The only thing better than growing up in the ’90s is being in your twenties in 2013. Those totally awesome cartoons that we kinda-sorta recall that were on after school? Mother funking DVD boxset just got released. Those bands you vaguely remember hearing at your eighth birthday party? Reunion tour next week. Those video games that you used to play with the crappy, blocky graphics that you swore looked more realistic than reality? You’ve still got the console in your cupboard somewhere, covered in dust and only working if you blow into the cartridges the right way.
Because like diamonds, Batman, and Bowie’s underground, the video games that you used to play as a kid are forever. They are the artefacts which link you to a younger version of yourself. When we are 90 years old with brains calcified and joints arthritic, we will still know the fastest way through the Water Temple, through Yoshi’s Island, and through that weird pyramid level in GoldenEye.
Changes to this idyllic state of being are already here. Last year, I started playing Star Wars: The Old Republic. It follows on from the excellent Knights of the Old Republic and Knights of the Old Republic II games from a few years ago. KOTOR and KOTOR2 explore the world long before the events of the Star Wars movie. You play as a character who has to understand their identity and explore the morality of their world in order to become either a master of the light or dark side of the Force.
They both have enormous replay value. What if you choose a different class? A different path? A different build? A different conversation option?
The Old Republic is set a few generations after KOTOR and KOTO2. Unlike those games, TOR is a MMORPG. In order to play it, I bought a client which I installed on my computer and then purchased a subscription to the server. Although I really enjoyed the game, there was a glitch that I couldn’t get resolved — EA Games really hates Australians — and so I stopped playing.
The other day, I got an itch to play one of my Old Republic characters, but then realised that would mean working out what was ailing my account. And then I’d need to resubscribe. And then I’d need to download however many millions of updates had been released since I last played. And then… and then… and then…
And even if I sorted out all of that, I’d need to endure the homophobic jerks in the chat windows.
I have none of that rubbish if I want to replay KOTOR or KOTOR2. Disc in, load game, win.
We have created a generation of games where the experience is fixed to a particular point in time. When I am old and grey, I’ll be able to play KOTOR and KOTOR2 with my grandkids, but I won’t be able to play TOR. The client will no longer dial in to the relevant server, and the disc contains only a downloader rather than the game.
But don’t think about me (even though you should; I’m great). Think about our current generation of children. Where we have the luxury of indulging our childhood nostalgia, they’ll have a bunch of discs that do utterly nothing.
This isn’t just for the adventure heroic games either. The new SimCity game (apparently) requires you to log into a particular server in order to run the game. When the server is switched off, no more nostalgic memories of competently planning a city.
Don’t laugh at that. I still play my Ye Ancyent Versions of the Civilisation games. Each game has a different mechanic and I play the version which best suits my whims at the time (cough… and which might have the cutest Catherine the Great… cough). If the strategy, ‘single’-player games go the same way as the RPGs, what will be left?
If video games are an art form (and I think they can be), and if video games can form an important part of a person’s cultural environment, then we should be worried about client-server gaming trends. Think of the children!