Video Games And The Age Of Convenience

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.

Comments has changed. It's no longer about physical collections and admiring them on a wall, it's about how many bytes your PS3 will hold or how man hours your iTunes contains. Media has changed...

      Everything is instant now, twitter, blogs etc. 24 hour news cycles... Nothing is fact checked anymore either :(

      Ironiclly MGS4 is one of the few games to fill up a 50GB Blu-Ray disc.

        What an epic game that is...

        Love Metal Gear.

      *Ron Perlman voice*

      But war... war never changes.

    I've embraced digital for many of my new video game systems, but only because my golden age of gaming is past. I collect games that were special to me from the PSX, PS2 and SNES primarily - but new games are all digital where I can, mostly for convenience. I also have trouble envisioning any of today's games becoming as special to me as titles like Final Fantasy VI, or Metal Gear Solid.

    I have to have real books, and real movies - Bluray is my format of choice. I can't abide reading digital books, for two reasons - simply reading a screen for extended periods is taxing, and nothing, repeat nothing will ever replace the smell and feel of a brand new book. It's tangible, and oh-so satisfying.

    Movies are the same - I don't do digital movies at all. TV series are an exception, but usually because they're either not available as physical media, or are so ridiculously expensive I can't justify it.

    I have a funny feeling I won't have a choice one day, but until then.....

    Glad I'm not the only one that notices the tinny sound in MP3s. Out of curiosity, what bitrate do you prefer in MP3s? I personally dislike iTunes for providing in only 192kbps.

      DItto. I always prefer to buy my music off a service like bandcamp if I can. They offer their audio in FLAC if you want it! Plus a whole other assortment of formats, plus you can redownload whenever you like.

    I will always buy physical copies of the things I really like, should they be available. Some stuff isn't worth the effort, but some stuff definitely is.

    I feel like we've had this conversation before.

    Also, would you be using your Vita more if it had some games you're into? I barely touched mine after getting it until the last week or two, when Disgaea 3 arrived. Somehow those games are more engrossing on a portable than a home console.

      I prefer PS3 games on disc but have no problem with downloading Vita games. I have no idea why.

    I look at the dashboard screens of my ios devices with the games on them (about two or three) and they do sort of pale together at times. There's no real one that I constantly keep going back to, I do feel like I undervalue them. Infinity Blade for example, I got that on special but still haven't touched it.

    Also, do you know how difficult it is to find a Binder/Carry Case with bigger sleeves to hold instruction booklets? Impossible!

    Convenience will damage the love of media.

    I was in my younger years obsessed with Nine Inch Nails, to the extent that i had at least 2 versions of every album, hunted for limited editions, and overseas releases. But this was in a day when you got nothing more than a pretty case for your music, and if you were lucky and extra track or two.
    Now i barely have space for these items, and they have been stashed in a dusty old box somewhere in my attic.

    Now with mp3's, those additional songs can be acquired without any effort, or cost. So its no longer got the same excitement to it, but does have the bonus of not having a physical object to hoard and annoy the wife with.

    Games are trying something similar with pre order bonuses, but these seem to yield little excitement to any other than true fan boys, and leave nothing to show off or be proud of on a shelf.
    Also noticing the LE packs for games are coming with less and less shelf items that have the same effect as they once did unless you are willing to pay A LOT more for your game, and then also have the shelf space to show it off.

    This is just my observations and experience, but im sure just as there is still a place for collectable vinyl's in certain musical circles, there will always be those of us who want a box with our games.

      i also still have all my c64 tapes even though they probably dont work any more, i dont wanna throw that stuff away. Its alike antique furniture to me.

      The same goes for movies. Yeah, you can download a movie off iTunes or wherever, but that's all it is - the movie. As somebody who loves movies, I love having all the extra features that accompany DVD/Blu Ray movies. Things like the behind the scenes / making of features, commentary tracks from directors, writers, actors etc which (in the case of the good ones) add a whole new level to my appreciation/understanding of a movie. Look at the Lord of the Rings extended editions. The movies themselves are great, but the accompanying documentaries and commentaries etc really make it something special.

      Theoretically I guess they COULD include that stuff on the download/streaming services, but as far as I'm aware, they don't.

    I find that with the problems associated with streaming/downloading, buying a Blu-Ray is the convenient option. Stick the disc in and it works; high-quality too.

    I usually go for whatever has the best price. Steam sales are the place to be for that, but with new releases it usually ends up being a boxed copy from overseas.

    In a way I kind of feel sorry for future generations, some of my favourite memories as a kid was my parents taking us to the big department store (big deal for us when the department store was a 3 hour car trip away) and buying a game, then spending the return trip mesmerised by the box, studying the screenshots and reading the instruction book multiple times.
    What will future generations do? Press download, go get a drink then come back and start playing. meh.

      By then they will be downloading their drinks too.

    I used to follow the whole "I love the feeling of holding a a new CD/game/whatever!" line. Then I moved out of home and had to carry all those boxes full of stupid crap I'd bought over the years. Never again!!! Digital everything where I can...

