At the risk of sounding like an old curmudgeon, I’ll say this: games today don’t have the same magic that the games of years ago possessed. Before anyone gets all up in arms, let me explain myself. I’m not talking about whether older games are “better” or “worse” than games of today. Instead, I’m talking about the “magic” of games today. Do you remember sitting down in front of a computer as a child or teenager, being absolutely captivated by a game? Not just fun, not just “stay up till 4 a.m.” engrossed, but actually captivated? Let’s talk about whether today’s games are less magical than games of old.
Two games immediately come to mind as the best way for me to explain what I mean by “magic.” The first is Zork, which was a completely text-based adventure/roleplaying game. I remember being introducted to Zork by my older cousin, and sitting in front of his computer for hours, mesmerized by what seemed like this huge canvas of a world. In hindsight, it was a rather closed world by today’s standards, but it sure didn’t feel that way. I was in awe.
When I think of games that captivated me, the other game that I think of is one of the Ultima games. It’s been so long ago now, that I don’t even remember which Ultima game I played, but I’m pretty sure it was Ultima 2, on my very first computer, an Apple IIe. If Zork blew my mind, then Ultima 2 obliterated my mind, my senses, and everything else. Ultima 2 felt like a real living, breathing world, and I became lost in it. It also felt HUGE, with continents and even planets (if my memory serves me right) to explore.
Recently, I looked online at screenshots for Ultima 2. What was my reaction? WHAT?!? That’s not the game I remembered at all. In my memories, the game looked MUCH better than the screenshots showed it to be.
Those memories, compared with reality, give a tipoff to a couple of reasons why older games seem more magical:
Zork and Ultima 2 were completely new experiences for me. Zork was the first computer game that I ever played, and Ultima 2 may have been the first graphical computer game that I ever played. So, it is only natural that I’d be in awe of them. So, “magic” might not have anything to do with the age of a game at all. My reaction to Zork might be the same reaction that a child today has to Dragon Age, if that were the first game that he played (well, if that child’s parent is letting him or her play an M-rated game).
Does anyone out there not yearn for things from his or her past? Look at how music from past decades comes back into vogue, almost like clockwork, after a certain number of years have passed. Be it games, music, television, or movies, we often think that media from our past is better than media from today. It often isn’t, but our yearnings for the comforts of childhood are human nature.
Is it possible though, that games of yesteryear actually did have qualities that contributed to that magic, aside from our own subjective points of view? There are a few reasons that this might be the case, all of which center around a central theme:
We loved the rough edges
I think that many games of the past were less “slick” than today’s games. They had warts and particular nuances, which required us to invest our time in them, so that they felt like “ours.”
More creativity and risk taking
Developers in years past also did not have the same constraints that many of today’s developers have. Today, the reason we see so many sequels in the game industry is because publishers are loath to invest millions of dollars in any game that they don’t see as a sure moneymaker. As a result, there are fewer niche games today, and fewer games that take risks. Perhaps that is why games of old had a spirit of excitement and novelty around them, that is often missing from newer games.
Similarly, that creativity and risk taking allowed developers of old more freedom to express themselves. At times, modern games almost feel polished to the point that they lose their personality. This trend can be seen when comparing two relatively modern games, Morrowind and Oblivion. Oblivion was certainly the slicker and more polished of the two, but, to me at least, Morrowind had much more personality.
So, which is it? My gut tells me that games today are no less magical than games of old, while my heart is telling me the opposite. What do you think? Let us know in the comments.