Monday, March 11, 2013

An Open Letter to Video Games: Recent Thoughts on Recent Things

Dearest (These Things We Call) Video Games,

How are you? I feel like we haven't talked in forever. So many things have happened since I last wrote to you...

Behold, the future is in your hands... with PlayStation 4.
The inevitable eighth console generation continues with Sony announcing the PS4, due out this year's holiday season. I just got a PS3 last Thanksgiving. Great. Microsoft has yet to announce the next Xbox (surely it won't be called Xbox 720, surely), but I suspect they won't let Sony have all the shelves to themselves come fourth quarter. Then there's all this chatter about the Steam Box, which makes very little sense to me. Couldn't you just refer to any gaming PC as a "Steam box"? Not to mention there's going to be a smattering of varying versions and specs... People buy consoles so they don't have to worry about those details. The whole idea behind this is bewildering to me. And how about the Ouya? Worst name since Wii U aside it looks the part of a sleek gift from the future and bears a price that no home console can dare beat. While Android holds no candle to the iOS market it's yet an another option in an industry bent on giving power to the players. That's important for the health of the industry and to each and every one's personal preference. However, all these systems and, more importantly, the games that run on them are going to be harder than ever to keep track of going forward.

One slice of civilization in an upcoming fantasy open-world. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2014)
I've been trying to keep up on news (reviews and previews too). Just finished reading the GameInformer cover story for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. It's a medieval fantasy RPG series that already has two successful (first and foremost critically) games on the market. From everything I've seen/read/heard about the series it's a much-needed maturation to the genre and game-type. I always got an Elder Scrolls by way of Gothic vibe from it. This third outing is bringing players into an open-world that's 20% bigger than Skyrim, a game and province I still have much left unseen and undone. The Witcher 3 is coming out on PC and whatever "next-gen" (that perpetual term) consoles are ready for it sometime next year. Video game generations are only measured by the consoles... Frankenstenian gaming computers just evolve, don't they? I hope to catch up with the first two in The Witcher series before this one arrives. Also, developer CD Projekt RED's thoughts on DLC and updates brought hope to an otherwise growing and bleak trend in the "additional content" arena. I recommend looking into it if such aspects have ever interested or frustrated you in recent years.

Our central characters stagger through the post-apoc. The Last of Us (2013)
Three of this year's biggest releases, BioShock InfiniteThe Last of Us and Grand Theft Auto V, have all had their release dates pushed back. In my mind this is usually a good thing. The last thing players want is a game that isn't ready. It's more prone to happen in gaming than any other medium for obvious reasons. (It's not like you'd ever go to a museum and come across a painting that needs to be updated or patched - even if you might think it could use some work.) Rockstar Games and Bethesda Game Studios are notorious for having buggy experiences in their titles on Day One and thereafter. As an open-world aficionado I've come to expect and even tolerate this. I cannot fathom the testing and man-hours required of a developer to get all the kinks straightened out before launch. I am eagerly anticipating these long-lusted-after sequels and I am equally as welcome to the new IP The Last of Us from Naughty Dog, the famed team behind the Uncharted series. The previews for each of these leviathan projects is impressive. These are the titles that are pushing our current generation for everything they've got. These are the games that are signaling the future while saluting the past. The passing of the torch from one generation of consoles to the next is always an exciting time for gamers. Our thumbs twitch in anticipation while our wallets shudder at the thought. I was working at a GameStop when we ushered in the seventh generation (Wii, Xbox 360 and PS3) and can attest of the anticipatory spirit that fills the air. That was seven years ago... It's been a good run, but we're ready for the what cometh next.

NRA blames games like Kindergarten Killers for Sandy Hook. News flash: Nobody has played, let alone heard of, that abysmal game!
I'd be amiss whilst addressing the current hour of video game history if I didn't make mention of the hellfire that's been raining down on the industry as a whole since 2012's plentiful gun-related tragedies. The unexplainable events of Sandy Hook begged the need for an explanation. As a result Vice President Joe Biden met with the gaming companies, journalists (gamers and non-gamers) have been debating their respective sides on the issue for months, the social medias I plug into show many are outspoken on the topic while several others remain silent. Nothing is all that new on the video game front. It's just that these outside events have turned over old stones with the same arguments we've heard before... on both sides. I started this site as a place to talk about games on a deep, meaningful and creative level. This site will always be primarily about the games themselves, but it's important to be aware of what is going on in the industry. I sense a future op/ed piece from myself or one of the crew about this issue. We certainly shouldn't turn a blind eye to this but we should always keep an open-mind and can only hope other parties will too. As someone who listens to what any side has to say I am comfortable with concluding that gaming is neither the culprit or an innocent third party, it is merely a factor to consider. By comparison, untreated mental illnesses and the accessibility of assault weapons for those in such a state are much more impending factors. Still, the effect of violent video games on players is an issue I am deeply fascinated by and you can expect more thoughts on it in the months to come.

An actual screen from our server. This was my latest project... Minecraft (2012)
Maybe it's because of recent occurrences that I personally have not been playing a lot of games lately. Though the recently concluded movie award season is also a culprit of my time. Writing and films are my first passions and always will be, but there's an allure of gaming possibilites that ever beckons me. I actually hadn't been playing hardly any games since the New Year, an occasional iOS diversion here and a social multiplayer there, but otherwise none to speak of. That is until last week when my cousin suggested getting another Minecraft server going. With his help (I'm a noob is such areas) we got one going and it's been a mostly incredible experience ever since. Minecraft was my favorite game of 2011 right alongside Skyrim, but it's a prime example of a title that challenges the definition of "video games." I also hope to find occasion to explain my frustration with the term while addressing my complete adoration of Minecraft - whatever it is. 

We've come full circle. I write you this letter of recent happenings and my thoughts that surround them to let you know that I have not forgotten about this site, but mostly that I have not forgotten about you, these things we call video games.


P.S. One of the reasons I acquired a PS3 was to play Ni No Kuni. This has not happened yet but I long to with each passing day. Studio Ghibli + video games! How can I not? Well, it's the JRPG aspect that wearies me...

Words by J.S. Lewis

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