Friday, February 4, 2011

Some Things I Don’t Like About Videogames

videogames frustratedI love gaming. I wouldn’t write about it if I didn’t. I wouldn’t comb game sites for screenshots and release dates if interactive entertainment wasn’t my bag.

But sometimes I don’t like videogames. They make me angry, annoyed, frustrated, embarrassed, tired, etc. Just like a bad movie can send you into a free fall of rage at anyone who’s ever picked up a camera, a poorly balanced or otherwise infuriating game can threaten to ruin the whole hobby. (How this guy can even touch a controller without going into shock is beyond me.) Sometimes the community at large is so immature it makes you want to distance yourself from it, like when you pretend not to know your little brother when you and your friends bump into him at the mall.

My past with gaming, however, prevents a lot of this from bothering me in the long term. It could be some sort of Stockholm syndrome, but I think it’s more that my belief in the medium’s potential (and my appreciation of things that are ‘fun’) causes me to cut gaming some slack. Most of the things that bug me cannot be fleshed out into multi-paragraph arguments. They’re small things, mostly. Fleeting. Fun overrides and erases them – at least temporarily. Some are abstract, related to gaming as a lifestyle of sorts. Others are game-specific, niggling design flaws and whatnot.

Without further ado, here are some of the things I don’t like about videogames:

That commercials for games make me cringe a little if the people around me aren’t gamers.

That it sometimes matters to me whether or not the people around me are gamers.

The odd sense of déjà vu I get when I visit a place similar to one from a game I played. It’s the way that certain parking lots remind me of Max Payne or how recent trips to D.C. never fail to make me think of playing Fallout.*

That ‘joy’ often seems like the last thing a developer wants me to feel.**

Kids who want chocolate milk.

That a really good round of Bad Company or Starcraft makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something.

That feeling after a round of Bad Company or Starcraft when I realize I’ve actually accomplished nothing.

Open-world jank.***

The overuse of “Oh snap, you’re the bad guy” revelations. This is perhaps one of the most powerful storytelling surprises in gaming, its impact drawing directly from the interactivity of the medium. It’s Oedipus Rex (which Aristotle considered a perfect tragic plot) in another outfit.  Unfortunately, it’s been done *Spoiler Alert* so many times that it’s quickly becoming cliché. We need more tools.

That I sometimes catch myself expecting to earn Achievements for watching a DVD.

How the binary nature of software has heavily influenced morality in games.

The (est.) hours of my life I spend each year in loading screens or multiplayer lobbies.

That not enough developers have learned from the multiplayer matchmaking in Bungie’s Halo series.

Bad checkpointing, spotty autosaves, a lack of autosaves: anything that artificially raises difficulty by making me replay a bunch of moderately challenging content before I can retry the part where I keep dying. There’s a reason nobody’s ever actually enjoyed The Lost Levels; they’re just proud they beat it.***

That Nintendo’s online strategy is still pretty stupid.

That Sony’s “Make it cost a bajillion dollars” strategy continues to look stupid.

That Microsoft does stupid things like ghettoize its indie games and put the screws to developers for wanting to provide free content, yet they still get all our money because we all pay for their ad-soaked, least-of-all-possible-evils online service.

That this website exists – well, not that the site itself exists per se, but that the gaming community is so awful at times it deserved/spawned something like this.

The expanding gulf between Western and Japanese development. When the dude who made Mega Man starts hating on Japanese game culture, you know something’s up. That said, a Western game that didn’t feature a marine from space might be a nice change of pace.

The rising costs of the increasing technical demands encourage developers to put upon themselves. Unless we’re using tech to create gameplay opportunities a la Red Faction Guerrilla, we need to stop focusing on cramming more and more tech into machines to make stuff “look good.” Uncharted is beautiful. Enslaved is gorgeous. We’re running headlong into the Uncanny Valley at this point, and the only way to save ourselves is with more gameplay innovation. Plus, the cost of gaming is becoming prohibitive. 3DS games will launch at $50. Ri-diculous. Especially when so many excellent downloadable games (Steam, XBLA, PSN, and otherwise) are releasing at much more manageable price points, it makes one wonder about the future of the big-budget, AAA release.

That we haven’t found a better word than “games.”

That we probably never will.

* Okay, this one isn’t quite something I ‘don’t like.’ It’s more just that it’s really fucking odd.
** Except you, Miyamoto! (Save those goddamn Lost Levels.)
*** I sometimes also love open-world jank.
**** I beat The Lost Levels once.