My 13-year-old niece is a keen videogamer and for many years (while my rapidly maturing friends all took to playing golf instead of Final Fight; having dinner parties instead of getting trashed outside the off license; and talking about mortgage increases instead of Thundercats) she has been my Player 2. She was also my first indication that all was not well with the industry when visually impressive, expansive 3-D marvels consistently failed to capture her interest.
Just like her, I can't be bothered exploring every corner and high perch of this week's revolutionary new gaming world (which generally demand feats of phalangeal dexterity so intense they could frustrate a jazz piano playing octopus). For me, videogames are at their finest when played as a participative engagement, not an immersive, solitary expedition into a replacement reality. I realize this is a stereotypical introduction to a benchmark lecture from the University of the Self-Satisfied Middle Aged, but it is also an attitude shared by a substantial part of today's gaming youth.
When I was a lad (and everywhere was all fields and buses were always on time), videogames were severely limited affairs that, at best, roughly approximated their arcade forefathers. I don't think it is unreasonable to say it's only in the last few years that technology has caught up with the immeasurable imagination of the pioneers who first conceived of electronic playthings.
Those brave trail blazers would, in fact, be of my parent's age bracket. They were the fearless campaigners who wandered out into the desert and carved an industry from the sun bleached bones of ex-military technology; they were the First Generation of Creators. What an amazing time that must have been, to invent not only a revolutionary new waste of time, but to give birth to a culture that would dominate their children's lives. It was an altruistic gift to the future, since this new and undiscovered land they founded was not a place in which they would ever find residence, themselves.
Can my generation, the First Generation of Players, claim any such foresight on our way to becoming the new Creators? Perhaps, to some degree, though we cannot claim to have worked for the benefit of the future. Any new worlds we fashioned for the digital age were built for ourselves, and we staked out the waterfront acreage and penthouse apartments before any properties ever went on general sale.
I think our less principled path stems from knowing the video game industry when it was but a starving runt; one we impatiently wanted to feed and see grow. We had a world of comparisons that highlighted the major differences between playing at home and playing in the commercial sector. The arcade was a testing ground for next season's home market, filled with magnificent machines that stood two feet above the player and were unrestrained by memory, graphical or audio limitations. With controls unbounded and huge, enticing intro screens, it was a foregone conclusion that these wonderful monsters could never be caged inside our home computers or consoles. But we desperately wanted to believe we would soon be enjoying their wares without the need for a pocket full of change. Such delightful naivety.
This is where the quest for arcade quality games in the living room began; a cause that was taken up as we matured into the Second Generation of Creators. And I dare to say we succeeded, though in our haste to bottle the raster-light of the arcade and drink deep from the comfort of home, it seems we forgot what we actually wanted. If Douglas Adams were available for comment, I suspect he'd say we never really understood the question.