Archive - Sep 2007

September 28th

The Future Of Entertainment

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Memo to Randy Salas: YOU ARE DUMB.

I know that there's a perception out there that the newspaper is a dying breed. That they only appeal to an increasingly aging population. People who think that information is best produced overnight, squirted on a pile of dead trees, then hurled at a stoop by a preadolescent entrepreneur. And there's some truth to that. Some motherfucker is still reading Hagar The Horrible, and if he's not sixty, he's six.

For a while, newspapers tried to fight the trend - they put things in boxes, cut way down on the amount of text, and printed links to websites that a few sad, unfortunate souls are still hitting with PS/2 mice they bought at the Goodwill, hoping to be taken down the information superhighway. And that was a mistake. But it's a mistake to go too far in the other direction, too, which brings us to Randy Salas of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and his startling analysis of the future of videogames. ACTUAL QUOTE TIME!

"All three are part of a hot genre that has energized the already-booming video-game industry -- 'first-person shooters,' games that make players feel as though they're actually experiencing on-screen events through the eyes of an unseen main character, shooting away at assailants through level after level."

I believe Mr. Holmes has brilliantly deduced the complete lack of feces in the immediate vicinity. I was going to say that the target audience for Randy Salas' video game columny must be grandmas and unfrozen cavemen, but it's late 2007, and grandma's got a Wii and thinks Randy Salas is a condescending tool.

What's actually happening is that Salas wants an excuse to write about Bioshock, Halo 3, and Metroid Prime: Corruption. They're three of the biggest games out right now, and since they have something vaguely in common, Salas saw the Holy Grail of column writing, the INSTANT PREMISE. The first-person shooter! It's new! It's hip! It's what's happening!

Unfortunately, even Salas is forced, by dint of not being an unfrozen caveman himself, to acknowledge some of the prior art in this field. His premise requires him to do so dismissively, however, and he comes through in spades. "Although such games were popularized in the early '90s through groundbreaking PC titles such as 'Wolfenstein 3-D' and "Doom," they're attacking in greater numbers now on home consoles thanks to technology that makes the games feel more realistic."

In other words, they're shinier and have motion controls. Halo 3 is shiny. Bioshock is really REALLY shiny. And Metroid lets you pull switches by pulling. ALERT THE MEDIA! Oh, wait. The media will just fuck it up.

The biggest, most gaping flaw in Salas' premise is that Halo 3 is a sequel to Halo and Halo 2. Metroid Prime: Corruption is a sequel to Metroid Prime and Metroid Prime: Echoes. And Bioshock is a spiritual sequel to System Shock and System Shock II. All first-person shooters*, all of which have, in one way or the other, energized the video game industry in the past half dozen years. And while all three of these threes are very good games, they're not signifiers of anything except that video game companies release their biggest titles in the fall.

The rest of the article is padded out by quotes about these games from what I have to assume are either Salas' own gaming buddies, or whatever dudes happened to be loitering in the Gamestop on a Saturday afternoon. He painstakingly explains online play, in which your on-screen opponents are actual other people from actual other places playing at the same time. WHAT A COUNTRY! Surprisingly, he never once mentions, oh, Quake, the PC, or the fact that your actual on-screen opponents are actual sixteen-year-olds who will teabag you and call you a faggot. Nor does he mention that two of the three games he's tying together don't actually have online play.

There wasn't room, you see, because he had to segue back into another bit describing what was, at the time, the fever pitch of anticipation that awaited Tuesday's release of Halo 3. Which, we found out AFTER Tuesday, could be finished faster than the sixteen-year-old from the previous paragraph in a room full of gay porn. Good thing it's got multiplayer, huh?

The moral of the story is, "Three Good Things That Exist" is not a premise. Nor does it need one. Nor should you manufacture a flimsy one out of the fact that these are the four thousand and first, four thousand and fourth, and four thousand and seventh games in the history of mankind to be viewed from the players eyes and have guns. Unless you're a lazy columnist and want to make easy work for another lazy columnist. Then, by all means, go right ahead. There's one of these Fridays every single fucking week, you know.

*This is neither the time, nor the place, to have the argument about the Metroid Prime series. If you're looking at this footnote and know exactly what I'm talking about, and were hovering over the link to send me an e-mail before you thought to check what the asterisk was about, know that if it ever comes down to a nerd slapfight, I'll stand beside you with my devastating windmill attack readied.