I used to love video games

Given the material on this website, you may be surprised to learn that I have a few bits of video-game-related clothing in my wardrobe. No, really. Occasionally, when I wear something that features something from the 80’s, I get the reaction of someone who seems to be around my age or a little bit older that goes something like, “Oh, Super Mario Bros! I used to love that game! I haven’t played it in forever!” I’ll sometimes ask these people if they still play video games, and usually I’ll get a blank stare, or they’ll get a little crestfallen and admit that they haven’t played a video game in years. If I prod a little deeper, I find that most people have the same common excuses: they don’t have the time they once did, they went off to school/work/military and never circled back around to playing games as a leisure activity, games are only for kids, so their kids play them, or something like that. But one woman who I talked to yesterday and seemed to be about my age gave a more honest answer that I don’t hear much anymore: she loved playing the NES, but all the new games are just too complicated.

I didn’t really get to dig into the nitty gritty of her position since it was just idle chitchat while we were standing in line, so I don’t really know all the particulars, but it’s not hard to see where she’s coming from. If you played some games as a kid and cut your teeth on something like the NES’s controller and then, many years later, remembered how much you liked playing a few games to pass the time, but the controllers now looked like the control panel of a nuclear submarine in comparison, then you might be put off even trying to use one. Or if you used to like games like Super Mario Bros that had some backstory, but it was largely inconsequential (go right, kill things, rescue princess) to games that have their own website, strategy guides, book series, and so on, and it’s easy to see that a lot of games have lost that ‘sit down and play for 30 minutes or so’ quality that a lot of those early games had.

To which you’d probably say, “Yeah, that’s true, games are more complicated now, but that means that they’re so much better! We have rich worlds with engaging characters, we have graphics that look so realistic that you can hardly tell if you’re watching live television or playing a game. Games are better now than they’ve ever been, and they’re only getting better!”.

And you wouldn’t be completely wrong. Even though the games industry is trying to emulate the movie industry with its products (which I’m not a fan of) a lot of games now are good. If you’re willing to take the time to play them, and given the length of some games these days, that’s not always easy. Also, you can’t just pick up a copy of, say, the latest Battlefield game and play something in Single Player for 15-20 minutes while you’re in between doing Grownup Stuff(tm). Heck, you might not even be able to learn how to work the controls to the game in 15-20 minutes, much less learn how to play something.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

I think Nintendo was partially on the right track with the Wii. They catered to the market of people like my friend above. The people who used to play games, Nintendo game, but now games are too complicated for them. People who want an easy, pick-up-and-play experience that recaptures a piece of their youth. They’ve kind of misfired since then (which is another topic for another day), but the general idea was sound. Unfortunately, a lot of the people I talk to about the old games they played as a kid seem to be completely unaware that a lot of these games are available again, right now, without having to track down an old console (which is becoming difficult to do) and finessing it into working correctly. And if I do make them aware, they just kind of dismiss it for the usual reasons, and that’s the end of it.

That makes me sad that there are people out there who would probably enjoy playing a video game now and again, but don’t really know that there are games out there that they would like, or even that the games that they already like are likely still out there. That there are short, enjoyable, pick-up-and-play experiences to be had outside of Facebook. That the video game console doesn’t have to be a toy in the kids’ room that only they play, but it can be an entertainment device in the living room that everyone can enjoy at the same time. Or even something that the adults can enjoy while the kids are occupied with something else, or vice-versa. Instead, we have a stigma that games are for kids and immature manchildren, and anyone else who plays games is a weirdo. That’s been tough to shake, and I really would like for us to get past that. And, hey, comic book movies are box-office gold right now, and comic book lovers have been dealing with similar problems for years. So maybe there’s hope, yet.

Until then I’ll keep wearing my 80’s game tees to give lapsed gamers of my generation a bit of (hopefully) happy nostalgia.