I work nights. Normally, it’s a quiet shift, and tonight’s was admittedly not much different. To be perfectly honest, it wasn’t any different from a normal summer night for me. I did my normal rounds, leading through a pleasant little path next to the lake. As expected, the path was peppered with folks of all ages trudging about with a smartphone and a purpose.
Yep, the Pokémon GO players remain a constant presence in these humid months. But don’t mistake my mention of them as the beginning of some cynical tangent. No, the folks scattered through the path, tapping away, actually reaffirm my confidence in my own identity as a gamer.
A man and his young son, walking down the path with a clear mission fueling their strides, caught my eye. Maybe it was the bond they openly shared. Maybe it was the telltale cry of a Psyduck (one of my favorite Pokémon) emitting from one of their phones. Or maybe it was the fact that they were both inexplicably shirtless. Who can say?
What I can say is that it caused me to stop and think about how things have changed in such a short time. Public image aside, gamers have always been a stereotypically solitary crowd. Even as recently as my college years, video games were a niche hobby. Sure, the Wii had just come out and was already beginning to pave the way for a more casual crowd to join in the fun. But it was still an era where any question beginning “want to play…” had a high probability of a negative reaction.
Now, thanks to more accessible media such as smartphones and pretty much everything Nintendo puts out, it’s not uncommon to find people openly discussing games. Granted, this is a small percentage of gaming as a whole. A stranger will still give you a justifiably confused look if you suddenly begin spouting your favorite Suikoden party members. But we’re making progress.
In the less casual areas of the field, new strides are also happening, but they didn’t exactly come out of nowhere. From the “Nintendo-hard” games of the 80’s and 90’s to the emergence of story and character-based titles, our current golden age is less of a “eureka” moment, and more just a continuation of existing trends. It’s constantly evolving.
That’s not to say I only enjoy the current state of gaming because of a focus on certain genres. No, I think this is the best time to be a gamer because of a focus on every genre. You want platformers? There are plenty. Maybe even too many. Survival horror? Of course. Point and click adventure? Right this way. FMV (full motion video) games you thought went extinct after the CDO? You know we got those too.
Just like the music world, where one can find virtually any style they’re looking for nowadays if you have a hankering for a certain kind of game, odds are it’s already out there in some form or another. If you haven’t found it, take a trip through the deepest bowels of the Steam store and get back to me.
It may sound like I’m getting off the original topic, and I totally am, but I swear I can tie it all together.
What helps define a “golden age” to me is not just a peak in quality and variety. It’s also characterized by an optimistic future. Many of the players being sucked in through smartphone apps and fun party games will wonder what else is out there. The connections they make through playing or simply talking about these apps with their peers will open up new possibilities. They’ll discover console and PC games that scratch an itch they never knew they had. Others will find games that almost satisfy their needs, but not quite.
That’s where the great game developers of tomorrow will come from.
The creative minds among that group will look out over this electronic landscape in which they grew up and decide “I can add to this.” They’ll build on our already substantially solid structure, allowing the gaming world to reach heights we might have never thought possible, and the increasing social aspect to the whole thing will only serve to increase the spread of ideas.
Yes, this sounds overly optimistic, but I’m sick of seeing nothing but complaints about the state of gaming. I just want to look forward, and you’re damn right this is a good time to do it. Inclusivity (the red squiggly line says that’s not a word, but I’m sticking to my guns here) is on the rise, resulting in more and more groups of people receiving previously under-explored representation in the games of today. So not only will we bring in a greater number of friends to the fold, but a more diverse gaming public means more diverse ideas will be coming to the table.
Do I honestly think this is the best time for gaming? Absolutely. But I also believe that even better times are on the way.