Branching out

    In the current video gaming world, gamers are rarely satisfied with a product that begins and ends on the disc or cartridge. The world of video games has spread to trading cards, TV shows, mangas (comics), animes and full-length videos as well as multi-platform releases. Several video game series now have soundtracks, collectibles and apparel distributed by the production studios to excitable audiences eager to buy as much merch as they can. Video games that inspire movies, and vice versa, is nothing new, though it’s rare for the media shift to go over well.

    Not only have the ways to reach a gamer changed, but so has the gamer. Those of us that proudly played Game Boys during recess in elementary school are making fortunes out of high-resolution wet dreams, and creating a world where it’s possible to get stoned and skip French while fragging some n00b from Bumfuck, Asia.

    Certainly, the most notable growth of gaming is the wild popularity of online gaming. Once pegged as a nerdy and almost antisocial trend, gaming has become mainstream with this expansion. Massively-Multi Player Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) have also helped budge along the online gaming trend, as titles like Diablo, World of Warcraft and EverQuest are now practically household names, and most everybody has that one friend whose soul was sucked into one of these games in the past few years.

    While this growth has been great for the gaming community at large – more players means more money means more games and better games – it has come at the cost of purity in video games.

    The virgin wool of our technotronic sheep has been fleeced so often that the swill merchants of the video game industry (see also, Microsoft: fuck you, William Henry the Third!) have skinned the poor creature. But to stay optimistic, graphics have gotten better, some storylines have grown deeper and more people have come to see the beauty that only video games can offer. This expansion has begged a few questions for both gamers and developers as we forage into this brave new world, a world where the once-antisocial and nerdy video gamer is being transformed by the idea that video gaming is hip and popular.

    The big question that presents itself to modern gamers has, in the main, been “console vs. PC,” and this question often alludes to the differences between solitary and online play. Certainly, online gaming is great, but it rarely offers the depth and intimate experience of a single-player adventure game, or the satisfaction that comes with conquering a traditional role-playing game (RPG), or else a free-sprawling platformer, such as Crash Bandicoot or Jak and Daxter. Online gaming will typically enhance sports and action titles, when more player input creates a greater intensity, though console gaming still holds a fair piece of the market.

    However, the last five years have seen console gaming follow the tracks of the PC, in that broadband gaming is a fashionable trend. This feels like a mistake, given that PC gaming will always dominate the online market, in terms of both connectivity and capability. Celebrities and professional athletes hold parties for gaming tournaments via the titles that they’ve sponsored, as televised by G4TV, a dedicated video games network. It’s usually found on digital cable or dish, though with its recent popularity, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the network soon pervade the expanded basic cable free to PSU residents – which also speaks to the popularity of gaming. Those gamers who truly revel in spending Saturday nights with little more than some Hot Lips, an Elliott Smith CD and an old-school RPG are having their hearts wrenched out by rusty spoons and being made into sacrificial lambs for the mass of morons who think that video games are just pushing a button and seeing a reaction on screen.

    These changes have been fun overall, I suppose. Why, if you had told your Atari-addicted father, who spent many nights during college swilling cheap beer and racking up high scores at the local Moon Patrol and Pac-Man machines, that by the time his kids reached college, they could play games in 3-D with someone in another country, he’d have thought you were completely shit-faced and then hustled you out of a pocketful of quarters over a heated match of Robotron.

    What? Am I the only one with a recovering-alcoholic videogamer for a dad? At least he graduated and could afford me a PlayStation…god only knows how fucked up I’d have turned out without my little gray friend that I still cherish to this day.