Friday, September 16, 2011

The Disposable Nature of Video Games: An Analysis and a Manifesto

One thing that has always bothered me about the culture around games is the obsession with the new and the complete disregard for the old. I'm not stating this as some jaded “retro gamer” that hates how people play Call of Duty instead of Sonic the Hedgehog or whatever, I'm annoyed that anything more than a year old is not considered as important anymore. It just so out of sync with how people consume every other type of media. So, why is it that people see only the latest games as worth their time and everything else as disposable?

I'd love to blame this whole thing on the video games press because I just don't like the way most outlets write about video games, but it isn't all their fault. For the most part games coverage is handled the same way as other forms of media, such as books, music, and movies. They write about the latest games with things like reviews, and that is how readers and viewers are pulled in. The greater emphasis on preview content that requires a certain level of cooperation between publishers and the press is troubling at best, but it is a mutually beneficial relationship that would require a more in-depth examination at a later date.

Games press focus on new stuff not just because it is game publishers want them to do it as advertising, but because that is what people want to hear about, and that is why I can't lay the blame the games press. The problem is with the people that buy and sell games. It is the symptoms of this that annoy me. A lot of people refer to older games in the past tense. I cringe when I hear things like “X was a really interesting game” or “Y was one of the best games ever.” At what point in time does a great game go from being a great game to having been a great game? I'm sorry, but Streets of Rage 2 wasn't previously a really fun game, it continues to be a really fun game. Unless it is some MMO that has shut down its servers, most games continue to exist. Maybe I'm just arguing semantics here, but I see it as a problem with people's perception of games that aren't the latest and greatest.

One of the major factors that has shaped this mentality is the fact that purchasing games is, comparatively, very expensive. Granted, the market has been slowly changing in the past few years, with things like XBLA, PSN, downloadable titles, and smartphone games allowing for a wider range of pricing, but the way things have been done since the NES days still colors the way the public thinks about games. At sixty dollars, there are many people that only get a couple games per year, so the selection of those games is very important. For these people it makes sense that they are only going to pick up the biggest AAA titles. They are going to buy Modern Warfare 3 or Madden NFL 12 and they are going to play it online with their friends or whatever for the next year.

It totally makes sense, and I don't hold it against this hypothetical typical person, but I also feel like this narrow view of what video games are means that this person is going to miss out on a bunch of games that he or she might enjoy, possibly even more than this years big name shooter. What if this person is also a fan of grindhouse movies and wacky storytelling? This person would have been much better served by something like Shadows of the Damned, but this person has likely never even heard of it because it didn't have television advertising and it wasn't released in the month immediately preceding Christmas. There are a ton of great games out there that just don't get the time of day because they aren't that one game that everybody is talking about, and there are a lot of people out there that are missing out on something they might enjoy because they don't closely follow the medium closely.

That just sucks. People don't have to consider themselves to find out about some obscure band or film and fall in love with it, but with games the high price, in comparison to an album or a movie ticket, means that people play it safe, get their one AAA game, and that's it. I should note that I am clearly not one of these people. I am an enthusiast, and pretty much the entire point of this site is to take a look at games that might have been overlooked and see if they are interesting in any way. Again, the average guy doesn't troll used games stores for weird shit that costs little money, that is something for enthusiasts like me, and, I guess, poor people.

So, the games press doesn't want to cover anything but the biggest stuff because they want to draw in the large masses that only buy the biggest stuff. The games publishers only want the press to cover their latest stuff because, with used games sales, that is usually all they make their money on, unless of course it is something that is old enough to be resold with new packaging or digitally. The consumers only want the latest and greatest or they want something old enough to be considered retro for collecting. That is why now is the best time to buy PS2, Xbox, and Gamecube games, because nobody gives a shit about them right now.

That's just the way things are, and I don't like, but there is little I can do about it, so I am just going to continue to write about these games that people don't care about and maybe some of the enthusiasts that read this site will be a little more open-minded. Maybe when I come across gems like Drill Dozer or Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday or XIII or Dr.Chaos, people will go back and reconsider some game that they dismissed years ago and find something that they really enjoy. Maybe if people just tried out more games they wouldn't seem so disposable.

1 comment:

  1. On a slight tangent, I've got a serious love/hate relationship with the inevitable all digital distribution that looms on the horizon. As it is right now, there's so many amazing games only being sold digitally on closed networks that when the servers are shut off, they're gone forever. I'm not even getting into the whole shift of how us as consumers are merely leasing games nowadays, I'm talking about going into a used video game store and finding goodies like Castle Crashers or Shadow Complex. It's all digital; it physically does not exist. Sadly, it's the trend in software as a whole, lease over sell. Think those DLC map packs are going to be around for years and years? They're not on the disc (usually) so it's an online thing only. Same thing with game breaking bugs that need that critical Day 0 patch. Oops, not on the disc. I guess I'd be more ok with this change in trends if after X years the games were released into the public domain for proper archival but that'll never happen. Not when they can rebundle it and resell it to you for more money.

    Wow, now I'm rambling :D