Why I Feel Sorry for this Generation’s Kid Gamers

FF7I feel sorry for this generation’s kid gamers.

I’ll unpack that, but first I’m going to apologize up front for a couple of things.

For starters, I’m going to sound like a crotchety jaded gamer. I may only be 27 years old, but as a gamer that practically makes me ancient, someone that grew up with gaming’s hallowed yesteryear, raised on the classics and growing up right alongside my favorite hobby. Such a thing can be said about few other mediums.

Secondly, I’m not going to say anything wholly original. This has all been said before, and probably in much better, prettier, or funnier ways. I’ll probably come across as some kind of gaming elitist, or the equivalent to the guy that sits on his porch with a bum leg and says “back in my day,” but I’m OK with that.

Now that that’s out of the way, I’ll say it again. I feel sorry for the crop of youngsters (how’s that for a crotchety word) that’s growing up in this generation of games.

This feeling has crept up on me in the last few days. You see, I’ve spent a lot of time digging into the Final Fantasy VII Letters, a series of essays between writers Leigh Alexander and Kirk Hamilton, two video game journalists who undertook the idea of replaying FFVII (in Alexander’s case) and playing it for the first time (in Hamilton’s case). Throughout this playthrough, they each traded a set of letters that really dug into the meat of FFVII, what makes it a great game, what makes it overrated, and what makes it a classic. It’s some of the most thought-provoking writing I’ve ever read about video games as a whole, and I’ve been utterly absorbed by their penmanship on the matter.

Final Fantasy VII scratches an itch that no other game has for me, and while I’m sure that elicits a chorus of eye rolls from a few out there, it’s just a truth I can’t get away from. That game did something to me when I was a kid, and no criticism anyone levels against it (true and untrue) is going to sway me from that anchor of experience. And the fact of the matter is, this isn’t just about FFVII, but any of those games that sunk their hooks into us when we were younger, from that generation and before it.

While in the midst of all this nostalgia, all this reading, all this pondering about how that game (and others) affected my life, I realized something: nobody is ever going to write a series of letters about this generation’s games.

It’s a bit of a crazy thing to say, I guess, and also a bit presumptuous, but I imagine that it’s true.

As good as this generation’s games are, and as many great hurdles that modern developers have overcome, nobody is going to give them the FFVII Letters treatment in 15 years’ time. Uncharted 2 and Mass Effect 2 are probably 2 of the best games ever created. In terms of games, they are better than Final Fantasy VII, better than Metal Gear Solid, better than Grim Fandango, better than Half-Life, better than Ocarina of Time, or Chrono Trigger… but they will still be irrelevant in just a few years in ways that those other games are not.

Uncharted 2

What is it about today’s games that make them fall out of relevancy so quickly? Games like FFVII and FFVI (which I’m playing right now) are far outmatched in terms of all the storytelling potential, the graphical prowess, the interface… yet even as I look upon them, hear their music, watch the characters on screen… it’s still magical.

I think it’s time to face the facts. Games are better now than they have ever been. But they still don’t matter as much as they used to. It’s not that they’re not making crazy leaps and bounds in terms of storytelling, in terms of character development, in terms of how a game plays and what it makes you think about. It’s just that they don’t capture our imagination anymore.

When I was a kid, the barest hint of unfathomable technology or a world bigger than I knew was enough to catapult me into another stratosphere in terms of the experience – now, every pixel is hand-crafted to show me every bit of every single block of wood, every codex entry tells me ninety things I don’t necessarily need to know about the game’s world. And the magic is gone, because my imagination is told to lay low. Sit back and enjoy the ride. My imagination is doused like a flickering candle wick.

Occasionally, games will still fan this slightly smoldering flame. They ask us to think with Portals. Or they remind us what it’s like to be a kid again (Little Big Planet). Or they put us in another man’s shoes and allow us to feel out the world without putting us on a big leash (Half-Life 2). But they don’t capture our imaginations. They do a lot of the thinking for us. They strip our brains out of the equation and in doing so, leave to the wayside something that used to make games sing.

FF6 OperaI feel like you can spot a big difference even in the way Final Fantasy XIII and Final Fantasy VII operate. Nobody will be writing letters about the former.

