A reader looks back at a lifetime of playing video games and tries to work out why he doesnt seem to enjoy them anymore.
This may seem like an odd article to be writing, given that it will possibly be published on a games website where video games are routinely discussed passionately by a largely positive-thinking community, but I thought it would be an interesting feature to write to see if I am in the minority or not. It also gives me the opportunity to reminisce about some of my favourite gaming memories of the past, and to try and understand why modern games just cant match those memories for me.
Over the last several years I have found myself falling out of love with video gaming, although it has taken me until now to actually admit it to myself. I do remember playing games on my PlayStation 3 many years ago and thinking, This will be the last console I ever own, Im not getting the same sense of enjoyment anymore only to then be unexpectedly gifted a PlayStation 4 by my lovely wife, and even going on to buy a PS Vita, Nintendo 3DS, and later Switch myself (thus confirming my denial that I wasnt actually having fun anymore).
I nearly asked my wife to return the PlayStation 4 at the time but felt really bad about rejecting such an incredibly thoughtful and generous gift and kept it. I barely used it for the first year or two though. Now, Im not going to claim that Ive not enjoyed gaming at all over the last few generations of consoles, because there have been some good moments (particularly from Nintendo) but Ive always had the feeling that its never been quite as good as when I was younger, despite games in general being arguably better than ever from an objective point of view.
And Ill happily admit this could be (and most likely is) nostalgia talking, and the associated positively-skewed reminiscing of past experiences with almost opaque rose-tinted glasses. But those days were honestly so good!
My earliest gaming memory was of playing Roland On The Ropes on my dads Amstrad, where I seem to remember it took upwards of an agonising 45 minutes to load the game! It was worth the wait though, even if I was rubbish at it. Following that my memories are of playing Sonic The Hedgehog on a Mega Drive (still one of my all-time favourites) at my grandparents house in Wales during rare trips over there, as well as an NHL game (I forget the year, possibly 94?) where you could engage in fisticuffs if you so desired (which was always of course). The fun I had on those two games alone was incredible!
Then came the magical birthday where my mum and dad wonderfully gifted me a PlayStation 1, just months after release for my birthday. The hours I spent on that, starting with Adidas Power Soccer, Formula 1, and excessive overplaying of the famous demo disks that included Destruction Derby, ESPN Xtreme Games, Loaded, and Jumping Flash! (that particular demo was incredible to me at the time, with so much fun had trying to reach the highest points of the level). Further hours were gloriously cherished on Gran Turismo, Grand Theft Auto, Theme Hospital, and Crash Bandicoot. Then I heard about Final Fantasy VII and things took an even better turn.
Its odd that despite Final Fantasy VII being my favourite game of all time (despite all of its flaws that Ill happily acknowledge), I initially hated it. I think the problem was that my young brain couldnt comprehend Barrett telling me to attack when the turn was up, and then me watching my party of two being wiped out each and every time and not understanding why (thanks Squaresoft). I swiftly gave up and didnt give it a second look for months.
Finally, it was my parents asking me why I wasnt playing this game that had cost them £50 to buy (a lot of money at that time) that made me go back to it, and I finally overcame that crucial hurdle. And then proceeded to spend the next year playing the game to death, squinting into the tiny TV in my bedroom for hour after hour, loving every minute. Then Final Fantasy VIII came out, and IX soon after that, so another few years of joyful ecstatic obsession continued. There were other highlights as well, including co-operative play round my friends house on KKnD: Krossfire (an underappreciated gem).
The PlayStation 2 era was similarly wonderful. My best memories of this time are of gaming with my now old enough brother, with our favourites being of a sporty nature: SSX Tricky, NBA Street, and Pro Evolution Soccer. For playing on my own, it was GTA III and GTA: Vice City that blew me away, like so many others. The vast 3D worlds and sheer freedom to explore and cause havoc were incredible to me. There was also Final Fantasy X and multiplayer TimeSplitters 2 and Red Faction round various friends houses (the only two first person shooters Ive ever enjoyed). Simply incredible memories.
Looking back now, this time is as good as gaming ever got for me (though Nintendo with their Wii console probably just about matched it later on). I should say that Ive never owned an Xbox console, so cant judge Microsoft, and GTA: San Andreas, although fantastic, was the weakest of the three from this era for me. I was devastated when my PlayStation 2 eventually gave up the ghost, but boy did it serve me well.
Perhaps it was growing up and gaining those dreaded extra adult responsibilities, but I was never able to enjoy gaming as much once I left university. I bought a Wii as soon as it came out (my first Nintendo console) and had some amazing times playing Mario Kart Wii (the best ever Mario Kart in my humble opinion) and the superb Super Mario Galaxy games. Although I had played the early Mario games on a friends SNES on occasion, I had never owned an N64 or GameCube and so this was my first proper Mario experience, and I wont soon forget it.
