Wednesday, March 31, 2010
During the "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Game Journalism" panel, Sean Beanland asked via Twitter: "Has working in games journalism adversely impacted your love of games? Are you sometimes tired of games?"
For me, the answer to both questions is a qualified yes. It's not that I love games any less after several years of reviewing them. It's that losing control of what I want to play, and when I want to play it, has changed something fundamental in my approach to games as recreation. When I'm not playing a game for work, I'm less likely to be playing games at all.
That's why one of things I found most refreshing about PAX was how squarely it emphasized just playing games. The panels were great. Meeting people was awesome. Encountering two guys whose work I deeply admire, and telling one of them so, was something that was long overdue. At heart, though, PAX was a celebration of playing games, and much of the convention space was dedicated to that.
You had the PC freeplay lounge, where some buddies and I made yet another ill-fated attempt at Left 4 Dead 2. I am not totally convinced that I have ever gotten past the part in the "Swamp Fever" campaign where you lower the bridge from one hut to the next, and the PAX playthrough was no exception. It's been so long since I played a first-person shooter on the computer that doing so felt unfamiliar. (And probably felt even more unfamiliar to the next poor bastard who played L4D2 on my machine, since I'd inverted the Y-axis and remapped jump to mouse2. Old habits.)
It also felt great. LAN parties were a big part of the gaming experience for me in high school and even through college, but I couldn't tell you the last time I attended one, much less one with dozens and dozens of players. I had thought that the current console generation had erased the PC's hardware advantage, but the graphics were noticeably better than on the Xbox. Some people were even playing Battlefield: Bad Company 2 in 3D. I walked out of that room thinking seriously about buying a new gaming computer. I've been missing so much!*
Much space was dedicated to console freeplay, too, of all kinds. One room had all the current-gen consoles, and a huge library of titles you could check out for 45 minutes at a time. A side room was dedicated to party games like Rock Band, DJ Hero, Puzzle Fighter, and lots more. Across the hall from there was a room dedicated to -- I kid you not -- 5-vs-5 matches of Steel Battalion. I was afraid even to peek into that room.
Walking around the classic console freeplay area felt the most like coming home. Here you had a group of guys huddled around a Dreamcast to play Power Stone, there a four-player Perfect Dark deathmatch on the N64. People played Atari 2600, Colecovision, Vectrex. I was gobsmacked to see a group of three people attempting a cooperative playthrough of Contra for the NES. I lingered in their vicinity, hoping they'd get frustrated so I could swoop in and shepherd them the rest of the way. Sadly, it didn't happen -- which is crazy, because playing that game with another person is the definition of masochism.
Here I am writing about all this now, so maybe I'm undercutting my own point, but what I loved about all of this was that I wasn't playing these games to write about them. So many of these titles occupy an exalted space in my memory, and when I watched those people play Contra I wasn't thinking about the game's roots in Reagan-era machismo, or the laughable continuity error between the end of stage 7 and the beginning of stage 8. I was remembering the first time I beat it, and was so excited that I ran to the phone so I could tell my best friend.
I can barely recall a time that I wasn't writing about games on some level. I've been doing it professionally for almost six years, but I started writing reviews for my personal website in the mid-90s. Hell, my second-grade writing project was a prose adaptation of The Legend of Zelda. Even so, there's no doubt that deadlines and paychecks have changed how I play games. PAX reminded me why I play them.
*Now that the glow has faded, I will continue to chug along on this dinosaur Dell.