Maybe part of it is that we really did grow up alongside video games. It was an angsty teen when we were, awkwardly finding its place in the entertainment circle, struggling to figure out who it was and what its aspirations were. It made for a good companion. But as much as I love games, and as wonderful, fun and thought provoking as they are, something happened. They started wearing suits. They started eating right and going to bed early. They became adults, right when I did.

This is why I feel sorry for this generation’s kid gamers. I don’t think they’re going to know what it’s like to have an experience like I did. I’m not saying that it makes them less of gamers. I’m just saying I do wish they could have it.

Like I keep saying: games have gotten incredible. They’re breathtaking, huge and more exciting than ever before. But they quickly become irrelevant because they’re more focused on the same things other adults are focused on – success, procreation, dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s. They’re trying to wow me more than make me wonder. They want my money more than my engagement.

I do hold on to the hope that at some point, things will come full circle again. That game makers will give some of the reins back to us. But a bigger part of me worries that those days are long gone, and that the best part of games has already left us behind. Hopefully that’s just me being a gaming geezer, though.

So what do you guys think? Do you think games have grown up too much? Do they still fill you with the same sense of wonder they did when you were a kid? Is this more about us or more about the games themselves? Both? Also, read the FFVII letters. They rock.

Written by

I write about samurai girls and space marines. Writer for Smooth Few Films. Rooster Teeth Freelancer. Author of Red vs. Blue, The Ultimate Fan Guide, out NOW!

14 thoughts on “Why I Feel Sorry for this Generation’s Kid Gamers”

  1. Half life and portal will still be talked about. This age of gaming isn’t just about the gamer anymore, since now technology allows people to almost fully implement their ideas into games. In the old days, developers had to limit the imagination that went into games so there was more room , but nowadays the arty part of the developers, not the coders, can fully realize their ideas, more or less.
    The reason the latter is easier to forget is because it means your minds need to think less about what’s going on in the game. If a teacher tells about the subject and never asks questions or makes you solve problems, you won’t remember a thing. That’s what this is.
    I think we should appreciate games as art more often, because there is nothing more we can do about it.
    Of course, you can make a piece of art “unforgettable”, but it when everything feels the same, there is nothing to remember.
    But to fully exploit the technology, the devs need to understand that what they are making is now more arty than ever, if they don’t, the game will feel like another “meh”. There is no point pushing 1000 million pixels that show exactly the same thing. I feel that there is too little emotion going on in games these days, it’s mostly about explosions and BS I am not that interested in.

  2. Maybe I’m too young (even though I’m 18) but I still think games have a sense of magic in them. Certainly, their suppression of imagination is a very valid point but some games still encourage it (you rightfully mentioned Portal and HL2) albeit in different ways, smaller ways. There is no better feeling for me when I make a class on CoD that suits my play style perfectly or when I experience new worlds (Mass Effect, Fallout and Dragon Age being my favourite examples).
    The more modern games do fall victim to the “trying to wow me more than make me wonder” point you made but things WILL come full circle. When a few developers make those games like the games of yore and they become successful and when CoD and the typical linear cinematic ‘experience’ finally fails we will see a resurgence in this area. I know that was a VERY simplified argument, but companies like Activision are part of the problem.
    This is why I am eagerly anticipating Hitman 5. In Blood Money, I was pretty much told: “Here’s an arena, here’s your objective. Explore, murder and be as creative as you desire.” That let my young adolescent mind run with any and every possibility the environments allowed me. I remember finding routes to attain the coveted Silent Assassian rank and beaming with joy then reading a guide and laughing at their luck-driven and inefficient method. Also, I learned most of those levels off by heart.Hitman: Blood Money, is my FFVII lol.

  3. I think saying they will come full circle is true. It hink we will see a ‘revolution’ in gaming that will change things and perhaps bring back a lot of what was there in the beginning. I also believe that games now are totally different animals. Its comparing as simple Model T to a Hybrid Focus. Sometimes with the evolution and progression of things, we loose the magic that was there. People were stunned at cars when they came out, same with videogames. I think it does have to do with more factors than just the videogame world progressing, I think our world has too.

