February 08, 2006


by psu

I've been in a long gaming lull for the last few months. I think this is to be expected. After all, I finished a Half-Life title. The last time I finished a Half-Life title was in 1999 and I didn't play another game until, what, 2003. Those were the good old days.

It's also the case that this Christmas Season was pretty soft for games. Gone were the blockbuster franchise releases of last year. Also missing were any major releases in practically the entire month of January and on into February. I can't remember a longer dry spell, but it's probably normal.

Then there was the Xbox 360 debacle. Microsoft generates insane amounts of hype and demand leading up to the launch, and then can only deliver less than half the required units for the U.S. market, while in Japan, huge crates full of consoles sit unsold on the street, in the snow, with people spitting on them.

And where are all the smoking next-gen titles? They are nowhere to be found. Apparently, Microsoft thinks that what I want to do is stand in line for 8 hours in the snow at the Best Buy to buy the $1000 "Pro Xtreme Gamer's Bundle", take the bundle home and then do nothing but bask in the warm glow of the Xbox Live Community control panel interface while I spend my microtransactions on t-shirt decals and downloads of remakes of 20 year old arcade games. I think not.

Here's a hint: the console will sell better if there are games available for it. Online is a fun toy from time to time, but unless you happen to have a posse of a dozen or so of your closest friends who can all be in front of the box at the same time every few nights to get some of that Halo on, it is not the sort of functionality on which you can bet your console market share farm. I think people want more than a gateway into online multi-modal integrated digital media entertainment.

With that latent object knocked down a few pegs even before it reached my living room, I felt lost and confused. I would "browse" in the game store and I could find nothing more interesting than buying the PS2 version of Resident Evil 4, a game I had already cleared twice on the 'Cube. Since I need to save what little is left of my self-respect, I have managed to avoid this particular purchase. I tried to buy an RPG for the PSP a few times, but could not summon the energy. Every time I went to the store, I'd just end up back home playing Madden and Mario Kart. My Steelers have beaten up on the Seahawks more times than I can count, and boy can I drive the "Rainbow Road".

After about a month of this, I thought maybe Guitar Hero would shake me out of my gloom. But I can't even build up an obsessive energy over this undoubtedly excellent game. I watch the game go by, and I know it's great. But after a while I just put it down and go watch a movie.

Maybe it's just that the other shiny new toys in my life (oooo, HDTV, go Steelers!) have taken over my affections. Maybe my subconscious knows that several hundred hours of sitting on the couch, manipulating virtual worlds with 16 buttons and 2 analog sticks is simply not going to provide me with any deep sense of enlightenment. Maybe I think I've seen everything there is to see. After the shooter, the platformer, the RPG, the JRPG , the movie game, the rhythm game, the puzzle game the stealth game and the adventure game, where do I go from here?

In his books on photography, Galen Rowell used to write about a concept that he called "image maturity." His idea was that when you are presenting new subject matter to a viewer, something that they have not seen before, you can present the material in a straightforward and literal fashion and people will think that the pictures are amazing. Think of, say, the first pictures of the Earth from space. Wow! But, as viewers become more familiar with the subject matter, straightforward representations will no longer hold the viewer's attention. The bad news is that the easy pictures have been taken. The good news is that this opens up the opportunity to be more creative and abstract in how you construct images. Rowell advised that when working with a particular subject, the photographer should be aware of this effect and manage his image-making accordingly.

I bring this up now because I think my head and maybe the gaming industry as a whole are mired in a long period of "genre maturity." In about a year or a bit more of concentrated effort it's possible for the motivated individual to work his way through excellent examples of all of the major game genres. Having done that, it can be a long wait before something new and compelling comes along. I don't think this is some conspiracy of mediocrity. I just think that the industry is up against the problem of finding new ways to present games to the player. Just as with photographs, as the genres mature, you need more creative energy to make something that grabs the player's attention.

The result of all of this is a lull. I don't think I am alone in perceiving this. Even the New York Times is reporting that people are tired of games. While the current feeling of malaise is unmistakable, I think it will be short lived. Even in a "down" year like 2005, there was a lot to be happy about. I look forward enjoying the result of the labors of the next great design genius. After all, Shadow Hearts: From the New World is coming soon.

Meanwhile, I'm bored.

Posted by psu at February 8, 2006 10:45 PM | Bookmark This

Just in time for the Winter Olympics!

Posted by Stewart Clamen at February 8, 2006 10:39 PM

I've been going through the same thing. None of the current titles excite me, and I dont't have a posse to play with online. I've been revisiting some of the genres that I used to really enjoy 'back in the day' hoping to rekindle some interest. Maybe it's just S.A.D. kicking in!

Posted by Mike King at February 9, 2006 04:23 AM

Have you tried playing Tetris Attack? aka Panel De Pon and/or Puzzle League? I was hooked on that a while ago.

Here's a link to the DS Dr mario/Puzzle league game http://antiflux.org/url/b4

Posted by bforsyth at February 9, 2006 05:40 PM

My friend and I were in the game store - giggling... should we do it? We did, we purchased Dead or Alive: Extreme Beach Volleyball.

I'm serious, we did it just as a joke - but you wanna know what? It's a fucking awesome game. It is a good game! There is way more 'play' in there than you'd expect. And what's brilliant is - it doesn't suffer from object-of-latent-desire-syndrome because you're expecting it to be crap and then it's excellent!

If you still think that I'm joking - really, this game is good. Your free time just disappears, I started playing at about 10 am and next thing I knew I'd missed 3 meals and it was bed time.


Posted by Will at February 22, 2006 05:27 PM

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