Video Games Suck Now

I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s and played games like Mario Brothers, Double Dragons, Zelda, Doom, and Sonic the Hedgehog. They were simple in concept; beat the boss and save the girl or the world. As I grew up, I watched platforms and game graphics became more sophisticated. No more pixels running around as Mario or Link. No more overheated Segas and Nintendos.

While the platforms today seem more like computers than consoles, the games for these platforms have taken a big jump back.

Look at Capcom’s Dead Rising, Techland’s Dead Island, and Bethesda’s Skyrim and Fallout. Players usually talk to Character One, go to the other side of World One, get Item One, and go back to Character One. Then repeat. And repeat.

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Am I in a wash cycle or video game?

Today’s video games still have a core story—defeat the Big Bad Dragon and save the world—but it’s forgotten somewhere between Character Eighty-Seven and Item Five Hundred. Sure, players get to kill zombies, mutants, and gods, but that’s all there is to it. Mindless killing. Mindless Retrieving.  

Don’t get me wrong. The visuals are great and the gameplay is smooth. Even the loading time is forgivable (save for Dead Rising and Fallout) compared to the older consoles. Still, the formula is the same: talk, kill, retrieve, and return. Game developers have dropped the controller on recent games just to make sales. I understand that business can’t be business without money, but if I pay fifty bucks for one game, I want my money’s worth or at least have something fun to play.

Games today leave me with one question: what happened to video games between the 1980’s and the 2000’s? It could be that the gamers themselves have changed and the game developers are trying to appeal to that change. In the 1980’s, it was cool to be anyone. Androgenism, nerds, and Flocks of Seagulls haircuts were cool. In the 1990’s, it was cool to be aware of deep issues like education, racism, drugs, poverty, pollution. In the 2000’s, people hated people. The Rise of Fear and Haterism came up and squashed the open-minded, experimental, fun-loving 80’s and 90’s attitude to a pulp. Many products followed suit, and video games weren’t immune to the haterism. Some of the most marketable games, namely Call of Duty and Dead Island, are racist, war-supporting games OK with murdering Afghanistan or Iraqi people and depicting black and Mexican people as gun-toting thugs and drug-dealers. Not cool or fun anymore. No more hard-boiled, take-no-shit characters. Just emotional train wrecks with guns and a sore spot for colored people.

Game developers didn’t ask for this paradigm shift. They’re regular folks who grew up with the same games I did, maybe dreamed of developing the same fun games. Between their creative minds and their investors, something’s gotta give, and that would be the fun and the story. Those are the two things that keep gamers gaming. I’d rather play Tetris all day than play five minutes of trying to find a saving point in Dead Rising or facing a million of the same zombie in Dead Island or picking up one more useless item on the way to delivering another useless item in Skyrim or Fallout. It’s not my idea of a good time.

The recent video games that are exciting with a polished story are few and far between, but they do exist. PopCap Games’s Peggle, Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed II, Telltales Games’s The Walking Dead, Vogster Entertainment’s Unbound Saga, Capcom’s Devil May Cry, Konami’s re-released Castlevania, and id Software’s Rage are reminiscent of the 80’s and 90’s optimistic attitude, only with today’s graphics and gameplay. Their core stories and uncompromising characters make up a fun world. In Assassin’s Creed II, players bring conspiracies to light while free-running in Renaissance Italy. The Walking Dead’s in-depth character and story development keep gamers coming back. Unbound Saga embodies Double Dragons’ and Streets of Rage’s linear game play while the hard-boiled main character remains hard-boiled. Rage gives players everything Skyrim and Fallout couldn’t: a small yet interesting world, cool cars and weapons, unique personalities, and fast loading times.

What makes these games memorable and re-playable? These games are reduced to a condensed but polished arena. People have short attention spans, and making the world too big means pushing that attention span to its limit. Rage understood this by taking the player to a different world before the game began to feel repetitive. Players want realism in their games, but games like Skyrim and Fallout abuse it by making everything interactive. Who wants to carry around a billion flowers? The Walking Dead, Assassin’s Creed II, and Rage limited the interactivity to the core stories. Even something as basic as letting players save whenever and wherever they want keeps players happy (Dead Rising, ahem). And the hard stages are beatable—without the help of Google.

Let’s remember: gamers play games to get away from reality. If games are created to frustrate the player with overly-vast worlds, repetitive characters and missions, excessive interactivity, slow loading times, insensible saving controls, war-supporting and racist undertones, and complicated bosses, what’s the point of escaping reality?

