Are Video Games Becoming Something To Consume Mindlessly?
In a recent interview with Game Informer, legendary Nintendo producer Shigeru Miyamoto made a particularly interesting statement regarding the current state of video games as a source of pleasure and diversion.
"Games are becoming more of a consumable product, and it’s getting harder and harder for people to let a game to sink in and enjoy leisurely.”
So how true is this insight? Have video games gone the way that other forms of media (like TV) seem to be heading? Are we in an age where people who play games do not necessarily want to have an experience that takes effort and feels rewarding, and instead just want something that can be quickly taken in?
There seems to be some validity in Miyamoto's position, but one also has to consider that he has been around for the majority of gaming's existence, and nostalgia can be a powerful thing.
Of course games have changed.
Every form of media changes with the times; just look at television. Reality TV existed almost solely as a means to produce game shows for a long time, but in the past couple of decades, there has been a transition. If you scan through random channels, most of what you're going to see will be some form of Reality TV show. Reality TV is easier to digest than plot-driven television, and preference towards media that is easier to digest has become somewhat of a staple for Western Civilization.
One could make the comparison to literature as well. Most of what people read nowadays is online, and the way that humans read is fundamentally changing because of our internet browsing.
If you go up to the average person who reads and offer them a choice to either read a Batman comic or War and Peace, most people are going to choose the Batman comic.
If you were to ask around 100 years ago, assuming that there is some 100-year-old version of Batman in this question's universe, you would probably get a different answer -- and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Tastes change over time, but pieces of importance will always stay relevant if they are good enough.
The point of these correlations is to show how different types of media relate to video games, and how they ebb and flow with changes in society just like any other form of entertainment. One just has to look at the popularity of mobile games, and the rise of online multiplayer to see that we probably won't ever return to the age of gaming that Miyamoto surely misses.
When Miyamoto was first starting out, the focus was not on playing with other people.
Video games were a very sequestered experience. Sure you could play while your friends watched, and multiplayer existed in mostly a 2-player format, but there was nothing like what we have today in terms of multiplayer options. Now that you can play with your friends or random people online relatively easily. Is it really that surprising that the most popular games are usually ones that have some form of exceptional multiplayer capabilities?
Humans are social creatures for the most part. Contact with other members of our species is a pretty innate desire that has been ingrained in our psyches for a long, long time.
This is not to say that single-player games will eventually go the way of the dodo. In all honesty, this seems to be extremely far from the truth with the hype surrounding upcoming titles like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Horizon Zero Dawn.
What Miyamoto seems to be saying is that our attention spans are not fit for video games like they used to be. He relates this to Pikmin 3, which Miyamoto claims deserves about three playthroughs in order to get the full experience.
“Pikmin is the kind of game that you have to play maybe three times to get the full effect, but you know, people don’t have a lot of time, so they just clear the stage and just move on."
With so many awesome games coming out all the time, lack of interest in replaying the titles that you have already finished is understandable. But he doesn't seem to be taking into account series like Dark Souls, where replayability is one of the biggest selling points of the game in the first place. Dark Souls is immensely popular, hard, and requires a lot of time to become accustomed to the style required to play the game.
The Witcher 3 is another good example of a game that takes a good amount of commitment to get the full experience, and it has sold more than 10 million copies since its release.
There are undoubtedly changes, and will continue to be changes in how we play games.
But Miyamoto seems to be a little over-dramatic with his viewpoint. Our attention spans have shifted with the advancement of technology in the past couple of decades, but that does not mean that we as gamers are devoid of the ability to consume something that requires commitment and attention to enjoy.
Again, take a look at the development of literature and TV. Critics will always say that it is impossible to match the quality of whatever makes up the canon of their respective specialization, and yet there are still artists out there producing meaningful work. Alongside Reality TV, we get shows like "True Detective", and next to Her Android Lover From Andromeda, (this doesn't actually exist so use it if you want), we have books like Inherent Vice.
Just because something is modern, and strays away from what the form originally intended does not mean that it is bad. Art shifts like the tides, and it wouldn't be art if it just stayed stagnant forever.