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On Being Behind the Times

Five years is most of a generation in the gaming world.

Some might call me a not-real fan of games when I admit the following: I’m almost always at least a generation behind when it comes to console gaming. Some others might look down on me for this next statement, too: I really strongly prefer console gaming.

The why? Well, that’s for perhaps another day. The why is this relevant? Well, a lot of cool games came out around 2006-8, did y’all know that? Ha! I didn’t until about a year ago, when I started buying things for the PS3 I received as a gift in October 2013 or until a month ago when I got a Nintendo 3DS off of a sketchy-but-nice guy during GDC.

As I sat and lamented this weekend over oh, lo, but why did it take me so long to play The World Ends With You because oh, lo, how I would have adored it upon its release my junior year of high school, I sat and thought about all of the other games I’ve played several years after their release. For example:

Great game, btw. 4.75/5.

Persona 3 FES. Released 2006. Played 2010.

Heavy Rain. Released 2010. Played 2014.

Heavy Rain. Released 2010. Played 2014.

Released 1999. Played 2014.

Released 1999. Played 2014.

And the list, like Celine Dion’s heart, goes on.

Whenever a new hyped-up game is released, the critics and journalists and enthusiasts who like to write about them are in a race to see who can finish and write something clever about it first. “Aha!” We exclaim. “Look at this plot hole and/or error! Witticisms and clever remarks are needed here!” Which they are – don’t get me wrong. Half the fun of playing games is coming up with sarcastic, silly reviews for the moments that call for them, shouting them into the void of your friends or, if you’re lucky, an actual audience.

Of course, this is not to imply that people aren’t still talking about it, but that’s the point. The game came out nearly twenty years ago; it’s old news now.

Of course, this is not to imply that people aren’t still talking about it, but that’s the point. The game came out nearly twenty years ago; it’s old news now.

But I find that when I’m caught up in trying to grind out a game for one reason or another, well, it becomes more work than play, heading towards the manufacture of a secondhand experience instead of the immersion of a firsthand one. Which, again, is fine, if that’s what you’re aiming for – but I don’t do well with deadlines. I freaked out having to pull an all-nighter in college. When someone on the cycling team tried to get me to push myself to go more than 14mph, I stopped going to group rides, because I prefer to enjoy my leisures at a leisurely pace, gosh darn it.

When you’re playing a game so many years after it’s come out, you don’t have to worry about spoilers. Maybe you’re already aware that Aeris/th dies, and maybe you aren’t, but more importantly, people probably aren’t talking about it as much now as if you’d been playing in 1997. I avoided the internet for a good week before the release of the seventh Harry Potter book for this reason; I don’t regret it, but it’s not something I enjoy doing, at least in part because I like the internet and I don’t like stress. That’s part of why I grind things out, to avoid the possibility of that thing I was so looking forward to being ruined. If I decide to finally get over my loathing of its camera and play the first Kingdom Hearts game, I don’t have to worry about someone jumping out and telling me what happens halfway through.

Additionally, by random happenstance, I’ve been in a Kingdom Hearts online roleplay for the past six years, so I really have no excuse to fear spoilers there. I am therefore not sure if this is a bad example to use or a good one, but it is an example nevertheless.

Additionally, by random happenstance, I’ve been in a Kingdom Hearts online roleplay for the past six years, so I really have no excuse to fear spoilers there.

I basically know the plot already, since the game came out more than half my lifetime ago. Or better yet, maybe the game you’re playing has no major twist, and it didn’t stand out in history; it’s completely mundane to everyone but you, and you get to play it without any motivation or pretensions except because it sounded neat or fun or perhaps mindless. Maybe you’re playing because a friend told you about how much it influenced them once upon a time, and you want to understand their world a little better.

When your game of choice came out five years ago, almost nobody cares if it takes you three months to get through (unless, of course, you’re coordinating remote playthroughs with friends like a new-age book club). At that point, you’re either participating in a revival of old cultural relics, or having an experience that you missed out on for one reason or another but desperately wanted. Five years is most of a generation in the gaming world. You’re going for a drive in a car that’s used to someone else but new to you through a countryside you’re looking at through a new windshield.

The drive for clever and drily sarcastic comments remains, but instead of being a sprint to see who can post the best thing first, you’re not competing with anyone; it’s instead more of a long-distance solo run, and there’s no pressure to do anything but enjoy your game because everybody but you already knows what happens at the end anyway.

5 Comments

  1. This is something I’ve thought about as well, and I strongly agree with it. Some of my best gaming experiences have come from playing games WAY past the time that they were relevant in the media/current gaming culture, and they’re some of my favorite games now. I also played Heavy Rain in 2014. I played Portal for the first time about a week before Portal 2 came out. I played BioShock about five years after its release and I played Psychonauts seven years after. I’m currently playing through Earthbound for the first time, which originally came out in 1994…when I was three.

    It’s interesting, because other forms of media don’t really get the same wrap as games in this regard; things like books and movies don’t go out of fashion nearly as quickly as games do. I could start reading The Great Gatsby or watching 2001: A Space Odyssey right now and no one will think twice about it, but if I told someone that I just started playing the first Uncharted game for the first time in 2015, they might say something along the lines of “Seriously?”.

    I think that this is partially because playing older games is kind of hard. Most major game retailers don’t sell anything before the previous generation, and even if you could find something from 1992, how would you play it? You can’t just walk into any old GameStop and buy a NES, and it’s going to cost you big money if you want to buy one on eBay. If I wanted to watch an old movie on the other hand, I could just go to Netflix and hit play. Or at worst, I could go to FYE and pick up a DVD for $11.

    I think we need a better way of archiving games so that the new generations can more easily access them. Things like the Nintendo eShop, PSN, and XBLA are step in the right direction, and it seems like we can’t go a week without something getting an HD re-release, but I’m inclined to believe that this isn’t enough. These things favor games that were popular in their time, but not everything. It is sad a reality that some games from the past are simply inaccessible now. When Jenna and I were in GameStop a few days ago looking at games, one of the reasons why I recommended that she pick up The World Ends With You over something like The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds was because, in a few years, TWEWY might be gone forever…and that’s a travesty to me.

    I don’t know if there’s a clear answer to this as of right now, but it’s something to keep in mind and to think about. As Jenna said, playing games long after they’ve left the zeitgeist can be extremely rewarding, and I think it’s a shame that more people can’t do so.

    Also, KEEP PLAYING TWEWY OH MY GOD THAT GAME IS MY LIFE.

    • Jenna Jenna

      Andrew, I think we should revive the ripostes. This comment is sort of a feint.

      No but really! I wonder if timing of when you play it has something to do with it — like you said, if you start playing Uncharted now, people would be like “wth bro old news is old” but nobody questions the timing of when you read a classic novel. And then you have to consider, well, what makes something a “classic”? Is there a statute of limitations between release and exiting of the Zeitgeist when you’re just slow for trying to play?

  2. Sammie

    Ahhh I just had to comment because I AGREE/IDENTIFY WITH THIS SO MUCH. I’m still working my way through the first Bioshock and I’ve yet to finish Half Life because I lost my save file somewhere. I love both of these games more than words can say, but I’m also a super slow gamer, and I don’t really mind that because I get to savor it exactly like you’re saying. So ah, just, thank you. Glad I’m not alone haha

    • Jenna Jenna

      WORD. And about Half Life, I’m so sorry — there’s something so tragic about losing a save game file that makes you want to not even bother. Maybe I have another post inside of me about that ._.

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