    The age of digital-everything is fantastic. People need to let go of being materialistic, it really is liberating to just not have to care about crap that really isn't important in the grand scheme of things.

      I don't think materialism is only materialism when you're buying physical things. Loading up hard drives with music, movies, games etc. are still considered material possessions.

      Plus, it's only if you value those things higher than anything else you can be accused as being materialistic.

    A Link to the Past gets a mention! Yay! (I think I may cry a little..)

    The thing that worries me about digital property, which for me was highlighted with the purchase of Bioshock, is the long-term viability of the purchase.
    I couldn't install the original bioshock until the servers were switched on, it simply couldn't be accessed.
    As we all know, servers don't stay active indefinitely, and what happens if one day that server shuts down?
    15 years down the track when I want to share the magical game which made shooters more than point and shoot to my children, odds are I won't be able to.
    My father's copy of "Magician" is what got me into fantasy and the Riftwar series.
    His Led Zepplin records are what taught me about hard rock.
    Quality has always been a niche market, but it speaks to what is important to us, because it represents our passions.
    There has always been a cheaper alternative for those who enjoy quantity and once-is-enough movies, but there will always be a place for quality, because they are the posessions we treasure the most.

      Out of all the comments, i agree with this the most. Its hard to feel like you own something when its in the shape of kilobytes.

      I still appreciate what the digital age has to offer, being a big music fan, i would not know any of the bands i know now had there be no internet to open up the global music community. And of course i download music (for free most of the time) to further expand on my love. And yet just the other day i spent about $150 on buying new and used records. I listen to music on my ipod for convenience, but i listen to my records for the warm feeling/vibe or whatever you want to call it from records that is lost in compressed files. Same for DVDs. Bob's Burgers is one of my favorite shows, and i've torrented all the episodes (Just found out they aired here a few days ago on cable) but if and when the DVD comes out I will get it for the extras, the comfort of watching it on a DVD player, and overrall good feeling.

      Games has changed a bit, i used to love buying games physically because of the instructions manual. They were always thick, colorful and full of info and other fun facts. The last game i bought, its instruction manual didn't have much in it, it was more like a pamphlet. So i don't feel like i will miss my 360 games as much as i would miss my N64 games (and emulators have nothing either) but as long as there is some feeling that you own something beyond a few megabytes, then I'm happy.

      Frankly, there will always be a market for such things, at least for this century i suppose, it may funnel down into a generational thing before its finally obsolete, by then we would have taught our children well to say the least.

    I've been telling you guys this stuff for years. I'll also be laughing when the necessity of convenience is so important that companies will be able to use it as the ultimate bargaining chip, holding 'your' media over you like a cruel game.

    Great article. I have actually been having similar thoughts. Although in my version I was questioning the current generation of kids and considering what will form their nostalgia in the future. There are so many games on ios, facebook etc. that it will be interesting to learn what future generations will consider seminal experiences.

    If you are interested Mark, you should check out Ben Cousins presentation. He argues that the need for convenience and 'lower' quality experiences is what will lead to the reduced popularity of consoles.

    I'm a little nostalgic from time to time about old media, but I just don't have space for all that 'stuff'.

    To take Mark's games/music analogy further, I recall the thrill of visiting an Indie record store and finding that hard-to-get Japanese vinyl import of that out-of-print album you always wanted by some obscure indie band. It was an amazing feeling!
    But I wonder where the Indie games market would be now if it required the same effort.

    Would there be specialist Indie games stores?
    Would the likes of Limbo, Journey ever see the light of day? Would Dear Esther be passed around groups of friends as a copy of a copy of a copy? Would Katawa Shoujo be banned in most states, obtainable only under the counter and only if you were on first name terms with the shopkeeper?

    I'm pretty sure that if you had to go to that kind of effort to get your Indie games (or any media) that you'd appreciate it a whole lot more. But I'm very glad I don't have to these days.

    Personally I favour convenience. For games in particular it used to be, find the disc and play. Now I don't have to; I just login and play. It saves you time, the hassle of storage and scratched discs. And what's the point of getting physical media if you must login to play anyway?

    Having said that, going to the store and picking up a brand new game or a cd as a kid was very exciting. Now days hitting the download button just doesn't do it for me :(

    When it comes to quality over convenience, I'll pick quality every time as far as movies, tv shows or anything visual is concerned. The thing is, once I've seen something I like in low quality, and I know there is high quality available, it puts me in this position where I wish I watched it in high quality, but because I've already seen it I have no desire to watch it again in hi-def. With audio I'm not too fussed, as long as there are no obvious compression artifacts.

    I don't have to have the physical article, so long as digital provides the same quality AND provides more convenience.

    I think your confusing "different values of quality" with "convenience over quality". Maybe people have a different value of what constitutes quality these days? Eg an interesting game mechanic over A MILLION polygons (you have to imagine that comment with Dr Evil finger to the mouth). I think this is an age old argument like someone who would say "Damn low quality modern cars with their 'don't crush your skull on impact' plastic exteriors" *shake fist*.

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