    Games still can create magic for me. Games like Oblivion have done just that, they still let me wonder and imagine. I missed out on a lot of early gaming, I was too young I think. But I share the sentiments that you do Eddy. I dont think games today match up in certain ways. I feel as though kids grow up just wanting to headshot and talk trash on Call of Duty, they dont want Link or his magical world, they dont want these fancy turn based in depth RPGs. Some do, but I feel the majority doesn’t. I think gaming has just changed, just look at the majority of the games people play regularly and what people buy. The dynamics changed and I completely agree with you, they are missing out fundamentally.

    Hopefully we get to see things come back to how they were. I think with indie developers beginning to hold stakes in the gaming world, we may see some good changes.

  4. Yea Eddy it is. Highlights include dressing up as a clown or poolboy to seduce a woman, retrieve her necklace (containing a microfilm) and then call your target’s phone so he approaches a good angle for sniping him. Also, to get his number you can add anesthetic to donuts and leave them outside the FBI’s surveillance van and wait for them to eat them.
    Alternatively you can slap a drum mag in an M4 and shoot everyone and then mop up the survivors with a pair of hedge trimmers, but I prefer the finesse that comes from poison donuts. Or rigging pyrotechnics, burning the target thus making them jump into the aquarium below the stage which contains -wait for it- SHARKS. Or dropping chandeliers on people. Or (my all time favourite) dressing up as santa to kill a playboy-esque target.
    Sorry, that was off topic. I’ll try and bring it back.
    There are also many hidden jokes and easter eggs which were great to discover (mice playing poker in a parisian theatre!) or different ways to tackle your target which makes you completely rethink how to tackle the ENTIRE mission and THAT is what makes that game so magical: The sense of knowing that there were always new things to do on replays besides getting the Good/Bad ending. That game also just had a perfect trial and error process which most games DON’T have nowadays.

  5. Eddy, your mind is no longer young. Never will another game hold the same spell on you as FFVII does (you really need to cast Esuna, or take a remedy). I’m feel pretty much the same way. I’m 28, and have played a lot of games. Personally I really enjoyed the PSX generation the most. All the FF games (even FF8..I know most hated it, but I loved it), Chrono Cross, Resident Evils & Metal Gear Solid. I can’t even remember all the times I went through FF7, FF8 & FF9…. but it was enough that I can still remember how to get everything in each game as soon as I sit down and start it up. None of the new generation of games can really get me to sit down and do all that again… or hold my attention for that long. Then again, I’m a much more busier man than I was when I was a teenager… didn’t have to work then, didn’t have any bills, or any responsibilities. Ah, that was the life. But Eddy, to wrap this up… think if we were in our teenaged years right now….would games like Oblivion(can’t wait for Skyrim), Portal 2, Mass Effect, Uncharted hold us in awe like the FF games? It’s unfair for our older selves to say…hey kids, this generation of games doesn’t compare to the previous gens, because games back then had more meaning, and were much more emotional. It’s like all the old timers saying to us…meh, today’s movies suck compared to the one’s from when I was a kid…. or today’s music sucks compared to our generation of music. Don’t be that guy Eddy! Maybe if they make another JRPG with a self hating emo kid, who somehow gets involved in a plot to prevent the destruction of Gaia from an evil corporation, and must discover himself through a series of adventures in order to defeat his nemesis. And of course, bang the girl with huge knockers who just wants to be his friend through the whole ordeal, and then fall in love with a girl who dies to the villain while wandering alone in a dangerous ancient city before the game really get’s underway. Maybe that will be the defining game of this generation 🙂

  6. Haha, thanks for the response KJ. I mean, you totally raise some great points in that I played those games when I was young. And the thing is, I’m really not trying to indicate that games are better back then and never will be that good. I just think something about the way the industry works keeps them from having a certain special something. Seriously, when Uncharted 3 and Mass Effect 3 are out are we going to care anymore about the other games in the series? Not in any way that’s particularly striking, I don’t think.

    I think occasionally we see flashes though, and that’s why I wonder if my age has anything to do with it at all. I mean, Portal 2 gave me that feeling a couple of times, and KOTOR certainly did, and that was when I was about 20 years old. So who knows?

