Thoughts on Simplicity and Era Contrasts


We recently talked about nostalgia, and last Monday we discussed how a decision between consoles sparked a thought about how other gamers deal with decisions that can mean more than they initially seem.  Today, in a similar vein, we’re going to talk about gamers growing older.

It’s a similar vein because this, too, was sparked by a personal experience.  As I mentioned Monday, I was thinking about getting a new console, and I ended up doing it.  I got an X-Box 360, and spent hours fighting to try and set up a Live account.  I won’t go into the messy details, but the punchline is I ended up standing there, muttering at the console, “Filth and foul in your filth and filth and the foul filth, the foul thing doesn’t foul want to filth and foul and why won’t the foul and filth and I’ll filth its foul…”

Later, after I’d decided to just play the games I bought, I ended up thinking.  I know I’m not alone in finding modern gaming technology—disconcerting.  Others look at modern gaming and come away scratching their heads.  We come from a time when the most popular and influential game the hobby had seen—a game with effects still felt to this day—was controlled with two buttons.  These days, context-sensitive control schemes are becoming the norm, where one button can have numerous different actions, depending on what you’re doing, where you are, what time of day it is, whether Capricorn is in the house of Libra while the moon is waxing gibbous.

One button for jumping, one for throwing fireballs--and a gaming legend is made.

This is part of the reason some of us are into older games.  It’s not that their control schemes are easier, really—but they lend themselves more easily to just picking up and playing.  You didn’t need to read the manual to figure out how to control Mario or Sonic—fifteen seconds, tops, spend pressing buttons and you had it down.  Further, being so simplistic meant you could hop right into the game—there wasn’t a need for extensive tutorials because you didn’t need them.  This button fires, that one jumps, and you were off and running.

It’s not really gamers getting “older” as much as preferring the simplicity.  If you’ve ever played an older Sonic the Hedgehog title, you could play most of them.  All of the three buttons jumped, and if you held down on the D-pad and mashed any of those buttons, you “revved up” for the Spin Dash.  That let you hop right into the game and enjoy the beautiful and interesting titles.

That’s one of the thing many modern games lack, I find.  As enjoyable as a game may be, the tutorials—necessary ones, at that—can take quite a while to complete.  In some cases, fifteen, twenty minutes, or longer.  Some games can seem daunting just from the tutorial.

Another interesting observation is the idea of a “menu”.  It wasn’t, really, until this latest generation of consoles that we have such a thing.  Up until now, we put in the game, and we play the game.  It was that simple.  We can still do that, but it’s interesting to note how many options we have now—it’s more like booting up a computer than a gaming console.

That’s not really a bad thing, though it can be another factor in some retro-gamers’ feeling of nostalgia.  Up until the mid- to late-‘Nineties, there wasn’t anything but the game itself.  You could turn on the console without it, but you’d get nothing.  There wasn’t anything to show.  With systems like the PlayStation and Dreamcast, you got what can be called a “pseudo-menu”, where you could in an audio C.D. or rummage through your memory card.

Ultimately, at the end of the day—all of this is really nothing more than a baton being passed.  Older gamers are no longer the target demographic, and we’ve known this for a while.  However, seeing games on store shelves we aren’t obviously developed for a different generation is one thing.  Trying to navigate menus and sub-menus, or trying to figure out the finger-Twister combination necessary just to crouch—that really drives it home.

As I said recently, most of us can rein that nostalgia in—but what tests that are moments like that, where the fact that the general mentality of older gamers can feel at odds with modern gaming.  It really isn’t, of course, but it can sometimes feel that way.  Those are the moments when clutching our Atari controller to our chest and rocking back and forth seem less insane and more comforting.

Now, having said that—modern gaming can bring us things we’d never before imagined.  Sonic the Hedgehog 4 is a fantastic throw-back to an era of when the blue rodent was on top of the world.  And as much as I enjoyed the heck out of Spider-Man 2, as much as that really felt like being Spider-Man—Spider-Man: Edge of Time feels more like being in the middle of a Spider-Man story, more than a lot of games before have.

We're not really becoming ready for the reboot of "Grumpy Old Men"—though it's mighty tempting sometimes.

I think I speak for a lot of older gamers when I say that it’s not that we’re becoming old curmudgeons, it’s not that we’re shaking our fists at these newfangled gizmos and pining for the “good old days”.  It’s not any of that, really—if it was we wouldn’t be into modern gaming at all, and plenty of older gamers have modern consoles (and working Live accounts, foul and filth…), and enjoy the heck out of the games they play on them.

Sometimes, though—just sometimes, we look at modern games that require insane tutorials, and for a moment we look over at our gaming cabinet (or closet, or desk) and think about pulling out the old N.E.S./S.N.E.S./Genesis/whatever else, blowing the dust off, and getting a game going.  No era of gaming is really “better” than another—but some eras can be easier to get into.  Considering that this is a hobby, and hobbies are entered into for fun—sometimes that ease is more of a draw than all the processing power in the world.

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