I like video games. I’ve been playing them for most of my life, which is also most of their lives. That is, I’ve been playing video games almost as long as video games have existed.
Games have become infinitely more complex as the years have marched on. There have always been games that flat out suck. But now they suck for different reasons. Here’s one. There are more. But we’ll start with this one.
Video Games Suck, Part One — Everything Must Be Online
What’s wrong with going online? Aren’t you blogging? You couldn’t do that offline. I mean, you could. But then nobody would read what you wrote. Hasn’t the Internet democratized everything, eliminated all strife in the world and made the planet a more wonderful place?
OK, now I’m just being obnoxious. Let’s stay with how the Internet has contributed to the suckification of gaming, especially for kids.
I’m not going to get into the history of video games here because it’s too long and most of you will get bored. If you want to read more about the history of video games, check 1up.com’s visit to the Video Game History Museum, Time Magazine’s History of Video Game Consoles, or The Video Game Revolution at PBS.org.
Video games began simply. Simple graphics, simple controls, simple goals. Pong. It doesn’t get much simpler than Pong.
Here is a 7 minute video of the game Pong. It is too long and very dull to watch. But you get the idea.
This next video is more interesting, at least to me. According to whomever posted it to YouTube, this video is from 1969 and features the “first documented video ping-pong game.” Via PongMuseum.com.
Anyway. Simple stuff, yes? As computer hardware became more advanced, so did video games. Many important advances in computing came about because of video games. This is known. I am not providing examples because I don’t feel like doing the research. Take my word for it. Or don’t. But it is known.
Like video games, the Internet has been around for a long time. It used to only be available to academia and the military. Then came The World Wide Web (WWW, represent!) and permission to use it for commercial purposes. The idea had been around at least since 1969, according to this video.
Online gaming is a different story. It used to be that if you wanted to play a video game with your friends, you had to be in the same room. LAN Parties, in which humans would gather, desktop computers in tow, were common among certain communities. As access to high-speed Internet connections became more prevalent, gamers no longer needed to leave their homes in order to blow stuff up with others.
The games I’m referring to in the previous paragraph are graphics intensive shooters and/or adventure games and/or first-person shooters — think Doom, Quake, Halo. I’ve never been into gaming with other people, but obviously lots of humans are. That’s cool. Have at it. Because all of those games could easily be played offline as well as online.
With games such as Everquest and World of Warcraft, the community experience is part of the game itself. Your character exists in a virtual online world and interacts with other characters that are virtual representations of actual humans. Usually. (For an amusing take on this type of gaming, check out Felicia Day’s “The Guild” on DVD, Netflix, or online. Not little kid-friendly.)
Somewhere in the middle of all of this came CD-ROM games. Remember those? You popped a disc into your computer and played the game. That was it. No online play. Because there was no online in which to play.
As the Web grew and grew, most people who could afford computers and video game consoles were also able to afford to pay a monthly tithe to their cable or phone company in exchange for a high-speed Internet connection. This led to our Always On Culture. Yippee! Everyone is online! All the time!
For video game makers, this meant that everyone should be connected to a server whenever they were playing a game. Because… well, there actually is no good reason for this. Unless you are playing against/with other players, why should you be connected to the Internet? So you can receive “timely updates to your software”? Just tell me when there’s an update and I’ll click OK. “Offers that are of interest to you”, aka advertising? Don’t want ‘em.
Yeah, well. Too bad. In order to play the game, we’re going to force you to create yet another account on some website you’ve never heard of. Even though you just paid 60 dollars for a disc and all you want to do is play the damn game. That’s not good enough anymore. We want to own you, virtual body and virtual soul. Even if you did pay us and not the other way around.
I am, of course, going overboard. (That’s why it’s called a rant. Although frankly this is mild for me.) But being forced to go online in any fashion just to play a video game sucks. I shouldn’t have to go through hoops in order to JUST. PLAY. THE. GAME. That’s all I want to do! You already have my money! A not insignificant amount of it! Why do I have to consent to have my activity tracked?
All of this comes from something that happened to me recently. My son wanted to play a game that he owns. Apparently playing the game he owns requires an account. When you double-click the icon for the game, the game does not start. The online service does. Said online service tells you that an update to your game is “required.” Not suggested. “Required.” You wait. And wait. And wait. You are told the “required update” will not download because… well, because something. Does it really matter? You can’t have it. Nyah-nyah.
This is particularly irritating for kids, or more accurately, parents. Even more accurately, me. Here’s the thing. When I used to play games, it was my problem when they didn’t work. Why? Because I knew more about them than my mother did. But mostly because the problems weren’t that complex. Dust on the cartridge. An errant line of code. (Debugging a game written in BASIC while trying to play it on a TRS-80 Color Computer using a cassette tape drive as storage — good times.) Not “required updates” and other obtuse error messages.
The way some games are these days, I don’t blame my kids for wanting my help. A message that says you are unable to access a required update and therefore can’t play the game YOU PAID FOR is highly illogical.
(Warning: This is a song “sung” by Leonard Nimoy called “Highly Illogical.” I like it because it is related to Star Trek. Not because it is any good.)
Some clever web searching led me, Dad, to a variety of solutions. Most of them involved cleaning out cache folders, re-installing the game, and other time consuming stuff. Then I stumbled onto an even better solution. I will now paraphrase the advice I received from an anonymous denizen of the Interwebs, what I call The Hive.
Try playing offline.
I went back to the software, poked around and found something about staying offline. I selected this option.
Hey! Look at that! Now it works fine! I can play the game I paid for! Problem solved!
In other words, the problem was the Internet.
My tip to game makers: don’t be greedy. Forcing users to sign up for anything after they have spent money on a game is silly. I understand that you want even MORE money. Too bad. There was a time when you were able to make enough money by just selling the game and staying out of my way while I played it. Let’s see more of that and less bogus “required updates.”