In the past few weeks, I’ve been playing a pretty diverse range of games: some old, some new, some major releases, some independent. In playing these games and talking about them, I’ve realized there’s one common link between all of them, and this link usually manifests in offhand comments like, “It’s really stylish,” “It’s gorgeous,” “The visuals are charming,” and on and on ad nauseam – statements that may be true, but are made casually and without very much enthusiasm.
In short, all of these games look great. It doesn’t matter whether I’m playing Red Dead Redemption and enjoying the sweeping vistas of the old west, or the 2008 Prince of Persia reboot with its painterly style, or the old-fashioned cartoon stylings of The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom, or the abstract elegance of Flotilla, I am very rarely disappointed by a game’s visual design. Even though these games run the gamut of genre and production value, I don’t have to worry about playing a visually uninteresting game. I could probably run through my entire game collection and pick out only a small handful of games which I’d call truly ugly. (And even then, that’s half the appeal of Earth Defense Force 2017.)
I’ve written before about how we talk about graphics, and in that article I speculated that “we are perhaps too easily impressed by advances in technology.” That may be true for some, but I feel almost the opposite now: that I’m not impressed at all. I’m a spoiled, ungrateful, 21st century media consumer who only takes notice if a game doesn’t look amazing. Great is the new normal, and if a game dares to not be polished to a shine, then I’ll huff in my smoking chair, stroking my moustache and submitting something to White Whine. “This game isn’t as stylishly arresting as it could be, huff huff huff.” When I said before that game critics fail to talk about graphics with any sort of depth, I now wonder if that has less to do with a lack of ability and more to do with a simple lack of caring.
As far as things go on the Scale of Problems, “My Video Games Look Too Good” ranks pretty damn low, and I feel more than a little foolish complaining about it But at the same time, I do feel like I’ve become numb to design that I should have a stronger reaction to. At the risk of making too generalized a comment, I wonder if gamers at large feel the same way, and I wonder if that’s a problem for games. Are smaller developers going to have a harder time getting their games noticed if they don’t hire a stable of artists? Are artists going to see their hard work and talent barely acknowledged because everything looks so damn good? Are gamers ever going to burn out on Uncharted-esque spectacles and lavishly illustrated indie games?
Or maybe this is just my problem. Maybe this desensitization is a natural result of playing a whole lot of games, of going through the motions of a hobby. Anybody involved with a hobby invariably goes through weird phases from time to time, and maybe I’m in the middle of one right now. As cynical as this sounds, when I played Just Cause 2, one of my first reactions was, “oh, great, another vast, incredibly detailed open world for me to explore” — and then I thought, “god, have I really arrived at the point where I can roll my eyes at a game that would have looked like witchcraft to someone in 1995?” Maybe I’m bound to wind up being a game snoot who looks down his nose at all but the most, ahem, refined games.
When I first started this site, I posted more regularly and, often, without much aim. For the past few months, I’ve tried to avoid the sort of “I wonder” entries that didn’t have all that sharp of points. I realize this update doesn’t have much of a thesis either, but that is why this admittedly stupid problem of mine is kind of troubling: I don’t know whether I’m in a phase, whether my taste in games is slowly adjusting, or whether I’m going through a slow burn out. If I’m no longer impressed by what is rightfully impressive, then is that my problem or everyone’s? And if it’s only mine, then what am I really looking for in these games?