Editorial: On Time, Nostalgia, And Why I Feel Guilty

Time and Nothingness

Stephen Tolito opines that being a gamer simply takes up too much time.

I feel him, keenly. There are times when I think, “oh man, there are so many brilliant games that I want to play, so many stories to experience.” Yet my time is more than severely limited: family, work, home improvement projects, books… all of these make demands upon my time. Beyond my writing here, I also (attempt to) write and publish genre fiction. And at some point, I have to eat, sleep and shower.

Tick tock
I totally stole this image from Kotaku.

The problem here is that games have become much more immersive, much more impinging upon our time, because of advances in technology. It is hard to play pong for 18 hours straight, but some crazy people have fought a single boss for 18 hours in Final Fantasy XI.

It seems odd that our complaint about games is that they are so good they demand attention and respect; but it risks becoming a too-specialized hobby if it requires undue amounts of time to enjoy.

The question is thus framed: do games require more time to enjoy than other hobbies? Or do games just get a bad rap because the time spent playing them is time that is not terribly productive to anything but self-enjoyment?

Nostalgia For Gaming

Trying to out-weird Jen and SiliconNoob is a fruitless endeavor. I do not possess the seemingly limitless knowledge of the darkest horrors ripped from Tokyo’s seedy underbelly, and for my money, if I need a sheep raped, I just pay a Scotsman to do it like civilized people.

Then again, I never have had the need to have a sheep raped, so that comes out as a wash.

Sitting in a tree
Somewhere, there is an explanation for this image. But not here.

Which has left me in a bit of an existential crisis as a column writer. Humor is not my strong suit; unholy length is. If there was ever a reason “tl;dr” made it as a meme, it was when my parents were stupid enough to give me an Internet connection. Of course, that was first back in the days when we had to dial in via “modems” and use one of those newfangled browsers with that future-stuff “frames” and Javascript. Now, Flash, the successor to Shockwave (remember that? Remember “Radiskull and Devil Doll?” “Joe Cartoon?” Yeah. Hurts. Hurts a lot.), is being replaced by new-fangled HTML. My dinosaur mind does not even want to consider what that means.

When I was a kid, “networked gaming” meant that six friends got together in someone’s basement, ran cat-5 cables to a “switch” that cost more than your machines and had a “LAN” party. Now, people can have WAN parties by turning on a goddamn console.

Multiplayer online gaming back in the day used to be text. A gamer would fire up telnet (what is that? Do not know what telnet is? Well, sonny, get the fuck off my baud!), type in an IP address, because, you know, fuck DNS, and connect to a MUSH or a MUD or a MOO. Then, players would get text prompts like this:

GREETINGS, Adventurer! You find yourself standing at the bottom of an impossibly long stair. You have no memory of how you got here, and the area surrounding you is dark. You have only a shoddy old lantern, but going back up the stair away from the scary dungeon does not cross your mind. Exits are south and west.

To which one would input a caveman-like syntactic response:

GO BACK UP THE STAIRS

The response:

You cannot go back up the stairs; they are really high and you are tired.

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GO UP THE GODDAMN STAIRS

You cannot go back up the stairs, dumbass. Christ on a stick, how did you even connect to this game? Surely you read the FAQ on the BBS. No? Newbie, then. You have rolled a Paladin.

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KILL NARRATOR

You have attacked the Narrator for 1d4 damage. You miss.

The Narrator attacks you with Scourge of the Infinite. Your eyes are welters of pain. You know suffering such as has never been visited on mortal flesh before on this plane or any other. You taste blood and bile in your mouth. You are dead.

Then, someone would try to call and the Internet connection would go down, because modems are fickle bitches.

Now, there are virtually limitless possibilities for online gaming, from Halo deathwatches with the frat broskies, to downing raid bosses in WoW, to the utterly mind-blowing dedication of Final Fantasy XI players numbskulls fighting a goddamn boss for 18 hours.

Online gaming has become so synonymous with gaming that I cannot remember the last time a game did not have at least some part of an online component. Downloadable content and mods were once the haven of obscure Quake forums. Now there are lawsuits over whether Gamestop is fleecing its customers by not offering used game purchasers the same “pre-order” or first sale purchasers.

