Losing The Spark

by O'Dell Harmon on Dec 10, 2012 at 09:35 AM

When you experience a game or genre for the first time it is new and exciting. I believe that this is like a spark – a sensation of euphoria that comes from the story, gameplay, or tone of the game. I have often felt that special quality was being lost under the formulaic trend of mainstream titles, but I began to wonder – is it just me?  

This is not about me losing interest or faith in the video game industry and the people behind them, but instead an inner conflict that I, and maybe others, face when video games transition from an occasional hobby into a deeper passion or career. When I started gaming in the early ‘90s everything I experienced and played was a new concept and, by default, amazing. As I continued to play and grow, my tastes became more refined and recurring themes and tropes seemed to replace the originality and risk-taking that made me fall in love with the medium. 

The genres I loved, like platformers and adventure games, appeared to suddenly stop overnight and detailed imaginative worlds were replaced with mainstream bullets, blood, and brains. I was always waiting for a game to fill the void. I wanted something new and refreshing, not the same go here, kill this, and fetch this series of events I had now grown accustomed to doing. Games had reached a point where everything was good, but nothing was great. I was unable to reproduce that amazing feeling of playing through something that had me counting down the minutes just for the chance to pick up the controller again. 

This year had phenomenal releases in terms of blockbuster titles like Halo 4, Black Ops 2, Assassin’s Creed 3, and more, all of which were well made games, yet still following the tropes that populated the market for years. I was genuinely excited to play Halo 4 prior to launch. My trigger fingers eagerly itching to finally hop back into the fantasy world. When I finally acquired my own copy at launch I found that my expectations and reality did not match at all. Instead of plowing through the campaign and blasting my way through alien foes I found myself growing tired with each level, not excited at all, and just waiting for a friend to hop online so I could go enjoy some match making. I am not saying Halo 4 is a bad game; it’s good, but it was unable to capture that magic that I have been waiting for. 

On the other side of that coin some of the best games I have played in recent memory have come out this year. Most noteworthy for me were Journey and Dust: An Elysian Tale. Journey brought an artistic experience to life that is only possible in video games, and Dust took inspiration from different genres to deliver an action game unlike anything I’ve seen in years. Outside of the indie sphere, games like Dishonored and XCOM brought unique and reimagined thrills to the mainstream gaming audience. I started to understand that the spark or magic of great games wasn’t fading or disappearing, for great and original games were still coming out. 

I realized I was becoming the victim of my own circumstances. As with any passion, I was always waiting for the next thing to blow me away, but the more knowledge and experience I acquired the more things appeared familiar and lackluster. What appeared to be an industry that was moving into the mainstream and losing all of its shine was really me deepening my understanding of games. Few new experiences could give me that feeling of playing Yoshi’s Island or Wind Waker for the first time, because those formative game experiences were shaping my perceptions of games further down the line. 

I know that the gaming medium will continue to grow, and my knowledge and appreciation for games will grow alongside it. As my understanding grows, it becomes more challenging to recognize that spark that once so electrified me. At the same time, that more informed perception of games offers a chance to enjoy them on a deeper level, for the small but important ways they innovate, and where they fit in the larger universe of games. I am confident that at some point most people who came before me might have come to a similar cross point in their experience with games. So what are the games that first inspired you, and have you felt the same changing perception of the games you play over the years since?