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September 21, 2015

Are Video Games Getting Better?

Yeah, probably.  I mean, maybe?  Definitely?  Possibly?

Well, let’s see where we all stand by the end of the post.

I’ve said some harsh things about a lot of recent video games.  Ever since I started this blog, I’ve taken up my halberd against some of the latest and not-so-greatest stuff to appear in the modern-day industry.  I’ve lamented the state of that industry, taken shots at its products, poked apart and nitpicked stuff that did nothing to me besides deny me of fun, and despite furious claims to avoid a ride on the Doom and Gloom Train, at times it’s felt as if I’ve been its conductor.

A lot of games have annoyed or disappointed me recently, and it’s reached a point where I feel like the problem is me -- like I’m dealing with a medium that doesn’t want to deal with me.  But then I remember that other sites besides mine exist.  I remember how Angry Joe not only did a Top 10 Worst of 2014 video, but a Top 10 Most Disappointing of 2014, which includes a lot of what should have been the biggest, best, and brightest releases we’d seen yet.  I remember how Jim Sterling has to go off on bad games and worse practices time and time again.  I remember how there’s a Super Bunnyhop video rightfully subtitled “The Year Video Games Got Stupid”.

And beyond that -- beyond anyone else out there -- I remember that there are only two games I’m not only looking forward to on the PS4, but the only two I can relax about on the grounds that they’ll be top-notch: Persona 5 and Street Fighter 5.

I’ve said for months -- maybe more than a year, by this point -- that there isn’t a single game that justifies the presence of a PS4 (and an Xbone, even more so).  But believe it or not, I think that’s actually started to change.  I think that as naïve or as ill-reasoned as I may have been, my hoping and optimism have finally started to pull through to bring about some good games.  Bloodborne makes a strong case for itself within minutes of starting a new file, and stays strong thanks to its grisly atmosphere and its smart combat.  The Witcher 3 deserves all the praise it’s gotten -- not only because of its depth and quality, but because it doesn’t instantly fall prey to the hair-pulling conventions and failings of its contemporaries.   Capcom may have hedged their bets with two remasters, but they wisely chose to bring back Devil May Cry 4 -- and I’m genuinely thankful that they did.

Things are looking up on the eighth-gen front, but anyone who’s given the Wii U even a passing glance doesn’t need a reminder.  The most recent game that comes to mind is Splatoon, whose core mechanics not only breathe life into the shooter genre, but are incredibly fun in their own right while the story and context create one of the greatest satires of shooters we’ve seen to date.  Even if Nintendo’s E3 press conference wasn’t exactly stellar this year, there are still plenty of games coming up (Xenoblade X) and here right now (Wonderful 101) that can shake any gamer down to the core.

There have been a lot of games that make me happy, even if that’s on a personal level -- but on the other hand, I’m sure that a lot of people could say the same thing.  We’re not exactly spoiled for choice here, so the chances of finding something amazing are still fairly high.  (As of writing, I’ve yet to play The Phantom Pain -- so I’ll hold off on that.)  There’s a lot to be angry about, and a lot to be sad about, but there’s good in the medium now and there will be in the future.  But again, some of the recent releases have left me in a good mood.  It’s a good situation to be in when you can’t decide which game you want to play, because every available option is an outstanding choice.

Still, it’s not hard to get dragged back down to earth in the face of other games.  E3 is as much a signal of the good times to come as it is a herald of dark days; EA and Ubisoft still seem content to let the medium stagnate, if not flat-out regress.  Konami’s backing out of the industry at large, and likely taking as many of their dust-covered IPs as they can with them.  It’s only a matter of time before the next Call of Duty graces us, which is “always” a “welcome” surprise.  And even then, I haven’t forgotten the disappointments that were Batman: Arkham Knight and Dragon Age: Inquisition -- two games that missed the point like a baby trying to skip a rock across the water…and reach the other side of the Atlantic.

I guess what I’m getting at here is that I don’t really know if video games are getting better.  Sometimes it feels like there are huge steps forward -- with styles, with mechanics, with stories, and more.  But then I can pop in a different disc and get something that’s utterly backwards.  And sure, it’s probably a little unreasonable to expect games from different teams, companies, and even countries to universally put out top-notch products, but as nuts as it may be, I wish there was more consistency.  In a perfect world, every game would be good -- maybe not revolutionary, but still good at the very least.  But we’re not there yet.  We probably never will be.

So for now, the most I can do is ask others what they think about the subject.  I haven’t played every game out there, so I need some fresh perspectives -- or at least give people a chance to voice their opinions.  My satisfaction is one thing, but it’s another thing entirely to see how other people are holding up.  What they think.  What would happen if, given the opportunity, they could give some semblance of a State of the Union address?  I’m interested in seeing that.

There’s still plenty that needs to be defined in order to understand or discern whether or not games are getting better.  Obviously, the technology has evolved, which means that more can be put into a game -- and better stuff can be put in, even if that’s just in theory.  But what about other factors?  What about innovation?  Airtight mechanics?  Style and mastery of the craft?  Audiovisual splendor?  A smartly-written story?  That quintessential “good game feel”?  Different people are going to come up with different answers -- and that means that taking games on average, I’d think that there’s a wide range of responses.

So if you’re reading this and feel like weighing in, I absolutely encourage you to answer the question at hand: are video games getting better?  Are we in the middle of a bountiful season?  On the cusp of a new golden age?  Is this the calm before the storm?  Is the storm going to bring ruin or glory?  What’s your measure of a good game?  Have you been delighted or disappointed?  How many questions can I possibly ask?

I should probably stop before I embarrass myself.  So you know what’s next, right?  Ready?  Set…comment!

And long live video games, I guess.  The medium can’t die until I get my animal-based fighting game.  I won’t let it die a second before then.  And no, Primal Rage doesn’t count.  Or Sonic the Fighters.  I want Tokyo Jungle as a fighting game.

Or not.  Tokyo Jungle is sick enough as it is.

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