I have murdered countless innocents, even children. Armies have bowed before me. I have sown genocide across worlds. Worst of all, my atrocities entertained me. Growing up, I would play video games for hours at a time, living out my crazy power fantasies.
But as the years have gone by, video games no longer enrapture me. Super Smash Bros. is the clearest example of this. While Brawl was an all-around disappointment, the recent 3DS and Wii U versions feel like Melee, one of my favorite games of all time.
But it is not Melee, and nothing ever will be. On Christmas Day 2001, I opened up a brand new GameCube and a copy of that game. I would play it with friends every afternoon during sixth grade. We heard unbelievable rumors around school about unlockable characters like Mewtwo and Ganondorf. Each of us would brag about how we were the best, and the only way to settle the debate was by throwing down on Final Destination with no items.
Yet even though I still love them, video games are not as important to me anymore. There are three primary reasons for this change:
1. Time As a kid, I believed there would be tons of free time once I was an adult, but homework has only been replaced with a long commute, chores, and other adult responsibilities.
And video games require a huge time commitment. Gone are the days when I could play a 40+ hour RPG. Most days I hardly have time to even get into a game. Adventure games like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time take about half an hour to accomplish anything of note, yet my free time comes in ten minute chunks. On the other hand, I do not want to be limited to simple, non-continuous mobile games. Furthermore, where are the games I can play and beat in a single afternoon (about 3–4 hours worth of content)? On my days off, I want to be able to play a full experience, rather than get 5% through the next AAA title.
2. Content Most games are childish, and sometimes that is alright. Space marines and sword fights still entertain me, but a man cannot live on junk food alone. My media consumption yesterday included feeling the isolating nature of technology by listening to OK Computer, laughing at nihilistic buddy comedy in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and shooting Russians in Call of Duty. One of those is not like the others.
3. Goals When you are a kid, you have no long-term goals. The only challenge you face is school, and its completion is so far in the future that your progress seems nonexistent. Video games fill this human need to focus towards a goal. During junior high, I could spend an entire summer vacation unlocking the Green Hill Zone in Sonic Adventure 2 Battle.
Nowadays my goals are much more real like “lose weight”, “have a successful career”, or “get married”. And so playing games for achievements leaves me feeling empty because those digital deeds are meaningless. Video games need to appeal with thematic depth rather than relying on their reward systems for engagement.
For these reasons, it is difficult for me to find an engrossing game. While I do not believe other artistic mediums are inherently better than others, picking up a book, film, or album has a higher frequency of satisfaction.
We should make games that break this trend. When Electronic Arts began, they put out an ad asking, “Can a computer make you cry?” Their company was set out with a noble goal, but perhaps there is a more relevant question: Can adults love video games as much as kids?