As I watched strange gestures performed by a grossly disproportionate hero and listened to the hysterically funny sounds coming from said hero, my feeling of amusement couldn't be helped. My eyes began to stare blankly at a dog that seems to never understand what it should be doing as it sporadically moves about the screen. A while later, a bandit has his feet engulfed by the ground beneath him as he sprints towards the hero (who is controlled on the screen by my wife). A feeling of guilt rushed over me like having that extra cocktail I knew that shouldn't have been consumed.
“Fable”-a critically acclaimed video/computer game series was on the television screen. Not just any “Fable” though-the highly anticipated second installment. My dearest pressed the analog sticks forward to continue her quest to save Albion. That’s all that mattered to her in those small moments during the day. “What happened to the time of getting lost in a virtual world no matter if the textures were up to par or if the animation was a bit clunky?” As this question came to me, answering it was more important than watching the undead crumble at the digital hero’s feet. Maybe the answer is easy. Could expectations of electronic entertainment be too abundant, and thus be effecting how we perceive our gaming possibilities?
Growing up, my very first video game was “Duck Hunt” on the Nintendo Entertainment System. The game’s objective was to shoot as many ducks as you could, was it not? I didn't care. All my efforts were made to get that dog instead! That delightful experience is what mattered to me and absolutely nothing else. Soon thereafter I was introduced to a world by the name of Hyrule. If any moment sucked me into these digital works of art known as video games, it was the first time my eyes scrolled across the phrase “It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this.” I explored, stabbed, and looted my way into the realm as often as possible, in addition to each new adventure presented to each of my personal senses. Being a child during the late 80’s made it incredibly simple to be whisked away by pixilated colors.
As years progressed, so did my advancement in countless video games. Titles like “Contra”, “Yoshi’s Island”, “Lemmings”, “Final Fantasy III” (as released in the US, it was actually title 6 in the series), and “Castlevania: Simon’s quest” were all completed and displayed in a shoe-box with pride. Even in my teens I could get lost in worlds that were off the wall, and with every adventure, there was a story to tell. These stories would be shared with a group of great high school buddies who also loved to play video games. During these years as a student, many people (including myself) were starting to grasp something called “The World Wide Web” or, as some called it, “The Internet”. Who would have thought that a person could find information about gaming on this wonderful invention?
The Nintendo GameCube was being released on November 18[sup]th[/sup] of 2001 and the luxury of having the next newest thing was something that never happened in the environment I was raised in. Of course, that didn't stop me from asking my parents for the console for Christmas day. But, as expected, the pretty new indigo box was not a gift that year. Throughout the spring of 2002 the ability to continue enjoying my Nintendo 64 was at an all-time high, even while many of my class mates were learning their new Game Cubes. Not long after finishing “Super Mario 64”, I stumbled across a video for the next installment of the Super Mario series entitled “Super Mario Sunshine.” After completing one of the most remarkable experiences of all time, the need to have a GameCube to play the new Mario game was overwhelming! The next mission to accomplish was to receive this cube for the following holiday, especially after learning many of my favorite franchises where being released within a years’ time. Christmas of 2002 the gift of Nintendo presented itself…
Christmas morning with my excitement boiling over, I scurried to connect my device to the television. Inserting the disc of “Metroid Prime” was an unnatural but exciting action due to the unfamiliarity of the small disk instead of a cartridge. After a few hours of play, I realized there was another game to play. Ejecting the tiny disc out of the vibrant case, and then swapping the previous disk for the new one, the power button was pressed with anticipation. As the chime of the operating system gracefully ran through my ears, the controller was lifted and the menu popped up, followed by a mash of the start command. The colors, the sounds, and the graphics were modern and fresh. After a few minutes the control was in my hands and I was off, on another adventure. After a while an emotion set in-the horrible feeling of disappointment. Although it was engaging for a while, the title was rapidly losing my attention. The decision to discontinue was painful.
Weeks, months, and years after, I’ve played through countless of games. I've picked many apart, forgetting about the story or the adventure at hand. Focusing on critiquing everything became common place. The World Wide Web, once so new, was used casually to look at other players’ views and engagements. Adding my thoughts about graphics, bugs, or story became more entertaining than actually exploring the worlds created by the artist that used to be so important to me. The gaming community’s view of holding sequels like “Fable 2” at a bar of excellence higher than achievable resulted in that title receiving an automatic “failing” grade. Did my excitement for “Super Mario Sunshine” become so vast that no matter how the game developed I wouldn't be satisfied?
Some may blame a person for obtaining large amounts of information from the internet, which in turn may give the viewer all the desired experiences the game may provide upon release. This could be a possibility, but why blame something else when in reality it’s really the individual. The media, forums, or comment sections do not and never will force an opinion onto anyone - although many may feel that way. If you think about it, during the days before information was so easily accessible, we all had to experience video games personally. Part of the magic of gaming was playing something new before ever seeing much or any information. Critiquing is a part of our personalities. It’s fun and perfectly healthy. But to immediately bash a portion of electronic entertainment before experiencing it directly, or simply holding it up to an impossible standard seems silly. Watching my wife enjoying a game like “Fable 2” when many of us called it a “bad game” brought feelings of my childhood back. The feeling of guilt was pronounced because of the years that I've robbed myself of the pleasure of going to a faraway place to forget the struggles of life, even if for a little while.
Having all sorts of information at our disposal is something that should never be taken for granted but nor should it define who we are as people. For example: A website of choice does a review on a highly anticipated game and their opinion isn't very encouraging. The consumer watches the review before purchasing and then decides that the game is no longer worth it. Instead of trying it out themselves, and relying only on what others have stated, they may never know that it could possibly be one of their favorite titles of all time. Although reviews are a great way to decide whether or not to spend one’s hard earned cash on a “maybe-should-I-try-this” game, especially in today’s world, should it completely define our favorite games or replace our own opinions? There has been an opinion or two that persuaded me to not pick up something I might have enjoyed. I've gone back now and played these couple of video games and they turned out to be great experiences.
Knowledge to intelligently converse and learn about the industry is something that should be cherished for one such as me. I like being in on the latest in the industry. There will be plenty of great content and some not so exciting, but that is what makes gaming fun and interesting. Although feeling guilty about overly critiquing and not enjoying some video games for what they are, this is not to say I haven’t had awesome adventures along the way. Titles such as “Skyrim”, “Shadows of the Damned”, “Bioshock”, “Uncharted”, and “Devil May Cry” have brought plenty of great times and hours of escapism. Stating that any video game is a “bad game” is unfair. Yes the combination of polygons, music, controls, etc. will always have flaws, some worse than others. But that doesn't necessarily make it an all-around terrible game. Somewhere out there is an individual (whether adult, teen, or child) who absolutely loves their journey through a title, and have a great story to tell to their buddies.