Sometimes I catch myself missing how I used to play video games. Today, when I sit down to play a game I have a pretty good idea what to expect within minutes of pressing start. Using my combined experiences of hundreds of games--plus the copious amounts of pre-release materials--I can set expectations very quickly.
But it wasnt always like this. I remember a young Maxwell who had zero expectations. He could take a game and in his own mind transform it into something completely different. For him, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 on the Sega Genesis was less of a game and more of a toy. Remembering that kid tells me not only how Ive changed, but games as well.
Growing up, I knew a lot of kids who had a gaming cave: a space, usually their room or basement, where they could retreat with their friends and play, undisturbed by the outside world. Me? I had a jungle. For part of the year, at least.
When it would get cold, my mother would bring in the potted plants from outside and store them in the basement. Surrounded by Fiddleleaf Figs and Arrowhead Vines, I would slump down in my old, brown recliner and lose myself in those digital worlds.
Not to gush, but those days were pretty awesome. Im sure thats how we all remember them, right? It was so easy to simply lose myself within their digital worlds, so much so that I would often ignore the central plot or object and strike out on my own. Exploring every inch of the game, and creating my own, internal narrative.
Earthbound on the Super Nintendo was a prime candidate for this. In the game, there was this really run-down house you could purchase for a huge sum of money. The joke was the outside of the house looked really nice, but the inside was a complete pigsty--one of the walls was even missing. I guess this was supposed to leave you with a tinge of buyers remorse, but I thought the house was awesome!
Inside that shack I would act out whole narratives where Ness and his friends had jobs, ran errands, and lived out their day-to-day lives together. It was a little sitcom inside my head. There was no fighting, no plot-advancement, or anything like that. I was basically recreating The Sims inside of a SNES game.
Today, this never happens. I approach games--all games--differently. There are several reasons for this, such as: my age, amount of pre-release exposure, or advancements in storytelling. Something I enjoy (but secretly loathe) is how much exposure we have to games before their launch. Look at Resident Evil 6. For an astute enthusiasts, you can get the bulk of what a game is about just from pre-release media.
Modern videos are so much more proficient at directing your experience to ensure all key moments and plot points the designers wanted you to see arent missed--no matter what! While entertaining in their own right, more complex games, more complex characters, and more complex stories are (perhaps) driving out room for imagination on the players part. Classic Mario and Sonic games had little to no story whatsoever. Save the princess. Stop Robotnik. It was up to the player to fill in the blanks about the world and its inhabitants.
And how many older games have you played where the art on the cover looked completely different from the game itself? That design constraint meant that as you were playing, say, Gauntlet on NES you were in your mind recreating those little sprites as epic warriors and monsters.
All this is not to say that I hate modern video games or good stories or anything like that. Im just...concerned about a perceived loss of imaginative engagement between player and game. Perhaps Im way off the mark (as I often am) in my less-is-more creative approach. Did anyone else even DO this as a kid?
I definitely agree, and I think when we watch all sorts of trailers for a game we're interested in or the gameplay demos shown at E3 and other events, we're reminded that the game won't be our story. Or at least it's a lot harder to make it our own. I mean that in the way that, when you inevitably end up buying the game and reach the part shown in the gameplay trailer, you're reminded that everyone is or will be playing this game or part. If you watched it then so did many others and they're also playing this part. It's not your story, it's millions of other people's as well. I know that probably makes very little sense.
I think there are games we can make our own, though. That's part of what makes Skyrim so great. We're not shown gameplay videos of big set piece events or quick-time scenarios. You do what you want in the game and you make it your own. I used to make stories up with my house in Solitude and wife. That's not necessarily something everyone else playing the game is doing, so it was my own, and I enjoyed it.
I've also recently tried to avoid reading reviews and watch trailers until after I've finished the game (and even then opinions can be affected). I think it's hard because I don't like having preconceived notions of what a game might be like or what aspects of it I might like. I'd prefer figure those out for myself and make up my own mind. But in reading reviews and watching trailers/demos you get an idea of whether this is a game worth spending your money on. It's a fine line between helping yourself (and your bank account) out, and chipping away at your potential enjoyment from the game.
I don't know, that's my general thoughts on it.
I mostly share you views. To me, most of todays AAA games lack freedom and a sense of "adventure". There are seldom true mysteries to unravel and serious dangers to overcome. Therefore: There are seldom unexpected possibilties for survival to be found.
I really liked the first Zelda-Game for its sense of adventure and being lost(but relatively free to do what you want) in a mysterious world.
I think, when you talk about filling in the gaps in storytelling with our minds, there are still some games today that do that, to some extent--Journey, Limbo, Minecraft--and I think there will always be a space for those games alongside narrative-heavy, AAA titles like RE6 or Mass Effect.
