Sunday 12 January 2014

Current generation gaming: an outsider's perspective

So in a couple of days I'll be handing over £30 pounds to my friend Matt and getting an XBox 360, a couple of games and hopefully some sort of waterproof container to transport it home in. I've rather sat out the current console generation, which isn't unusual behaviour for me. I'm what's known as a casual gamer, you see, and the casual gamer is typified by short attention span, conspicuous lack of spending and better things to do with their time.

To show what I mean my favourite games at the moment are the Lego film adaptations (Lego Star Wars, Lego Indian Jones, etcetera,.) and the Sonic Rush games on DS. These are fun, light and easy to pick up just for a half hour or so when you have a bit of time to kill. When I do try something more substantial it's got to be something capable of keeping my interest for a span of months during which I'll probably play it once of twice a week. Final Fantasy games are favourite for this because they're pretty enough they'll keep me coming back just to see the next set piece or new environment but simple enough plot-wise that I can pick up it up after a few weeks and still know roughly what's going on.

Anyone who thinks I'm being hard on Final Fantasy storytelling here should please note that a) I mean it as a compliment and b) two decades of superhero comics mean I've been trained to take in backstory and intertextual connections the way the rods and cones in our eyes take in light: without conscious effort and flipping it the right way up to make sense of it as a matter of course.

But, anyway, fourth paragraph and I should probably start relating this back to the post title and talk about how I've viewed current generation gaming from my current perspective: outside the window laughing at the funny little antics of those inside.

You want how much?
Like I said I don't devote a lot of time to gaming and so I'm loathe to devote any significant amount of cash to it, either. I play Warhammer and I read comics, two activities that give me more enjoyment than video games usually do so they get a larger claim on my disposable income. I picked up my DS from a pawn shop for £40 and I literally cannot remember the last game I bought new but I strongly suspect it was for the Gamecube.

Second hand XBones have started turning up in Entertainment Exchange and they still want £500 for them plus another £40 if you want something so decadent as a game to play on it.

And then there's DLC, which is both grammatically as well as financially offensive. Initials are usually taken only from the first letter of each word, “downloadable” being but a single word, but let's concentrate on the rip off. If I buy a game I want it to be finished and I do not view this as an unusually prissy demand. I admit that the fact after-market improvements can be made to eliminate bugs is a good thing, no one's quality assurance department is good enough to spot every flaw but I resent the idea of paying extra for, say, the classic songs not included on the disc of Beatles Rock Band (most people complain about the lack of Eleanor Rigby but I'm going to point out Help a2 the most egregious one).

The long and the short of this is I'll be checking out game reviews ahead of time to see if there's any of that DLC malarkey going on because I intend to avoid it like the plague.

Martha, Git Yer Gun!
I hate shooters. My God, I hate shooters but they seem to be the emblematic genre of this generation as platformers and beat 'em ups were for the 16-bit era. Yes, that was my generation, they heyday of mutant hedgehogs, psychotic bandicoots and family-run Italian plumbing businesses with strange uniform standards.

(By that last one I meant the Mario Bros not a mafia front operation, by the way, I just realised how that could be misinterpreted).

But, my God, FPS has come into its own hasn't it with Halo, Gears Of War, Medal Of Honor, Call Of Duty and it's all so, so gritty. I don't want grit, I don't want realism and I especially don't want realistic violence. No offence to those who do, the lack of opportunities one gets to enact horrific consequence-free violence in real life is frustrating to me, too but it's the industry-dominating ubiquity of the genre that gets to me.

I am buying Space Marine, though, because people can moan at me all they like about it being a Gears Of War rip-off in every sense but I will feel a bit better ignoring all those Space Marine knock-offs to play an actual Space Marine with a chuff-off huge thunder hammer. If I'm playing a Space Marine I want the works; bolt gun, holy rage, nineteen stages of post-human implants and the extra motivating factor of making everyone forget I was ever something as shit as a Tenth Company Scout, not some rip-off pretending to originality because they're wearing different armour.

Tits, Lots Of Tits!
This is not new, the over-sexualisation of female protagonists dates back at least as far as Street Fighter. However, it is extra galling in this case because advancing technology has made visual realism more accessible to games developers and yet it is ignored. It can't be incidental, either. In a comic a brokeback pose is the result of an artist not understanding or ignoring the realities of anatomy followed by an editor who either hasn't the time or the inclination to get the panel redrawn (probably the former) with an inker inbetween stages who's kind of stuck working with what he's been handed.

In a computer game every panty flash, every cleavage shot, every brokeback pose and every pair of slackly pouting lips has been carefully rendered by an entire team of programmers over a course of months or even years of work.

So once I have money for new games I should see if any more interesting female protagonists have developed during my little hiatus. I'm not holding my breath though I have had my eye on a copy of Super Princess Peach for a while, just to see what they do with her as something other than a peril monkey for her idiot boyfriend.

Exercise, You Bastards!
I am not buying a Kinect. Ever. If I do you have complete license, should you ever meet me, to slap me. There's a Wii in our staff canteen and no one used it after a week once they all realised how stupid they looked flailing about infront of their extremely judgemental peers.

I do not look forward to the promised controller future that's apparently on the cards. Maybe this is because the technology really isn't there yet. There's still a time delay absent from handheld controllers that makes things like combat a right bugger using Kinects and Wii-motes.

One: Check reviews for information on whether it can be played satisfactorily without being charged for extra content.

Two: Also check to see that motion control is not a necessary part of the experience. I'm told it isn't for all but the very last releases on the 360 but best to check, I suppose.

Three: People keep harping on at me about story-driven games. Mass Effect looks nice so that'll be a nice place to start and Sheperd can be a woman so I can also get a start on that idea of investigating the portrayal of female protagonists in this generation.

Four: Not buy a Kinect. I don't know anyone who would want to sell one for peanuts and in any case computer games are for sitting down and giving my body something to do while I listen to audio drama.

Five: I need to get £30 out of the bank tomorrow to actually pay for the bloody thing. 

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