I spent some time last week with Sam, a relative and fellow video game fan. I had a great time checking out the collection of video games and consoles that Sam has collected through the years. It was like a whirlwind of memories while there, seeing games for the Nintendo Entertainment System, SEGA Genesis, Super Nintendo, and other platforms. After talking a bit and trying to overcome the awe of what I had seen, Sam and I played some of those games. He crushed me in Panel de Pon– the Japanese equivalent of Tetris Attack– and beat me pretty soundly in Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey. I did score a victory in R.B.I. Baseball for the NES, overcoming memories of losing game after game while visiting a close friend in Worcester, MA every summer in the late 1980s. Perhaps the best part of the afternoon was teaming up to play Contra III: The Alien Wars, sharing strategies, and being in awe of the game all over again some 20 years later.
During the drive home from Sam’s house, carrying a copy of Final Fantasy II for the Super Nintendo that Sam had sold to me, I began to realize that video games and I are at a turning point. A lot of what I used to enjoy in years past has gradually changed. Physical media is slowly eroding, instruction manuals are nearly extinct, the DLC model has replaced cheats and Easter Eggs, and seemingly constant updates and patches make it a rarity to pop in a new game and simply play. Sure, the graphics are better now. Yes, fully-voiced dialog is nicer than reading thousands of words on-screen. It can be argued that games are bigger than they were even 10 years ago. There are improvements, but they’ve come with a cost that I’ve struggled to accept.
I do think that I’ve come to accept that the direction that console video games have taken isn’t going to change. $60 games are probably here to stay, with DLC adding to that cost. Internet connectivity is going to be all but required before too long to get the full experience of a game. Multiplayer experiences will take precedence over solo experiences. There will be at least some penalty for not preordering and buying games on Day One, and even if you do, it’s still possible to miss out on something. These are all happening now, and who knows what other changes lie ahead when the next generation of consoles hits next year?
It made perfect sense to me, after spending that time at Sam’s, that I’m happiest in the past and that this should be my last console generation. I’m not angry about it, and don’t harbor any resentment or regret. It’s simply time to go back to what I enjoyed instead of constantly railing against trends and decisions that I don’t agree with. I’m sure that I’m going to miss out on a lot of games and experiences, but it’s time to amicably part ways. Call it a case of “irreconcilable differences”.
I’d been thinking about taking this path for some time. Building libraries of games for my PlayStation, PlayStation 2, and Super Nintendo consoles has been relatively inexpensive. Running out of memory card space has been my only major limitation, and that can be alleviated by getting more. The cost of entry for other platforms is also inexpensive, with finding an NES being the priciest obstacle. Once the console are bought, though, adding games becomes a fun experience. Visiting second-hand stores and independent game stores is enjoyable and is a welcome departure from corporate experiences. It’s surprising how much you can buy for a small sum of money, too. Even if I was to stop collecting and not buy another game for any console, I have enough games to play something different every day for over 18 months. That’s a hefty backlog.
I don’t necessarily mean for this to be an indictment of the console gaming industry and its current direction. Plenty of people seem happy with it, and many believe this console generation to be the best one ever. I can respect that, and it’s great that people are satisfied with where the industry is. It’s a matter of choice for me. I feel that there’s more enjoyment and amusement to be had in older games and collecting older hardware than I’m having now. Less complaining, more playing.
Perhaps the best part of this decision is that there’s a budding retrogaming community out there. Maybe I’ll even start writing again, contributing reviews of older games or suggestions on how to build a collection. Hopefully the wind that’s been taken out of my sails will slowly begin to build once again. That’s what I am shooting for, along with just having fun like I did for so many years before. I know that most of my writing for the last few years, aside from reviews or impressions pieces, has been strongly negative. I’ve tried to counteract that, but I can’t change how I feel. If I’m not happy with the way things are in the industry that I’m writing about, then it generates a lot of angry-sounding writing from me. That’s not who I am or who I want to be. I’m not looking to be the next Andy Rooney.
I have over 25 years and four generations of consoles to draw from, with literally thousands of games out there. The future may be bright, but the past is brighter. This is going to be fun, and that’s the name of the game, isn’t it?