A sheer explosion of incredible ideas and creativity drive these games to near perfection and I loved every second of them (even the hardest parts at the end of each, despite the flashes of frustration – all my fault of course). These games were what gaming should always be about: having fun. Its such a shame then that, in my opinion, nothing Ive played since has come close to matching these games.
As I mentioned above, my love for video games was on the wane from late on in the PlayStation 3 era. Looking back now, I cant think of a single game on the PlayStation 3 that I thoroughly enjoyed (I can barely remember any of them for a start which says it all). Its a similar story on the PlayStation 4. I bought GTA V twice, once on the PlayStation 3 and again on the PlayStation 4. I so wanted to love it but Ive probably played about 10 hours combined over the two versions, I just cant get on with it. Its, dare I say it, a bit boring?
Maybe its just me but is it not mostly the same stuff that was in GTA III 17 years ago (apart from being able to swim of course, and the graphics and power of modern consoles making the world look better and giving an illusion of being more alive). This is a vast and perhaps unfair generalisation of course, and Im aware that plenty of people would disagree (not least of all the countless number of people still buying and playing it today, particularly online). Perhaps if I was much younger and this had been my first exposure to such a vast open world game I would have been blown away in the same way I was when I first loaded up GTA III. Id like to think so, but I guess Ill never know.
In recent times, Ive sunk a lot of hours into Zelda: Breath Of The Wild on the Switch and I can appreciate what a wonderful game it is, and did have some fun times with it. Its unquestionably an incredible achievement from Nintendo. But after completing the third of the four main dungeons I lost interest and stopped playing and have had no desire to go back to it. I realised by the end I had just been going through the motions to get it finished rather than actively enjoying the experience.
And then we come to Super Mario Odyssey. It sounded incredible in the build-up, and although I was a bit wary about the open-world nature of it, I still had such wonderful memories from the Galaxy games that I largely overlooked all the previews and reviews and was consequently very excited when it arrived on release day. Its such a shame then that I hated it (in fact, its my biggest disappointment in all my years of gaming). It cant hold a candle to the Galaxy games and is inferior in every way you care to look at it in my opinion.
Im not saying its a bad game by any stretch, and I can understand the almost universal acclaim in some ways. Perhaps its just me, and a shift (read downturn) in my enjoyment of video games in general. I wont go into too much detail of why I dont get along with it, lest I be lynched, but I found the lack of direction, extensive backtracking and sandbox nature of the game to be huge problems.
For my money, a platform game such as Super Mario doesnt suit such open, non-linear and explorative environments. A platform game, in my mind, should be a distinct set of largely linear levels where you overcome a series of challenges and obstacles to reach a goal at the end. I realise this is a very personal and subjective opinion, and perhaps Super Mario Odyssey defies such a simple classification as platformer. Nintendo themselves may even argue with such a label.
But in my view, the wild acclaim heaped upon the incredibly open and non-linear Breath Of The Wild negatively influenced the design choices made in Odyssey, and made it into more of an open go anywhere, do anything adventure style game. That being said, I applaud Nintendo for trying something new (theyve made a rather successful business out of doing just that), and I have no problem with the fact that so many people embraced and loved the new direction. But for me, I hope they see the error of their ways with Odyssey and dont repeat the open world style in the future. [The open world design is in large part a callback to Super Mario 64 and Sunshine, which predate Galaxy – GC]
I guess, as with most things, money and sales figures will talk, but this is Nintendo so who knows? I only go into such detail over Odyssey because of its effect on me and my interest in video games. I think my disappointment in Odyssey pushed me over the edge so to speak, which sounds a bit dramatic but I had such high hopes for this game. I really wanted it to be the game that lit the fire again, that reignited my passion for gaming. But alas, it just wasnt to be.
And so we come to where I am now, not enjoying video games anymore in the way I remember doing in the past. Modern games just dont seem to suit me, which is such a disappointing thing to have to admit. Ive tried a few different types of games over the last few months to try and rekindle that joy: Celeste, Overcooked!, and Stardew Valley being a few, but I just dont get that feeling anymore (whatever that is), despite them clearly being excellent games.
Perhaps its just a phase that will pass, but as I write this I cant think of a single video game that I want to sit down and play. Even the thought of returning to play my favourite ever game, Final Fantasy VII, doesnt excite me as I know it cant possibly match the memories I have from the past.
And thats such a sad realisation. I cant even put a firm finger on what the problem is. Is it a lack of time on my part, or the off-putting over-complication within the design of many modern games (again, just my view) or perhaps just unfair comparisons to potentially unreliable memories? Im not sure. I just hope that the passion returns one day, because I will always cherish the wonderful memories video games have provided me.
By reader Daniel Scoulding
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