A wee concern
I’ve just finished the Virtual Realities roundtable discussion in E282, and after reading Jon Hibbins’ enthusiastic comments about the death of TV I can only picture him as Robert De Niro in The Untouchables yelling, “I want him dead, I want his family dead, and I want his house burned to the ground. I want to go there in the middle of the night and piss on the ashes”.
It seems to me that VR advocates are fixated on providing complete immersion, an experience unlike no other. I’m not sure how Edge feels, or how other readers feel on the direction or the potential of VR, whether they’ve been lucky enough to experience it first-hand or not, but it never occurred to me up until reading that article that there are people that see it as a full replacement for TV gaming and, as an extension, dedicated handheld consoles.
I don’t disagree with the idea of immersive games or experiences, but I fear that such a large emphasis on producing hardware, and ultimately software, that focus on providing such experiences will lead to a future – if not necessarily in the next generation, or even the one after that – where games will become much more isolated experiences, and much more homogenised.
I may sound like a bit of a Luddite and a pessimist, but my current videogame environments include lounging on my sofa for a few hours, playing handhelds in bed, multiplayer nights at friends’ houses, and the occasional local tournament. The beauty of these is that there’s an opportunity to interact with passers-by. It’s something that I think will be lost in VR experiences.
To put it another way, the most recent games that I’ve been playing include Half Minute Hero: The Second Coming, Guilty Gear Xrd, the original Banjo-Kazooie, Dragon Quest V on the original DS during a week’s stay in hospital, and Ikaruga. I may not be being very imaginative but I can’t see myself having that variety of experience, as well as the associated social aspects, in VR.
I believe that it was the sadly departed Satoru Iwata who said that games should be as much fun to watch as they are to play. Maybe it’s not Jon Hibbins I see pissing on the ashes of TV, but VR pissing on the ashes of Iwata’s legacies, and that realisation is what really worries me because when I’m old and less spritely I’ll have to resort to whatever’s up in my attic if I want to relive my recent experiences again. Alex Davies
“I can’t see myself having that variety, as well as the associated social aspects, in VR”
VR’s social issues are among the topics addressed in Food For Thought this issue – and it’s not all bad news. As we’ve said before, though, there’s a long, uncomfortably bumpy road ahead for VR as a whole. Your New 3DS XL should help tide you over in the meantime.
A dying art
On the one hand, games are slowly but surely gaining respect and recognition as a genuine art form among the most progressive in cultural circles. In fact, the multidisciplinary nature of the game creation process, which draws in equal measure from physics, painting, literature and engineering, gives this relatively new form of human expression a unique chance to finally bring together the many flavours of intelligence and imagination in the service of enjoyment.
On the other hand, just as this almost messianic nature becomes increasingly evident, so does a major flaw, one that could singlehandedly destroy games’ claim to be more than a mere consumer product: transience. What always set art apart from other endeavours is eternity – the fact that works of art live long after the civilisation that created them has crumbled to dust,
giving those who follow an opportunity to understand and empathise with their distant forebears.
And yet as another reader pointed out in E282, games are anything but eternal, their survival depending on short-term commercial decisions to make server space by removing this or that five-year-old title from the back catalogue after it failed to sell enough copies within a quarter. Granted, not all works are worthy of becoming treasured expressions of a bygone genius. But the key point here is that the decision should not belong entirely to a handful of businessminded individuals whose horizon is, at best, the end-of-year balance sheet.
Works of art were always the product of practical realities, commercial, political or otherwise. Classical Greek sculpture would not have bloomed had the city-states of the day not been vying for prestige, and the Quattrocento would not have existed had the bankers of Florence not had a surplus of wealth to invest. But artistic creations that do make it through the ages need not just unique aesthetic qualities, they also require a corporeal existence that allows them to survive their going out of fashion or losing their purpose for a few centuries.
With one exception: literature. Spoken or even written words do not endure quite as long as marble or canvas, so how come we can still read Homer’s Iliad or Plato’s Critias, drawing inspiration from them to create memorable game characters or universes? Because generation after generation, legions of scholars (today we would call them fans) copied them over and over, keeping alive the memory of their cherished stories.
Software is arguably closer to literature than to any other art form, sharing with it this immaterial quality that makes it particularly vulnerable to the passing of time. But where the great stories of old could be shared and copied freely long after they had lost their mundane relevance, this is sadly not the case for games. DRM ensures that our favourite media is firmly locked up in its time, condemned to oblivion as soon as its owners, not its creators or devotees, lose interest.
If games are to become part of the world’s cultural heritage, something must be done to free them from their DRM shackles. Only then will the process whereby humanity’s collective wisdom selects what’s worthy of remembrance be allowed to follow its natural course. Only then will (some) games escape the fate of mere consumables and realise the ambition of enduring as art.
This is a long way of telling us that you miss playing Burnout Revenge online, Fabrice, right? It’s OK – we’re right there with you.
Leaving the door ajar
I’d almost reached the point where I’d given up on gaming. The current generation is now firmly established, and were it not for a generous lend of a friend’s PS4 I would have struggled to pick an Xbox One or a PS4 out of a lineup. I’d been left behind, and I was kind of fine with that. Bloodborne was the only thing that had me mooning at a PS4, and with that itch now scratched, and with me still getting mileage out of my 360 thanks to the Rock Band 3 Customs scene and the seemingly endless replay value of
Dark Souls and Dark Souls II, I’d kind of resigned myself to that being that.
I mean, it’s not exactly my own choice. I know I’m not alone in doing the maths on the kids-plus-mortgage-over-disposable-income equation and ending up in minus figures, but I was a little surprised at how quietly I was going into that dark night. Games have been a constant part of my life, more or less, since the Atari 2600. But with thousands of pounds spent over the years and considerably more invested in time, I figured that I’d had a good run and guessed that this is just what happens when you struggle to stay awake past 10pm.
And then E3 happened. And suddenly I’m as excited as I used to get when a new issue of Mean Machines would appear in a newsagent and I’d spend weeks staring slack-jawed at pages I’d read 20 times, dreaming of grey imports and whether that article about SFII porting to Game Boy was true or a load of rubbish.
Dark Souls III? Rock Band 4? The Last Guardian? Street Fighter V? Fallout 4? And crucially, for some reason, Xbox One backwards compatibility (yes, I’m hyped about maybe being able to play games I already own on a different machine – bravo for that sales job, Microsoft)? Well, I can’t turn my back on that lot.
Or can I? I mean, we’re talking a huge investment again here. Buying Rock Band 4 means buying another plastic guitar, plus the inevitable DLC needed to augment the uninspiring tracklisting announced thus far. I’m also going to need a new arcade stick for
SFV. Not to mention the actual investment in the console hardware itself. Maybe I can’t afford it, after all. Maybe I’ve talked myself out of the whole shebang while typing this all out. I don’t know.
I doubt it, though. Despite loosely trying, I’m finding the thought of finally closing the door on gaming to be a step too far. I still love those moments of joy, wonder, sadness and immersion that games still give me. Sure, a child’s first steps are emotional, but they tend to pale next to a limping Sif.
So, I guess it’s time to start looking around the house for things to sell, working out what I can live without, and scouring the Internet for bargains before eventually giving up, sticking it all on the credit card, and hiding the statement from the missus.
I can’t wait.
This is precisely why E3 exists, isn’t it? A barrage of new announcements delivered with maximum fanfare so that even those with waning interest in games are scrabbling down the back of the sofa for spare change. Mean Machines, though? Get out.