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