It’s been a long while since I’ve been into video games. Following the discontented winter of 2008 which had the Dead Space/World at War/Prince of Persia fiasco; a triple bill that really made me wonder if I should be spending so much time and energy on this hobby, there was the Mass Effect 2/Alan Wake/Red Dead Redemption trifecta a few years later which affirmed that the answer is no; since then, all I’ve played are a few ill thought out Christmas presents, had a whale of a time knocking out Portal 2 when my roommate was at class and then immediately regretted my decision to try out some games again when we endured a marathon session of Borderlands. More like Boringlands. Pause for laughter.
I do still keep up. I’m trying to make myself not regret the decade-plus of regularly buying games. I’m capping it off with a shiny new Xbox to finish the franchises I’m invested in this coming winter and giving myself closure, but between now and then, I spent a lot of time watching games: Let’s Plays, Retsupuraes and Quick Looks, not feeling like I’m actually missing anything without a controller in my hand and only yesterday, talking to my friend about Modern Warfare 3 did I have the stark realisation that I don’t think I understand the mentality of video games.
Specifically, it was the line ‘You’re the only person I’ve know who gives a shit about what will happen to Makarov. I just want to shoot dickheads online again.’ Both clauses in there made me wonder about the mentality of the gamer itself. I got my N64 in 1998 and, like everyone, I played a load of GoldenEye. As Alec Trevelyn, I shot all kinds of MI5, Janus, SPECTRE agents alongside a poor facsimile of my personal fetish fuel Xenia Onatopp in the head with all kinds of pistols, shotguns and so forth. I played a few levels of single player too; I didn’t own the game and only borrowed it for a weekend or two so I didn’t progress too far - I was pretty young at the time - but I really enjoyed running from A to B in dank corridors shooting Russians in the head with all kinds of pistols, shotguns and so forth.
Like a lot of you, I got into games around the time of the 3D arrival and I could always look in my latest issue of Gamesmaster and see the upcoming releases and future generations, see the mark up in visual quality and think to myself that everything was getting better and better. The leap in fidelity between 16, 32, 64 and 128 bit was so startling every time that it caught my attention and it always kept me interested. Instead of being Mario running from left to right, I was Mario running laissez faire; instead of merking guys from overhead, I was merking them in full 3D and listening to the music from Scarface. But then around the time of the Xbox 360, I found myself thinking that I’ve already done this.
I’m sure there’s plenty of people out there who have my same concern, but I turn to the Giantbomb forums, as I’ve been known to do, looking for an asp to make fun of, and I see people paraphrasing my friend who just wants to shoot dickheads and I can not fathom how you haven’t had enough. I shot guys in the head in GoldenEye, I did it in Halo, I did it in Snore-derlands; Three generations of going from A to B in dank corridors and shooting guys in the head. First person, third person; modern, future; online, offline. It’s all the same.
With everything else I like, there’s a timeline that I can trace. My purchase of Limp Bizkit’s Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog Flavoured Water when I was 12 was the jump off point that got me to sitting here, typing this, and listening to Anjunabeats Volume 8. It’s a twisty and turny set of connections, but I can look back and appreciate that, as shitty as that album was, it got me interested in music to the point of where I am now. I can go from seeing Peter Pan aged 3 to seeing Les Petits Mouchoirs aged 22. I can even follow the ups and downs of pro wrestling eventually leading me to the Bell Centre in the coolest city in the world, cheering on GSP last december. I look at my video game collection and, in comparison, I’ve taken a baby step.
The reason I almost entirely gave up on games after I played Mass Effect 2, Alan Wake and Red Dead Redemption is that you have the stories of a Canadian on an intergalactic adventure, a depressed writer busting ghosts to rescue his wife and a cowboy tracking an old ally across the wicky-wicky-wild wild west to settle an old score and in order to do all these things, to settle every one of these conflicts, I shot people till there was no one left. Everything might look nicer, but nothing else has changed in about 15 years. How do you people do it? How is that not a sign that maybe you should give something else a shot instead? Are you that easily entertained? Look elsewhere you cry. To where I ask. If I don’t want to simulate a sport, I can’t see many options. This weeks new releases, that I can play, are going from A to B shooting stuff, going from A to B shooting stuff, going from A to B shooting/hacking at stuff, driving from A to B shooting stuff; each one described in their respective reviews and previews as being ridiculous but not having much of a fiction.
It’s easy enough to blame you guys. You’re the one coughing up $60 a go to ostensibly repeat the same process you just spent $60 to do but there’s another side to this equation. One that perplexes me just as much as wondering why you guys play this stuff; why do those guys make this stuff? It’s something I’d been thinking for a while, but it really came to a head when I sat there and watched the Hard Reset Quick Look. My first thought was ‘What kind of idiot actively wants to play this?’ but that eventually turned to ‘What kind of idiot actively wants to make this?’
