Games Are Just Gadgets - As we roll into the next generation, it feels like games are more about technology than culture
There are no clean hands in the game industry. The consumers are spoiled fanatics who hate creativity; the developers are cowardly sycophants who pander to whatever market research their publisher shows them and the critics, or whatever it is you can call people who write about games, are toothless, lazy ditzes, gormlessly recycling PR spunk into hype, and failing to engage with their subject at every turn.
Not that I'm any different. An entry level writer on the bottom rung of the game industry, my hands are dirty, too. Less than six months into this job and I've written more than my share of half-checked news gump and preview hyperbole, and I hate myself for it. Almost nightly I slither back to my damp flat, chuck whatever oven bake toss I can afford into the cooker and slump in front of a book or a film, wishing I wrote about something proper.
But I'm particularly miffed at everything this week because I've not long been back from the PS4 launch in New York, a let-down event which, for me at least, underscored everything measly about videogaming so-called culture. The ideas were ramshackle, the critical response was fervent and the reaction from fanboys has been, well, just that. So now, more than a week later, I'm going to use my blog to wah like a little baby, whinging about "the industry" like an out of work actor. Hypocrisy will follow. You have been warned.
The PlayStation event - it was really rubbish. Sony was mega kind in putting me up at the swish Bryant Park Hotel for my first ever press trip, but the launch itself was a total damp patch. The poxy bells and whistles (social connectivity, the Share button; some weird thing to do with cameras) that Sony has strapped to the PlayStation do nothing for me except solidify my suspicion that, rather than genuinely innovate, the next-gen of game consoles will repackage what's popular on phones and the internet and wrap some games around it. And since when was this computer gaming's future? A few years ago it felt like smarter, braver, more literate AAA games were coming next; now it seems the best we can hope for is the ability to instantly tell our friends whenever we finish a level on f*****g Killzone.
And that was a mess as well. Killzone? More like...Rubbishzone, yeah? At the start of the conference Sony wheeled out an assembly line of execs to emit words like "new experiences" and "create", but rather than anything properly brand spank on show, what we saw were the games of today spit shined and remade. And Killzone was the biggest misstep of the lot, a run of the mill-looking fourth entry into an entirely pedestrian FPS franchise that could only be classed as a "new experience" if you'd crashed onto Earth from another universe and didn't know what guns were.
It went down pretty well, though, and the next night guested on American unfunny man Jimmy Fallon's talk show where it got coos from the audience and another slew of applause in the gaming press. And this is what I'm talking about. Post-PS4 launch we've had eager reactions from fans, approving chin-stroke pieces from writers (including myself) and a round of Sony exec interviews slapping each other's bums on a job well done. For what? I don't know. Mundane games aside, I think the direction Sony has taken with the PS4 is totally wrong. Money wise it might make sense, but all this social, digital, cloud-streaming guff is the talk of Shoreditch-based PR twits: It's not what I'd like people to focus on.
Better games - just better games. Not more games, not the ability to play games quicker or more connectively or whatever. Just better games. More games like BioShock or Spec Ops or Half-Life; games for adults and people who read books other than Game of Thrones. If the despair I've been feeling since leaving the Manhattan Centre is because of one thing, it's the industry's lopsidedness, where the importance of flashy technology is given far more weight than the need for better cultural experiences. . It's all about technology - the gaming press and fans have been crawling all over next-gen rumours for years, and game developers, which, admittedly, Sony did a great job of foregrounding at its show, seem more interested in talking about upped polygon count than better writing. I think I'm down on the games because I'm more into culture than technology, and lately, before and after 20 February, it's felt like this is not a cultural industry.
There are no clean hands in the game industry because everyone is up to their wrists in silicon. Fans treat games like smartphones, constantly looking forward to the next thing and grubbing for the latest in graphics tech. Game critics, too, feel more like technology correspondents than commentators, hyping up one generation of machines or iteration of game before disposing it and moving onto the other.
The people who make consoles are technologists; the people who make games are designers or developers or studios. I expected the next-generation to embolden creativity; to give makers and players the vocabulary and confidence to start producing more nuanced work and judging it on more than just pixel count. The PlayStation 4 launch signalled otherwise.
I've seen the future. Games are consumer electronics.