Somehow I ended up talking about Minesweeper with a British dude.

As some of you may know, I have a podcast called Game Brief. Until now, it has been a solo affair, which has made it admittedly a bit dry. That all changes with this episode. Fellow Giant Bomb user Tylea002 joins me this week, and I think he adds a lot to the show. He's quite funny, and I'm certainly glad to have him along. Anyway, this week we discuss the PSN outage, the new Nintendo console, Portal 2, L.A. Noire, and for whatever reason...Minesweeper. I hope you enjoy it, if you choose to listen. As always, I appreciate the support. The Giant Bomb community is seriously awesome.


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Blow Off the Cartridge, Feed On the Memories


Excellent movies never age. Casablanca, for example, is still a landmark film. The love between Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman is just as beautiful today as it was in 1942. The love portrayed by those two icons seemed so genuine. The way they looked longingly in each other’s eyes felt undeniably real.

That movie is almost seven decades old. Unfortunately, I don’t believe there is a single narrative in gaming that will stand the test of time for that long. It isn’t because there aren’t any excellent stories in gaming, there are plenty. Games like Mass Effect, Metal Gear Solid, Zelda, Final Fantasy, and numerous others contain stories that have completely captivated me. It’s because of those games that I’m so invested with the medium. The only problem is, those games are so constrained by the technology that made them.

In 2000, I was enthralled with Final Fantasy IX. Looking back on the game, the overarching narrative wasn’t anything too spectacular. A mysterious villain seeks to destroy the world and a band of unlikely heroes has to stop him. It’s a story that’s been heard many times before, by the same series no less. What stood out about the game was the fantastic cast of characters. All of them were deeply flawed, yet inherently likeable. As the game progressed through its lengthy story, it made room for each character to breathe and grow.

Too many games focus on constant intensity. Gears of War, an admittedly excellent game, has some of the worst characters I’ve ever seen. It’s only because I never get to know these characters. I never see how they interact with the world around them. All they do is fight, and while they’re good at it, I can’t help but feel apathetic when something bad happens to them. In Final Fantasy IX, the best moments of the game were the quiet moments, the moments you don’t expect.

There’s a princess in the game, named Garnet, who knows nothing of the outside world. She gets kidnapped by a band of thieves, and together they explore the world. At first the princess is excited, thrilled to see the beauty of everything she has missed. Unfortunately, though she does see many great things, she is also exposed to the pain and suffering of others. It hurts her, yet she grows from it. Seeing her change over time made me care about what happened to her. Garnet changed based on what she had seen, and in some ways, I had too.

   
 If only all characters in games were this rich with complexity.

It was once a powerful experience for me. Returning to the game now, it just doesn’t have the same effect. It isn’t because the writing is bad, it’s just as good as it was then. What has changed is the way games work and look. Going back to 32-bit graphics with no facial animations is a lot harder than I thought it would be. Having to wade through turn based battles is a chore, it makes the story sequences feel few and far between.

Books are still roughly the same as they were hundreds and hundreds of years ago. They’re written word by word, page by page. Games do not have this luxury. What was touching to me in a game nearly 11 years ago, now seems stiff and unnatural. If games are inherently linked to the technology that makes them, how can they have any sort of permanence?

The key difference is that games rely on their communities much more than books or film. Though I may never be able to enjoy Final Fantasy IX in the same capacity that I did when I was ten, I can still turn on Street Fighter II and have a blast beating up on friends. It puts a smile on my face when I think about the times I had in Phantasy Star Online with people I didn’t even know. I found out I had so much in common with complete strangers. Suddenly I was exposed to this world of people just like me.

Games may not be able to stand the test of time on their own, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t kept alive in our hearts. It’s ludicrous to play through the original Metroid today. That game is infuriatingly frustrating. That said, it didn’t stop me from waxing nostalgic with a guy who had a Samus tattoo this past weekend. It was fun talking about how we used to make maps of the planet Zebes in our school notebooks, hoping to slowly uncover a path of victory through the classic NES game.

It doesn’t matter if we can’t have the same experiences with old games today. What matters is that we had them back then. We have to take the memories, use them to inspire us. It’s easy to become jaded as  a gamer, especially when it seems like we’re constantly getting fed the same thing. If that’s how you feel, look back to the past. Remember how special games seemed then, and use that feeling to keep you looking for the good in the medium you once loved.

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