Sarcasm & Missing Experiences

June 19, 2010

Not quite sure how to start this one, I guess I’ll try and dive right in. It seems that in the world of gaming there is much unhappiness, despite the fact that games generally are intended to provide happiness or at least some form of fulfillment or catharsis. So, what’s going on here?

Every new announcement of a game, every new trailer that goes out seems to attract a certain amount of derision from some groups of gamers. I think a fair amount of this is simply because the world of gaming is very varied, we have shooters that are about shooting, games about close up melee combat, games where you’re supposed to play a role, games with puzzle solving, or strategy & tactics, resource management and so on.

The problem is that whilst gaming is very varied, it could potentially be massively varied. There are countless experiences that are waiting to be visited or revisited, concepts long neglected or which never got a chance to truly shine. Variations on existing experiences as yet untried, so many possibilities both old and new waiting… And waiting… And waiting…

I could be wrong, or perhaps innacurate, but I can’t help but feel this is where a lot of the sarcasm that slips into comments comes from. Gaming has gone through a number of large perspective shifts through the ages, once gaming was often done primarily in 2 dimensions, once gaming was often done using turn based systems, both of these went on to be seen in some quarters as old, perhaps obsolete, or the new methods simply seemed exciting, innovative and new.

But each time one of these massive perspective shifts happens people get left behind. I used to quite enjoy RTS games, then hero units became massively popular and I drifted away from those games in a big way, I wanted to lead armies, not super-heroes that stole my glory (StarCraft is an interesting exception, the ‘hero’ characters weren’t super strong). Space exploration/combat games haven’t ever really gotten the attention they deserve, leaving many still hearkening back to those classic days of Elite Frontier or X-Wing & Tie Fighter, sure there’s been the X games and Freelancer and a few others, but certainly not as many releases as First (and now Third) person perspective games have gotten. I was particularly struck by the first few ‘core’ games announced during the XBox 360 Press Conference – It was one Third Person Perspective game after another, like the system has an addiction to that view style. Or the way the majority of games in the Nintendo Press Conference were all old IPs & Franchises, which will certainly satisfy the people who want those, but what about the people who want new stuff?

So what happens then? Well, I guess a few people will just give up, drift away from gaming altogether, or perhaps migrate to other genre’ occasionally returning for what scant joys they can get. Those who remain, remain hopeful. Hopeful that occasionally fate will smile on us and we’ll get some truly great adventure games (Thanks Microids & Telltale Games) or some truly great space games (Freelancer, the X games, shame I found X3 felt somewhat average) or some truly great turn based games (Frozen Synapse & Elemental: War of Magic are contenders here).

We also have to be masochists I guess, I can’t help but reference the X-Com remake XCom (The sarcasm problem is particularly visible in PC Gaming, remember, PC Gamers don’t even get a dedicated press conference), the original game is held in such reverence, one that seems to only need a few interface tweaks and fixes and updated visuals and wow, just think of the good times, gamers both familiar and unfamiliar with X-Com’ joys having a new release to play, only to have such hopes dashed across the rocks as we learn it’s abandoning Turn Based gaming like it’s not cool enough for todays gaming industry (At least not according to the people with the sales charts). Not only do we miss out, but so too do people who never got to experience the original when it was new. Thank goodness there are indies who can help pick up the slack, but there’s so many challenges and so many opportunities still unexplored.

As far as I can tell the sarcasm is a coping mechanism, it’s a way to put aside the disapointment and suspicion that the only way we’ll get to experience certain experiences is to make them ourselves. Many people simply don’t have the time, dedication or passion to do that so you end up caught in this endless cycle of hope and dissapointment and frustration. And all the while, people climb up on stage at E3 and talk about how wonderful gaming is.

Yes, gaming IS wonderful, I’m not trying to claim it isn’t. But it also feels incomplete.

We could go on at length about the causes of it, but the only way it’ll change is through action, the kind of sustained action it takes to make a game, with the sorts of freedoms that most games aren’t made with anymore. I doubt if many people have access to that anymore, there are a few exceptions, plus indies (who have to suffer the joys of being mostly ignored by games media in favour of titles with bigger advertising budgets and concepts all too well suited to trailers and the building of hype). And the people who make games are trapped in a layer between satisfying the requirements of publishers & satisfying the requirements of gamers. It’s difficult to satisfy both at the same time, it’s even harder when gamers are so factionalised – favourite genre, favourite gaming system. We’re split into fragments that can’t quite communicate with each other effectively as a society because we identify ourselves too strongly by the fragments rather than the whole.

It doesn’t help that both gamers and publishers often don’t seem to really know what they want, I’m concious of this sensation when I’m sometimes deciding on what game I want to play, I want to play a game but I can’t figure out which one. And I see trailers, trailers that don’t even try to show how the game will actually play, or they only show part of the gameplay and I can’t quite figure out from what little information is given if that really IS a game I want to buy, having this information (in trailer form) put before you and you realise the information is effectively useless because it’s incomplete is frustrating and can lead to outbursts of sarcsm (I’m aware this can be because some of the content isn’t ready to be shown, but that doesn’t prevent the sense of frustration).

Or at least, that’s how the situation feels to me. But no matter how out of reach change for the better seems, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stop reaching, nor stop questioning the kind of assumptions spawned by “That’s the way it’s always been done”. Oddly, maybe some of the change needs to be full circle, back to gamings roots as well as outwards from what we already have.

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