I’d like to let you all in on a relatively little-known fact – not all that long ago, before we electronic junkies started to deafen ourselves to the yammering of the rest of the world and call ourselves “hardcore gamers”, we were known as “gaming enthusiasts”. It’s what my mother calls me, having finally accepted that I’m still very much into videogames after about ten years of hoping I’d grow out of it. Presumably, calling me a ‘journalist’ and admitting that videogames are part of my profession is still slightly beyond her, but hell – it’s progress.
I like the word “enthusiast”. In stark contrast to the pretentious, exclusivist connotations of the word “hardcore”, of which I cannot help but be slightly suspicious when applied voluntarily, it suggests a certain innocence. “Enthusiasts” take simple joy in the subject of their passion; they’ll talk about it to others and get excited about new developments. “Hardcores” respond to any given situation with dry criticism. I can easily see why gamers have taken up the latter term, much though it disturbs me to see it used with such wanton abandon. Calling the average clued-up long-term videogamer an ‘enthusiast’ would be more than slightly misleading; in fact, it’d be a downright lie. Enthusiasm in the commentators of this industry is even rarer now than it has ever been.
Take your average gaming forum. With every new piece of news, every new trailer, every significant new entry on the release lists, people start falling over each other to make the first disparaging comment. Factions argue with each other over which criticism is more relevant. Commentators hesitate over posting their views for fear of having them picked apart and attacked with the all intensity of Jeremy Paxman on a bad night. Every new game that gets released is immediately criticised for one reason or another. And almost nowhere will you find someone who’s willing to stand up and say, “Actually, I think that’s just great”.
In the interests of fairness, the above is a worst-case scenario. Complete indifference is just as common a response as rabid criticism. I haven’t seen people get properly worked up over something in a good long time. Think for a moment: when was the last time you admitted openly to being genuinely excited about a new game? Anyone who does – God forbid – gets labelled either overly excitable or a fanboy. With the release of the trailer for the new Zelda game at this year’s GDC, fans the world over began raving in excitement – and your average ‘hardcore’ sneered, spat the word ‘fanboy’ into the fetid air in front of him, and began criticising them for getting worked up about a trailer.
There is a deadness evident in the average gamer’s soul, ladies and gentlemen; the death of enthusiasm is all around us. What happened to sheer, abandoned, unabashed excitement? What happened to the days when you’d go out on release day to pick up a new game to play over the weekend, and read the magazines avidly in hope of finding some news about a much-anticipated game – or in fact, read the games magazines at all without criticising their opinions, layout or coverage? This limitless criticism is damaging our appreciation of videogaming. What’s happened to us?
We could blame the industry. I’m sure there’d be those who’d say that gaming just isn’t giving us anything to get excited over anymore. The EA Empire, publishers’ sequel obsession and the franchise freight train are all helping to dumb down our expectations. When we do dare to get caught up in the hype, the Halo 2s and Fables of this world punish us harshly for daring to expect excellence. There’ll be those that say that gamers have a lot to complain about: the oft-bemoaned death of innovation, the cynical attitudes of publishers which are leading to an enormous growth in revenue and an enormous drought in creativity, and the relentless next-gen rush to name but a few common points of strife.
We could blame age. The older the industry gets, the more seminal classics of yesteryear we have to compare current games with. Its consumers, too, are getting older, and age breeds cynicism – it takes something of a childlike attitude to get seriously excited about something new.
Perhaps most pertinently, we could blame the Internet. The enormous proliferation of information, movies, downloadable content, screenshots, previews, reviews, guides, fansites, forums and import vendors available online must go some way towards killing one’s enthusiasm for a game. Gaming news used to come in one monthly dose – now there’s so much out there that we already know absolutely everything there is to know about a game by the time it’s released in the UK, and end up approaching it all too ready to criticise.
Having provided adequate potential justification for the death of enthusiasm in videogame ‘hardcores’, though, I’m going to supersede all of it by suggesting that we blame ourselves. If we have lost something, it is our prerogative to go out and find it again. All I can hope to do is look within myself and try to find what it is that used to get me so excited about gaming, and try to set a rudimentary example for those who’ve lost their sense of wonderment.
I really like the Nintendo DS. I’m fed up with people’s complaints about Super Mario 64 DS being a re-hash, or about the control system being awkward when, in fact, it’s just new. The PSP? I really like that, too – who cares if the buttons are slightly oddly placed, or the battery life’s a bit short? I got excited over the Zelda trailer. I’m going to enjoy Fable: The Lost Chapters without moaning once about what the original should have been. I’m going to read the magazines, and I won’t write letters to the editor contradicting their praises. I envy the children standing in front of me in queues in videogame stores, tugging happily at the sleeves of their parents, demanding this and that in wide-eyed excitement. God help me, but I’m going to do my best to justify the term ‘enthusiast’ – I can only hope that I’m not already too accustomed to gloomy criticism to succeed.