A Year in Gaming Part 1
This time last year I wrote a two part post called A Year in MMOs. Twelve months later I find myself writing a similar round-up of my gaming activities. However this time round the title has now become A Year in Gaming. One of the most significant changes for me over the course of 2015 has been my step away with the MMO genre. Where in the past I would seek out new titles and stay abreast of those in development, I now find myself no longer drawn to the genre by default. Traditional titles such as LOTRO have been sidelined. This is because both MMOs and I have changed over recent years. Although I still play this genre (mainly STO), I do so sparingly and it is no longer the apple of my eye or the mainstay of my gaming time.
Game design and mechanics naturally evolve over time and are often driven by basic market forces. There is therefore a wealth of differences between games such as Ultima Online and Guild wars 2. Although I have adapted to the more casual game play that is now prevalent in the genre recently, I do find that MMOs are becoming increasingly homogeneous. Beyond their own setting and lore, new titles seldom have anything different to offer with regard to game design. They lack of a killer mechanic; something that makes them a radically different experience from their competitors. Then there is the requirement to invest time in such games, which is something I can no longer do. The days of me playing a particular game every day for five hours or more have past.
So this year I’ve found myself playing more single player games; titles that can be played and completed within a reasonable time span. In fact I found this to be a satisfying aspect in my overall gaming experience. I like the idea of playing through a compelling story at a measured pace and then reaching a definitive conclusion. This may take just a dozen hours, as was the case with Hand of Fate and Rise of the Argonauts or over three hundred with titles such as The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. It is an experience more akin to reading a book, indicating that a strong narrative is an essential aspect of my gaming enjoyment. It would seem that as I get older I want less of a challenge and more of an emphasis on entertainment. Excessively complex games, with a steep learning curve and chronic skills bloat are not as attractive to me as they use to be.
Another facet of gaming that has changed for me this year has been my perception of the wider community, including both fan and professional websites. I have stopped reading several news outlets and blogs simply because they do not provide any valuable information about games any more. 2015 has been the year of the live stream of the "let's play" video on You Tube and these are now an integral part of my decision making process as to whether to buy a game or not. However I’m increasingly finding that my age often put me at odds with many of the You Tube personalities. I appreciate that many are running commercial endeavours but their need to “entertain” and be “characters” for me gets in the way of the reviews and critiques. Take for example Jim Sterling’s #FuckKonami “campaign”. I broadly agree with the sentiments he’s trying to express but the very terms it’s couched in just strike me a puerile and therefore mitigate much of the point.
When you are a fan of something, you often feel that it is something special, unique and meaningful. There is a chance that the object of your affection is all those things but more often than not that is simply wishful thinking. Games are commercial leisure products, made with the express purpose of making money for the publishers. The wider industries associated with marketing and reviewing them are similarly self-serving. Perhaps part of a gamer’s personal journey over time is finding a sense of perspective on these matters. I believe this year I have found such a point of equilibrium. Gaming is an entertaining leisure activity and that on occasions can be art. But for most of the time it is an ephemeral pastime and a shamelessly commercial endeavour (I’m looking at you Star wars Battlefront) and therefore should be treated as such.
A positive lesson I have learnt over the course of this year’s gaming is that I now have a very clear handle on what I want from the title that I play. Apart from one mistake which was the Guild Wars 2 expansion Heart of Thorns, I have enjoyed all of the purchases that I have made this year. This essential comes down to fully researching each title and what it specifically has to offer as well as at what price point I purchase a product at. Once again it is interesting how the financial cost of a game impacts upon ones expectations. I no longer feel like a child in a toy shop, running from display to display, overwhelmed by the choice available. 2015 has been the year of coming to terms with what games are and what I want from them. It's only taken me a quarter of a century!