I grew up in the video game world of Atari games and classic Nintendo. My little brother and I would spend hours after school tackling everything from “Pong” to “Mario World,” eagerly awaiting our bimonthly trip to Blockbuster to pick out new games that we’d spend the rest of the weekend trying to beat. Needless to say, we were exceptionally pale from lack of sun exposure and mostly friendless, but the shared interest gave us something to bond over. When I was in graduate school, the Wii was released, which I used for multi-player games like Wii Sports and Guitar Hero to entertain friends from school during our weekly study groups (i.e. binge drinking). It served as a kind of catharsis as well. After a bad day, I’d throw in my Metallica Rock Band game, sit down at my drums, and wail on my fake instrument until I felt better.
However, once I graduated in 2010 and got my first full-time teaching job, I found myself too exhausted to participate in the video game world anymore. Prepping four new courses, frantically trying to publish, dealing with faculty meetings, and hanging out with new friends left little time for playing like I used to do.
Around September, after six years working full-time as a professor, my job demands finally slowed down, and I found myself with extra time. I didn’t want to badger my friends for more attention and already read books and watched TV plenty, so I signed up for Gamefly (Netflix for video games) and chose “Deadpool” as my first rental. The second I finished my work the day, it arrived. I slipped in the disc and spent the next 30 minutes bored out of my mind.
Instead of games where the expectations are obvious and straightforward, it seemed like I spent all my time listening to more and more rules and instructions as well as a tedious storyline (and even worse, it wasn’t voiced by my favorite handsome celebrity, Ryan Reynolds, who starred in the film). I gave it a couple tries, gave up, and sent it back. The next game, “Resident Evil”, was the same. I was looking forward to take out some aggression by shooting the undead in the face, but instead, the first 20 minutes of the game involved dragging a hurt coworker around and getting her medicine. If that’s what the zombie apocalypse is going to be like, count me out.
I tried about 10 games in all over the course of a month and saw the same issues over and over again. When did the video game world get so laborious? And more importantly, why are these new games making money? My first thought was that maybe 35 is the age at which I can no longer understand what “the kids” like these days, yet every other sect of pop culture — movies, TV, books, and music — I enjoy just fine. I’m not saying all games need to be redesigned, but there’s a reason items like NES Classic — a Nintendo emulator that you can use to play old games from the ’80s and ’90s — do so well and are met with such nostalgia. These games remind us of our childhoods, and their popularity should perhaps be a clue that some of us still want those more traditional game designs. Not everyone who sits down in front of a game console needs to feel like they’re watching a movie (and a boring one at that).