  7. I like your point about games becoming adult right along with you. I was going to say how we experienced games when they were in their amateur stage, and we were amateur gamers. “Skill” was how fast you could complete runs in Super Mario, because the levels were always the same, and everything was just a matter of timing. As games got more complex, our brains adapted and we learned new things. Now, I feel gaming has really hit a “thinking ceiling”. Imagine showing a 9 year old “us” Portal, and trying to explain the principal. We would likely explode! However, show today’s Halo or CoD playing 9 year old, and most would very quickly start to see the patterns and understand it.

    I think this is why games like Braid, Pez and other simpler side-scrolling nostalgia-tingling games still have a palpable *something*. It’s really why I’ve started playing more and more indie games, where the amateurs roam. I might be “good” at first person shooters, but I’m tired of stringing headshots together. I just want a story bigger than me and simple game play that may be predictable, but is still satisfying. (Wish I could play Limbo…)

    I beat Super Mario 3 for the first time in my life last week. I wasn’t able to finish it when I was a kid. All my leet Shooter skills didn’t help me at all. It took me a few days and many many deaths to finish world 8. It has it’s OWN set of skills, just being a “good gamer” wasn’t enough. That is a big missing piece today, I think.

  8. I hear you. I don’t want to complain about sequels, but the developers really are hanging on to what sells easily, as opposed to taking a chance at something deeper. And due the cost of producing a new game, I can’t say that I blame them. It’s a big risk, and if it fails, the company can easily go under. They are going to stick to their bread & butter until it doesn’t sell. Even if that means the same game (slightly different each time) over and over again. I’d love to see someone produce a game that is so detailed & epic, and not necessarily graphically, but story wise, and the history of it’s own world, and it’s people. Something mythical. Almost like Tolkien and LOTR. You keep playing, and learning more about the world as it is, and what it was, and how you can use elements from the past and present (and possibly the future) to solve puzzles and how to defeat enemies. Kind of sounds a bit like Elder Scrolls in a Chrono Trigger setting…but much deeper than that. I want a game that makes me hunt for knowledge and not some stupid side quest type of thing that doesn’t equate to anything, something that really matters to the character in the game, and it doesn’t really need to be part of the main quest either. I think if someone out there could create something like that, and do a good job at it, we may just find ourselves a game that transcends the previous generation, and holds the standard for all future games.

  9. Eddy, you make a good point. The revisions to Mass Effect 2 render Mass Effect 1 almost moot, practically unplayable. Uncharted 2 and Uncharted have the same issue. Still good games, but lessened by their sequels and it’s only been a few years.

    The old school games stand the test of time, ugly graphics or not.

  10. I totally disagree that Mass Effect 2 makes 1 unplayable. In terms of gameplay, ME2 is the better, but ME1 has it’s own distinct feel and place in the story. The characters have different arcs and the story itself has a different feel of discovery. And if we want to discuss the amount of “magic” a game brings, ME2 cannot rival the first, no matter what it does. The first journey into a wider universe isn’t invalidated the sequel, in my opinion, and ME for me stands up to ME2. Maybe that’s because I’m younger than you guys, but i think that the first still has that magic that the second didn’t capture.

  11. [quote comment=”16473″]I totally disagree that Mass Effect 2 makes 1 unplayable. In terms of gameplay, ME2 is the better, but ME1 has it’s own distinct feel and place in the story. The characters have different arcs and the story itself has a different feel of discovery. And if we want to discuss the amount of “magic” a game brings, ME2 cannot rival the first, no matter what it does. The first journey into a wider universe isn’t invalidated the sequel, in my opinion, and ME for me stands up to ME2. Maybe that’s because I’m younger than you guys, but i think that the first still has that magic that the second didn’t capture.[/quote]

    I still love Mass Effect, but it’s harder to go back to clunkier combat and inventory screens after the streamlined Mass Effect 2. In terms of story, of course, but with controller in hand, ME 1 has lost some of its appeal and that’s directly attributable to ME 2.