I can sit here and lament the total lack of auteurism in video games all day long, but were this game developed by just one guy, I could understand but when it’s a team of people all coming together to spend thousands and thousands of euros on a project, how does a committee come together to agree on something as bland and second hand as yet another FPS with no character, personality or depth besides for looking a bit like Blade Runner and invoking something John Romero did literally decades ago? How do they think this is a good idea? And why didn't they want to do something unique to them instead of expensive hack work? I’ll never play it, never want to play it and you can tell me it’s a load of fun running around, shooting things with brightly coloured guns and I’ll quip something like ‘Yeah, I know. I played Halo’ or definitely something better but, even so, the total lack of ambition this displays is so pervasive that I cant help but feel like a sucker for ever giving money to this business.
The one that really sticks with me is Capcom and their treatment of Resident Evil. Sure, Resident Evil 5 was garbage and, yeah, Resident Evil 6 will appear by 2013 with a clone of Wesker and we’ll all shoot not-quite zombies as they run at you, then walk, giving you enough time to shoot them while you stand in place all over again. I can accept that because I can accept that video games, particularly of Japanese origin, are a business ran on enticing the lowest common denominator. I can even accept that I got sucked into a shitty mythos because, at the time, it was pretty much the only franchise that actually had one. What bothers me is the obvious fact that no one at Capcom gives any kind of shit about the quality of the material they produce.
Much like the progression I detailed earlier, the gap between each succeeding Resident Evil game was just large enough to convince by 8 to 15 year old self that each game was bigger and better than the last, but when the finale arrived, it was 2009 and not only was the game a piece of shit, it retroactively made the earlier games shit too - shitter than they actually are, which is really shit. MGS4 managed to at least make an effort at tying all the strings back together for a satisfying finale. After games upon games of Solid Snake and Revolver Ocelot revolving like a helix around the events of that franchise, giving them one last sunset was awesome. Conflict that with blowing up Wesker in a volcano after 50% more games with no real rhyme or reason and you’ve just failed an entire generation of people who played it. No one at Capcom knows how to tell a story and I payed hundreds of pounds to find that out.
Please, call me naive as much as you want. I am the idiot for trying to justify my money. I am the idiot for wanting some drama in my investments. I am the idiot who wants to be entertained on a higher level than just shooting zombies again. I am the idiot who thought that maybe there was a direction to the whole thing. I am the idiot who saw a good face/heel dynamic in the straight laced Chris Redfield and the theatrical Albert Wesker. I am the idiot who thought at least one person employed by Capcom’s creative department was actually creative. I am the idiot who thought at least one person in Capcom’s creative department could tell a simple story. I am the idiot who liked Resident Evil, but you’re the idiot who will buy Resident Evil 6 and say ‘Well, all I wanted to do was shoot zombies and that’s what it did. 10/10.’
It’s not just constrained to Capcom and it’s murky schoolgirl-fucking tentacles that have spread to other parts of the world. It’s not even just Japan. It may be worse there than in American and European games development, but it seems like no company in video games has any higher aspiration than making something for a 14 year old boy. You can throw BioShock - a game that’s half a decade old - at me here but above it’s lethargic and totally average shooting mechanics is only a strawman response to Ayn Rand, an author you probably have never actually read, which probably explains the high praise. Then there’s maybe, what? I’m genuinely struggling to think of anything to actually counter my own argument. Persona, maybe, in its whole tragic underbelly of how making friends and talking to girls can give you some kind of believe-in-yourself magical power but that seems more for the lonely proto-Japanese than a normal, functioning human being.
John le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy just got released as a movie. It’s fantastic. In the 70s, it was a TV show. It’s fantastic. It’s all based on the book. I haven’t read it yet but my granddad assured me it’s fantastic. You could probably turn it into a graphic novel; shit, you could probably turn it into a wrestling storyline along the lines of some kind of Corporate Ministry thing with the discovery of the higher power but you could not turn it into a video game. Imagine how good it would be to play as George Smiley, working your way through a seedy world of international political intrigue. Well, keep imagining because there’s neither an audience nor an auteur who would bring it together. Could you imagine playing a game on your Xbox 360 or PS3 that didn’t involve shooting anyone and has an actual sense of player agency? I can’t. There was a time when I was told video games were interactive entertainment but when the only form of said agency is a binary on/off, I’m more convinced that Schindler’s List is a colour film because of that girl in the red coat.
The two big whys are the main reason why I still knock about the site. The Bombcast is fun but the actual talk about games is secondary and I can bait people on other sites, not as easily but whatever, the crux of my posting and perusing is to find answers. There’s a real passion people have for games but it’s absolutely alien to me. Off the top of my head, I can pick a solid list of books, movies and TV shows from this year alone that have made me laugh, cry, just think and/or generally appreciate their respective medium; an emotional response. Outside of the single line ‘Snake had a hard life’, there is no video game that’s made me shed a tear, I can’t even think of a game that’s intentionally made me laugh, Modern Warfare and Gears are thrilling and dramatic at points but after that, I’m done. How do you get passionate about this banal hobby? How do they get so passionate about making such bland products? What is it I’m missing here?
P.S. Before you call me out, I'm intending on writing wrap up blogs for Gears of War, Modern Warfare and Mass Effect once all threequels are out. See you then.