Over the past year, I've been playing games like Fallout 3, couple of Total War entries, Vampire: The Masquerade, and most recently, multiple runs of Mass Effect 1 and 2. This last week, I started to move on to some new ones (well, new for me)...some older titles like Assassins Creed 1 and 2, Bioshock 2, Dead Space 2...all games that I thought I was anxious to play.
So, I was installing and checking them out, when I sorta...noticed something. It kept kicking around in my head the last couple of days, but I still wasn't sure I was going to do anything with it. Then early this morning, I was running along the boardwalk...(wait a minute...at my weight class, maybe "running" isn't accurate. Jogging, maybe? Or lumbering?...yea, that's it...at 240 lbs, it's more like lumbering. I have to do it real early so I don't scare the tourists).
Anyway, something happened that made me feel compelled to write this down. More on that later.
Now, whenever I start up a new game, I like to visit the associated forum first, just to see if there are any "need to know" items, like tips or recommendations for first-timers. I also like to check out who's playing, see if there are any familiar faces.
First stop, the Dead Space 2 forum.
There was one thread, with two posts. Some guy wanted to know what difficulty setting he should choose if he planned to play the whole game while stoned. The one responder was kind enough to suggest that Normal should be fine. (Really? Game is barely a year old, and that's the only topic of discussion? Not a good sign.)
OK...on to Bioshock 2.
No threads. Zero. Nadda. Zilch. This game is two years old, and there's no new players coming on board? No veterans who are still playing? No one? A little disappointing, but not nearly as much as the next stop. At least there still IS a "Bioshock 2 for PC" forum.
When I went to check up on Assassins Creed 1 and 2, there were NO forums for those games for the PC. Near as I can tell, they've been lumped into a catchall category called "Assassins Creed Universe Discussion Forum", or some such. And apparently, most people there are simply talking about AC 3. No one seems to be playing the first two entries anymore. Granted, these two titles are a bit older, bit I still thought they were popular enough to attract continued interest.
Now, before anyone concludes that I'm going off on something about game longevity or whatever, let me say...no. That's not my point. My point is that I noticed something. About myself. When I bought these games, I was anxious to play them. But all of a sudden, I became somewhat ambivalent. Why? They're still highly rated games, right? They still have great stories, production values, game play, graphics...so what made me lose interest? Could it be the lack of activity in the forums? No players? No one to talk to?
I've just come off a year of playing great games that are anywhere from 3 to 8 years old, but still have active...communities. Lots of new players coming aboard, lots of veterans still engaged, interesting discussions and ideas being exchanged. I saw a lot of the same faces in those different forums...people I know and respect, people whom I trust. Hell, I bought Vampires: The Masquerade Bloodlines on the recommendation of joefitts63, a guy I know from the FO3 forum, and it turned out to be my sleeper hit of the decade. The game is eight years old, but there's still a great community devoted to it.
The thing is, I need those people. I need to be able to share some of the zany experiences, or strange encounters. I need to be able to ask questions, or participate in lively, informative discussions. It's not so important that they be familiar faces, just that there be some faces. That's a big part of what makes gaming fun for me these days.
Ten years ago, I could've cared less. The only time I went to a game site or forum was when I got stuck, or needed some technical advice. Maybe once every couple of weeks. Now, my daily gaming session isn't complete until I visit the board to recount some of the day's experiences, or pick up some tips, or offer some advice.
The vast majority of my friends are not gamers, and the couple that are...well...we're usually off doing our own things, so we're rarely playing the same thing at the same time. So the discussion, the sense of community, the people...things which have become such an essential part of my total gaming experience...must come from the forums. No forums, no people. No people, no talk. No talk, less fun. Period.
So, what's the point of all this? Hell, I don't know...probably no point. Other than I realize how much my gaming habits have changed over the years. The fact that I'm not looking forward to Dead Space 2 nearly as much as I was before discovering the absence of the "people" element speaks volumes as to it's value to me. I'll still play it, I'll still enjoy it, but it'll be like playing it all my myself in a remote cabin...
on a deserted island...
on an uncharted planet...
in a galaxy far, far away...
Makes me wonder if maybe I take some things for granted. Like running water, or electricity...I don't really notice them until I no longer have them. So I think I'll try and remember that. I'm gonna try to be a little more appreciative of those communities when I encounter them. Maybe try to contribute more...be an upstanding citizen and all that. After all, even if I'm not a veteran-expert, or I'm unable to contribute to the technical discussions, I can still always help out with the troll beat-downs. And for right now, that's good enough for me.
Oh...and what happened this morning?
So like I said, I was out for my morning lumber when I spotted something in the distance...a flock of birds coming in low over the boardwalk ahead of me. Seagulls, I thought. Rats with wings. You can't eat a sandwich on the beach without getting pooped on by one of those nasty bastards. I hate 'em.
But then I noticed something. Seagulls are disorderly, noisy, chaotic. These guys were silent, and they were gliding along in perfect harmony. As they got closer, I realized they weren't seagulls, but Pelicans. Brown Pelicans, which aren't rare by any means, but I've never seen such a large group, around 20 or so, flying right over the boardwalk so far from the water. And as they passed overhead, no more than 30-40 feet in the air, spaced an even foot or two apart, massive wings stretched out 5 feet across, all I could think was...perfect.
I don't know where they were going, or how far they'd come. But I do know that they work as a unit...when the point-man gets tired, he'll drop to the back, where the slipstream makes it easier to coast along for a while, and someone else will take the lead. Although I'm sure they could all get to wherever they're going on their own, they prefer to be part of a group. It's not much fun to fly alone.
Much better in a community.