My Dad has been wearing the same runners since 1979. My mum only really listens to Fleetwood Mac. That’s what it means to get old, to freeze frame your life; to ignore the passage of time, reject the new. To bury your head deep in the sand of your imagined past and stay there until death.
And despite my penchant for chequered shirts, I thought I had avoided that. I listen to new music, I push myself to try new things, but then something made me realise I’m no different.
That thing was video games.
Video games made me realise just how old fashioned I’m becoming.
Don’t get me wrong, I play new games — almost exclusively in fact. I’m addicted to the allure of new products, I get excited about the next big thing. I have Skyward Sword on my desk right now; it might as well exude a halo-esque radiant glow. The thought of playing it makes my heart rate quicken. It’s new. It’s exciting.
So why do video games make me feel so old? I’ll try to explain…
It starts with a story — Reggie Fils-Aime discussing Nintendo’s move towards downloadable content. In this story Reggie claimed that selling downloadable content to consumers often denies consumers, who bought the game to begin with, the complete experience. Those that bought a copy of the game deserve the full game. Period.
I nod my head vigorously. Couldn’t agree more.
Then a press release in my inbox, for Saints Row The Third. THQ announces exclusive content for PS3 owners. My stomach tightens, I clench my teeth. Like something doesn’t sit right.
I click on other stories — a batch of stories in fact — discussing new mods for Skyrim, a brand new game that I’m currently in love with. I look at the pretty pictures, I laugh at the clever ones. I ask myself, ‘would I ever consider downloading and installing a mod for Skyrim?’
My stomach tightens again. It doesn’t feel right. Why?
I’m getting old.
I remember laughing at those who spent hours organising their vinyl collections, those that lamented the death of tangible media. When people started downloading music old people assumed CDs would always have a place because people liked ‘things’. Objects they could hold in their hand. At 19 years old I knew those people were wrong because I had absolutely no attachment to music as a product, I only cared about the music itself.
I feel the same about games. I have no problem with games going digital. I’ve never been a collector of ‘things’ and that applies to games in the same way it applied to music or DVDs. I like experiences, I like content. To me content is sacred.
And that’s why I feel old — to me content is sacred.
Nowadays I feel as though that belief is being increasingly undermined. The idea of content as a static ‘thing’ to be experienced has been eroded to the point where it feels as though everything created is fluid — a mere starting point for what’s to come. Games are patched constantly, we’re asked to pay for online passes, mods transform games into something completely alien. The idea of authorship, and experiencing something created and delivered for you has dissolved into something bewildering — a landscape that is constantly shifting, evolving and transforming through our own involvement.
Content is fluid, but I find myself longing for the days when it was static. I must be getting old — I can’t keep up.
I value authorship. When people talk about mods, I get a strange feeling in my stomach, the same feeling I expect most OAPs get when they’re whitewashing graffiti — the feeling that something beautiful has been altered. I understand the positives of mods — the community, improvements to the game itself. Hell, it’s even a great breeding ground for wannabe developers to hone their skills. I respect that, I think that’s really cool. I just don’t want to be a part of it. I like the idea of something being canon, the idea of content feeling legitimate. Feeling static, being the complete experience.
It’s a strange dichotomy. While I understand and appreciate the culture of modding, and the financial sense of creating a platform as opposed to a simple product, it doesn’t quite sit right with me. I still like to listen to music as an album, from start to finish instead of creating playlists. I want to indulge in an experience created for me, not one I have to adjust for myself. I want to be entertained by artistry; I want to be shown something and I want that to mean something — when people tear and poke around with content it becomes different and it loses value. It becomes less authentic.
Yet I listen to hip hop. I think graffiti is kind of cool. We live in a post-modern world and the concept of modding and fluid content is, essentially, post-modernity in action. Why can’t I accept the same thing in my video games? I honestly don’t know. I can’t explain it. Maybe I’ll get used to it…
Or maybe I’m just getting old. Yesterday I went to a sandwich shop. At the counter they had all kinds of fillings — tuna, egg, roast beef, lamb, chicken. I got a little bit overwhelmed and confused. Why should I have to make this sandwich for myself? Why do I have to decide what goes in the sandwich? Aren’t these guys the sandwich experts — shouldn’t they be telling me what ingredients go together?
Thankfully they provided examples. I chose the Tenderloin Chilli Wrap. It was delicious.