Sunday 9 December 2012

On gaming

This year has seen a significant shift in the way I approach games: I've become incredibly time poor - reflected in the catastrophic drop in output on this blog which now resembles a long form twitter account (A thing I have now started doing). That I managed to be a regular panellist on a podcast and release UnBrogue this year is merely a reflection of my time poverty: you always make time for things you love.

A conventional approach to a middle aged gamer with more money than time would be to sink that time into sampling a wide range of blockbuster games. I'm more fortunate in that I have a non-gaming partner to whom I have to justify my entertainment expenses: so my approach has been to set a threshold (around USD$20) at which I wait like a tunnel spider, waiting to pounce on games I want. Intriguingly, this means that my blockbuster experience has been firmly rooted in 2011: with play time spent with the Witcher 2, Deus Ex: Human Revolution and RAGE.*

Having only an arm's length perspective on much of the critical and mainstream game's writing this year has made me realise there's no journalistic or critical voice which represents me as a gamer any more. Partially this is a moving on of voices who spoke strongly to me (Kieron Gillen, Quintin Smith), and I'm waiting for some other voices to mature (Adam Smith, Jon Schafer) and hopefully not in the way that loses their individual flavour (I'm thinking here of Rob Zacny who's professional writing is somehow weirdly disconnected from the personality he brings to the fore in his podcasting and twitter account).

But I think it is also a reflection on the way that writing about games, especially games journalism, is wrapped up in a weird mix of neophilia and nostalgia, and the games I'm playing are too old or too odd to have any hype surrounding them, but too new to be seen through rose tinted shades. So when it comes to the blockbusters, I stopped playing the Witcher 2 as soon as I finished the prologue - a ridiculous combination of wildly uneven pacing and reaching my encumbrance limit 10 feet away from the first shop I found: there are better games for inventorytris. I uninstalled Deus Ex: HR far too late in the game: for a game mostly about hiding behind office desks, Metal Gear Solid 2 did it better ten years earlier and at least had the decency to ensure the desks were on a nuclear armed oil silo. And RAGE was somewhat inspirational during it's tense shooting set pieces: until I played Teleglitch. While I could not distinguish the quality of tension imparted to my viscera by both games, I could clearly tell the quality of writing apart (Teleglitch was far superior).

Games journalists seem to write about year old games only when the game releases a new patch or mod, and then primarily in the mode 'Hey here's a thing I can't be bothered playing: is it any good?'. Games critics seem to be focused on games amenable to critical 'analysis' whatever that means, and refusal to impart qualitative assessments. I want to know strictly about the middlebrow: games that need to be rescued from B obscurity: like Homefront, but not already in the process of redemption (Spec Ops: The Line). I've written about some already: Dark Messiah: Might and Magic, Clive Barker's Jericho, E.Y.E. Divine Cybermancy, Crysis; but also AAA games that have no clothes, like Deus Ex: HR, Portal 2 and Bioshock, and how, though the latter is an objectively terrible game, it redeems itself with its sly commentary on the rapacious looting RPG mechanic. I'm thinking specifically of why Borderlands is one of the greatest games ever, and Borderlands 2 is terrible.

In short, why is there no Mystery Science Theatre equivalent to Old Man Murray, or Game Intestine, but written in the mode of the guy at the video store who'll recommend you and your girlfriend watch Kids?

And if there is, why don't I know about it?

[*] At the under $20 range, pretty much anything goes and I've gorged myself on Steam sales, indie releases, iPad nostalgia and DLC throughout the year. But I've not dangled my legs in the F2P water: when you're time poor this is not a cheap thing to do, and I've stepped away from my biggest gaming addiction to date: I've stopped losing myself in Team Fortress 2 for an evening or more a week.


RogerN said...

The closest equivalent to MST3K for gamers I'm aware of is the NSFW series Zero Punctuation, but even that's a bit of a stretch.

James McNeill said...

I'm in a similar boat; very little free time, and I'm a cheapskate. I tend to play games a year or two after their release. It means I don't have much of anyone to discuss the games with. Multiplayer games are not amenable to this game-buying strategy, either.

Blockbuster entertainment is primarily about capturing the attention of the world for a weekend or two. (Go hive mind!) Creating a work for the ages (a.k.a. a year or two later) is a secondary goal. Journalists are part of the machinery of collective consciousness, so they'll be writing about the thing du jour.

For sampling blockbusters near the time of release, we have RedBox here in the US now. A couple dollars a night. I tried out Rage that way.

It is fascinating to see which games hold up a year or two on. There are several factors working in favor of games at release:

Paying a lot of money for a game makes it more fun, since you're invested in extracting the fun from it. I'll never forget the night I attended a free-play event at a video arcade. There was barely anything worth playing in the place.

Having friends playing through the game simultaneously makes it more fun. It's a shared experience; something you can talk about and compare notes on.

Having cutting-edge graphics can make it more fun, due to the novelty. This is less of a factor as the years go by, I think, since it's costing more and more to make massive leaps in graphic quality.

I've gone back using GoG to try out some of the games I missed when they came out. Most recently I was trying "Giants: Citizen Kabuto" and it is mildly amusing. I got stuck on a stage that involved rescuing a bunch of smarties from falling into piranha-infested water and the difficulty derailed me enough that I haven't been back. If I'd paid a bunch of money for the game it probably would have encouraged me to get through the tough spot.

Joseph said...

I am time rich and money poor, so I do a lot of free gaming. I could write a blog about it...

I've recently tested out Tribes (awesome) and Age of Empires Online (run away). Also playing WoW hardcore, for free, to level 20 is definitely a challenge. I've not made it yet. Turns out to be about staying alert. Like many roguelikes, if you get into a groove sometimes you don't see death coming around the bend.

I've also played a bazillion little hobby games, and just about every game posted on Temple of the Roguelike (many are just not worth playing yet, but there are a couple of gems, quickhack was one, @Starwars is another though it's way too early to tell).

There was also a Starwars HTML5 roguelike game recently where you played a Jedi. It was very well done for a short game. Prime has also picked up steam in that genre if you can handle Nethack inspired mechanics. I've not played Darren's game in awhile, but the early build I played showed a lot of promise.

Still failing to get into Dwarf Fortress, though strategy games are my thing. I picked up an old copy of Warcraft II and III, and will be playing them soon. Still, nothing beats Total Annihilation for over the top RTS fun on the cheap.

Andrew Doull said...

Tom Chick is probably the closest to what I'm talking about:

Nate Kiernan said...

I can't afford to buy games on release day, so it's usually the $20 wait for me as well. I usually still enjoy the games very much this way, and find they haven't lost anything in the years wait (I very much loved Bioshock and Portal 2). Considering the length of games these days, spending $60 on a 10-12 hour campaign is just hard to rationalize. Interesting read either way:)

Antoine said...

This is all missing the point.

We need to make more time for ourselves.

Is there a way we can join in this endeavour?

What about taking turns to (remotely) take care of each other's kids?


Antoine said...

This is all missing the point.

We need to make more time for ourselves.

Is there a way we can join in this endeavour?

What about taking turns to (remotely) take care of each other's kids?