matter gameplay wise, but the point is this doesn’t drive the game forward or give it anything extra. It’s pure padding to keep you engaged in online matches where you earn the most XP.

If all the armor was available from the start, how would that impact the player? It would let them make their soldier as they want from the get go which I feel would be better as this showcases their own narrative broken by the unlocks and player choice. When you play through campaign it starts off with a foreshadowing of the future by showing a decimated helmet that then fades in to your current helmet. However, I assume most people were like me and started campaign and then went and played some multiplayer. You get some new gear and then change things up. Now you go back and finish the campaign and your Spartan changes as you upgraded its looks. So now the game ends and comes full circle back to the foreshadowed scene of the helmet and the connection is lost. The potential emotional impact and depth has been cut off. Locking the players look when they start campaign is a solution, but so is removing the artificial barrier for skins based on time spent in the game.

Summing it up

So really it comes down to a few things that bother me with the current gaming scene. First is that I am older and have studied game design and what I like to play. I know I like to have deeper experiences and some shallower ones. I also enjoy the arts and want to see more high quality experiences produced as this medium can really do things that books and movies can’t. I also know what I like and don’t and I now have limited time and an adult budget where I need to think about where else my money should go than day one launch as well as the time needed to sink into these games.

In addition to this, padding seems to be rampant with collectables, achievements and other elements that don’t help present a fuller or deeper experience. This feels like wasted time and even deceptive ways to try to keep me interested. As I value my time this leaves me feeling empty and I have stopped playing games that don’t seem to respect this. Additionally, games seem to now be designed more and more for the competitive scene which is good for the budding industry, but terrible for my interests. I just don’t have the desire or time needed to put in that level of dedication to a single game to make it fun.

So these are the things I have found that have made me less enthusiastic about gaming. As I have studied game design for the past 12 years, I think finally not seeing games I am interested in will really end up helping me become more passionate about making what I feel is a good/are good game(s). So not all hope is lost. I think my enthusiasm will still remain, but my focus on consuming games as a past time will change in the process.

Afterthoughts

After completing this article I realize there are a ton of other topics that I haven’t touched on that I may or may not ever address. Such as indie games and how many of their games seem to better fit my tastes now, and other issues such as many games now being single player only with no local play. However as this is already nearing 3000 words 😯 I will shelve those and let this be incomplete. Constructive comments are welcome below. 🙂

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