Two buttons and a directional pad, that’s all we needed back in the day to play our games. The NES, released in 1985, was simple by today’s standards but contained an almost endless amount of fun and intricate games. There were no shoulder buttons, touch pads, or motion controls built in. The phrase more power never passed through the lips of the gaming community, nor did developers need to design overly complicated play mechanics, just to pack their Magnus Opuses with a cornucopia of actions and abilities. As the industry upgraded to 16-bit, games were still fun, even as developers were starting to make them more complex. Jump ahead to today’s world of video gaming, things have gotten so complicated, so overbloated, that games have stopped being fun, and turned into a commitment.
The Complification Factor
With increasingly powerful hardware, overstuffed controller designs, and epic game times of over a hundred hours to complete, I find myself shying away from certain modern gaming franchises. Here are just a few reasons why games stopped being a fun journey, and have transformed into an overwhelmingly anxiety-ridden experience.
Since I brought up controller design, I might as well finish that argument to start. With each successive console release, controller redesign is always front and centre. Granted, current models have only received slight modifications over the last generation, but it took a lot to get there. We have gone from two buttons to over eleven in certain cases. Microsoft’s latest Xbox Elite Controller is truly a masterpiece in design, but with the ability to customize the buttons and the fact that it’s touted as the “ultimate gaming controller,” it’s all a bit too much.
I have to admit, I loved the simplicity of the original Wii Remote; the controller bucked the trend and it made playing a fun experience. I can’t tell you how many times when playing a modern epic like Horizon Zero Dawn or a smaller indie game such as Xenorade, I’ll continually hit the wrong button(s). It’s hard enough to remember everything you have to do in a game, but to memorize what each of a controller’s multiple buttons do at any given moment is frustrating.
Game experiences are too long, and unfortunately, I no longer have the time to dedicate to a hundred-plus hour extravaganza anymore. Popular franchises such as Fallout, Assassin’s Creed, and Mass Effect can take a lifetime to finish, and countless more hours to reach a hundred percent (if that’s even possible). I feel guilty enough as it is playing normal length games, but a commitment that long is insane.
I am no longer a kid or in college, and I certainly can’t justify spending that much time on anything, let alone a video game. I can see it now, written on my tombstone, “Never accomplished anything in life after playing too many epic games.” These blockbusters take so long to complete because they are overloaded and filled with dump-truck loads of extraneous stuff. Players often get sucked into a rabbit hole of side quests everywhere they turn. Just to be fair, you all know I love the Zelda franchise, but even Breath of the Wild suffers from needing far too much of a commitment.
Speaking of overbloated and overwhelming experiences, I am getting a little tired of games that require constant upgrading and modifying. From weapons to uniforms, hair colour and eyebrow placement, players have the option to modify and craft everything in these games. Watching a friend play the latest Fallout was nerve-wracking. I don’t mind a little bit of tinkering here and there since it can be fun, but when there are hundreds of things you can change, it takes away from the overall experience. I don’t want to spend a million hours turning my pulse rifle into a bad-ass, steampunk death machine; I just want to select my pre-designed gun, blow the crap out of something, and move on. I don’t mind side missions too much, but when a game is stuffed with a thousand of them, and there is little payoff, I find it to be a waste of time and energy.
Hey kids, I hope you got your allowance this week because buying the full price game doesn’t mean you get the full price experience. I am not sure when gaming became less about the adventure and more about making money, but we’ve reached the apex of greedy corporations nickel and diming gamers with pay-to-win loot crate acquisitions. EA just got in trouble for it and removed the pay feature from Battlefront II, but we all know it will be back.
Speaking of Battlefront II, it’s terrible; the game is clunky, boring, and looks like EA threw it together during a drunken holiday party. The fact that the full game wasn’t in place was even more of a slap in the face. Gaming used to be about fun, excitement, and the allure of a great adventure; now all we get is greed, contempt, half-ass developments, and developers who seem more like the mafia than beloved imaginariums.
Continuing on the greed front, we used to get stuff when we bought a system. The NES and SNES came with a game and two controllers; even the PS1 had a fun demo packed in. Today we get nothing extra but a list of things we need to buy. From the console, extra controllers, games, online subscriptions, separate charging stations, carrying cases, and protective covers, the amount one could initially spend is astronomical.
When the price of the system itself starts at three to four or even five hundred dollars, all the extra accessories become a luxury most people can’t afford. This is why I didn’t by a Switch right away, and why I can‘t see myself buying PlayStation VR anytime soon. Call me weird, but I have this thing where I enjoy eating and buying the essentials in life over an extra Joy-Con or Pro controller.
In the eighties and early to mid-nineties all you had to do was hook up a console to the TV, insert the game, and press power. There were no startup screens, multimedia hubs, camera peripherals, Kinect sensors, VR helmets, or social media postings to worry about. Games could be epic without being convoluted. It says a lot when a thirty-plus-year-old game is just as enjoyable as its modern-day iteration. I am not saying I don’t enjoy the modern epic because that would be a flat-out lie. I love games and gaming today, but I sometimes yearn for the days of my youth, when video games were simple, where fun and whimsy came at no extra cost.