These are dark dollar days for video games. This is a time when AAA publishers are cashing out on their long reigns. This is a time when most video games available to you are the garbage deposits shat out by big firms full of the same kinds of people making the same kinds of drivel you’ve already let drip into your mouth. This is a time when old beloved video game publishers like Bethesda are making video games like Fallout 4…
But instead of making a list about how bad the situation is, let me simply tell you how Warner came about to the place that he finds himself. This is a place of disenfranchisement—and he believes many stand with him. Years ago, Warner began playing video games like Morrowind, Mass Effect, and Fallout 3. After many years away from these video games, Warner again “got into” video games. This happened more-or-less unintentionally. All he wanted was to play Fallout 4, since Fallout 3 left such an impression.
Fallout 4 was a terrible disappointment to him. After spending sixty hours in the world, he just looked at his condition and asked, “Why am I wasting my time?” Initially, these questions compelled him to play even more video games in a desperate search for meaning to his old love. He played through Dark Souls, Journey, and most infamously, No Man’s Sky. He nearly played other “critically acclaimed” video games, like The Division, before stopping himself.
Although some of the ideas in these “critically acclaimed” video games compelled him, he did not find the answers he wanted. Warner decided to ask a more specific question: What are video games for?
This is a question of utility. And he found that no one had been asking it. Nearly everyone who played video games, he reasoned, simply assumed that video games were to pass the time. Sure, some video games allow you to pass the time in a meaningful, or compelling way. The best video game Warner has ever played is Dark Souls II. This does not mean that Dark Souls II has gotten to the core of what video games are for. Dark Souls II, for all of its ingenuity and its variations on the theme of XP-high-fantasy-escapism-passing-the-time-RPG-inventory-online-mode-combat-3rd person, ultimately assumes the same answer that every video game gives.
Central Dogma: video games are for passing the time.
This is the central dogma which Warner has it especially out for. Hear me out. I do not ultimately agree with his answer to the question, but I do think that the question needs to be answered. What are video games for? Warner and I are both looking to do much more by asking this question. The very idea of asking a question of utility about video games is controversial and new. The entire video game culture has always worked, from the beginning, with the same central dogma. And because everyone has assumed the same central dogma, the way that video games are made and enjoyed has fundamentally never changed. And if the central dogma never changes, or is never tested, video games will simply never change. AAA publishers will stretch and push themselves to find new variations on the same theme. This is the greatest claustrophobia we could all face.
I do not personally like video games. Frankly, I find them boring and I’m not sure why you wouldn’t just read a book. But if I were someone who played video games, I would want to find in video games something that would last. I would be going to video games for some kind of satisfaction. Let it be said that people do things because they crave. And if I found that most of the craftsman of my main pleasure (pleasure: a thing to be satisfied) were not delivering, I would feel the water slowly coming up to my neck. I would become increasingly aware that the thing I was looking for was novelty—and I would figure out at some point that I was not getting it.