Monday, January 12, 2009

I didn't like Fallout 3 either

And I'm a die-hard RPG fan too. Despite my fondness for the genre and the franchise, however, I could not help being able to relate to Scott Jones in his admission. He attributes his earlier reluctance to come out of the closet to 1. the developers, and 2. the game's pedigree. For me, it was a different reason that I tried my best to convince myself that I liked it even though I was not really impressed.

The reason is simple and somewhat laughable: I was afraid of what it could mean if I admitted not liking it. Could it mean I was getting old? Had I lost my appreciation for the medium? Had my inner child died? The answer, I realize, is none of those. It is something far worse perhaps: the gaming that I used to like seems to be dying, if not dead already.

For me, my fascination with games was always for discovering something new. When I was a little kid, I did not have internet access to read reviews from. I could not even find any gaming magazines to read in my country. So it was a treasure hunt each time I went to the computer store, and read the long (and sometimes handwritten) list of games, picking titles I had heard about but not knowing what I would get. And yes, they were pirated copies. But simply because no company was shipping to my corner of the world in those days. I used to play games with no tutorials, no manuals, spending hours and hours trying to understand how it all worked.

It was the talk of the whole school when some kid managed to make the jet fighter take off in some simulation game. Knowing the way to tackle a tough puzzle in the Secret of the Monkey Island was a golden bargaining chip in many situations that a schoolboy might have to settle with his peers. Being one level ahead than the next kid on Dune 2 meant being on a whole different level of existence, as you had access to wonders that they did not. Back in the day, gameplay duration given in hours used to give you an idea about the amount of treasure buried in a given game, the amount of things to discover. These days it simply means how much of a drone-like activity you will repeatedly perform until you reach a sorry excuse for a story ending.

The games I loved used to stand for originality. They used to give me an incredibly valuable resource for my mind: a venue for discovery. It saddens me greatly to realize that this huge benefit has been taken away from me. It saddens me to know that when I look at the DVD cases at the retail store, I know exactly what makes them tick without opening the case, let alone playing them. They all follow the same 'tried and true' formulas of RTS, RPG, FPS, whathaveyou. They were all designed with the common sense of 'not fixing what did not break.' Sometimes I know it all just by hearing the name of the title. I know all too well how it will play out, what resources I will gather, what mechanics I will utilize, what 'world changing choices' I will have to make, and all that good stuff. -- (I also have to note; it is becoming something of an industry norm that whenever someone speaks of world changing choices in a RPG game, it turns out they were referring to a very singular and isolated instance in the whole game, outside of which everything is scripted and streamlined like an elementary school play)

I was hoping it would be different, that it would be like the good old days with Fallout 3. After reaching level 8, though, I no longer see a point in going any further. There is nothing left to discover. All the areas unlocked thereafter, all the dungeons I have missed, I am pretty sure I have already seen them in other games if not in Fallout 3 itself.

This is why people (including myself) are playing more and more casual games. Because we find something in those games that I cannot find in Fallout 3. When a browser game loads, I find joy in the fact that I have no idea how it will play out. Sure, it takes me less than five minutes to figure it all out, but guess what, then I can move on to another without having to pay $59.99 again. In that sense, it is ironic that what people call casual gamers might very well be the true hardcore gamers, for what they derive from the experience is what the medium used to stand for.

I sometimes think whether the video games industry is just waiting for that group to die out, so the marketing divisions will have no trouble selling their games to impressionable youngsters of the future who will have nothing better to compare to. It is a bitter thought along with the predictions in the news saying games will be the dominant media of the future. There was a time I would be very excited about that statement. These days I don't even know if we are talking about the same thing when they say 'games.'

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