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No Content For Old Men
I think I must have spent more than £100,000 on video games in 40 years, but I don’t love them like I used to. When one is bored of video games, is one bored of life? At 54, is it time to put away childish things? Is there no content for old men?
I can’t be accused of a lack of commitment. After all, video games is how I’ve always earned a living, and a degree of interest and engagement, perhaps even passion, are all vital ingredients in a long career. Yet my passion has dried up. No modern game gives me the delight that games of the past did. Is this the fault of video games, is this my fault, or is it just how it is?
Oh I still get excited about new games, the anticipation for something, anything, that ticks my boxes, is still huge, but when reality hits, I’m nearly always bored by it. That's the nature of novelty, and I recognise within this anticipation the power of a random reward in my life-sized Skinner box. I peck away, and nearly always, there is no seed. One day though, one day...
I have loved and paid for video games since they first appeared in arcades, shops and cafes around four decades ago. My favourite video games of all time are biased towards the ‘70s and ‘80s. The list includes Star Raiders, Jet Set Willy, Gauntlet in the arcades and Ultima Underworld. This shouldn’t be a surprise, because we all have an unbreakable bond with the music of our youth, why should games be any different?
I remember reading A Catcher in the Rye in an afternoon, and many other great books were binge-read in a day or two. I devoured an unhealthy amount of TV in my youth and fell asleep listening to John Peel every Monday to Thursday night from 10am to midnight in my teens. Did books, music and TV meet the same fate? Is all media absorption subject to the curve of maturity, the one where as money increases, time decreases?
Yes, it is, that’s life, but... where with TV, I can still binge watch Devs in a single day, half of it standing; where I can still read a book in a couple of days (pretty much anything Le Carré ever wrote) and where I am still surprised at pop music’s ability to move me, (Amy Allen’s “Difficult”, Low’s “Congregation” and even Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off”), I can’t name the last video game that affected me emotionally, that tried to reach me, other than as a toy, or as a virtual punching bag.
Why is this? Are games really so artless? Or have I, who was called the Simon Cowell of video games more than once (sadly, I never attained a fraction of his bank balance, nor wore my trousers so high) become cynical?
It's almost as if although the people in the video games industry have grown up, games have not. I'm still patronised with tutorials to go through the same mechanics with minor variations to explore the same tropes, through the same, interminable dialogue that masquerades as story. My time is at a premium, but it is rarely treated with respect. So many video games are like a super-sized fast food meal, nutritionally dense and packed with content, but devoid of nutrition and leaving me unfulfilled.
We have a high density of beautiful content, created by talented people, but there is just too much sugar and not enough experience.
One of the reasons I loved the idea of No Man's Sky so much was because it promised an experience that I had always wanted, but never thought I'd ever have, the pure sci-fi escapism of my childhood, worlds that no human eye had ever seen, not even by the creators of the game. No Man's Sky was a beacon to the grown-up who still had that lonely, searching child within.
Don't misunderstand, sometimes all I want is fast food, the known experience, but I only want the best. In the past that would have been Uncharted, or God of War, but even those eventually became too long and made me do things I was too bored of. It's not that games became too hard for me, they bored me, I couldn't see the point of being made to go over the same old ground for a reward I could predict.
At my age, I don't have tens of hours of time for a single game, let alone the time or the inclination to replay something from the past, where because I've changed, it has changed.
At my stage of life, where I barely have enough time for my family, let alone video games, I'd like something that can be played and can give me an enjoyable experience that I don't have to go to boot camp for a few hours for, that I can rely on to entertain or move me and that I can come back to. What's more, I want this to happen without a game necessarily having to be completely linear, otherwise what's the point of it being a game?
Is such a game possible? Do such games even exist? Is there perhaps another way? I'm going to explore that with you next week. I think it can be done, and I'm going to try, because I don't think I'm the only one who feels this way, and I'll be damned if I give up the medium I've given my entire working life to.