I’ve been known to criticize nostalgic gamers who believe retro titles were superior to modern offerings, despite most old games being rubbish, but I almost can’t fault them for it. I look at the gamers of today and I often wonder if we’ve forgotten how to have fun, and whether retro gamers don their rose-tinted specs not because the games were better back then, but because they were better gamers back then.
There’s an air of dry misery that surrounds gamers these days, at least online, and it seems that when I converse with others of my ilk, the prime concerns get less about gaming, and more about the periphery garbage surrounding it — various publisher shenanigans, controversies concerning homosexuality as represented in the medium, whether or not we’re driving the industry forward artistically. I have these conversations almost every day as part of my job, and sometimes I wonder, after I debate the actions of Bobby Kotick or the potential social damage of Duke Nukem Forever — when are we going to talk about videogames? Not talk around them , but actually talk about them.
Don’t get me wrong — there are many interesting discussions to be had about the business practices of Activision and the apparent sexism in Capture the Babe, but I’m starting to worry that such discussion is becoming disproportionate to what I feel is the only truly important topic — how awesome videogames are.
Just take a look at Portal 2. Most gamers and critics agree, it’s one of the best games to be released this generation. However, as with so many titles lately, the actual topic of the game‘s merits has been completely overshadowed by sour controversy — namely the band of jilted PC gamers who are whining about Portal 2 being “too short” and having “day one DLC.” In truth, most of them were just butthurt because Valve’s publicity stunt didn’t unlock the game early, despite nobody promising it would. Whatever their reason for going on Metacritic and trying to bomb the game’s user review score, the effect it had was that attention was taken away from the game’s merits and placed squarely on the activities of these miserable, spoiled gamers.
I’m not innocent of this. I wrote an article on Destructoid where I tore these bastards to shreds, and it felt cathartic to do so. But at the same time, it’s sad that rampant negativity gets more attention than any form of positivity. It seems that, for some people, getting pissed off over every little detail is more enjoyable than actually playing games. Just take a look at communities such as N4G, and you’ll see how popular the bitch fests are in comparison to any form of celebration.
I used to write an article series for another website in which I’d look at older games and either praise them or critically maul them. The plan was, one month I’d pick a game I hated, and the next month I’d pick a game I loved. The article on the game I hated was a huge success. It reaped major traffic from N4G, generated a lot of links on social networks, and exploded in the comment section. The next month, I picked a game I really loved and wrote what I thought was a lovely article discussing its merits. It got one or two comments. It was linked nowhere. From then on, the site only wanted me to write about the games I hated. Positivity just wasn’t a good business decision.
People accuse me of hating games, and I’ve earned a reputation for my critical, negative reviews. Again, however, this is simply the problem of people having a prejudice against the positive. In truth, I have written far more positive reviews than negative. I have posted more celebrations of gaming than complaints. Nobody ever talks about them though, because it’s far more intriguing to talk about that 4.5 I gave Assassin’s Creed 2. On the one hand, I get it — we as humans have a natural inclination to focus on negativity and drown out the positive. On the other, however — we’re fucking gamers. We got into this pastime because we like to have fun. It’s not fun to get upset over a bad review score or a game’s first-day DLC. At least not to the point where we focus on such things over and above the actual enjoyment we get from interactive entertainment.
I love videogames so much. I live for this shit. The sheer thought of living in a world where videogames exist makes me giddy. It’s a ridiculous privilege to live in such a world, when you get down to it. I think about some of the games coming up — Saints Row: The Third, L.A. Noire, Space Marine — and I almost cannot contain myself. Sure, if I later find that any of those games are sub-par, I will criticize them harshly, but I won’t forget how much I love games, and how much fun they give me.
This must be why retro gamers liked it better back then. We played utter shit and we loved it, because we didn’t know any better. Sure, I may have been an idiot child for somehow thinking Altered Beast was a great videogame, but there’s no denying I was all the happier for it. I had fun, and that’s what mattered. What retro gamers must miss isn’t so much the quality of games, but the mindset of gamers. The ability to not give a shit about reviews, industry controversies, and the pathetic need for games to be “taken seriously.” What mattered back then was whether or not you could punch something hard, and whether or not that punch would be awesome.
I don’t want games taken “seriously” by some arbitrary social judge if it means gaming itself has to be serious business. Some may consider me an uncivilized troglodyte for this, but like I said last week, I want fun games more than any other type of game. I love and respect that games can be deeper, and I am excited about the potential for interactive entertainment as a narrative medium. Again, however, I fear that discussion about the “Citizen Kane” of gaming often outweighs the discussion about whether or not Bulletstorm is awesome because you can shoot a guy in the dick. It may not be the most culturally significant thing in the world, but it’s a damn good laugh, and I think that’s the most important thing in the world.
There are so many angsty writers out there, complaining about gaming is being “held back” by less artistic titles. They only want to complain about Call of Duty being popular, or how uncivilized games like Duke Nukem are. They live to complain about the “state of the industry” and apparent need for games to be more adult. This po-faced pontificating usually raises little more than a sneer from myself, as they typically come from people who I can’t even imagine holding a controller and enjoying a game. Typically, these people are the type who pretentiously consider themselves “journalists.” Maybe their primary concern is the medium being taken seriously so that their parents will believe they have a real job. Whatever the reason, this quest for validation comes at the expense of enjoying games for what they are, and I don’t think that’s a good thing.
Games have grown up, and so have we. We’ve gotten to the point where games can do more than punching and dick-shooting, and that’s terrific. Never lose sight, however, of what games are all about, at heart. Whether you’re complaining about Portal 2, accusing a reviewer of bias, demanding that games be given more respect as an art form, or calling Gearbox misogynistic scumbags, don’t forget to fucking enjoy games.