State of the Games - 2015

A brief overview of a clusterfuck

2015 was a right shitty year for games. A bunch of ambition ideas struggling behind poorly-designed interfaces and the rise of a new type of AAA game where you have to try just barely hard enough, because staff writers will throw awards at you anyway for being functional yet wholly uncreative rebrandings of their favourite franchises, like Fallout, Tomb Raider, and Dark Souls, and if you're not a part of the AAA clusterfuck all you need to do is create a poorly designed yet somewhat entertaining game that costs as much to make as a Canadian hospital visit because even titles like Undertale, Rocket League, and Ori and the Blind Forest are considered to be creative enough for the entire games press (if the obligatory circlejerk can even be considered writing) to drop their pants and shove game of the year awards into their fannies.

Bitch fucking please, I've been a gamer my entire fucking damn life. I've seen the wonder and imagination that can go into games, and the period of the industry where quality was a far bigger factor to sales than it is today - where studios lived and died on the quality of their work, and not on how well they can pander to a certain Web demographic. Where fresh ideas were the standard, because that's how you made a name for yourself - going against the grain and offering a compelling enough product where people actually want to buy your art and not expect some disinterested asshole to pick it up.

And I'm not going to pretend the industry wasn't an exploitative shithole from the first day that it could even be called an industry. Working in studio was Hell. It still is Hell, only now you're given ten times the money and even less expectation of quality. It's a miracle that video games exist at all, seeing as the only people who make them are either so boring and lifeless that they're okay with making repeated iterations of whatever formula is "in" at the time (a few years ago it was modern shooters - now it's action-adventure-RPGs with multiplayer shoed in) instead of paving the way to new heights like the studios of old. What isn't helping is the fact that indy developers either have to get lucky enough to have some popular YouTuber pimp their shit until they make a profit, get funded by a publisher who ripped a massive bong before the pitch, as they'd have to be either retarded or God to try out your new idea, or pander so desperately to an already-established audience that they fested out to the rest of the Internet and spread like a cancer, demanding that everybody play this cool new game that totally isn't just a rehash of Rogue Legacy, you guys.

Fucking Christ - it finally hit me. The games industry is just 1950's Hollywood. All production is either given through the blessing of a select few studios who wants to make as much money as possible without regard to the quality of the work, and those who hate the studio system have to work their balls off to get their work noticed in a plutocratic system where the media ignores them in favour of what gives them the most viewership, topped off with a desperate appeal to our technologically inferior forefathers while misunderstanding what made the earliest games and movies so great, and you have a striking image of one of the worst periods in gaming history since the Atari Crash of 1983.

This isn't to say that a crash is preferable to what we have now - throughout the production of neverending shit, we still get some gems that make it worthwhile to be a gamer. But the gems are coming far less and are of far lesser quality than I've come to expect from an industry which turned out such mechanically and emotionally fulfilling works like Bioshock, Spec Ops: The Line, Mass Effect, Cave Story, Paper Mario, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, Deus Ex, Fallout 3, Super Mario Galaxy, Bastion, Ocarina of Time, and even fucking Portal. Yeah, they all have their flaws, and I can't think of a truly perfect game the same way I can think of The Social Network as a flawless movie, or of Achtung Baby as a flawless album - though I must reiterate that I know far less about music and movies than I do video games, and that games are much, much harder to get right than even movies or albums. But to understand that, for all its flaws, the industry which serves the medium can produce some truly beautiful things in a truly rancid world, and this is why I can justify putting up with all the bullshit.

All industries go through their death throes and their hard times, buckling down and pandering to the worst audiences just so they can turn a profit. The situation with the games industry is the same as the music, publishing, and movie industries - the 2010s have been rough for everyone, because traditional business models are just getting raped, fucking wrecked, by the advent of the Internet and the ability to get anything you want for free. Everybody has the same amount of privilege and the same means to distribute and consume as the people at the top of the world, and nobody really understand what to do so they just appeal to the dumbest audiences who are willing to consume any garbage so long as it gives them something to do with their wasted life.

But all industries recover, too. After the movie industry lost to television, it started tp produce work like The Terminator, Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, and the Indiana Jones trilogy. When pop music got wrecked by a dirge of counter-culture genres, the entire hip-hop scene emerged, creating legends like Public Enemy, N.W.A., Run-DMC, and Grandmaster Flash, taking its place as the newest and hippest genre of the 90's (and I just covered the earliest acts). And when gaming turned to shit with the Big Crash, the NES came along as a gamble, whipped the medium back into shape and showed everyone just what a games console could do, with Nintendo carrying the industry for ten years until Sony came along and kickstarted another war of titans with the Playstation. Fuck, with so much revolution happening in the 80s, it's a wonder why it was such a shitty decade. Oh yeah - Reagan and Thatcher, and I talk about them as if I was ever affected by them, that presumptuous cunt me.

And just so I don't seem like everything is bad, you will notice that the animation, Western and Japanese, industries are producing fantastic work, that meaningful and aesthetically progressive artwork is being produced on Pixiv, DeviantART, and Tumblr all the time (for free!), that the indy music scene has been making great strides in finding niches that the mainstream just can't seem to grasp (anybody remember Vaporwave?), and that legitimate criticisms of every type of medium is being made possible by the ablility to publish on sites like Neocities and YouTube - and even if the providers don't give a fuck about free expression if it conflicts with their profits (fuck off, YouTube), there are still people out there willing to share their very smart opinions with very smart people like you and me.

There has never been a better time to be a consumer of media that now, and it's truly precious that we have the opportunity to partake in it. While the titans battle for market control, there's always going to be some small, insignificant piece of work, or some forgotten YouTube channel, or some humble green blog trying to make their way in the world, that nobody else will notice, that's completely unmarketable, and yet have more impact than a hundred million dollars ever could on somebody. And if we miss the forest for the trees and say everything is shit (and believe me, it's easy to live every day of your life thinking that is the case), you will miss out on the little critters hiding in the forest willing to enhance your life.

There is beauty in the world, and it is an imperfect world, but you must improve it to keep it beautiful. Make good work, view good work, and understand good work. The industry may be shit, and games, and developers, and all other artists, deserve far better than what it provides. But you will know that there is beauty in the world, and that it's worth creating just for that one person who will view it and have their life changed because of it.

Am I naive? Well, what's the alternative? Be cynical and change nothing? It's safe to say that people have been cynical since humans existed, and it's the optimists who decided to carry them on their backs. You may be naive to work every day, produce work that you actually care about, to make that game or to write that blog (or novel) or produce that rap album or make that webcomic that you always wanted to create, but you will know that once you have created it, that you have created something of beauty. And I know that because you're listening to somebody like me tell you as such. And I may be naive for thinking that I can impact your life, but I will try regardless.

He's a dumb youngblood making Froghand.

Today's page was updated on August 13, 2016!

Oooh, lordy now, troubles are hard.

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