Journalism: The Videogame: Redux

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Chapter 3: Press A to skip

By Patrick Miller

We live in a strange world where video games are simultaneously fucking awesome and fucking terrible.

To begin: Video games are fucking awesome.

Consider for a second that the humble box parked under your TV is capable of producing an unimaginable variety of experiences for your pleasure. Want to blow up hordes of nightmarish alien armies? Sure. But not before you’ve finished saving the world from an evil wizard. Or playing with your virtual dog and cat. Or dancing. Or making delicious curry. Or trying to help a yuppie couple navigate their polite fiction of a marriage. Or playing a sport that’s really a marriage of Chess and Football which never existed until video games.

Yet video games are fucking terrible.

We have this fucking awesome medium in front of us, capable of recreating anything within the body of human experience, and we’re using it for World of WarCraft, and Call of Duty, and a whole host of games which would all be perfectly okay if it weren’t for the fact that they are currently the defining examples of our medium, and they don’t live up to the potential.

It’s like someone invented the piano, played a tune they would later name Mary Had A Little Lamb, and decided that what would make the song better was a whole orchestra. We have a medium limited only by our imagination, except it seems that our collective imagination is horribly shallow and boring.

We have games that depict all sorts of fantastic worlds, and yet we don’t have a game that evokes the euphoria and pain of a first love– something which anyone can readily pick an album or a movie that does. To rehash that old saw, when was the last time you played a game that made you feel sad?

And as intelligent people, when we sit down to write about the games we play, we can’t help but feel a little bit let down–because we see the potential buried underneath the crap.

As it turns out, people are making incredible games out there–games that explore the human condition, games that teach, games built out of nothing but raw emotion, games that push us to be better than we are. The Golden Age of Gaming wasn’t the SNES era, it’s right now. But you wouldn’t know it, because the people who should be talking about the good stuff–us–have let you down.

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X      B
I imagine I’m something of an anomaly among the motley crew writing this–mostly because I haven’t played that many games for the last ten years.

I used to be a big “Gamer,” back in the day–by which I mean that I played so many video games, all the time, that I readily identified myself as Someone Who Played So Many Video Games All The Time. And then I stopped.

People still thought I was a Gamer, and they’d ask my opinion on this or that or the other, and I’d have to stop them mid-sentence and say “Sorry, I don’t play games. Just Street Fighter.” Which was true–I didn’t play games any more. I just played Street Fighter, which is kind of like playing pickup basketball seriously enough to practice your free throws in your spare time–it doesn’t mean you’re an expert in the NBA, much less lacrosse.

I wouldn’t be surprised if I had managed to go a few years without touching a single-player game once. Because Street Fighter made me feel like I was going to new places (to play Street Fighter), learning skills (Street Fighter), and making friends (who, you guessed it, played Street Fighter), and the other games I was playing didn’t make me feel like that.

(When I beat Super Mario World for the first time, I asked my Dad if he’d let me play for an extra 30 minutes past my usual Sunday video game time allotment. I beat the game! I accomplished something! Don’t I get some kind of real-world reward? Nope.)

Then I watched my roommate play through the latter half of Metal Gear Solid 2, remembered I had read something about that game before, and thought, hey, video games have come a long way from what I remember. Maybe I should check back in.

So I did, and I found out that games are doing some amazing things right now. I found that people are creating their own space operas in vast online galaxies, recreating the everyday dull office cooperative camaraderie in a fantasy world, creating real sports with real players and real prize money, and telling some amazing stories. I found out that I wasn’t the only one who had stopped being a Gamer because there were too many Games out there to play to really be a Gamer.

Some people did the same thing that I did. That is, they realized that a certain game or genre gave them more than a brief moment of elation and a THANK YOU FOR PLAYING splash screen, and continued to stick with those for whatever reason–the community, the sense of progress, the brief relief from an itch you just cannot scratch, or any other adult emotional need you’re responsible for filling once you’re out of school or work or prison or what have you. I don’t think I’ll ever be a Gamer again–it doesn’t look particularly appealing–but I bet you’re probably doing some pretty cool things in video games, and I want to hear about them.

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Somewhere between trying to play games and pay the bills, we stopped being interesting people writing about interesting games. We stopped being the guys who told you a story about how we couldn’t handle that one scene in Mass Effect because it reminded us of an ex-girlfriend, or why we think you’d really like Grand Theft Auto 4 even if you didn’t like the others, or point you in the direction of a really neat Flash game that would be so good in the Source engine.

It is up to us–all of us–to sniff out the glimmers of hope scattered here and there amid the AAA titles and the indies and the licensed games that suck less than we expected, and beg you to pay attention. Because goddammit I love this but it needs to grow up. Because I need to grow up, and I don’t want to leave it behind.

-Patrick Miller knows whether you skipped the cutscene.


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