Graduation from college had meant a lot of things, and one of the unanticipated parts of that is that I no longer have anyone compelling me to sit down and write any more, and so I have been missing it a lot. In an effort to get back to it, I've started to keep a personal journal on 750words.com (awesome site). It's been a great way for me to unwind and spend some time thinking. What I realized today however was that on the occasion when I feel like posting something for others to read I don't really have a place to do it other than trite messages on Facebook. And then I thought what any person my generation would think - this problem can be solved with a blog. You might ask why am I writing in the blog I created to document my adventures in Japan over a year ago, and the answer would be because I'm too lazy to think of a new title for another blog. Even if it's just my mom reading this, writing for an audience forces me to work on writing with polish, and if nothing else comes from this it, this will be good practice. But don't get me wrong - I still hope to entertain or intrigue whomever happens to be reading this, and I will endeavor to write about topics and musings that everyone in my audience can relate to.
Which brings me to Star Fox.
|If only starting over fresh in real life was as easy as erasing data.|
** For those who have never played before (my mom can skip this part), you can get a quick look at the plot and the characters in the video below, which is just the introduction footage from the game. Even if you know the plot, re-watching the video is helpful to refresh on what the graphic capabilities were of the Nintendo 64.
Introduction video from Star Fox 64. Count the Star Wars references.
The dialogue was as cheesy as I remembered, but overall the Star Fox manages to come off as cheeky and fun, and had the good sense not to take itself too seriously. The gameplay itself is fast, with each level lasting at most 10 minutes, owing to the fact that your Arwing seems to have every modern technology in it except brakes. Every level has dozens of quick strategic decisions you need to make as you zoom through the obstacle course while shooting down bogies and picking up power ups.
The quick, arcade style of the game means you can beat it in 90 minutes, but since every level has 2-3 possible outcomes, it ends up being a game you can come back and play again and again. Star Fox was my first video game, and the fact that I can come back 15 years after it came out and find it just as fun is a testament to the workmanship Nintendo invested in this game.
|Box Art from the original SNES game, Fantastic Mr. Star Fox|
Now, don't get me wrong, there have been unbelievable breakthroughs and in the video game world over jut the last 15 years. Graphics and processing have improved exponentially, new interfaces and technologies for controlling and experiencing games are coming out every day, and now millions of people play games online together in colossal, intricately detailed worlds.
But along with this shift, the way people play video games, and the reasons they play them, have also shifted. Games used to be short and simple (owing in no small part to technological limitations), and as a consequence a lot of these old games were so easy to pick up and have fun playing.
Where video games used to be short, fun, and simple, modern games have grown increasingly complex and sophisticated, and the time commitment required for someone to win a game or gain any skill with it has increased as well. For many, playing video games has shifted from a fun past-time to something akin to an obsession or addiction.
The video game industry has experienced changes. It's grown into a multi-billion dollar industry, which caters to hundreds of millions of consumers. And like any industry that gets that this large, video game companies have become dependent on consumers who keep coming back to buy more products. The costs of gaming have now go far beyond simply buying the newest games and hardware. Buying a game now is more like an initial investment, and consumers are now asked to pay for things like monthly subscription fees to play online (sometimes as high as $30/month), and in the months following the release of a new game companies will release new "downloadable content" to expand your initial purchase. It used to be that when you bought a game, you assumed you were buying a finished product which you could expect to play forever (or at least until you got bored). Now when you buy a game it's more like buying a first draft and having to pay for the revisions. Profit-motive caused developers to stop making games which are focused on fun, but instead making games that will keep you hooked.
Now, I'm not saying that spending hours playing video games is a new thing, and I won't deny I spent plenty of days obsessively playing games on my N64 when I was younger. Most video games are naturally addicting because they feed our brains a steady stream of objectives, successes, and accomplishments, which triggers the brain's natural reward response mechanism. What's happening now is that games are being intentionally designed take advantage of this, so that you keep playing for as long as you can. Because as long as you are playing their game, it means they can count on you to pay for another month's subscription, or to buy the newest downloadable content, or to sit through another advertisement on your phone while you wait for your next turn in Words with Friends.
Video games aren't the only thing that have been affected by this movement. In the last 15 years, it seems like our entire world has moved to this online realm of social networks, where being "connected" has become paramount to modern living. I know I sound like a crotchety old man reminiscing about "back when I was your age", but sometimes I really wonder if we need all of this. It seems like this is all just a part of the next Big Thing, a new marketing ploy to keep us buying things we don't need, and spending time on things we don't care about. When I take a step back, I realize that I don't really give a shit about what my friends are liking Facebook. My life isn't really a whole lot better when I can endlessly refresh my inbox on my phone in addition to my computer. And I really think I don't need to pay $30 a month to spend my waking hours sitting in front of a computer screen playing video games while typing to people I will probably never meet.
Perhaps the key to happiness is much simpler than that. Perhaps happiness doesn't require the latest and greatest technology, or being connected to thousands of other people at all points of the day, or a require huge investments of time and money. Perhaps, I ever really needed was a swift Arwing. With Fox McCloud at the helm. And a star to steer it by.
|A really big star.|