I have murdered countless innocents, even children. Armies have bowed before me. I have sown genocide across worlds. Worst of all, my atrocities entertained me.
Of course, my horrific acts all occurred in video games, so I am about as well-adjusted as any modern twentysomething. Like most my age, the massive sum of time spent in digital worlds is a subject not to dwell upon.
Today is the first day of my final spring break. During elementary and high school, this would have been a week spent mostly in my pajamas with a Nintendo controller because girls were either A.) icky or later B.) not talking to me.
Yet sometime during my undergraduate education, video games stopped being so important to me. My murderous, virtual campaigns began to bore me.
Think of an ex-girlfriend that you no longer care about. Looking back, you get annoyed remembering all the times she didn’t laugh at your jokes or wasn’t sensitive about that common problem that happens to plenty of guys and is definitely not a big deal (, right?). Yet you still miss the way you felt around her.
My passion for video games has decreased, but I still want them to be an important part of my life. Halo 4 was a good game, but I am nostalgic for breaking out of Ivory Tower in Halo 2. However, I can play Halo 2 anytime, but I know it won’t be the same. In the words of Tim McIlrath, “Maybe we’ve outgrown all the things that we once loved.”
Why has my passion diminished? Most video games make the same mistakes:
1. An oversaturation of violence When I was a kid, violence was cool. I wasn’t watching Power Rangers for the fascinating interpersonal dynamics; I watched to see the Rangers beat up on poorly costumed bad guys (and to see the Pink Ranger). My fondness for violence only increased when playing with guns and blood in Quake.
But there’s an upper limit to the violence after which you just become desensitized. After gouging out Poseidon’s eyes or destroying a planet-sized monster, who cares about blowing soldiers’ heads off.
Plus, a large part of my enjoyment was its taboo nature. At the time, you wanted to be the kid whose parents let him watch South Park at age 6, but looking back, playing GTA3 was sweetened because you had to to convince your mom that the game wasn’t that violent and was very respectful towards women. This parental interest about what you watch and play ends sometime during your early teens when drugs and sex become more pressing concerns than arrangements of pixels.
2. A disrespect of my time I am a pretty lazy guy. Most of my friends are either in grad school or working at engineering firms. As a fifth year philosophy student, my schedule is probably not as hectic as most other adults. So if I can’t find time to play most games, how the hell can anyone else?
RPGs are the worst offender. If I only have a few hours a week to play, an 80 hr experience can easily stretch over a few months. My interest in the plot simply cannot be sustained for that long.
This problem extends to more than just the sum of all playtime. Too many games require a large investment of time before I can even be sucked into a game and see some noticeable progress.
Too frequently, my use case with many RPGs is:
1. Listen to some dialogue to find out I need The Item in another town.
2. Start heading towards that town.
3. Fight wolves.
4. Fight more wolves.
5. Realize I am heading in the wrong direction.
6. Fight giant rat.
7. Drop some loot from my full inventory.
8. Fight wolves again.
9. Arrive at town.
10. Listen to more dialogue to discover that The Item is somewhere else.
15 minutes in, my dog will decide now is a perfect time to demand a walk. I’ll shut off the console, take Kiva out, realize I accomplished nothing, and put the game aside until tomorrow.
As limited as mobile games like Temple Run are, at least I get a full experience playing them while on the toilet.
3. A meaningless virtual adventure This is the most fundamental problem of the three. Too many games rely on the monomyth, where a young hero heads out on an adventure to save the world and improve themselves along the way. This trope brings grandiosity and a sense of importance to games, but once you reach adulthood in real life, the virtual monomyth becomes hollow.
When you are in high school, it is hard to realize that you’re imprisoned in a fake life. Paul Graham, partner at Y Combinator, explains it best, “Your teachers are always telling you to behave like adults. I wonder if they’d like it if you did. You may be loud and disorganized, but you’re very docile compared to adults…Imagine the reaction of an FBI agent or taxi driver or reporter to being told they had to ask permission to go the bathroom, and only one person could go at a time…If a bunch of actual adults suddenly found themselves trapped in high school, the first thing they’d do is form a union and renegotiate all the rules with the administration.” Your actions and responsibilities are limited until age 18.
But once you hit adulthood, you are free to go on any adventure. Although the idea may seem distant, improving the world is a real goal you can fight for. Bill Gates does it every day. But adventures can also be personal. Visit Spain. Write a novel. Get the girl.
Real adventures trump virtual ones. This holds true at both a macro and micro level. Why climb Death Mountain when you can climb Mount Kilimanjaro? Why grind mobs to increase my level when I can grind at the gym to lose weight? While your virtual goals are normally easier to achieve, your real ones have more importance.
For this reason, games aimed at adults cannot rely so heavily on a sense of adventure to impart meaning to the player. Of course, real world responsibilities hinder our chances to work on real goals, so video games can fill a need for accomplishment quite easily. But games need to expand beyond this.
Video games are interesting because anything can happen inside their world. Physics and logic are the programmer’s plaything. The goal of a game should be to provide a unique experience not possible in any other medium.
For this reason, I’ve been drawn to mostly indie games recently. So many of them let me do something new, something I have never experienced.
As such, I have created this site to talk about all the indie games I am playing. Upcoming posts will be in-depth discussions on a single game. You can call them reviews. You can call them criticism. You can call them rants or ramblings.
But two major guidelines will instruct my writing.
1. No scores, hence the name of this site. If you can’t tell how much I like a game by only skimming the post, then that’s a problem with my writing ability. Dumbing down my thoughts to a single number is disrespectful to you.
2. Don’t read my reviews before playing the game. Most game reviews help you decide whether to purchase the product. In that case, telling you about the details about the graphics and game mechanics makes sense.
But that does not interest me. I want to talk about the higher-level concepts a game addresses. The themes that stay with you are more important than when the FPS lags.
If you agree with my philosophy, stick around. My first substantive post will be coming soon.