Video games have been a part of my life since I was old enough to hold a controller. I am one of the blessed many that did his growing up with a posse including Link and Mario. My first video game console was the NES, and since then I have shoehorned in to my budget myriad video games for whatever console I have at the time. With the tornado of technological advances, new incarnations of the my old friends, and so many new friends have crossed my gaming path. As I’ve gotten older though, my tastes are more refined. I’m no longer satisfied to just fight for the sake of fighting. I need a better reason to do it than a nondescript princess that needs saving. Games mean just as much to me as ever, but I’d better truly care about that princess if you think I’m going through hell and brimstone to save her.
When I was younger, all I needed was action sequences of runnin’, gunnin’, and then any reason would suffice for me to do it again. Mario was a side-scroller. I had the premise of Koopa holding Toadstool hostage, so I’ll conquer all these levels designated by nothing more than integers to save her eight bits at a time.
Now, I drop $60 for the next blockbuster triple-A title from a studio that has invested as much as 100 million dollars in to developing a game. Instead of mindlessly running across a screen, I now explore massive maps, encountering my enemy in as loosely a structured world as can be constructed. Times have changed in graphics and cost, and we expect a lot more than before.
What used to excite me no longer gets my cockles warm. I used to be an online fanatic with games like COD and GOW. I loved these series for the breakneck action, and adrenaline fueled leaderboards. It was deathmatches and capture the flag. Kill count ticking up for the win with total strangers across the world competing against other anonymous gamers for nothing but XP and bragging rights. Nothing more than heart-pumping action…action devoid of a compelling story. It was great for a while, but now I want more. I need that story.
I’ll admit that I never finished COD: MW3. I just didn’t care. I got through half of the single player campaign, but never finished, nor have I even turned on the multiplayer even once; haven’t played a single match, I’ve played Skyrim for more than 120 hours. I think I’m just too old for the run and gun multiplayers. Where some guys seem to prestige in 24 hours, I spend that time with a compelling story and characters with whom I live and die.
It may be that I am getting too slow to keep up with the whip-fast, 14-year old kids in Japan at 2 a.m., and it probably is. While my kill to death ratio was around 4-1 with COD: Modern Warfare, COD: MW2 dropped to 2.9-1. I get worked like a noob in Halo: Reach, and forget about GOW3 multi…it’s embarrassing. Sure, get me in to some co-op survival like Horde Mode and I’ll be one of your best assets, but if I have to go toe to toe with some jag off from Philadelphia then I am gonna get pwned like a Thai hooker.
So, as hard as it is to admit, I have lost a step on the kids today. Not even the kids, but the avid players out there, which is what mostly populates the multiplayer arena in hardcore multis like the COD and GOW. What fun is getting my ass handed to me by some avid gamer who gloats like an asshole? What’s the fun in coming in last in team deathmatch and hearing the sighs of your teammates when they see that you were worth -6 Kills net profit? They were better off if you’d just sat that one out.
Seeing my skills had waned, I turned to the type of games that I love the most: epic stories–single player campaigns that trump any multiplayer fun you can have. I turned to Skyrim, ME3, RDR, Fallout games, GTAIV, Portal, Assassin’s Creed, and the always playable Bioshock. Epic stories that top cookie-cutter multis by supplying a story and characters that drive me to keep playing, not a game that just makes me want to complete it to unlock perks and achievement whore.
Sure, I get excited playing these RPG’s and whatnot, but the experience feels so much more personal, and they are all examples of all-time great games and great stories. ME3, despite a dissonant ending, forced me to make decisions that literally haunted me for days. I shot Legion, saved the Quarians, destroyed the Reapers, cured the genophage–watching a great friend die for the cause–and some of these choices stuck with me and honestly had me emotional. Killing Legion literally caused me to drop the controller and cover my mouth.
In Skyrim, a tale was told so well that I soaked up every nook and cranny, and have yet to complete everything in a world so well fleshed out in design and concept that my desire to be good over evil drives every choice I make. It’s a world so alive I don’t want it to suffer at my hand. I am a citizen of Skyrim and feel a responsibility to my community.
Bioshock was such a visceral and terrifying world designed so beautifully that I have replayed it more than anything since Super Mario Bros. I love the music, the light design, the twisted characters, the level design, and so much more. So perfect is the story, I still get goosebumps when the twist is revealed; gets me every time and the rage comes bubbling up knowing I was played a fool. A genius games for the ages.
As you can see, I don’t want for action, but my tastes have changed over the years. What used to excite me was the maddening action of multiplayer and endlessly leveling and tweaking load outs. What used to be an arbitrary series of cut scenes to move the story along has been replaced by a desire to push forward, so I can see what is to come, even if I am literally scared to do so. Choices that haunt me have replaced the generic character designs and more clips of ammo. I don’t need battlefields for the sake of war, I need internal battles for the sake of the universe. Sure, a shoot-em-up summer blockbuster can be fun to sit down and tune out, but as I’ve grown up, so has my taste. I’ll take Martin Scorsese over Michael Bay any day of the week. They both have their place, and for me the ranks of COD and Halo multis are firmly planted in my past where youthful exuberance was fulfilled with kill ratios and weapon skins, but I’m looking forward to the next great story–I’m looking at you Bioshock Infinite.