I’m 41 years old and I’ve been a playing video games since before I can actually remember, at the very least, 35 years as a conservative estimate, although, I did play video games when I was as young as maybe 2-3 years old.
One thing that other gamers around my age seem to be convinced about is this perception that “video games these days just aren’t as good”. As if development peaked in the early 90’s and it’s been a downhill slide ever since.
I couldn’t disagree more.
And don’t get me wrong, I have some wonderful memories of sitting on the floor in front of the TV with my Atari, and later, the Nintendo Entertainment System. With friends and family, often just on my own. Those were great times looking back.
And I still play my old favourites to this day, I’m not immune to nostalgia. I’ve still got every game I ever purchased and with a few exceptions, the companion systems to play them with. I’ve even re-purchased more than a few of them in more modern formats.
I have the Switch Online virtual consoles and my PSP is loaded to capacity with retro titles. There is definitely a particular charm about revisiting those titles.
But, it’s not about the gameplay, or the narrative, or even the game design. It’s all about the memories attached to those games. Without that nostalgia factor, a lot of my favourite games would just be near-unplayable now.
Going back to old games really puts into perspective just how much video games have improved over the decades. And it’s not just in the visual and audio quality, it’s much deeper than that.
Developers have really smoothed out the player experience and while people will often make an issue of “streamlining”, the cut processes are usually a nuisance anyway, usually only there in the first place because developers didn’t have the resources to implement a better way.
And basic control has improved by an order of magnitude. Retro games feel so clumsy in comparison. Retro titles can be quite frustrating to play after being spoilt by modern games.
Game design has improved immensely as well. Everything from basic level design to game flow, as well as a lot of options that just downright make the experience more intuitive.
When I play a 90’s RPG now, I instantly miss a lot of the modern touches that I’ve grown accustomed to.
Something as basic as a minimap. You probably only glance at it now and then but when it’s not there, you feel lost.
No map markers or even a compass. You had to just remember your way. Great for your observation skills I guess, a bit of a pain when you found yourself in a new area though.
Quest journals, I don’t know how I managed without a quest journal. I used to keep an actual notebook by my gaming chair and jot down pages of useless information on the off-chance I might need it for a puzzle or quest later.
“But the stories were better written”… yeah nah, I don’t know if you’ve played a 90’s title recently, but that’s definitely not the case. Sure, the narrative is occasionally amazing, but the dialogue was often very childish or cringeworthy.
Yeah, there are some poorly written games now, but there were back then too. And dialogue has improved immensely. I kinda appreciate having fully voiced games now too. It’s just that much easier than reading everything.
I do kinda miss having an instruction booklet though.
Player experience isn’t the only consideration though. Many gamers lament on the disposable nature of the current market for example. But they fail to take into account that that the market is just so much bigger now and circumstances have changed.
I remember playing a single game to death as a kid too. It wasn’t because it was that much better though, it’s because anticipated releases were a great deal further apart and I don know about how your parents did things, but we didn’t just get a game when we wanted, Christmas and birthdays only.
I would literally only get 2 games a year, maybe 3 if I saved up my pocket change long enough. So getting a new game was a big deal, and rare. We had to make the most of it because we couldn’t just buy a new one every two weeks.
In comparison, there’s so many games to play now that there’s just no way I could conceivably play them all, let alone buy them. With so much out there, I don’t need to squeeze every ounce of fun out of a game anymore, I can seek out new experiences and have a little more variety.
And it’s so much cheaper, I’ve got a massive backlog of games because I just can’t resist a good sale. Give a new release 3-4 months and it’ll be on sale for 50% and now there’s Game Pass and PS Plus Extra to consider. For about $10 a month, I’ve got hundreds of games at my disposal.
And games really aren’t shorter. If anything, the expected playtime has increased. Short games are just hammered with criticism, consumers just expect more now.
And you know, games aren’t easier now either, most games come with a customisable difficulty option that you can change in-game. We didn’t have that. You used to have to start over if you picked the wrong difficulty.
Well… maybe a little I guess, but the concept of a video game is so much broader now. Not every game has a game over possibility, and not everything has to be hard. There are definitely options for gamers that like a little more challenge though.
If a game is too easy and you haven’t turned the difficulty up, that’s on you, not the developer. They give you these tools so you can set the challenge to your skill level. No one forces you to play on Normal.
And my favourite “All games are the same now”.
If you keep buying games with exactly the same selection criteria, you’re going to play a lot of games that all seem the same. You need to get out of your pigeon hole occasionally and have a look on the other metaphorical shelves.
And if you only play AAA, sure. These games are designed to appeal to the broadest market possible, so they all use the tried and true formula that’s guaranteed to sell. If you want something more innovative, there’s plenty out there to choose from, you just have look away from what’s popular long enough to see it.
Despite what some people say, video games really aren’t losing quality, games are bigger, better, smoother, more diverse, more customisable, more personal and cheaper than ever.