Disposable Gaming

Here’s a sad fact, video games for the most part are juvenile. As an avid gamer, and admirer of them it pains me to say it, but after many decades, gaming has not changed from the trash appearance it received when first introduced, the only difference now – Publishers and developers make more money and reach a larger audience. I suppose like all great mediums, when something new comes to the scene they are torn apart by skeptics and pushed to the side as merely playthings or toys that will corrupt children’s minds. Comic book’s faced this, films did as well (many forget the first movies to ever be made were made for exploitation purposes, such as pornographic films.) But through the years, and through people willing to use these new forms of entertainment and storytelling to a great advantage, both mediums for the most part overcame the dreadful stereotypes associated with them. For now however, video games are the newest target for the destruction of our civilization, for being mindless, and for distracting people from real things. Unfortunately they are right, video games still have the stink of pop trash on them, and only a few people seem to care.

Let’s face it, pop trash makes a lot of money (need proof? Britney Spears is still making albums.) Things that distract us from our ordinary boring lives sell because, well, they distract us from our boring lives. It doesn’t take a scientist to figure out that people like being put into impossible situations, facing what appears to be impossible odds and to overcome those odds with some flash. As people we like to be excited, and anything shiny that can grab our attention for a couple of hours is surely worth the price.

Like popular music, video games fit into the category of disposable entertainment. We download a song, listen to it until it becomes annoying and never bother with it again. We have forgotten about the art of an entire album and have settled for what ever gets stuck in our head for a day or two. Well, we buy video games for ridiculous prices (often $60 plus) play them, beat them, and trade them in for considerably less than we payed for them. Rarely do they hold any lasting value. Sure, people will argue that’s why we have multiplayer to expand the life cycle of the game, but in essence online multiplayer usually consists of a repetitive game of tag with guns.

That’s not to say that there aren’t developers out there using the video game medium to its potential as a new tool for creativity. Many do try, and the result ends with poor sales, proving that as gamers we’d rather see something disposable but of the moment, rather than something original and timeless. Some recent examples could be the incredibly high sales of Modern Warfare 2, essentially a graphical improvement over its predecessor, which became one of the highest grossing games of all time. Some will argue that Modern Warfare does not fit in this category because it has a universal storyline, but universal doesn’t mean good. It lacks heart, and after one play through it becomes clear that just about any North American development team could have made the same game. A game that lacks any true creativity in it’s design or gameplay, and whose storyline feels like a teenage Tom Clancy fan’s wet dream, ends up being both pointless and predictable. But it’s not only Modern Warfare, the same problem applies to just about every game developed today.

It wasn’t until the 1980’s that comic books finally started being treated as a worthy medium to tell stories. The reason for this is because a handful of writers decided to go against the grain, and strayed away from the expected to take a risk. Certainly there were comic books released before the 80’s that tried to go against the grain and some succeeded, but none garnered true success. Alan Moore’s The Watchmen, now proudly known as one of the fathers of the revolution in comic books, along with Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns achieved both success as well as artistic praise. So what does this mean? Do video games deserved to someday put into the same category as film and comic books? Well, because I’m optimistic I believe so, and I think it’s only a matter of time before gaming receives that wave of breakthrough titles that not only garner millions of dollars but the respect and enjoyment that other mediums have already. Again, there have been games released in the past that have tried this, some resulted better than others, but none have been revolutionary.

One could argue it’s not just video games, but it’s that the stereotype about video games is true. Both developers and gamers gather artistic inspiration and influences from the same place, whatever makes the most profit. As a culture it does suffer from the “hyper geek” service of fantasy-themed elements that only the select devoted will respond with. Or perhaps, like movies, video games are suffering from the same inevitable watering down of quality through self reference. If the same people are all taking inspiration from the same place, then the reality is everything is the same with only minor changes. They take from the same place because as a culture its all we know, through media, hype, and sales we take from what we know best, the problem being what we know best is what everyone else knows best. If a chance isn’t taken on creativity then nothing new can ever gain success, and sure we will be happy for a moment until we forget and move on repeatedly, but nothing that repeats can last forever.