Online gaming has even stretched to our mobile platforms. The iPhone has more power than my first computer; it works almost as well as a mobile gaming platform as our current handhelds. There was a time when goofy 8bit graphics in some sort of puke green and old dirt color palette was considered cutting edge. I played Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening by the light of my family’s car overhead lights. Now I play full-color chess with a grandmaster-strength analysis engine while waiting for the judge to show up in court in the morning.

All of this makes me feel a little… ungrateful… for criticizing things like gameplay mechanics or user interfaces. At least we have them; the worst UI available today, even nigh-unusable ones like the original Mass Effect UI, beat the pants off of classic UIs. Gameplay mechanics have evolved from the primitive “twisty knob” of Pong to a rich and immersive fantasy world like Dragon Age. Graphics and music are lifelike and stunning, where once they were produced by globbing eight bits of badly-colored pixels together on the screen with “bleep bloop” noises.

Which ties these two themes together: I think my problem with time and gaming is that I feel disrespectful to the developers if I do not spend enough time sufficiently respecting the game. For instance, even though I hated everything about Final Fantasy XIII, I still bought the game. Admittedly, I hocked it for barbecue money at my local Gamestop, but I still feel guilty about it. Guilty… about abandoning a game I have early. What a world. And what a weird hobby.

12 comments

  1. I HAVE DEDICATED MYZELF TO THE ZUPPORT OF ZED! ALL HAIL THE DEZTRUCTION OF THE BRITIZH EMPIRE!

  2. -A raped sheep in hand is worth two anywhere else …

    -I also feel really bad for buying FFXIII, I traded it in, but that does not excuse my actions …

  3. -Rape of Infinite. that was great XD

    -I’ve never had this issue. I’ve heard some stupid/masochistic people say that they beat FFVIII despite the fact that they hated it because they wanted to say they beat it. I never understood this logic. I was a FF fanboy until I played that shit. I couldn’t beat the first disc cause I realized it was shit very early on and stopped givin it a chance. if a game is horrible there is no reason to feel guilty for not playin it, the designers should’ve stopped drinkin lead based paint. and if a game simply doesn’t suit your tastes there’s no reason to feel guilty then either, you can’t help preference.

  4. Thank you for conceding that you cannot out-weird me. The Australian and I are already battling for the title of weirdest one here, and seeing as he actually has the tolerance to look at Oliver’s face long enough to shoop it, I think SN is winning.

    For the record, we all love your tl;dr. With the boyfriend in law school, when I’m not talking him down from the edge of tall buildings, I’m helping him with his mountains of outlining and case briefs. So it has occurred to me before that in order to play WoW and write your weekly novella in addition to your job as district attorney, you must be lying to all of us and are actually a caffeine-addicted robot from the planet Insomnia-27.

    Your conclusion does raise one question for me: how do you determine what is a respectable amount of time on a game? How long did you play your hated copy of VIII as opposed to how long you felt you should have?

  5. I got through the introduction of FF13 before I said, “this is actually painful to do,” and then I returned it.

    I had no idea your SO was in law school. Good luck. I know I would have never made it were it not for my long-suffering wife. At least he’s doing his own outlining/briefing though. That helps on the bar exam.

  6. I think I’m winning also, do you have Riddlethos open in your browser tab right now?! No, I thought not!

  7. I can completely see where Lane’s coming from with this article. Nobody ever sets out to make a bad game, and even Fable required at least dozens of people working long hours for years before it saw the light of day. I certainly respect the work that’s gone into even the most craptacular of games, but that doesn’t mean I’ll play them.

    Also, now I want to play a MUD written by Lane.

    @Jenifer/SN: SN posts Oliver, but Jenifer posts BEWBS. I can tell you which one I’d rather be looking at!

  8. @Lusi, @Darth, Why can’t we compromise and have Oliver’s boobs?

  9. I’m so conflicted. The man insists upon slipping stupid “z”s into his words, yet he admits that the letter is in fact pronounced “zed”. One hand wants to hug him, the other wants to push a pillow into his face until he suffocates.

    Sigh …

    Anyhoo, I understand the sentiment here. I have so many semi-old games to play, and a list of “must play” newer games. I always find myself speeding through games, because I want to scratch another game off of my list, but then I am not taking the time to really enjoy and appreciate the content.

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