Does anyone like anything anymore?

By Matt Warner / April 6, 2008

In terms of games, I mean.

Take a look around most any videogame forum and you'll come across a lot of threads that seem to boil down to "[Popular Game X] (and/or) [Indie Game Y] do not live up to my own extremely exacting and customized yet simultaneously nebulous and vague criteria for what makes a game excellent so I cannot understand why everyone else likes it and now I'm going to compare it to a bunch of games I haven't played since I was a kid and lament the fact that nothing is that good anymore."

So, uh, I want to counter that by saying that videogaming, as a whole, is better than it has ever been in the history of the medium by far and I cannot understand all the sour grapes. My theory? The people doing the complaining simply do not like games anymore. Period.

They just haven't realized it yet.

Like, I see people complain about BioShock and it blows my mind. I can see not praising BioShock to the ends of the earth -- the game was fun and did some neat stuff but there's no need to give the entire dev team a month-long handjob over it. Hell, I can definitely see getting annoyed with the extended orgasm party the media threw when it was released and hearing every single fucking bastard website drone on and on in 18-page editorials about how it was this massive paradigm shift and things will never be the same now and here's your validation of games as art and we're gonna potato-cannon this thing right up Roger Ebert's ass and blah blah blah blah blah.

That got annoying. Granted.

But okay, from this big forum I frequent: The game was referred to as a "travesty". No. Bad. Stuff like this is a fucking travesty. Worse, you poke around elsewhere (mostly forums) and you get a lot of complaints about the game being "linear", which is the stupidest fucking thing I have heard in the past three hours on the internet. "Linear" has become this jackass catch-all phrase for "vague reason not to like something when I can't think of any actual criticism". I really don't get this. For the most part, games are supposed to be linear. This is like crying "Communist!" back in the late 40's when nobody knew what the fuck a communist even was but everyone was accusing everyone else of being one because it was easy and it meant they were bad without you really having to explain why, and everyone else would thump their chests and nod vigorously.

I hear this a lot about Half-Life too. This is akin to whining about the fact that books are only read in one direction, or that paintings don't move. We're talking about an action game here -- moving from point A to point B while meeting X level of resistance is sort of the whole idea. Before anyone drags out the "But those games don't have to be that way!" argument, I'll concur. No! They don't! And we call those other games RPGs, which is something that Half-Life never pretended to be.

But right, back to BioShock. So we have a high-budget first person shooter (and it IS a shooter, not some kind of messianic gaming mash-up of every niche genre conceivable fine-tuned to appeal to each user's individual sense of game design preference) that manages to throw in some excellent vistas in a very interesting location and timeframe, adds in a reasonably compelling story, and acts as a Cliffs Notes version of Ayn Rand's Collected Works to boot. If the thing had come out in severely gimped form as a free Half-Life mod or something the entire indie blogosphere would be emailing each other blowjobs over it.

And instead people complain.

They complain for really arbitrary, stupid reasons. Oh, the hacking minigame is dull. Oh, you can find broken weapon/plasmid combos. Oh, the game has a system in place that does the exact same thing that has been in shooters since Wolfenstein 3D automatically and brings you back to life when you die and that makes it too easy. The last boss was dumb. I didn't get a radically different ending for killing the little sisters. By the end of the game I'm really powerful and the enemies don't get much harder. How come I can hack turrets if everything is steam powered? The bee fists are broken. How come I can't carry food with me and eat it whenever I want?

Wah. Wah wah wah.

It's the kind of stuff I'd expect from lamefaqs, where anything and everything can and will have people shitting all over it no matter what -- but God, who the fuck looks a quality addition to the medium in the face and then spits on it?

Like, really. What do people want? Usually when I ask what would constitute a good game, people's answers are either ludicrously, absurdly lofty (usually padded by way of saying "I know we'll get there someday but we're just not there yet!"), ultra-personalized to the point of being completely ridiculous, or they're flat out unable to answer, saying they'll "have to think about it" or whatever. If the things you hate can come freely to you, but you have to sit and think long and hard about the things you like, man, just stop pretending you still play videogames. You will never get any enjoyment from them ever again.

It's like those rich guys who listened to rock n' roll as kids and now spend tens of thousands of dollars on the latest high-end stereo equipment trying to recapture the feeling of listening to "Gimme Shelter" for the first time on a janky mono turntable back in 1969... And it's still never sounded as good.

I used BioShock as the main example here but you can pretty much go down the list. Christ, people were complaining about Cave Story, for fuck's sake. How the hell do you complain about a top-notch old-school platformer that's fucking free?

You have the people whining about the linearity of Half-Life complaining that Morrowind was too unfocused. You have people bitching about God of War's straightforward lack of depth while in the same breath sighing with exasperation about the unnecessary plot waffling in KotOR. Yoshi's Island was overrated and so was Super Metroid. San Andreas was a pointless gang simulator and Call of Duty 4 a spray of jingoism mixed with gun porn. Oh and fuck Katamari too.

So what's good? What are some things that modern gaming has done right? What are some games where you look at them and go, "Wow, that's a really cool idea!"

Or is it all just pointless and videogames are terrible and nothing will ever be good again and that's the end of it?