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:
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.
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.
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.