  12. One of the first games I ever played was Warcraft 2. I remember the times I would play and become really stuck so often in the campaign because I was so terrible. I am still pretty terrible at RTS games, but they hold a special place in my heart because they greatly influenced how I grew up as a gamer.
    Other games over time have influenced my views and ideas of games and gaming, but now, most games I play, even though they are brilliant games, give off a vibe of “been there done that”. Every gamer will have their own gaming landmarks as they grow up, they will play a game in which they experience something new and exciting, and it will stick with them. Every gaming generation will have their own “Mario 64″s, “FFVII”s and their own “Half-Life”s, and they will treasure them as we treasure ours.
    It’s hard to see just how game companies could continue to improve and innovate on gaming as a whole, but do you remember back when we couldn’t picture anything getting any better than “Super Mario Bros.” or those huge machines in the arcades? Even though many game companies have been creating cookie-cutter FPSs, and a seemingly endless number of unnecessary sequels, there will always be companies stretching the boundaries, and trying new ways to innovate.
    It may seem like gaming isn’t progressing, but gaming will continue to mature, and grow a a medium. I like to think of games the same way as television, books, and music, there is much nonsense out there that is very much the same, but every now and then, you find a gem, something unique, and new. I believe that one day, people will look back on certain games like great works of art, like paintings, or pieces of literature, but it will be a very long time until that happens.

  13. It’s taken me a while to comment on this post (and therefore it may never get read, but I still wanted to chime in), and that’s because I’ve been reading the letters, despite my not being a fan of Leigh Alexander (I wasn’t too much of a fan when I read her posts on Kotaku, and then she hit the shit list when she reviewed Demon’s Souls and talked about the online element without even a mention of blue or black phantoms, which to me proves she reviewed it without playing it). The thing I most noticed is that, while you talk about the feeling of adventure being lost in games due to codex entries, extreme attention to detail, et al., and it’s true the FFVII’s characters were defined little enough in order for the player to fill in the blanks (Aeris, especially, which explains many people’s fascination with her, mine included), Final Fantasy VII is the game that started the trend of well-defined characters with extremely detailed stories. Sure, there’s still blanks to fill in, but FFVII’s success (and to a lesser extent FFVI, my personal FFVII) seems to have pushed games into the area they’re in now, where you can discover things about the world the creators of Mario never would have included in their silly games. Maybe there’s a magical in-between area where characters are defined enough to care about them, but not so defined that there’s no room for imagination.

    I remember playing the original Shining Force on my Genesis, and the entire time I had conversations between the characters in my head that were in no way implied on the screen. Max, Tao, and Anri had a little love-triangle thing going on, Gort (is that the right name?) was a drunk, and Ken and Mae were fighting for a different cause, of course falling in love in the process. While giving these characters their stories, I remember wishing a game could do that for me, like my story was fake, but if the creators wrote it for me, it was real. Then FFVI came along and did just that. Those characters came from somewhere, had a reason to fight, and I loved it. Same with FFVII, except that game was huge (I think part of the reason it spawned more fan-fic than VI is mostly because of how much it sold, but I can’t prove that), and people caught on.

    Nowadays, I’m not sure which was better. I don’t know if I’d create the stories in my head now that I’m 31, so maybe I’d rather have everything laid out for me. Or maybe the reason I wouldn’t write the stories in my head is because I’m so used to having everything already there (chicken or the egg?). Maybe a 15 year old playing those same games would do the same thing I did, but there’s no way to know for sure.

    Having said all this, I don’t think this generation’s games are as lacking as you seem to imply. While it’s true that a lot of games go big big big and are easily forgotten, there are gems (Shadow of the Colossus, Ico, Demon’s Souls, Okami) that stand out. Those games have a story, sure, but also let you fill in the blanks. Out of all the “Help Me!” posts in forums for Demon’s Souls, there are also posts that try to figure out why a character is who s/he is does what s/he does. Sure, those are only a few games out of thousands that are created each year, most forgotten, but that’s exactly what FFVII, Ocarina of Time, and Chrono Trigger were, diamonds in a pile of dusty plastic gems. Those games, I think someday, someone will write letters about them.

Comments are closed.