Am I Jaded, or Are Games Less Fun Now?

Syp at Bio Break consistently lets his readers know that moderation and variety are the spices of his gaming life. Recently, I’ve come to the same conclusion regarding my own gaming habits.

Except that I don’t think the variety I’m looking for is purposeful; I think I’m just being fickle and indecisive and probably a little cantankerous. The moderation I’m experiencing in gaming lately does not come from a sense of making sure I have as wide and wonderful an experience as possible, but it comes from a sense of boredom with almost everything I touch. I can’t stick with one game for very long because, generally, I was never incredibly interested in the first place.

I remember when I was young and video gaming was fighting for its place as a legitimate hobby that every weekend I could take a trip to the video store, pick up any game I had either never seen before or only read about in a magazine, and have a wonderful, fulfilling weekend of gaming. I could play live in a Final Fantasy game for 20+ hours a weekend, or I could play some garbage like Ballz on the SNES and have just as good a time. It didn’t matter to me because I just loved games.

I remember when Super Mario 64 came out, and I got a Nintendo 64 for Christmas. My best friend came to my house on Christmas Eve just so we could play Mario 64 all night long. It turns out, he had a N64 waiting on him the next morning. The game was new enough, innovative enough, and fun enough to make us ogle in wonder at it on even our most family-based holiday.

I haven’t felt that way about a game in a long, long time. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some really, really good times with MMOs over the past eleven years. I love the genre, and I can’t wait to see where developers take it in the future. However, even as much as I love it, nothing in the genre really amazes me anymore. I look forward to Champions Online and Star Wars: The Old Republic, but not like I looked forward to Star Wars Galaxies or even new Ultima Online expansions. I expect more of the same from both anticipated titles simply because the genre has given me little to look forward to over the past few years (thank you, World of Warcraft, for causing such a plateau).

And it’s not even just MMOs. It’s been years since I was able to sit down and finish a single-player console game. And that breaks my heart. It’s almost like I’m too jaded by years of playing anything and everything under the sun to see the wonder in games these days. The last single-player game I finished was Bioshock on a rental when it first came out. The game was so different from what I had become accustomed to that I eagerly await the sequel this fall. Unfortunately, I am afraid it, too, will fall into the doldrums of “been there, done that.”

Have games actually gotten worse over the years? I marvel sometimes about the saturation of sequels on the market. Very few games are original properties these days, and I think that might have a great deal to do with why I have a hard time finding myself lost in them. Because I was already lost in them long ago. I can only spend so much time in any given game or book or movie (except Star Wars) before I want to move on, and within those series with all the sequels, how many offer any true innovation after the initial few? Most sequels and franchises stop bringing much new to the table in lieu of solidified profit margins because developers know that gamers will buy X game, so why alter it to Y?

So where did the wonder go? Is it me? Has my personality changed so much over the years that I can no longer enjoy what made me love gaming in the first place? I think that’s it to an extent, for the same reason I can’t just sit down and just read a book or watch a movie anymore. I am trained and educated to the point where I cannot shut off the analytic side of my brain, even when I’m looking for a relaxing good time. I now understand what makes the games I really love tick, so I look for that and eschew the rest.

I think that’s a big part of my problem, and I need to get past it. I look for things I think I need and love, but it turns out that my tastes might have changed from that, which is why I feel unfulfilled and keep jumping ship each time a rough spot hits a game. I have such high standards based on what I think I enjoy that I lose sight of the bigger picture. I can’t enjoy a game on its own merits because of artificial standards like “this isn’t as fun as Mario 64 was when I was 13.” It’s an absurd way to approach a hobby.

I want to do better. I want to love what I do for fun again. I don’t want to be bitter and jaded and cantankerous.

I keep eyeing my DS as it sits on my desk with Chrono Trigger and a couple of unfinished Castlevania games beside it while I write this. I keep thinking of Bioshock 2. I plan on buying Mario Kart Wii so my fiancée and I can take it on our honeymoon (she’s not a gamer, but she sure does love some Mario Kart). I want to focus my attention on what I actually like in games instead of what I wish games were. I want to regress, I think, to where I can enjoy a game for what it is rather than what I think it should be.

Comments

  1. Longasc

    I fear we are getting old, Beej. I can no longer be one quarter as much excited about several games together as I was back in the days about OMG RED OSTRICHS and the LOST LANDS in Ultima Online.

