Let me preface this by saying I am not a teenager. No, in fact I am barely still in my 20s. I’ll turn 28 in 4 months and I have been a gamer since 1989 when i got my first NES. My mother has memories of me beating levels of Super Mario Brothers while she stood in front of the screen trying to get me to stop playing. She actually told me recently that she remembers the day I first beat Zelda, yes, it was a big deal in my household.
It’s fair to say that the gaming industry has had a bigger impact on my life than any other facet of entertainment. Sports are in a close second, but with my inability to play them at a high enough level to be competitive in anything more than a church basketball league, I’ve stuck with gaming. So hopefully my credentials as a gamer can hold enough value to at least have my opinion heard on today’s gaming environment and (more directly) today’s fans.
It seems to me that I must have missed the train from imagination and exploration to Snakes and Sparklers. When did my favorite past-time go from a creative Mecca to a cesspool of recycled garbage and lame ideas? I can recall spending hours on games and not getting anywhere and loving EVERY minute of it. I still use Zelda, to this day, to drive this idea through to people. It took me (as a 6 year old) 2 months to beat that game. 2 MONTHS! And yet it remains to be one of my favorite games of all time. I played it a lot too but back then there wasn’t an outlet for cheats and walkthroughs. There were no youtube videos telling you where to go next. You were on your own and your adventure was yours to conquer. When I beat Ganon I had a feeling of pride and achievement because I had watched Link grow from a boy ,who was given a sword in a cave, to a man that saved the Princess.
I dare you right now to find a young gamer and tell him you have a game that will take him two months to beat. He won’t even care what it’s about! That answer will be NO almost every time. But wait! You said the graphics are the best around? Well maybe I’ll give it a shot. Huh?!?! When in the hell did this happen? When did gaming become nothing more than a show of hardware? What happened to the story? What happened to the adventure and the feeling of being a character? What happened to replay ability? It has all but vanished in this new world of gaming. Sure, we have our Bethesda and Bioware games but where is the rest of the industry for the most part? Remember when Squaresoft was making RPGs? Wasn’t that a great time. And I mean Squaresoft, not SquareEnix. It’s not the same! I demand a refund!
Nintendo has always made games for the younger generation but apparently difficulty isn’t allowed any longer. Games like Dark Souls would never find an audience on a console like the Nintendo Wii. Perhaps PC games can resurrect the old school gaming empire? I doubt it. I see more and more PC games being nothing more than console ports or made for console titles. The Real Time Strategy genre is almost all that is left for the PC gamer to hold on to when it comes to an exclusive that is worth anything. And before I get flamed by the PC fans from across the lands I know there are other games as well. MMOs are still mostly PC based and Blizzard hasn’t sold its soul to the console yet either.
So where did everything go wrong? When did graphics take over and creativity and gameplay get benched? Well I have two different ideas of the beginning of the end. First I think Doom’s release in 1993 may have started a trend of realism to shooters. You could say that Wolfenstein 3-D, released in May of 1992, started it but I believe Doom was the bigger culprit. What was it about Doom that made people love graphics? Well I personally remember loving how the blood splattered and how it was the goriest game I had personally ever played. It looked awesome for the time and I remember having conversations around that time with friends about what we thought games would look like in the future.
Am I right? Probably not but that is a point in time when I personally remember a shift in how I viewed games. But I said I had two different culprits. Not one. So which game is the other game? Final Fantasy 7 released in 1997. FF7, not only because of the graphics, but because of the impact on an entire genre is my second possible turning point. These two games defined their respected genres and each brought something different to the realm of graphics. Doom brought it’s gore and (at the time) realism. While Final Fantasy 7 basically gave birth to the FMV used in every RPG in the late 90s to mid 2000s. Both of these games made gamers talk about graphics more than any game I can remember before them.
I personally can’t remember a game doing it on that level again until 2002 and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Which I credit as the beginning of the graphics war. It may have come sooner but in memory this is the game that started the war from all games. RPGs, FPS, Action, Fighting, Sports, EVERYTHING from then on was judged first on graphics second on gameplay. If the game looked good it was good. No questions asked. That was my senior year in high school. So maybe it was symbolic in a way. The year I stepped out into the real world the world I had grown up with was torn apart and replaced by something I barely recognized.
I still play video games, a lot in fact, but I think I will always look at the mid to late 90s as the golden years of RPGs and the early 2000 era as the birth of sandbox gaming. While I watch the industry with admiration, I still miss the days watching it grow and take its first big steps. I feel like a father must as he watches his son accomplish what he is capable of achieving. And even though I don’t always like what he decides to do I’ll always support the decisions he makes. And maybe one day he will make another game for me.