Why Aren't Video Games Fun Anymore?
It's a question that's popped up in my own mind a few times since I left my early 20s behind. It's also been posited online in more that one form; Reddit topics, Instagram reels, etc.
Why can't we seem to recapture that magic of gaming we felt when we were younger? The answer is simple.
We're not young anymore.
Modern kids are making great memories with their friends on Fortnite or the latest COD installment, days that they'll miss when they hit the quarter-life crisis; meanwhile, us older millennial gamers are downloading GOGs of games from our youth just to experience that hollow sensation where the recaptured magic should be. Where is that spark? Where is that mystical connection between the gamer and the world of the game?
Society murdered it right in front of us.
If any of our waking moments aren't put towards 100% productivity, we're considered losers. If you have bills, that creeping anxiety hangs out in the back of your mind. If you're unsure of your place in the world, you need to figure it out before it's too late. Add to that a hundred other "microanxieties" that we don't even know about, and the fact that there's really nobody to save us if we fail.
Our brains are now literally incapable of enjoying the immersion that some of the best video games can offer.
Why do we sprint everywhere? Why do we always use Fast Travel? Why do we skip dialogue and cutscenes? It's not because we're bored; we just can't afford to waste time actually enjoying the game we're playing. But the habit never left us; we still open up Steam or boot up the PS5 and try to decompress, but even within our attempts to escape the world, we can't escape what will be waiting for us when we're done.
We also don't want to create our own stories; pretend-time is for children, after all, so any content the game doesn't provide simply can't exist. We don't roleplay in RDR2, even though there's never been as deep a world as that in a game. We don't imagine the scenarios that could lead to create internal storytelling, using No Man's Sky as the vehicle.
We need all of it as actual content; it needs to be real or it can't be fun.
And with the most popular modern titles trending towards the stream-friendly eSports shooter genres (Apex, R6:S, Fortnite), the stories we tell about our experiences are largely distilled to "I got my ass handed to me by a Korean 5-year-old who shouted the n-word".
Listen to how children tell stories to one another about their gaming experiences. When was the last time, really, that you or your friends spoke to one another like that? That raw excitement, that wide-eyed "world hasn't fucked me yet" look that preceded the "oh shit that sounds awesome" erupting from the bobbling heads of your friend group?
When was your last LAN party? When was the last time you took a loss in stride? How much of your gaming time is spent trying to (counterproductively) optimize success as a means of enjoyment?
It's depressing, but if there's a shift in the conversation around how we spend our free time, what's acceptable from adult gamers regarding imaginary play, and how we engage with one another through that immersive medium, maybe we could recapture that magic.