I’m not all that big on social media, but I do spend some time browsing others’ accounts from time to time. Sometimes folks have interesting things to say, especially when it comes to gaming. These days, though, it seems like the “interesting things” tend to take the form of hot takes and impotent outrage, and I figure it’s worth saying something about that.
Look, I know this is strange coming from me, but I really think the industry is in the best state it’s ever been. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not absolving anyone of the many hilarious faux pas that have plagued 2016. Street Fighter V, Mighty No. 9 and No Man’s Sky are still awful examples of an industry built on deceit and greed that we really should have gotten past by now…
…but still, something needs to be said about each of those titles. Street Fighter V eventually saw some serious and substantial updates, including a fully realized cinematic story mode, months after the rush of launch sales would have made such a thing worthwhile. No Man’s Sky just received a long-overdue update of its own, despite the developers being on the receiving end of some of the most universal gamer outrage we’ve seen since, ironically, the launch of Will Wright’s Spore. And Mighty No. 9…well, it sucked, but it’s still playable. We’ve seen worse.
That’s just it, really: I’m not going to say that gaming as a whole doesn’t have a long way to go, but I’d argue that things are pretty damn good and look like they’re going to get better. I’d like to address a few of the more common complaints about modern gaming that I’ve seen on Twitter and elsewhere.
Everyone loves to dump on AAA games, for instance, complaining about their price, coercive pre-order schemes, repetitive content and so on. That’s easy to do, after all; it’s no secret that gamer outrage is big these days, and it’s also no secret that it’s kind of feeble and has little to no effect on sales. You know you’re in trouble not when basement-dwellers take to the digital streets, but when your game drops and doesn’t get any attention at all. I’d argue two points regarding this: first, it’s good that we’re at the point where consumers are more connected than ever and aware enough to get outraged about potentially anti-consumer activities. The games industry has been – and, really, remains – an incredibly one-sided affair, and it’s good that the community is finally willing to speak up, even if it’s usually speaking with the mouth rather than the wallet.
Second, I’d argue that the variety and quality of traditional AAA games is at a high point lately. We’ve seen plenty of solid games drop over the past couple years. We can talk about this based on genre; for instance, FPS fans had not one, not two, but three high-budget options (in Battlefield 1, CoD: Infinite Warfare and Titanfall 2) to choose from over the past few months, all of which were absolutely worth a look for shooter fans. RPG fans, meanwhile, can check out the recently-released Final Fantasy XV, explore an updated and remastered Skyrim or perhaps mingle with the shooter fans with the latest iteration of Destiny. Open-world junkies might check out Watch_Dogs 2, The Witcher 3 or Fallout 4, depending on their taste. The list goes on and on. Even fans of classic series like Pokémon have had new titles to wet their whistles.
Even if you’re not into that sort of game, there’s probably someone out there making exactly what you want. Hell, they’ll even let you help pay to make it. I give indie games a lot of shit, and I’m not going to pretend that the indie games industry is the godsend that some might claim – not after the crowdfunding embarrassments and social media meltdowns from poorly housebroken indie devs we’ve seen over the past few years – but if we look at the past several years, 2016 included, it’s clearly another avenue for producing titles that might not fit into the traditional AAA mold.
So if you’re nostalgic for the days of the NES where you’d wake up early to eat cereal and play DuckTales? Well, we’ve got Shovel Knight, we’ve got the latest iterations of Shantae and so on. What if you miss classic dungeon-crawling RPGs? The Legend of Grimrock games can fill that void, or you could try StarCrawlers if you feel like gambling on an Early Access title. Old-school point-and-click adventure games hit it big after Tim Schafer struck it rich, so you can find some of those; the Infinty Engine is back with games like Tyranny and the extremely extensive Pillars of Eternity; Hell, there’s options for gamers who want something that doesn’t fit into any regular genre, like Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor.
My point is that one way or the other, more games come out in a given month than you’d ever be able to play, and if you can’t find something you’re interested in the problem might be closer to home than you think.
Sometimes the hot takes are about hardware instead of software, though. For instance, not a day goes by when you don’t see a complain about Day One patches or updates on modern console games. I won’t deny that these can be annoying, but I’ll also defer to 2014 Census statistics that state that nearly 80% of Americans now have access to high-speed Internet connectivity. It’s true that the days where you’d get a game from the store, rush home to unwrap it and immediately hop in are gone…but it’s also true that the days where that game would contain horrific deal-breaking bugs or multiplayer-ruining exploits are largely gone as well.
We’ve reached a point now where it’s not just common, but expected that developers will fix some of the worst technical problems a game has over time, and those rose-colored glasses you’ve got on might help you forget that back in the day, you’d fire out a release and then forget about it to move on to the next.
You might not be the biggest fan of launch day patches or the constant stream of updates that need to be updated for seemingly every game before you can get in and play. I guarantee, though, that you’d be a little more distressed at a situation like the launch of 2001’s Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor, a PC RPG that would attempt to uninstall your OS’ system files as some form of apparent retribution if you tried to uninstall it. A couple years before that you’d have probably been stoked for the release of Ultima IX, which was completely unplayable on launch day due to bugs and remains largely so to this day. Hell, even 2006 brought us Sonic the Hedgehog, a console game released before the days of early, consistent patching that, uh…well, we all know about Sonic 2006.
Contrast this with a few recent releases: Assassin’s Creed Unity suffered from performance issues for many users which have been addressed, for instance, and even Mafia III is a little easier to swallow a couple months post-launch. The bottom line is that I’ll gladly sit through an hourlong patch for that nice new game I just bought if it means that I’m going to have a better experience…and especially if it means the game won’t try to destroy my system if I uninstall it.
And finally: As much as I hate to step into this conversation, as much as I bristle every single time an article with a condescending title about how “we need to do better” shows up on a big-name gaming clickbait site, it’s impossible to deny that video games have become more inclusive. Slowly but surely, we’re starting to see that games are something that anyone can enjoy, not just straight white socially-maladjusted guys with personal hygiene issues. Even if you don’t think that’s who games are for, all you have to do is pull out a 3DS on public transportation and pay attention to the looks people give you to see what most people think about the subject.
Slowly, though, those looks are less piercing, less common, and it feels like people are starting to see games as just a thing everyone does. The Pokémon Go craze of this summer certainly speaks to that; could anyone have imagined in 2010 that we’d see people of all ages, races and genders unabashedly walking around trying to find their own Pikachu? I’d say no, and that’s why I’m pretty happy about the push toward making gaming a more universal pastime – it’s not just because it’s how things should be, but because it’s a vital step toward fighting the social stigma that’s been attached to enjoying games since the beginning of the hobby. That’s good for everyone.
My point, which I’m finally getting to, is this: you should take a look at your social media feed. If you’ve made tons of posts making declarations about how you’re not going to buy something (you brave stand-taking warrior, you!), about how games are the worst they’ve ever been, or about whatever the latest gamer-outrage-of-the-week might be and maybe not so many posts about your latest pickups and how much fun you’re having with them…you might want to take a step back.
Maybe play a classic and remember why you’re into this scene in the first place. It’s 2016. You can play the shareware episode of DOOM in your browser on the Internet Archive. When you finish with that, go ahead and buy the full game for five bucks on Steam, an omnipresent account system that stores your games so you can access them from anywhere while selling you more games at ludicrously discounted prices. After that, you can go on YouTube and find literally thousands of people who are just as excited about games as you once were enjoying themselves and entertaining others in the process.
If you hadn’t guessed by now, my view is that things could be a lot worse.