My Dad dusts off a vinyl record. Gently he unsheathes it from its sleeve. I sift through old video game boxes and smile. But there will be a time when these sensations mean nothing, an entire generation with new ‘things’ to fetishize. Maybe they won’t be ‘things’ at all. Maybe they won’t care at all. Maybe that’s a good thing.
Once upon a time we used to value our entertainment, we’d fall in love it. We valued media and we sought out quality. For better or worse we became fans of things, of objects. I wonder if that is about to become a thing of the past.
My Dad still listens to vinyl. My brother still invests in Blu-ray copies of his favourite movies. Instead of picking up a kindle my wife prefers the feel and texture of the printed page. When most of us think of video games we think of something that comes in a box, which we collect. And value.
But this is the age of convenience. And we’re in the minority.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the way I consume media. I love music, but I’ve given up on the high quality of the CD for MP3s. Despite the fact they provide a compressed, tinnier sound.
I love watching movies, and I’m in possession of a HDTV, but I can’t remember the last time I bought a Blu-ray. I prefer to simply stream movies through the various services available to me, or I’ll quickly download — again — a compressed version, with all the visual sacrifices that come with that compression.
I’ll watch entire documentaries on YouTube. I’ll scroll through low quality photographs on Facebook. My media life is viewed through a window within a window, surrounded by options for sharing, with advertising, with multiple tabs. It is no longer a focused experience, it is transitory. It is cheap. It is low quality.
It is convenient.
Previously new devices were bought and sold on ‘quality’. DVDs were high quality. CDs delivered the best sound possible. Nowadays we’re happy to sacrifice quality for convenience. And that goes for our video games as well.
The onset of mobile devices was supposed to ring in ‘The Age of Convergence’, but it has really been that starting point for a new ‘Age of Convenience’ — an age where quality is a niche market, where technology has lost its aspirational quality. We all have access to multiple types of media, the only question we ask is: how quickly can we access it? And how can we fit it into our busy lives?
Despite the fact that technology has gifted us with an unparalleled amount of free time, that same technology has managed to convince us that our time is more valuable, that we have less of it. Part of the issue is the massive swarm of media that surrounds our everyday lives — how do we find time in our lives to digest this media? How do we maximise our potential to consume entertainment?
And this is a mentality that has filtered through to the way we now consume video games.
I consider myself a ‘gamer’, whatever that means nowadays. I play a lot of video games. But still, I find myself reaching for convenience over quality. I wonder what that means…
It means that my PlayStation Vita remains untouched, while I play $0.99 iOS games on public transport. It means I prefer short bursts of gaming on Trials HD instead of investing time and energy into Prototype 2. This is the age of convenience and I must do what is convenient for me and my lifestyle and I’m happy to sacrifice production values in order to do so.
In the future, with video games, I expect ‘quality’ and ‘high production values’ to become an increasingly niche market. As video games continue their relentless march towards the mainstream, the ‘AAA’ experience will be pushed further to the outskirts, and if we want to continue indulging in that kind of experience, we will most likely have to pay more for it.
In the future we will have to shell out for quality, but most likely we’ll settle for what is convenient. And I wonder what that means for fans — for those who truly love media, be that music, cinema or video games? Will we eventually trivialise the content we consume, or will ‘fans’ simply be pushed towards the outskirts of the mainstream? Maybe that’s where we’ve always been.
I respect the process of fandom, and the impact it has on people’s lives, but I look at media today, and I wonder precisely what it is I’m supposed to be a fan of. What will my children fall in love with, what will they value?
Will they unsheathe vinyl like my Dad did? Will they fall in love with books like my wife? Will they simply fetishize the objects that media is stored on? Will my kids treat their old iPhones with the same reverence I treat my copy of A Link to the Past? It’s hard to say. I find it difficult to believe consumers will stop being ‘fans’ of things — becoming a fan is a human trait that will simply evolve.
But what will future generations foist their nostalgia on? What will they care about? What will they become obsessed with? Maybe it’s a sign of aging — maybe I’m just getting old — but I sincerely don’t have an answer to that question.