Will You Ever Stop Being A Gamer?
The older I get, the more I realise how much tastes can change over a lifetime. Food, music, favourite television programs, they all change over time, so it’s natural to assume one’s choice of hobby can change too. With that in mind, the question of whether I’ll always remain a gamer has become increasingly fascinating to me. Ten, fifteen years ago, there would have no question in my mind; I’m a gamer for life, but now? I’m not so sure. Ever since I realised that my PlayStation 4 pre-order was partly due to the muscle memory of always buying the latest console, I’ve come to realise there will probably be a time when I no longer want to be a gamer. Having come to that conclusion, I find myself asking if I’m the only one feeling this way. Do you see yourself as always being a gamer? Or like me, are you accepting of the fact that all things have a natural conclusion, and gaming will probably be one of them?
Normally I’d say that the number of years I’ve spent gaming has little to do with how valid the point I’m trying make is, but in this case I think it’s relevant. I’ve witnessed first-hand how gaming has developed over the years, and those changes are why I question my dedication to gaming in the long-term. Back in the dim and distant past, when games still came on cassette tapes and floppy discs, the “games industry” as we know it now didn’t really exist. Yes there were big publishers around, but it was also a time when two guys coding in their bedrooms would also be considered mainstream developers. The “indie” subset that Microsoft and Sony seem so keen on fighting over didn’t exist. Self-publishing wasn’t just an E3 buzz phrase. I know I’m going to sound like an old fart here, but to me, that was the golden age of gaming, a time when big publishers didn’t have the whole market by the balls.
You could of course make the argument that those bedroom coders still exist; only now in the form of the indie scene, but that market, at least on consoles, only really exists at the whim of the big platform holders. The big two might be currently tripping over themselves to lavish praise and friendship on the indie guys, but what happens when that market doesn’t seem so profitable, or when being an indie friend doesn’t increase console pre-orders? If you go back far enough, you’ll find plenty of tales describing how some young, enterprising coder not only wrote their first game, but did everything else too, right up to putting the game in an envelope and posting it to the customer, without going near a publisher. That kind of creativity is lost to us now, and it’s probably the thing I miss most.
Creativity, or the lack of it, is central to my enjoyment of the hobby. Without creativity, video games are inherently pointless. Little surprise then, that nothing sums up my questioning better than the contradictory nature of the phrase used to encompass our entire hobby – “the games industry”. When I think of the word industry, it conjures up images of factories and production lines. Men with heavy tools, making the same thing over and over again, with no deviation from the norm. It’s a word that has no business being anywhere near human creativity in my opinion, and yet here we are, attaching it to the process of making video games without ever stopping to consider whether we should or not. I don’t want the future of gaming to be considered an industrial process, shaped by sales figures and profit margins; I want creativity to be the guiding principle.
Alas, sales figures suggest that the majority of gamers, regardless of what they might say, are perfectly happy with endless sequels and yearly updates, which is fine I guess, after all who I am to say what people enjoy. But I do wonder how sustainable that situation is. If I, after all my years of gaming, am finding the constant regurgitation of the same IP’s boring, how do gamers half my age feel? I simply cannot accept that they are going to continue being gamers in the long-term when fed on a constant diet of Halo games and FIFA updates. At some point you have to get tired of playing the same thing over and over again. Haven’t you? As this next generation approaches, I’m increasingly coming to the conclusion that I’ve seen the best the hobby has to offer, and I wonder if you feel the same.
Re-reading what I’ve written, I realise that despite my best efforts, this piece is somewhat of a gloomy take on the current state of the games industry. I don’t want to end like that, so I’ll finish by saying that I still love gaming passionately. Despite my frustrations, this generation of consoles alone has served up some of the finest gaming experiences I’ve ever had. Exploring the world of Tamriel for the first time, or chainsawing my first Locust in half. The sheer pleasure of dicking around with mates in Red Dead’s open world sandbox, or falling in love with Bioware’s storytelling in Mass Effect. I could go on and on. These things will remain in my memory for a long time to come, and hopefully the next generation will add many more. So take this piece not as an epic whine, more a reminder that gaming is our hobby, one that we shouldn’t surrender to big business so readily.