I Ruined Games for Myself By Loving Them
It’s hard for me to find the fun in games because I’ve played about a million of them over the last 30 years.
I started with this one.
I had seen a few video games before, but I only have brief flashes of memories now. An Atari 2600 at my Uncle’s house. A display in a store. That sort of thing.
Super Mario Bros. was the first one that faced me, full force, in my own living room, and it was mind-blowing. I was instantly hooked on this new medium, and I needed more.
The 8-bit generation blew by in a cloud of rentals from the local video store.
The 16-bit era brought digitized sound, images, and arcade ports galore.
CD-ROMs brought real audio and full-motion video clips, and I was in love all over again. Now video games weren’t just a fun interactive thing…they were something that could convince me about their world. They could pull me into an immersive experience.
Yes, I found Night Trap immersive. Not fun. But immersive.
In the 32/64-bit era…I played a lot of bad fighting games, platformers, multiplayer shooters…and hundreds of hours of Gauntlet Legends and Star Fox 64.
And I’m that one guy you know who owned a 3DO. Still have it, in fact.
The Dreamcast was a magical arcade port wonder machine with power that rivaled my PC. The PS2 generation is a blur in my mind mostly filled with Metal Gear Solid games and Baldur’s Gate Dark Alliance.
The 360/PS3 are where immersive gaming finally started to nail it.
Oblivion/Skyrim/Fallout: New Vegas.
GTA and Red Dead Redemption.
Worlds could be real now.
And Diablo III showed that mechanics honed to a fine point could last forever.
But then the fun stopped. For me at least.
Oh, I still play a ton of games. And I still have fun playing them, sometimes. But the fun is never what I feel first. And if I don’t get hooked immediately, it’s tough to stick with things.
The same thing has happened to me in a lifetime of playing video games that film school did to me in four years: All I see now is the superstructure.
I see the interesting design decisions. I see the way the graphics and the sound are trying to manipulate me or give me feedback. I see the way the mechanics are designed to incentivize progression and drip-feed new content out to me.
Sometimes all of this still comes together and creates the magic that video games are so uniquely capable of. Other times, my brain is so overwhelmed by seeing this stuff that I can’t have fun any more.
There’s no longer an arcade for games to be born in. Mobile games are based around quicker, more intense hits of fun than even arcades had, instead of keeping you enthralled for longer sessions. Game technology didn’t change nearly as much in the move to the PS4 generation as it had in previous generations. The engines, genres, and game design foundations were all largely established by the end of the 360. The graphics got a bit better and got more K’s and particles…but the games really are just fancier versions of what came before.
That’s all okay. Great, even.
I don’t need every new thing to be “a revolution.” So many old things have been sold to gamers as revolutionary that it’s sometimes hard to see the real innovators.
I don’t always want to have fun with games. I like being able to dissect them and see what makes them tick inside of a few minutes. But I so rarely get transported by them any more. I’m more likely to see the flaws in pacing than I am the cool things a game is doing.
It’s like I’m permanently stuck working as the world’s most skeptical game tester.
I used to approach each new game with hope, thinking “maybe this will turn out to be a new favorite!” I still have that feeling very rarely, but most of the time I already know exactly what I’m getting into thanks to Youtube videos and my own familiarity with the tropes of every genre. I can overthink every game purchase quite easily now thanks to streamers,trailers, and the total lack of scarcity in a market of digital purchases.
I can’t go back. There’s no way to fix this. I don’t even think it needs fixing. But it’s weird how our hobbies inevitably become harder over time just because of our own experience. It’s harder to be surprised, and it’s harder to accept “imperfect” execution. I think this is why stuff we loved as kids feels so cringe-y sometimes when we’re adults.
That lens of experience that allows us to appreciate things, also destroys them.
This is why I sometimes buy bad games on purpose. I want to force my critical brain to be so overwhelmed that it has to shut off.
I used to just have fun with things even if they were terrible.
I miss that.