Sunday, August 25, 2013

EDITORIAL: Gamer Fatigue

Once again I'm going to start off with an apology. Moving was even more problematic than I thought, so I needed an extra week. I wanted to make sure I put something up this week, and didn't let people think that this blog was dead. Next weekend I'll be at PAX, so I'm not entirely sure what I'll do for that. My impulse is to put out a daily review of my experiences, but I don't know if I'll have time for that after. I might not be getting back until after midnight, and leaving again before 9 am. I might not know what I'm doing until it actually happens, but I'll try to keep people posted. Check back throughout the week, as I'll be posting some more reviews.

As I grow older, and put more and more games behind me, I grow tired of this hobby on some levels. I’m tired of seeing the same tropes. I’m tired of games continuing on long after they should. I’m tired of grand set pieces designed to blow our minds while contributing nothing to narrative or atmosphere. Ladies and gentlemen, I have Gamer Fatigue.
The reason I want to talk about this is because of how it can affect us as a community. We start to overlook good games. We skip them because they look the same as what we just finished playing. We judge games more harshly because we just finished a game that did the exact same thing…regardless of whether it was better or worse.
The gaming industry almost falls into a backwards pattern from that of the movie industry. In the movie industry, the big blockbusters full of explosions and thin plots come out during the summers. In the winter, there’s a dash to get the smaller movies out before the end of the year. The Indies and art house films, the potential Oscar winners.
Gamings mad end of year rush is to get the major blockbuster games out in time for Christmas. We get all the annual titles: Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty, Need for Speed, Battlefield. The summer is the indie titles time to reign. This is in no small part due to the Xbox Live promotion “summer of arcade”, which really brought indie gaming and smaller games to the forefront. The popularity of Braid, Castle Crasher, and Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 are really what brought it all to the minds of consumers.
We tend to associate Gamer fatigue with the major titles, and rightly so. A series of triple A titles that we most likely played the year before. Something major releases on nearly a weekly basis, and each demands hours of time. These games typically require around 10 or more hours to beat the single player, and have a hefty multiplayer that demands attention as well. It can be overwhelming, and it’s easy to get caught up in and start going through the motions rather than taking the time to enjoy the games.
Right now, however, I’m supper from Indie Game Fatigue. Or, more accurately, Puzzle Platformer fatigue. Retro art direction, dialog boxes, jumping puzzles, 8 bit music. I swear if I have to pull one more box around because my 10 foot high jump just isn’t quite enough, I might lose it.
For the time being at least, this is just the reality of our situation. Indie games are typically puzzle platformers. Even when they do something new and unique, it’s within that confine. There are exceptions, I know, but even titles like “Papers, Please” share an aesthetic similarity with the bulk of indie titles being released, even though the gameplay is drastically different. The major titles will most likely always be prone to annual releases and copy cats.
I would urge Indie titles to experiment more with style. This is obviously not easy, as many of these titles are developed by only a few people, but your game needs to be presentable. Titles like Teleglitch aren’t really. You have to strain your eyes to really see what’s going on, and telling one enemy from another is difficult. The graphics need to be in service of the gameplay, and in many titles, they are not.
I’d also like to put out a general plea to cut back on the puzzle platformers. There are plenty of options for what indie games, and you don’t have to confine it to that genre. Even a straight forward sidescroller would be a welcome change at this point.
How do we as gamers fight this? I’d like to say there is a simple solution. The best I can provide is “self-control”. Take some of the major fall titles, and put off playing them until the spring and summer. Do the same thing with the spring and summer indies, putting them off until the spring. This will help you keep gamer fatigue at bay.
However, it’s not always that easy. If I don’t get Need for Speed when it comes out, I’ll have nobody to play it with when I do pick it up. Gamers are kind of fickle, and those willing to break the mold often suffer for it. Call of Duty and certain other titles do offer a bit more longevity. People will still be playing it in 6 months, even if your friends aren’t.
It’s also hard to fight out compulsions. When that new game comes out that we want to play, why shouldn’t we buy it? Who cares if it means I won’t have anything to play in those long summer months but dozens of puzzle platformers? If I buy it on Tuesday, I’ll have all week to beat it before the next game I want comes out! I fall victim to the same line of thinking, and typically end up paying for it. This time around I think I’m going to try it different. I’m already planning on putting off this past week’s major release, Saints Row 4.