Gaming within our culture over the years
This is a guest-post from my brother, James. You can see his blog here.
Video games have been a big part of our culture for over 30 years. It is an art form, and art is crucial to cultural development. Therefore, it saddens me how it has declined over the years. Like arcades, whatever happened to them? They pretty much died out to make way for the popular console titles. But I truly think it is sad to see them go, because they were a local gathering place within small communities, it was a social practice to compete for the best score that was displayed where everyone could see it. They also allowed for games to be more diverse with their controls, you could make whatever controls you wanted for an arcade game whereas you had to stick to the uniform control layout for consoles because it would be impractical to have a completely unique control set that only one game used. But since arcade games only contain that one game, it doesn’t matter how un-uniform it is. Sure you can look at scores online now, but it just isn’t the same, neither is online multiplayer.
Many people are against video games, thinking them to be poison of the brain or something. In some ways they’re right (but video games are no more harmful than anything on TV or in movies, or books for that matter), but in most ways, they’re dead wrong. Video games serve many useful purposes, they are not mere entertainment for making money. Some video games improve reflexes and sense of timing (there’s even an article I found where they compared the skills of surgeons who are gamers, and non-gaming surgeons, the gaming surgeons actually had a higher success rate, meaning they made many fewer mistakes and had better precision), others teach problem-solving skills (and/or exercise your creativity and uniquity, and then there’s mental test games like big brain accacdemy), some are like movies you can interact with (heavily storyline based). But, like with movies and other medias, with quantity comes decline in quality. There are games that just try to be something to occupy your time for a while and be moderately entertaining, totally missing the point.
In a number of ways though, video games have improved over the years. Like controller layout for example. Now there are more buttons per controller and they are shaped in such a way that you can hold them for hours on end without your hands hurting. Controllers come in various shapes and sizes, which is good for the individual player’s gaming style and for the style of game that you are playing. But I’m sad to see that when a new controller is released that the old ones are done away with, and when some becomes popular, everyone jumps on it and abandons their unique qualities, making everything more uniform. For example: the Gamecube, Playstation 2, and Xbox controllers. They all have very similar layouts: two analog joysticks and a directional pad meant to be controlled with the thumbs (left one usually moving the character with the directional pad also on the left and sometimes used as an alternative to the joystick, and the right one usually adjusting the camera viewing angle), 4 buttons arranged cardinally on the right side of the controller (also meant to be hit by thumbs, bottom button being used most often, followed by left one, though the Gamecube wasn’t quite arranged cardinally), and shoulder buttons on the left and right sides meant to be hit with middle and index fingers (two sets of shoulder buttons with the exception of the Gamecube which only had one left shoulder button, which was rarely used). I understand that this is one of the most practical layouts, but I would still like to see variety between consoles.
Motion control has become popular in more recent years. There are both gyroscopic/ accelerometric controllers and motion-capturing interactive cameras. If everything is controlled by buttons, then there would have to either be a lot of buttons cluttering up the controller which one a few games would make much use of, or really complicated button/ joystick movement combinations that would difficult to execute. Therefore, they had to play around with alternate command control options. This also opened up a new market, as it had a more physical demand than just thumb twiddling, allowing an array of fitness-based games that people who normally weren’t gamers could join in on. And although I’m glad for additional playing options, we aren’t exactly getting additional playing options, we’re essentially getting replacements. I hope for a day when all the controlling options can be combined into some games, like a motion-capturing camera combined with a gyroscopic/accelerometric controller being held (with a significant amount of buttons and made good use of both hands), while standing on a weight-sensing platform that measured where you were standing upon it (which would make some difference), and how you were positioned (such as if you were leaning more to one side than the other and what direction your feet were pointing). This would make for an interesting game with a wide variety of controls for a very involved experience.
Anyway, back on topic, I hate how games have lost their individual unique qualities. Now it’s just genres. First-person shooters all try to be like each other with the exception of unique weapons. Many games are exactly like each other with the exception of storyline, and others use the same storylines over and over again to the point that they are just cliché now. Mario games are by far one of the most popular franchises, though they have NEVER been strong on storyline. All of the storylines pretty much consist of: bad guy captures peach or otherwise threatens the mushroom kingdom, Mario and possibly some addition people (such as Yoshi and Luigi) try to resolve said issue with Mario’s super athletic abilities, temporary power-ups (such as the wing-cap) and some key item or ability he might have in the game (such as a hammer from Bowser’s inside story, the spin move from Galaxy, the dimension-flip from super paper Mario, or FLUDD in Sunshine). Mario (as well as a number of other popular first-party Nintendo games) is quite well known for its memorable musical numbers. Music is an underrated part of game-making in my opinion, except with first-party Nintendo games which intentionally makes that a high priority.
I also like how some games try to focus on some of the things about gaming there are frequent (but no absolute) complaints about. For example, in Halo, they have a recharging feature in the game that allows for more continuous play without as much worry about dying and having to start over. And the anniversary edition of pac-man being more structured for scoring rather than maneuvering the ghosts. Plus there’s speed run challenges where you beat the game as quickly as you can, with multiple categories: ones that use cheatcodes, ones that exploit glitches/bugs, without 100% clearance, with 100% clearance. And then there’s games like Dragonquest 9 that made a game you could beat, but not be finished with immediately by having downloadable quests for a whole year after release. I like how gaming has all these features and options and culture that we didn’t have in previous decades, but I also miss the stuff from the old decades that have left.
Here are the things I don’t like about games. I hate how people use cheatcodes and guidebooks/walkthroughs to make the game easier. I understand that there’s some parts of some games that are almost impossible, I use cheatcodes myself in some such cases, but I prefer to avoid doing so if I can, but there are extents where people go way too far with cheatcodes. I have a friend that refuses to play some games without half a dozen cheatcodes in effect. In Batman Vengeance, I think it’s okay to use the infinite handcuff cheat, being able to handcuff villains isn’t a major part of the game and can make some ordinarily very difficult rooms somewhat more playable with the absence of the bad guys you already beat up repeatedly getting back up. Using the infinite batarang cheat is less okay, because you can cheaply beat bad guys from a distance, but they don’t do much damage to some enemies and most enemies come running up to you anyway, plus your default batarang supply is reasonable to begin with, but it’s still kind of pushing it with cheats. The infinite health cheat is very NOT okay, it is totally cheating, being unable to get hurt at all. Anyone who uses the infinite health cheat doesn’t deserve to play the game in my opinion. But then there’s easter egg cheats, those are a-okay. These such cheats can include alternate outfits for a character, distorting some feature about them like giving them an oversized head, or something to such effects. I also somewhat dislike linear games with only one way to do anything and you have to do them that exact way in that exact order. I prefer games with some flexibility, ones that have alternate ways to get past something, one’s that allow the player’s creativity to shine, ones with optional features or quests, ones where being an exceptionally skilled gamer isn’t a requirement, but there are still options to test/exercise skilled gamer’s abilities. And the Sims series. I get that it allows you to create an alternate world to fulfill fantasies, but you do everything you could normally do in real life if you weren’t playing video games. I think it kind of defeats the purpose of gaming and is an insult to the RPG genre.