Some thoughts on what it’s been like disengaging from popular culture in general, and how it feels now trying to get back in the loop with current games.
I’ve never been terribly good at keeping up with popular culture as a general idea (for example, I just learned who Taylor Swift was a couple of months ago), but up until a few years ago, I was at least aware of what was happening in gaming. I haven’t been completely unplugged from the gaming scene – I still payed attention to the titles and developers that I really enjoy – but I certainly haven’t been on top of so many little details like five years ago me was.
I couldn’t really point to a specific time that I lost touch with the gaming world. I’m not sure it even is really important to know exactly when, this is meant to be more about why I was gone and how strange it is being back. I’d have to say that I probably started losing touch around the time that I moved to Washington, in 2006. That might be related – I stopped having a television and the number of people into gaming that I interacted with decreased drastically. I continued to play games, but I slowly lost touch with the wider world of companies that were making games, the indie scene, and all of the really amazing stuff that’s out there if you’re willing to look for it.
If I had to tell you just what I was doing that kept me away from gaming, it would be hard to pinpoint. Seeing as I’ve just now started to become interested in being productive and making things (games, writing – both fiction and non), I’d have to say I did pretty much absolutely nothing. I know I followed Kotaku for quite a while, but eventually the incredible mass of totally irrelevant news combined with some articles that really turned me off to the site (I’d be hard pressed to tell you what they were now, but Past Me certainly felt strongly about it) led to me no longer reading that as well. So, for a long time, other than specific things people recommended to me, or I had read in the past (I do so love to go back and read the reviews on actionbutton.net, and I wish I could find the really ancient articles that used to populate insert credit), I just didn’t hear a whole lot about games.
I continued to play quite a bit, and I continued to build my collection (even if much slower than when I had a job and lived at home with tons of income to waste like a fool). If I sat down and added together the estimated time to completion of everything I have, and subtracted everything I’ve finished at least once, I would probably cry. There’s a lot I have yet to play, but it’s not for lack of playing now and again.
Recently, something changed. Much like how I got out of games media, I got back into it – slowly and without any particular cause. There are two major points that I think really did it for me. Number one: finally starting to use Reddit (about a year ago, I think). A tool that allowed me to only see conversations and news sorted by things I actually cared about was a beautiful thing. Sure, it prevented me being exposed to many, many other things, but it at least got me interested in games media again, so I owe it quite a bit. Number two was something that I’m going to feel rather stupid admitting, but here goes: after two plus years of having a 20 minute commute to work, I realized that I could listen to podcasts on the way. I sought out things that I would enjoy, and before too long, I found myself listening to Retronauts. I sincerely doubt anyone from Retronauts will ever read this, but if you do, please know that the reason I genuinely reconnected with a passion that I’ve had since childhood is thanks to you. Jeremy, Bob, and Kat especially. The Insert Credit Podcast is deserving of equal praise, and it’s worth mentioning that Tim is a hero to me. If I ever gain the skill to write with a fraction of his ability I will consider myself accomplished as a writer and fully satisfied with what I’m able to create.
So, now I’m back, and I won’t lie, I feel terribly confused. Gamer gate is, well, quite the thing, and has had an interesting effect on gamer culture and the dialogue surrounding it. Lets save talking about that for another day – I am certainly not qualified to give a detailed assessment of what’s happening with it, and I would want to give it the attention to detail and objective assessment it deserves before throwing myself into that arena. Leaving that aside, I’ve come back at a time where gaming as I understand it is transforming.
I realize that it’s the nature of the world to change, and the nature of technology to change even faster, but I was not prepared for the way it’s going now. I grew up in a time of PCs and consoles, with handhelds becoming a part of the scene not too long after. It seemed that was the natural state of things: PCs, consoles (in competition with each other, but generally amazing in their own right), and handhelds (utterly dominated by Nintendo, but that was just fine by me). The time I was gone saw the addition of a new player, one which is having an impact on the other three and is shaping the way that everyone, not just the nerdy kids that are in to games, think about and interact with gaming. Smartphones are a hell of a drug.
I didn’t do myself any favours as far as this goes. I’ve always been a dinosaur regarding social media and cell phones, so smartphones caught me quite properly off guard. They’re not the only big things happening right now: there’s a transition into a new console generation to deal with, and tons of changes industry wide. Sakaguchi left Squeenix. Kojima has parted with Konami. Inafune is gone from Capcom. Nothing I knew about games seems to ring true anymore.
My tastes have changed a lot in the time I was gone. I spent a lot of time with retro titles, exploring facets of gaming that I didn’t know existed but had a huge impact (or in some cases, were utterly brilliant and failed to have any impact) on gaming today. But in the time since they first had an impact, that impact has transformed, mutated, and become something wholly different and nearly unrecognizable. I learned to appreciate the well crafted and natural introductions of older titles, and the few recent games I did play (Batman: Arkham comes to mind) felt alien. I don’t know that I’ll ever forget the two hours I spent with a tutorial message bugged on screen, unwilling to let me play the game unobstructed, let alone learn how to do things in a natural way.
Storytelling has changed, and I feel like the major titles have really moved backwards in a lot of ways. Squeenix is the first offender that comes to mind. Final Fantasy gave us an all female game that suffered from a translation (and likely original script) that I can only call pathetic and unloved, as well as a rich world of species with a playable cast nearly exclusively formed of white humans (clearly made by a team that never played FF6). We’ll avoid even talking about the plans for the upcoming FF15.
Maybe I’m just getting old. Maybe I’m just not able to handle this big scary world with its floods of information and games that just want me to press X (no, not when you feel like it, when it pops up on the screen). That’s okay. I’ll bring my old man perspective in to this modern world, talk about the good old days (that weren’t half as good as my nostalgia tells me they were), and shake my fist at the kids running around on my lawn. They won’t listen (I mean, what are the odds that anyone will ever read this, huh?), but that’s okay – at least I’m out of the house again.