Big Picture Mode
Industry issues given the widescreen treatment
Nathan Brown considers modern games’ capacity to hold our gaze
Driving home for Christmas after E302 had been put to bed, a colleague and I were discussing what our Christmas game was going to be. Quickly, we realised we didn’t actually have one: that, unlike the lion’s share of the game-playing population, we weren’t looking at Christmas as a time where we could finally sit down and play some games. Instead, it was a time where we could finally sit down and not play anything.
The final months of the year are a busy time for reviews, obviously, but on top of that it’s awards season, so you need to also find time for everything else that might possibly be up for contention. When you’re trying to condense 12 months of videogames into a dozen pages on a tight deadline, it’s a whole lot easier when everyone involved has an informed opinion on the subjects at hand. So, yes, weep for me: I played a lot of videogames in the final few months of 2016. I went into the Christmas holiday not sure if I would play anything at all.
For most of the break, consoles were only switched on to calm a toddler – whose body has outgrown an afternoon nap but whose brain hasn’t quite got the message yet – with a soporific hour of on-demand cartoon nonsense. At the in-laws’ for a few days over Christmas, the only thing I played was the world’s most ridiculous card game, a bizarrely convoluted and intensely random thing that takes about two hours and which I am convinced no one outside this single family has ever played.
After a five-hour drive, I was back home with a clear week before the end of the break. Still the consoles sat unloved, bar the odd meltdown-mitigating spot of Peppa Pig, which I really think has an unfairly bad rep, or Fireman Sam, which honestly deserves everything it gets. Heading to the pub to catch up with old friends, I expected to hear all about the games they’d been playing during their festive downtime, but that’s not what happened. First, a couple of them knew of the stupid card game, had played a lot of it, and insisted it was brilliant. Second, none of them had a ‘Christmas game’ either.
Their reasons, however, were different from mine. One has a Rock Band habit he just can’t kick (and nor should he: a New Year’s Eve session confirmed that Rock Band is still
brilliant). Another two have played Battlefield 1 online together just about every single night since release. Another, a relatively recent arrival to the group, doesn’t really play games, but I got him Doom for Christmas and we’ll break him eventually, I’m sure.
They’re so attached to these single games that they can’t really get into anything else.
The Rock Band player bought The Last Guardian and spent a couple of enjoyable evenings with it, but then his wife went out for the evening and he reached for his plastic guitar, cranked up the volume, and that was that for Trico. The others couldn’t play multiplayer war games with their families around; they too had taken nibbles at other games over the break, but nothing stuck if it didn’t let you attack a tank while on horseback. As someone who has spent the past two years quietly resenting, to varying degrees, everything I played that wasn’t called Destiny, I can relate.
I thought perhaps this was a question of age – we’ve all got kids and responsibilities – but a friend tells me that one of his sons, with access to decades’ worth of his father’s game collection, spent his entire school holiday playing two Souls games, both of which he’d played extensively before.
So this is not a matter of age, or commitments, or even of burning out on games because playing them is your profession. It is simply that the games of today are built to engender, and sustain, what I can only describe as devotion. While it’s true that games are a broader church than ever, the congregation has fractured, broken off into little groups that worship at different altars. I have Battlefield friends, Destiny pals; I know a guy who only plays Street Fighter, another that rarely plays anything but Dota. There was a lot of head-scratching late last year over why a number of high-profile releases had been relative flops at retail. I think this might be the reason for it.
Eventually, on New Year’s Day, suffering the rare sort of hangover I wrote about last month, I fired up the Wii U in the living room. I put a Wii Remote inside a steeringwheel peripheral, and handed it to my son. He was absolutely useless. After half an hour of watching him smash directly into walls, even Fireman Sam felt like a good idea.
Games are a broader church than ever, but the congregation has fractured, broken off into little groups