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10 Things to Learn from Living in Japan

Being an English teacher in Japan, I’ve learned a few things from living in the Land of the Rising Sun that you can’t learn from Japanese anime, manga, or video games.

1. The students and people aren’t like the characters from anime, manga, and video games. You won’t see anyone carrying a samurai sword or wearing ninja costumes randomly on the streets. It’s more likely you’ll see a non-Japanese person wear these things than a Japanese person.

Tiny White Fish

Tiny White Fish (from "A box of kitchen" blog)

2. Watch out what you eat! If you are allergic to anything or you specifically can’t eat anything, you’ll have to state it before they give it to you, or come prepared. My husband hates these tiny white fishes that have black eyes. They don’t have tails when you eat them, so they look like worms. He absolutely can’t eat them, and when he finds that his rice and soup is mixed with them, he can’t eat it. My thing, like many non-Japanese people, is natto, which is a type of sticky bean produced opposite of miso. Either way, just be prepared to eat some unusual meals!

3. Don’t be a vegan and come to Japan. Many teachers I’ve met who are vegan have it hard in Japan. In general, Japanese food is loaded with veggies, but they also coat things in some type of animal-derived sauce or soup. Miso soup, for instance, is from a bean paste, but it uses a type of pork stock. In Okinawa, it’s especially hard to be a vegan because the diet has influences from China, Korea, and the United States, so instead of the conventional boiled egg, the egg will have a ball of meat in the middle and coated to be fried.

4. English classics are easy to find. If you’re looking for some English literature, like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, How to Kill a Mockingbird, and books of those caliber, you can find them at the local bookstores. Most likely, they’ll be a bilingual edition or have complicated English words translated into Japanese. A lot of the time, these bilingual editions are for students wanting to study for their eiken exams or college entrance exams, but you can utilize them just for some leisurely reading.

5. Make friends with people in military places. There are things that you’ll miss from your home country, and the best place to get them without paying an arm and a leg through Amazon or eBay is at the military base. Some military folks are just so happy to see another non-Japanese person, they’ll befriend you rather easily and allow you to go onto base with them. Of course, this mostly applies to people in Okinawa where military bases are as common as sushi restaurants, but if you happen to come across someone in mainland Japan, utilize that resource!

6. If you’re going to stay in Japan for a while, learn some Japanese before you get to Japan. If you’re in your home country and you can learn Japanese, take advantage of it. Getting a Japanese tutor or taking JSL, or Japanese as a Second Language, courses can get expensive and time-consuming. Plus, in your home country, learning Japanese can be more comfortable in your usual atmosphere than in a foreign one. This is one of my pet peeves, since many teachers from the JET Programme are sent Japanese books to self-study before arriving in Japan. However useful these books are, most JET teachers don’t even study them, yet, they complain about not being able to understand anything. Even knowing things like “My name is…” and “Please wait” are extremely helpful to both you and the Japanese folks you’re communicating with. Let’s avoid the frustration and crack open the books!

7. Presentation, plastic, and packaging will be everywhere. In Japan, a lot of things are based off of presentation. For example, burgers at McDonald’s actually look like the pictures that are advertised. Part of looking good is the packaging. And within the packaging is the plastic. You’ll find that even cookies will be individually wrapped. Sometimes, things like onigiri, or a rice ball, will have arrows showing how to unwrap it. It’s amazing at first–everything is because you’re in Japan!–but after a while, it’s like, “Oh, it’s individually wrapped…again.” Shrink wrap should just be for CDs.

8. Though there are anime and manga advocating giant robots and mecha, Japan isn’t as technologically-advanced as everyone thinks. Sure, there are hyper-fast bullet trains, and yes, the cell phones are practically hand-held computers now. But just because there are more gadgets doesn’t mean that there are cars or cell phones ready to transform into some type of freedom fighter.

9. Respect for the environment beats out any green movement. For the 1964 Summer Olympics, Japan built a stadium in Tokyo. For every tree that was displaced by the building, a tree was planted somewhere else. Even things like trash day is a way to preserve the environment. Cans, bottles, and newspapers are separated. Even milk cartons are unfolded and recycled. Schools reuse copier paper packages for re-packaging leftover school milks. Tissue boxes are converted into sanitary napkin holders. Everything has the ability to be reused or recycled in Japan, so be weary of just throwing things out. They still have life!

Pedestrian Light10. Everyone follows the rules. When the pedestrian light turns red, people don’t cross–even if there are no cars and the distance to the other side is merely a few steps away. Of course, there are a few stranglers who influence the others, but mostly, everyone follows the rules and stays put.