Video Games: A House (Almost) Divided
by Brandon Uhler (@RezBenzene)
Until recently, I had never been to Dave and Buster’s, and upon entrance, I was greeted with a wave of nostalgia and couldn’t help but remember the days of the arcade–the flashing colors, the futuristic zaps and whistles that accompany a hefty pay out of tickets. Although plenty of fun was had and I successfully embarrassed the company I was in by reverting back even further to a child-like state (which I always recommend), I felt a particular element was missing from this picture. There were plenty of sights, sounds, and the tickets flowed like, I don’t know, a river? A coffee pot at eight in the morning? A rush of electrons traveling through a circuit with little to no resistance? Let’s, uh, let’s go with the river option. But terrible analogies aside, this trip to D&B got me to thinking about one important question: why does it feel like video games aren’t what they used to be?
WHAT GAMES USED TO BE
I think it’s obvious when I say that times have certainly changed. Video games are being played by all kinds of people now. However, if you liked video games back in the day, you were probably not popular. (As it so happens, being popular in grade school has no use later in life. Who knew? I didn’t.) Back then, the arcade and video games became somewhat of a haven. Gaming, quite literally, became a place where you could escape, and I don’t say “escape” to mean “run away from things”–it’s important to not let life intimidate you–but rather, escape like a vacation from the everyday humdrum of reality.
As a fairly new form of entertainment, video games didn’t really set its hooks into everyone right away. The initial response wasn’t necessarily resistance, but it certainly felt like that. Those who decided to pass the time on an Atari 2600, NES, or SEGA console were quickly grouped into the nerd or geek category as a result of falling in love with something as simple as sending Mario across the screen from left to right for hours on end. But what was it that dragged us in?
Video games gave us comfort, they made us happy, and they helped us make time fly by like the Enterprise at warp. However, there was ultimately one thing that earned gamers the nerd tag; video games made you use your imagination. The immersion that you received from video games was largely dependent on the player. Consoles weren’t always the technological power houses that they are today. Games weren’t played by very many people because they required that which is in limited supply these days: an overactive imagination. (This is perhaps the most valuable resource on the planet, in my opinion.) Those of us who didn’t let school or adults suppress it discovered a new lifestyle, and we dug in hard. The hours I poured into games preserved my ability to create and immerse myself into futuristic and exotic universes and ultimately led me to become what I am today: a scientist. (Looks like being a nerd has its uses. In your face Junior Varsity football!) Value of imagination aside, there were still multiple ways to play video games.
When you wanted to get your pixel fix, there were two ways you could do that: you could play on a console at home, or you could make a trip to the arcade. The difference was simple. At home, you played for the adventure; and at the arcade, you played for the high score. Oh yes, we have ourselves the early version of campaign or multiplayer. Nerd or not, us humans are competitive by nature, and those of us who didn’t find it fun to compete in sports found it exhilarating to compete at the arcade. It had never been so rewarding to hear the words ‘Finish Him!’ There was no denying that gaming became a lifestyle, something that occupied your focus on a daily basis. I pride myself on being a part of this nerd culture that really started to gain strength in the nineties. However, this difference in gaming styles ultimately becomes the fracture that almost divides us as gamers today.
The arcade vs. at-home concept style of gaming is clearly defined, while back then, it may not have been as distinguishable. There most often exist two types of gamers today: those that play games for fun, and those that play to beat other gamers. This is not an attack on one side or the other, but simply a look into how video games have evolved over time from what they used to be. When I would get a new game for my SNES, I never based my purchase on the quality of its multiplayer because there really wasn’t any. There was competitive co-op, but I never really remember playing against anyone, not until my high school days anyway. Up to that point, it was about developing and playing the game to have fun. Then, we saw the rise of entities like Counter-Strike. Other games existed at this time that pitted you against other players, like StarCraft, but Counter-Strike was really my first meaningful experience with multiplayer. We saw more and more people playing video games professionally, competing in tournaments, and forming teams that met daily to hone their bomb-planting or flag-capping skills. This, to me, becomes the point where we arrive at a video game fork in the road. People who “normally wouldn’t” started to play video games. There was a sudden realization for some reason that if you played shooters like Counter-Strike competitively, you didn’t have to wear the nerd label. The population of gamers dramatically increased, and there seems to be a solid divide between those that play video games for fun and those that play for multiplayer, though a concrete split obviously cannot be applied to everyone.
You can’t deny that the production of video games is driven with a different motivation today. They’ve gone from seeing what a handful of developers can make with the limited technology at hand to being a media outlet that has multiple teams of people working to make one game. The revenue stream from games is exponentially higher than what it used to be, and what drives this revenue is the competitive people that play them. I mean, how often do you hear the comparison of peoples’ kill-death ratios? There’s nothing wrong with appealing to the masses, I understand that as a business you need to sell your product, and what’s selling today is multiplayer. You gotta give the people what they want.
This divide isn’t an end-all-be-all. There are still great games out there that are being made that light up the imagination light bulb. Indie games today are a great source of new and innovative content that provide an entertaining experience. However, I can’t help but feel that online interactive gameplay is slowly becoming the dominant factor for video games. But why does it have to be this way? Well, it doesn’t. Keep making these unstoppable forces of games like Call of Duty; its success cannot be argued with. But, all in all, I’d just like to ask that people not forget those that stood up for video games back when they had little to no social momentum. What an incredible movement the nerd culture has become. Do what makes you happy, only you know what that is.
Regardless of your video game taste or experience, I think there’s all one thing we can agree on: stop camping.