There was a time right around the turn into the 2000s when I was seriously playing a lot of video games, mostly on the PC. I was doing RPGs and MMOs and first-person shooters and adventure games. I’d be up ’til all hours doing just one more quest in Baldur’s Gate or trying to find a save point in one of the Half-Life games. I’d dabble a little on the consoles with the various Madden games and the occasional platformer, but that expanded once I got an XBox 360. Eventually I was happily bouncing back and forth between platforms, playing all kinds of games and feeling satisfyingly geeked.
Now? I don’t think I’ve turned my 360 in over a year. I haven’t finished a PC game since I can’t remember when. I’ve pretty much moved on to board games almost exclusively, the odd mobile game aside (and most of those are digital iterations of physical games). What happened was an odd combination of too little and too much that convinced me the entire video game thing may have just passed me by.
On the one hand, the first-person shooter has turned into an online wank-fest. I remember getting games where the single-player campaign was this long, absorbing trek through multiple environments, building in difficulty and intensity until you got to a final boss fight that felt like it really mattered. Now, a single-player campaign feels at best like an extended tutorial for you to get online, and at worst an afterthought. Why bother creating interesting content for you to fight when you can write code that just lets other players be the content? Well, sorry, getting cursed at by 12-year olds isn’t exactly my idea of fun. I’m not going to play through a token single-player campaign because that’s all the developer deigned to give me.
On the other hand, sandbox games seem to have killed the idea of the story. I’d get excited about games like Oblivion and Skyrim and Fallout 3, only to realize a few hours into my play that the games didn’t seem all that concerned about you actually doing anything. Oh, there was lip-service paid to some overarching story, but you were under no obligation to give a damn about it. In fact, why don’t you try to get the accomplishment for finding every single plant in the game, and do the Loot Every Barrel achievement while you’re at it? Not that I want to be on rails being taken from place to place until the story ends, but I want some kind of sense of urgency, that what I’m doing matters. And in too many of these sandbox games, the story takes second place to seemingly endless scavenger hunts and mini-games disguised as content. Some MMOs have done a better job with this, but then again, by design, those are stories that have no end, so I’m not sure how much better that actually is.
I’m not completely out of the video game business. I still have my Steam account, and still spring for the occasional RPG or adventure game; I’ve got Shadows of Mordor downloaded right now. But I don’t have that “OMG gotta play!” urgency I once did. It could be I’d rather have some social interaction with my gaming, which I get in spades from X-Wing and my board games. It could be I spend enough time staring at screens to devote a sizable hobby to essentially the same thing. But more and more it feels like it’s just something that’s not for me anymore.