As far as exposure to games pre-launch, I really do think that some of the 'wow' factor is taken out of individual scenes or boss fights, if you've seen a preview of that particular scene already. But there's a difference between having a very removed, small taste of the game from an online video, and fully immersing yourself into the game the first day you buy it. Look at Oblivion; despite there being tremendous pre-launch hype, as well as numerous trailers and gameplay videos before it was released, I'm willing to bet that after exiting the sewers, and gazing at all of Cyrodiil for the first time, every player's breath was taken away, and felt awe and excitement at the endless possibilities of exploring a new world--the feeling that is completely unique to video games.
I completely understand what you are talking about. If someone asks me what my favorite game of all time is, it would be a game I played as a kid. Back then I played whatever game I happened to get as a birthday or christmas present from my parents. I always ended up playing whatever my parents thought looked appropriate for an 6 year old. lol But those were the games I loved the most. I can't tell you how many vivid memories I have playing Super Widget on the SNES as a kid. A game most never heard of! It may not have been a critically acclaimed video game, but it a game that will stick with me forever! I sure miss those days.
Hahaha oh man I liked it ! So true !!! English is my second language when I was young I couldn't understand anything written in English until my 5th grade in elementary school and even then few words here and here. So I always created my own story, my own name for the caracter etc. ( started playing game I was maybe 4 or 5 in 1988-89 ). When I was 13, FFVII came out and I didn't get all the story, but I could understand enough to make it sense somewhat. Few years latter I played the game again and then I understood everything ... it changes my perspective.
Now they give you everything and they don't let any choice. In some games it is fun, but in others it is really sad... tapping that just spark two things in my mind. Mortal Kombat 9 ... when I was young, MK was drapped in mysteries because we didn't undertand the story outside that it was a tournement and all the finish were secret. So the only way to get them were to discovered them by trial and error or in a magazin. The next my friend and I rent the game and someone pull ouf a new fatality we were pissed off because ne one said what it was hahaha. The second thing isn't 100% related to video games ... LEGO. The video games are cool and all but it spew many toys related to a movie or a tv show. So less creativity for the kid. When I was young playing with LEGO there were like 4 themes : Medieval, Pirate, Space and real life. Now it is Harry Potter, Star Was, Super Hero ... it puts less creativity in the hand of a kid when this is a toy for the creative mind !!!
@Coco_pierrot The point you made about Mortal Kombat is exactly what I'm trying to illustrate. In order to get the complete picture you basically had to go on a scavenger hunt, and then put all those pieces together in your head.
Funny you should mentioned playing through FFVII without understanding all the writing, as I recently played through Super Robot Wars Z2 on the PSP. That game is entirely in Japanese, and I didn't understand a bit of it. It's also super text-heavy, so I definitively had to make up my own little story in my mind.
Maybe its because i'm playing for a long time but your right,getting lost in games is from a while back. For me it was mostly rpg that did me loose track of time,day and people. This generation it was demons soul that did that. Not that i'm not enjoying gaming now but its different. Its like in movies,you don't expect nothing you just see them because you've seen to much.
Actually I had a gaming lair of my own. I had different sculptures of dragons and mixed action figures from Yugioh and Digimon as I would lose myself in the gaming days of the N64 and Gamecube. I worry we lose touch of our gaming roots and forget we buy and play these to enjoy the mind and artistic vision of the developer who took the time to carve out a masterpiece entry in our favorite video game series. So yes Maxwell I did this as a kid and I am doing it now with the figures of video games and dragons :)
@g1rldraco7 That's a good point. I catch myself getting caught up in the minutiae of design and not letting myself enjoy a game as a whole more and more as I get older. Picking apart a game can be fun (and educational), but I also find it important to shut off that part of my brain now and again and just have fun!
I don't believe your 'way off the mark', not at all, and besides it's your opinion =P
But anyway, I agree, the majority of games have lost their charm in my opinion, in the last two years I've been interested in about three or four games out of the entire lot(Hitman Absolution, GTA V, Deadlight and Dishonored). I used to want to have a go at least of almost any game back in my ps2 days but now it almost goes over my head. It's quite sad.
I think it's mainly because almost every developer JUST want to make more and more money, nothing wrong with making money but when they make games they should have strong priorities, I think this way they'll stay more focused with their games and what they end up with. And if it's a sequel or linked to an older game(that's usually a classic) then big fans of those games come first and others come second.
It's a really good thing to make more fans but when you lose long time fans doing it that's just bollocks... Ubisoft and EA =/
Good article, and p.s. I fixed my ps2's lens recently and I played War of the Monsters last night and I almost couldn't stop hahaha.
@Johny_47 I think a lot of that "charm" gets lost as the cost of game development rises. When you're pouring thousands, or millions, of dollars into a project the idea of taking a big risk or a quirky idea gets less and less appealing. That's not to say you don't see creative games from big publishers/developers, but I think in general genre diversity has declined.
