“The only thing that’s certain, is that nothing stays the same.”
Change. Feared by all, yet unrelenting with the passage of time. Some call it evolution and label it good. Some hark only for “the good old days” before change took an active role in their conscious life. In the end though, it’s largely academic.
The Spice Girls were an ever-present for teens of the mid nineties, of which I was one. Their fresh attitude marked for many, the birth of a brave new era in popular music. Their reformation in 2000, though, failed to emulate the success of years gone by. Why? Some may blame their age, while others cite an unsuitable R’n’B direction, but in truth, the answer is far simpler: change. Sad but true, the Spice Girls were a product of 1995, and will forever embody that period of time. Five years on, they were simply outdated.
Considering this, however, leads to an altogether more worrying conclusion – herein lies a trend not limited to one band, brand or even medium.
I sit here, typing away, reflecting on the final episode of Cold Feet, my favourite British comedy since my third year of High School. Now at University, I find it sad there will be no new experiences with characters I once coveted so greatly. Instead, they will be consigned to memory. This is also soon to be the fate of TV series such as Friends, Buffy and Stargate S-Gi, all of which are in their final series, and has already claimed one old favourite in Ally McBeal. Outside of TV, my favourite radio DJ recently left a network I had listened to for many years, and as of this last week, the charger for my mobile phone has all but stopped working. Sometimes change can be a pain.
It’s a sorry state of affairs. Many media influences from my formative years seem to be ending, and with nothing to fill the void left by their absence I contemplate how my life will change. Probable is that more emphasis will be placed on my gaming life, though that too has altered substantially in recent times – sometimes dishearteningly so.
The death of the Dreamcast may have marked the beginning, a machine that for me epitomised the fun and innovation that gaming has always been about. With that went DC-UK, successor to the also-defunct Arcade magazine as my regular monthly purchase – two magazines which shared the same ideologies of content and design, and which I sorely miss to this day. Compounded by this is the recent loss of Digitiser as Channel 4’s free Teletext games mag, a breakfast ritual for many years now and a cult publication which will be remembered fondly for years to come. Change in games media, it seems, is often sudden and unwelcome.
But then, gaming itself is changing, and publications inevitably change with it. Reminded as I am of the EDGE magazine cover headlining videogaming’s mid-life crisis, it seems only right to point out the evolution which has lead to that end.
In terms of genre, things are now less clear cut than five years ago. Far more common than playing a simple action, fighting, puzzle or adventure title is to have one with traits of each, with often a side order of hackneyed plot and any one of a number of cool gimmicks: Bullet-time, Stealth, Quick-Time-Events – go ahead, tick the appropriate box. And don’t forget that old stalwart, the big expensive licence, guaranteed to achieve sales; a strategy that EA have been milking for over a decade. It’s a sad fact that “safe” titles like Bond, The Two Towers and Fifa outsell brave, original concepts like Shenmue, Rez and Monkey Ball. What’s more disapointing is the average consumer’s inability to recognise the innovators of a given genre, as they pass the latest Zelda in their local games store with only the merest mumble of “too childish”, and head for their designated target, the latest instalment in the continuing adventures of Lara croft.
This is perhaps the most depressing trend of all, and, ironically the only one which shows no immediate signs of changing. With regards to the Playstation’s massive sales and over reliance on familiar franchises, it really does seem like a case of “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
But things are changing, albeit slowly. The materialisation of online gaming will help reshape the industry, with Microsoft’s more comprehensive XBOX Live package likely to eat into Sonys market share, which could itself be helped or hindered by the fragmented launch of an online service that will see several peripherals required merely for online connection. And the Gamecube? Well, the least said about Nintendo’s online plans (or lack thereof) the better, but perhaps a mention of titles like Metroid Prime, 1080 Avalanche and Mario Kart Double Dash!! wouldn’t go amiss.
What is most encouraging is that things can’t stay the same, because change won’t let them. The public cannot remain this uneducated forever, Sony cannot keep a stranglehold on the industry indefinitely, and gaming’s mid-life crisis, as well as my own post-teen anxst, have to end some day, if for no other reason than change ousting the old and necessitating the new. I have, you see, realised one thing. Music, TV, games and the media; it’s all incidental – to be enjoyed while you have it – because the inevitability of change makes everything finite.