    Mount & Blade was the last game to have this immense "WOW" factor to me.

  2. Andrew

    Go buy Trine. I know you said you wanted to wait for the inevitable Steam sale…. but…. it seems to have that magic to it, and maybe that's what you need right now.

    As for your question: you're jaded. I'm having plenty of fun going back through all of the single player games that I missed while I was lost in WoW-land. Half Life, Psychonauts, Bioshock, Mass Effect, Oblivion…. so many games, so little time!

  3. Tesh

    I think it's equal parts "growing up", "jaded", "education" and "the game industry as a victim of its own success".

    We can't help but spend less time on games as we grow up and choose other priorities. It's healthy. It does make us wish for a more spectacular experience in what time we do have, and when we just run into lame time sinks *coughDIKUMMOcough* or derivative design, it doesn't measure up.

    Also, as you note, yes, when you learn how your favorite thing works, some of the magic is inevitably lost. My BFA degree is in computer animation, and I've studied animation even before getting the degree, so I can't just plunk down and watch the latest Disney or Pixar masterpiece with the same eyes my daughter or wife sees through. Some of the magic is lost in critical analysis and reflexive assessment of how I could do the same thing or better, how the story and its implications just don't work, and how to use what I see in what I do as a game artist. (And since I work in games, I can't play them with the same vervor that I did when I had dozens of hours to blow on frippery, and I see the flaws with a far more critical eye. I *must* do so, to better understand how to make a living in the industry.)

    The game industry is also definitely a victim of its own success. When it became a big business, the suits and investors inevitably investigated, and have driven the business side of the industry to maximize profits. This naturally squeezes some of the passion out of the art, and compromises decisions that would otherwise be made for far different reasons. I have a very dim view of investors and investing in general, and seeing corporate number monkeys ruin art in any form bothers me deeply. They have also taken advantage of the people who still have some passion, and the game industry is still notorious for poor HR practices.

    Being jaded is a natural result of these things combined in different proportions. I don't think it's really a bad thing, as it can prompt you to move on to better priorities. It can be a bit disappointing, though, knowing that you've got to move on. Such is life, though, and I don't think you can ever really hold onto that initial wonder for anything. You just have to find new things to wonder about, and embrace old loves for what they are.

    (Cue existential musing about marriage. Some always think they need that headlong rush and lovesick blindness of newlyweds, and go through it a half dozen times during a lifetime, never really being happy, while others embrace their loves for who they are, and build a lifelong commitment and revel in it. I think the latter is vastly healthier, and requires a different mindset.)

  4. Robert Kuang

    As someone who works at GAMESTOP, I can tell you this problem is not just you. The novelty of new technology is always somewhat addicting to me, but the more it advances, it more it has the potential to plateau.

    I remember the days when PS2's and Xbox's were considered the top of the line. I remember the days when I still enjoyed old school RPGs. Today, technology ceases to amaze me as it did back then; things go out of style so fast.

    I would say it is both a matter of quantity (the sheer number of games coming out every week) and the expectation of today's gamers. The playing field has changed, so you either have to go with the flow, or not. I, for one, am stuck somewhere in the middle.

  5. Valdesta

    I find that my interest in everything waxes and wanes, so I figure my own secret is to engage myself in enough things that I can rotate around, hopefully without taking on too many.

    But well, I always take on too many, but eventually they get the attention they need… 🙂

    Summer for me has been much less playing, and more business and personal-related things. I'm sure once it's cold out I'll be back to playing and writing more, however.

    Valdesta
    My WoW Blog

  6. We Fly Spitfires

    I think it's a combination of just getting old (after 15+ years of gamining, one isn't easily impressed) and games developers being less innovative. I still get excited about MMOs but I get tired of every one that comes out playing it safe. I love to see innovation and risk and I want to play a game that truly pushes the boundaries and doesn't just skirt around them. I think WoW has ultimately been detrimental to the genre because it's encouraged developers to play it safe all of the time.

  7. J.Ayers

    I've noticed that it may not be that you just need a variety of video/PC games, but a variety of types of games… When was the last time you played a round of (yeah I know) Magic:TG? Seriously though, I find that as I get older I start gravitating toward good ole fashioned D&D or maybe some World of Darkness table-top… Some off-the-wall card game like the B-movie series from Z-man games… Or even a board game like Arkham Horror (Call of Cthulhu).

    Maybe you just need to spice up the types of games to get your weary mind off the digital fun house.