I was just thinking about this today. A long time ago, when I played Zork, I would make maps of the game world and create drawings of how I thought that world looked. At the time I must have thought those images were important for playing the game. No one has ever seen a grue, so what does a grue look like? I don't think a modern game could get away with having an enemy that you never see, but in Zork it worked well. I think games these days can be engaged creatively, it just takes a different approach and alot more homework. I'm always trying to fill in the story gaps and justify counter-factual data in games like Civilization, Total War, or Assassins Creed. Recently I started writing letters to video game characters, I ask them questions and tell them how I feel about their actions. Even though I know the postman will have trouble delivering those letters, I feel like I have a personal bond with the character after I do this. That might be silly, but it's one way that I make a creative link between myself and the game, a link that is mine alone.
@terrascythe Ha, Civilization, there's a game I still construct my own narrative around. Thanks for reminding me. As I try to determine the CPU's motivations for taking certain actions, I do construct my own ideas about what everyone's personalities are like and the world they live in.
Text adventure are another great avenue for imaginative engagement. From the very first line of Zork, "You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door," I already had images of a spooky, isolated house simply because of the "boarded front door" line.
I definitely get what you're saying, Maxwell, and I feel much the same way. In the formative days of my relationship with videogames, my own imagination was a huge part of the experience. Often fired by the terrific, cinematic box art of Atari 2600 games (http://pics.mobygames.com/images/covers/large/1053738878-00.jpg), a simple game in which you move a paddle back and forth to bounce a ball could become a desperate tale of astronauts battling a transcendent cosmic force to make their way home, or (http://images2.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20120622212758/vsrecommendedgames/images/2/2e/Atari_2600_Adventure_box_art.jpg) a square--a FRICKIN' SQUARE!--could become an intrepid adventurer, bravely questing throughout a dragon-infested land. Inspiring box art or not, like you, I'd often spin narratives in my mind about the characters and the world they lived in, and, perhaps inspired by a youthful viewing of TRON, I often imagined that the events of the game were "really" happening somewhere, on some level, that my actions had real impact. As game worlds become so richly detailed that nothing is demanded of our imaginations, I often miss that kind of engagement, and part of me feels like young people growing up with games today are perhaps missing something by not being asked to take a more active, imaginative role in these realms of play.
I was the same way Max. I think we all were, of a certain age. In most cases we had to create our own narrative because early games often didn't have one, or it was so sparse as to be forgotten moments after beginning.
I find myself trying hard to avoid the pitfall of knowing too much about a game before I play it.. I will learn OF it, and some minor details and if it piques my interest, I will try not to learn much of anything else. That way I'm mostly a fresh slate.
I remember renting NES games as a kid just based on the cover art, and often being disappointed.. but half the fun was the new experience. If you think about how many truly great NES games there were, out of the 600+ in the US market, most of them weren't too great, but we still loved a lot of them for our own reasons. If we play them now through the filter of experience we'd probably drop it within minutes.
I play a lot of older games, partly from being nostalgic for the reasons you mentioned, and partly because it was just simple fun, without all the modern trappings.
I think that's why we're seeing a resurgence of 8 bit and older styled games from Indie companies, they know what was fun and they know it doesn't have to cost billions to make.
@GunnyHath Renting games was a complete gamble; you never knew what you were going to get. You could just as easily land a gem or a total stinker. And those games that were duds, I think many of them still had weird ideas that just weren't well executed (or the game was, say, a bass fishing simulator). As touched on in the article linked below, there was a lot of mystery involved with renting games.
Yeah, you're not the only one ^^ I can really relate to what you're saying. Coincidentally, I stumbled upon this article the other day - it discusses (in great length) why is mystery essential to a great gaming experience. Title is 'We Are Explorers: In Search Of Mystery In Videogames' by Tevis Thompson: http://www.kotaku.com.au/2012/10/we-are-explorers-in-search-of-mystery-in-videogames/
@ermhm Thanks for sharing that article. A growing lack of mystery in video games is a good way to frame what I'm feeling. And it's a multifaceted problem: personally, as I get older and more familiar with the medium I'm able to draw more assumptions about a game faster and more accurately. Meanwhile, as the standard, $60 game becomes more expensive to produce the risk of trying something new versus iterating on something established becomes more one-sided.
back on that humongous old television set I had - well it was only I forget - 25 or 50 dollars at good will even if it did weigh a ton.
Duck Hunt and Secret of Evermore back in my second story apartment. video games alternating with cartoons - that was the life.
I think the word you're looking for is "surreal". Having a world of pixels that's supposed to tell a story, back then gave us as kids an eerie vibe. I honestly don't know how my parents felt back then, but I remember playing on an old Atari 2600 with my father, breaking joypads. I don't know what happened with that old thing. The Atari I mean. I think of those games as awful pixels now and my closest interaction with them today is via AVGN. We never knew what the future could bring. 80s dreamt of black leather and postapocalyptia. But then again, we now have GameSpot to tell us what's next.
@xsonicchaos I think some of that surreal feeling came from the fact that everything was new back then. Seeing, for example, the ending to Super Metroid was very surreal (and surprising) since constructing a scene such as that in a game was still rare at the time.