As I’ve grown older, I’ve begun to see just how innovative, expressive, and provocative the medium has become. The first video game I ever played was Lee Trevino’s Fighting Golf for NES. It hooked me on the idea of interacting with a TV and taught me that I could create an original experience for myself using nothing but my imagination and weirdly dexterous thumbs.
My relationship with Lee didn’t last long; there’s only so much enjoyment a six-year-old will find in golf. I eventually received Mega Man 2 for Christmas and proceeded to have my little boy brain melted. It had a story. It had lasers. It had that Metal Man music. It’s the game that comes to mind whenever anyone mentions “8-bit” anything, and I often hum the soundtrack whenever I find myself running somewhere. This is the game that made me a gamer.
Fast-forward to E3 2015 and…!
If you’re not familiar with the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo, it’s basically 720,000 square feet of yet-to-be-released video games, paraphernalia, and humans. It’s the place to take the gaming world’s pulse while interacting with passionate fans from all around the world. More importantly, it’s a great way to track the aforementioned evolution of an industry that not too long ago was only perceived as an “expensive pastime.”
Fantastically abstract and visual games like Dreams or Tearaway Unfolded exist now because we’ve embraced our passion and built something where only a fraction of it can be experienced at an event as gigantic as E3. Walking across the show floor, you’d be forgiven for experiencing sensory overload: there were monolithic displays erected to the Tentpole Games at every turn, crowds of doe-eyed fans lining up to Street Fight in front of an audience, and unnatural sounds you’ve never heard before emanating from everywhere.
But there were also more intimate settings, like IndieCade’s booth, where you could hangout with developers and geek out with fellow fans over the most unique and charming games. Both camps represent our accomplishments as a community of dreamers, writers, artists, scientists. As creators.
We used to play games alone in our bedroom, or with a couple friends at a sleepover. Now we not only have classic multiplayer games like Star Wars: Battlefront, but also games like Dark Souls III, whose franchise is widely acclaimed for its unique brand of online play. In the art department, The Last Guardian (which follows a young boy and his dragonbirddog pet around an abandoned civilization) and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End are already setting the bar with their gorgeous set pieces.
Coming from a decade where all you had was a bunch of blue sprites bouncing around a two-dimensional level, having an obscenely realistic protagonist chase after ancient treasure while everything in the world is on fire or exploding would be like a caveman seeing Elon Musk fly by on a spaceship.
With the increasing frequency of this caliber of game, I often encounter the sentiment that the “evolution” of gaming is primarily due to advances in technology. It certainly facilitates the growth, but I would argue gaming evolves due to less tangible criteria. As we play games, we are inspired. In turn, the inspired create future games built (ideally) from the best building blocks of the previous crop. It’s a form of natural selection driven and realized by our efforts to connect with, refine, and express what’s in each other’s head.
Games have become so much more than just things to eventually make bad movies about. The amount of creativity and passion spread all over the showfloor was a testament to how important gaming is to our culture. To us, it’s not just a matter of bigger, better, badder, bolder. It’s about being a significant and substantial influence. I now want innovative gameplay with engaging stories about compelling characters that elicit genuine emotional responses. I want to play with friends and strangers who speak different languages and like different things.
And I want to wander around an enormous convention center full of Yoshi plushies, giant robots, and curtains made of Star Wars pogs in downtown Los Angeles with 50,000 other people like a kid who’s spent way too much time fantasizing about being Mega Man’s best friend.
Photo Credit: Aaron Hallaway; SNK/Wikipedia; Ash Minnick