I was reading a post on Reddit today suggesting that Call of Duty has got worse between the Modern Warfare games and Black Ops 3. In the comments one user was explaining that clearly the older games were better because they used to spend hours and hours playing those games with their friends, but they’re bored of Black Ops 3 already. Other users were chipping in that the new COD games are just ‘for kids’ and that there’s nothing to interest them anymore. This might be frightening to some of you, but Modern Warfare came out in 2007, 9 years ago. Even going to (what I imagine is) the extreme limit and saying those gamers were 11 when they played Modern Warfare, they’d be 20 now. Perhaps it isn’t that games have got worse, it’s that we’ve got old.
Just try to remember what gaming was like when you were a young teenager. For me it was during the days of the N64 – I had very few games, but I loved them. I spent hours and hours perfecting all nine courses of Wave Race 64, unlocking every character (even TT) in Diddy Kong Racing, and unlocking every cheat in Goldeneye. Everyone I knew was also at school, so we’d all finish our days at the same time, and we’d all go home and play video games. In the evenings and at weekends we didn’t have much else to do so we’d go around each others’ houses and play those games split screen, laughing and talking and spending hours and hours enjoying them because what else were we going to do? I knew those games inside out and even though Wave Race was only two player, had framerate issues and few tracks, Diddy Kong Racing looked kinda ugly with massive flat textures and terrible hovercraft controls, and Goldeneye was incredibly unbalanced, we enjoyed them because that was what we had and the times we had playing them were amazing.
Fast forward to now and I’m thirty years old. I play games more than any other adult I know, but it’s still a handful of hours after work and a bit more on weekends. Any time I’m playing games I’m very aware that I could be doing some cleaning, or some extra work, or planning a holiday, or learning a skill, or anything else that would be more productive than playing games. When I do play, often I want to play with friends but a lot of the time they’re working different shifts to me, or they have to do a family thing, or they’ve got to look after their kids. When our schedules do match up sometimes I’m too tired from work.
Then even the good things can get in the way. When I was a kid I got maybe four-five new games a year. Now I can afford to buy pretty much every new release I’ve got a backlog of hundreds of games I want to play. This week alone I’ve picked up Ratchet and Clank, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, Enter the Gungeon, Dark Souls 3 and Rollercoaster Tycoon World. That’s on top of the preview builds and review codes I’ve got than I need to get on and play.
So when I do sit down and play a game, I’m not as focused as I was when I was a kid. I’m probably not playing with as many friends as I was when I was a kid. I’m definitely not devoting as much time to games as I did when I was a kid. But even despite all this, I still love them. Why? Because games are better now.
Clearly technology has progressed and games look much better now. While there’s a certain charm to the art style of games like Ocarina of Time, Final Fantasy VII, Doom and Monkey Island, they running at low resolutions, often with terrible framerates and a plethora of technical issues like poor draw distances, missing audio, and dodgy animation. I think everyone can agree that games in general look better now from a technical standpoint, but that’s hardly surprising.
What I think people tend to miss is that games have improved in nearly every other way too.
Stories used to be borderline non-existant in games. Going back to the N64 era any story in a game was essentially an excuse to make you collect things. Even the mighty Ocarina of Time had a loosely strung together plot involving time travel, goddesses and a comic book villain, with incredibly shallow characters and enough narrative depth to fill a thimble. We used to enjoy exploring the worlds that these games presented, with their eccentricities and quirky characters, but the story was constantly playing second fiddle to gameplay. Now we have a huge range of accomplished writers penning some of the best tales in any medium for games that are coming out so regularly that it’s almost impossible to keep on top of them. Games like Spec Ops: The Line, Gone Home, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, Bioshock, Mass Effect, Portal 2, and Grand Theft Auto V have sometimes sprawling tales with memorable characters, witty writing and far more drama than your average TV soap. Games have become a medium that contain not just engaging gameplay and spectacular experiences, but real stories with heart and depth, something that many people thought would never happen.
But wait, you say, this article started with Modern Warfare. That had a compelling story and interesting characters, and it’s all been downhill from there. What’s improved since then?
Over the last ten years we’ve seen the dawn of progression systems, esports, customisation, and balancing taken seriously. We’ve got games that cost the same as they did decades ago but offering far more content and thousands more man hours of work distilled into experiences that are enjoyable for days, weeks, and months. The teams behind the Call of Duty games have experimented with different settings, weapons, game modes, tones, and technology, and on top of that you can still play the original. They’ve resisted the urge to keep remaking the same game and taken it in different directions. Now you can play a gritty modern shooter or you can play the more recent sci-fi inspired entries with vertical movement and ridiculous combinations of gear and weapons that keep games fresh and exciting.
It’s never been a better time to be a gamer, nearly all of the old games you loved still exist and are easier than ever to play thanks to vibrant communities and systems like Steam bringing people together to play them. On top of that you’ve got a constantly packed release schedule of new experiences pushing technology, art, and gameplay in directions we’d never dreamed of when we were young.
Perhaps the reason that you don’t like the new games isn’t because they’re bad. Perhaps it’s because you don’t have time for them anymore, you don’t have the time to invest in appreciating them, getting together a group of friends to enjoy them, or the ability to see them with fresh eyes not jaded by the years of gaming behind you. When you see kids enjoying games it’s not that they’re wrong, or ignorant, it’s just that they’re in a time of their lives where gaming can take center stage and they’re able to enjoy it more.
Games are better than they’ve ever been, try to accept that possibility and you might just learn to enjoy them again.