I'm a bit short on time and I've come to the conclusion that it is time to put down the video games for a while.
For me this is not a particularly dramatic decision as it is for some folks out there. Mommy isn't coming to take my 360 away because I forgot to pick my sister up at school. My family hasn't joined a cult that only approves of playing areligious themed UNO game (UNO for the monotheistic folk of course). I haven't developed a Peggle addiction so severe that it is threatening my college grades and/or health. And I haven't lost my job forcing me to sell my video games so I don't have to sell my blood.
Rather my gaming has just been on a slow decline. Somewhere around the time games went to $60 a pop for "premium" titles (premium defined as "when we want more of your money") I started cutting back on buying new titles. The price increase was my cue to take stock in how much I was spending, and evaluate how much I was really getting out of some of those games. After that I started renting more and buying only when I really knew the game was a good deal. That evolved to no buying and just renting three games at a time from Gamefly, two at a time, one at a time. Recently when I realized I hadn't touched the game I last rented three months ago at all I figured it was time to make it official and quit.
It isn't as if I had not even considered playing over the last few months. Often when I retired to my desk at home, I would glance at my game controllers and flip thru my disks, but more often than not it seemed like a hassle to get into any of the games. I'd wonder if I put a couple hours into a new game tonight would I remember it all if I hopped back in a week or more again later? Are the save points close together or am I going to blow 30 minutes doing the same thing over again the next time I pick up the game?
Other times I'd think to myself "Oh man didn't they just release a new map pack or patch for that?" just bothering with picking up all the changes in games that I even knew well seemed a bit of a hassle, let alone jumping into whole new games. It was working for fun and after a long day at work just I wanted some instant fun.
Upon canceling my account Gamefly was nice enough to remind me that despite the fact that they won't refund any of my money for the month of June (that I've already paid for) AND if I don't get that one game back to them ASAP they'll charge me, for June... again. And that leads me to the one other disappointing revelation.
It doesn't have to be this way
A combination of the Wii and the various focus that Microsoft and Sony have put on casual gaming always lead me to believe that even if I was squeezed for time I'd still have a place for gaming. To some limited extent I expect this to be true, but not as much as I had hoped. The Wii and my 360 version of Scene It will likely continue to come out for some fun at parties in the duxup home, and when traveling I'll have my DSi with me from time to time. Yet I expected there would be more options than just those.
Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Store seemed like they'd be a great place for some simple arcade games. A place for devs to toss out blasts from the past, some new games, and some revamped games. With the wonders of digital distribution I expected it to be the perfect place to get some easy pickup and play games at a good price. Well the pickup and play is there to some extent, but the value not so much.
Then there are the systems themselves. If for some reason one of my systems died would I throw down the few hundred dollars to have it replaced at this point just for the few well priced XBLA or PlayStation Store games? At this point I likely would not, but it is a bummer because XBLA and the PlayStation Store could really be so much better than they are in terms of price and quality and could keep me hanging on for some occasional gaming for years to come. Instead it seems more like a haystack with a couple needles in it but not enough to justify the bother to dig thru it all of it.
Of course, the obvious way to dig thru the haystack of so-so and overpriced games are the plethora of game sites out there. Yet the focus for every one seems to be the enthusiast dude who they understandably want visiting the site every day, not the guy just looking for a good game to pick up that god forbid may have been released a few months ago. Just looking at the content of those sites and it is preview, preview, preview, screenshots, impressions, developer interview, review, hands on, gaming news, gaming news, gaming news.
I admit I've spent years gobbling up all that information and it was tons of fun to watch the industry grow and evolve, but when squeezed for time I have to admit the most and arguably only useful info for me are the reviews. That is theoretically the one and really the only time these sites get to tell me about the game without some PR dude doing the talking or guiding them thru the experience.
Yet it could be my imagination but the focus of the websites and the usefulness of reviews feel more limited than ever. The review scores in general seem to be almost universally high. Now there are outstanding games out there. I played some of the best games I've played the last year or two. At the same time they're often joined up in the high scoring range by games that frankly don't measure up.
To make things worse reviews these days seem to contain fewer qualifications and more vague commentary than ever. As awesome as a racing game might be, and I like my driving games from time to time, if it is likely to appeal to just the hardcore simulation driving fans that might be worth noting in the review rather than slapping a big score on a game along with some hyperbole. Yet that seems to be more common than ever almost as if reviews are evolving to become as inoffensive as possible to make the fanboys feel oh so comfortable at whatever site issued the reviews. At least I hope it has to do with the fanboys...
None of this is to say that I'm hanging up my thumbs in favor of sitting on the couch and watching TV. There are some other motivating factors. One big factor is that the Mrs. is expecting and is due with our first child this coming December. Rumor has it babies take up a fair amount of time to care for. Now I know there are plenty of gaming dads out there who make it work. However, in my case when faced with work, a photography hobby, a little one, and some other activities something has to give and I've chosen the gaming. As I noted above the industry and even gaming media make that a fairly easy choice.
I do look forward picking up the games again one day. Until that time I'm reminded of all those forum threads where people speculate about what the PlayStation 5 or Xbox 1080 will be like, except the next time I do some serious gaming I'll be there.
See you all on the other side.