There was a soldier – a son of a poor peasant – who had never seen a flying machine in his life. It was 1961; the year of the biggest mimic warfare operation of the Warsaw Pact and only a year before the Cuban missile crisis, his Hungarian platoon boarded a Soviet Hound transport helicopter to cross a wide river. He was so afraid of flying that he defecated himself – and then spent approximately 40 hours in his own excrement before the drill was over.
My beloved, senile father-in-law was the soldier’s platoon leader and I’ve been doomed to listen to this story over and over again for two years now. At our monthly meetings his conviction is always that the anecdote is fresh, that I’ve never heard it before and that I’ll certainly enjoy it.
You’re killing time while time is killing you.
I’ve never stopped him from telling it. We’re all broken records. We repeat the same stories. We have an urge to reprise our jokes, conquests and victories. Just look around Kickstarter: well-known and respected designers, icons, legends, all repeating themselves.
A new space combat game by Wing Commander’s Chris Roberts? How about more interstellar trade from Elite creator David Braben? Or a new god game from Molyneux?
Even Bioshock Infinite…yes, it’s a new System Shock. If this isn’t about money, then the concept of the Buddhist Wheel of Life must be right: we relish chances to perfect our messages through repetition.
I’m no different. My nemesis, and the thematic center of my existence, is time. “Espousing the virtues of patience under time’s shadow is utterly futile,” mumbles Akyta Dryad, one of my protagonists in Sine Mora, and her words are mine. As it turns out, it’s impossible for me to separate the idea of play from my personal perceptions on the importance of time.
I was born in the now-defunct Czechoslovakia; technically a communist country, even if we knew from our books that communism is the Marxist heaven – a stretch goal of socialism that we haven’t yet reached.
We had our own version of video-related entertainment there: Russian Game & Watch clones with Soviet cartoon heroes instead of Mario and traveling mobile theme parks.
These trucks were full of “arcade” machines – bootleg Atari VCS consoles mounted into large wooden cabinets (running games smuggled from West Germany) and failed home computers like the Enterprise, Commodore Plus/4 and Sharp MZ-800, dumped on the region for a reduced price by their manufacturers.
We didn’t care. We had every game. Intellectual property issues were an unknown, nonexistent concept between comrades, so naturally all of our games were pirated (copied from a friend, who copied it from a friend who probably copied it from our filthy capitalist enemies, though we never considered this).
It took approximately around seven minutes for a game to load from an audio cassette and counterfeit games had the tendency to fail, though you usually only learned this after five minutes. The “Tape Loading Error” system message dominated my childhood. As kids we were more patient and more tolerant towards technology – we appreciated our chance to play with the future, even if wasn’t always the best use of time.
That is the distant past. In my teens and twenties I could play whenever I was in the mood – early morning, afternoon, evening, from dusk till dawn. As a father of three kids, now I generally stay up late after spending the evening with my wife. Usually I play a good three hours before going to bed around 2 a.m. My boys wake me up around 7 a.m.; I’m taking them to school. This night shift is the only suitable period to play videogames in my adult life.
There is never time, really, for adults to play games. Let’s examine the public perception of the medium: it’s not an art form. It’s not for adults. You don’t necessarily have to agree with everything David Cage is evangelizing, but if I’m playing games alone in the comfort of my own home, I’m only saved from embarrassment because paying attention to this medium is basically what I do for a living. No matter how contemporary and tolerant you may be, for a family man in his late thirties to simply turn on the TV and play games for hours is unacceptable.
This is not perceived as a book or a movie or an afternoon with beer and baseball. It’s less cultural and more juvenile in the eyes of our society. You have to play less and less. Of course I have many responsibilities between my work and family.
That said, I’ve managed to achieve 23 platinum trophies in the last 3 years, with Mass Effect, Fallout and Elder Scrolls titles among them. I’m not lacking in dedication to 100 percent titles like Dark Souls, I just don’t have time to do it – and I have to use what little time I do have for research on other (interesting) games.
Yet time in games is becoming increasingly invasive. You can’t escape social and mobile entertainment, with its burst sessions and free-to-play. They offer players that redemptive gaming experience – at a cost. In-app purchases are usually centered on speeding up your progress.
The average player willingly swallows a “pay-to-play-less” play mentality that’s just as lazy and conformist as these games are themselves. Time-wasting apps like this are part of the digital gold rush, forcing you into daily routines, enslaving and aggressively monetizing robotic actions. In essence, you’re killing time while time is killing you.
Between the hours-long triple-A epic series and the daily grind of the freemium space, there is apathy. Shadows of the Damned director (and general industry disruptor) Massimo Guarini says we’re ready for games that handle intelligent, adult subject matter in games that only last as long as a film. He’s right.
Spend 10 minutes daily for two weeks playing Temple Run or about the same watching Apocalypto. You’re spending the same amount of precious time from your finite supply (engaging with media about running away from pyramids, no less), but if you analyze the intellectual impression each makes, there’s no contest. I expect nothing less from game developers – tension, emotions, mature themes. (And interactivity in some form.) And if we’re going to take time making games as a team, it should be quality time.
I don’t know how much time we may have to make games. So, if a run-of-the-mill triple-A title takes three years to complete, I’m 39 this year and I can anticipate a long and healthy life that sees me making games until I’m 100, I only have 20 shots to make something great. Something that matters.
Verdict: game creators should not waste their chances on shit projects.
And players? Play as much as you can while you still have time.