I remember when I was young, a trip to Blockbuster was like Christmas. I would spend an hour looking through the hundreds of games available, eagerly reading every word on the back of the box, trying to find one that looked interesting.
I was rarely dissapointed, as almost every single game I took home would end up being enjoyable to some degree (except Base Wars, to this day I remember how bad that game was. I think it might be why I still don't like baseball). The real test of a game was which ones you were willing to pay late fees for in order to finish.
Contrast that with how I feel today, and I just can't help but think we've lost the plot. I currently believe that either games have gone in the wrong direction entirely, or I'm just old and jaded. It's likely a combination of the two.
It seems there are two seperate issues here. There's the actual quality of games themselves compared to what I expect from games in this day and age, and there's the overabundance of information available to us now.
Before the Internet was so widely used, my only source of information about upcoming games would be grainy screenshots in Nintendo Power, or brief glimpses on video game related TV shows that were as a rule, horrible things to watch. They were generally so painfully uninformed that you would be tempted to watch them muted just to see the game without having to listen to some moron try to fake an italian accent whenever a new Mario game came out. I always remember being embarassed about liking video games when gamers were represented to the general public so poorly, something that is only now starting to slowly change.
These days, I can now know what every character is, their background story, their voice, their models, their outfits. I can read the whole plot, listen to the music and probably play either a demo or even a flash mockup of the whole game. I can't help but feel like it's the equivalent of a Sixth Sense trailer that tells you Bruce Willis is dead, plays a video clip of him dying, and then gives you a link to a flash game where you get to shoot him and watch him come to life as a ghost. It's kind of hard to be excited about the movie at that point. (sorry if I just ruined that for anyone, buf if you hadn't seen it yet it was your own fault.)
The other issue that comes into play is just how much more advanced games have become. It was hard to fault a game for having poor graphics when every game had poor graphics, or to write a serious critique of a game's music when it was based on 8 bits of bleeps and bloops. There were games that were better than others but overall most games were created technically equal, allowing us to only differentiate them through gameplay, which is how it should be.
In current games one of two things happens. Either the technical design is so good, and so smooth that we're distracted from the inherently bad, or repetative/overused gameplay (I'm looking at you CoD), or the technical parts of the game are so bad that it no longer matters how good the game is, as unless you're focusing entirely on gameplay, it's just not clean enough to get any serious attention.
By knowing so much about the game design process and having such a huge number of AAA titles available to us each year we have become such snobs, and have such a sense of entitlement that we have made it almost imposisble for developers to try anything new in a big budget title. We have forced them to walk a fine line between creating gameplay that is new and interesting, without making it too different that it is immediately dismissed as being gimmicky or convoluted. Then even if they get that right, when there are no real time shadows or high enough resolution textures we'll complain about that. Ontop of that there is still interface design and multiplayer to work out, both of which can make or break a title, as well as cross platform development and any number of other issues that can crop up. In order for anyone to get all of this right on the first release the development takes forever - something we love to complain about, but when something is released on schedule with more than a few bugs we will complain that it was released as a beta version even though half of the people saying that probably don't even know what a beta is.
I guess what I'm getting at, is that we're jerks, and it's primarily our fault that games have become the equivalent of big budget summer blockbuster movies - all fun and special effects, with no depth or artistic value, because distracting us with finishing moves and fancy explosions is easier than creating a fully enthralling game that draws you in enough that you can forgive it for it's poor collision detection.
There is the odd exception to this rule, but then we fall back to problem number one. Even when a fantastic, interesting, well made and fun game comes out, we will still know so much about it that we almost feel like we don't need to play it at all, and if we do, we will never have that same wide eyed excitement we had when we were kids and that statue grabbed Samus when she was in Morph Ball form, or you fell down a pit in Donkey Kong Country only to discover a secret area. It costs so much and takes so much time to create content for games now that spending time on something that people only might see is not acceptable.
When I was young, games were meant to be learned, and playing through them was a process of discovery. I didn't need to be told that pressing A makes me jump, and down makes me crouch. I didn't need to be told not to run face first into goombas, and most importantly I didn't even know what a Metroid was, but it was interesting to learn as I played, and the game was paced as such that I could. The sense of exploration and discovery was what kept things interesting. Playing a game was more about playing through the world that was created for the game and completing whatever epic quest you were on to see what happens. Pushing the buttons at the right time was just a means to an end, while most modern games mistake the actual button pushing to be the fun part (Rock band!) and end up having the complexity and depth of a potato.
I have generalized a lot in the past few paragraphs. When I say we, I don't literally mean everyone. I just mean the majority of the community who unfortunately act as the voice of gamers, and when I say modern games I don't mean games like World of Goo, I mean games like Call of Duty, Rockband or almost anything for the Nintendo Wii.
In recent memory the only game that has recaptured what I felt way back when was Portal. I had only a vauge idea what it was from the one trailer that was released, but it came more or less out of nowhere, with such limited information about what the game actually entailed that it was fun to discover. It walked that fine line of gameplay we were familiar with, and gameplay that is new and interesting perfectly and the fantastically crafted storyline caught just about everyone that played it completely off guard, and really encouranged you to keep going. The gameplay was great, but you were still interested because of the game world itself, and not just the buttons you were pressing and the fancy effects.
The whole reason I started writing this was due to a feeling of dissapointment at the fact that I just don't feel excited when new games come out anymore. Games have been around long enough that they seem to have settled into their little rut and are quite comfortable throwing out Final Fantasy 700, Street Fighter Alpha Omega 42 Super Special Edition and World of Warcraft clones.
I'll still be first in line for Final Fantasy XIII, and I'll still be killing you when I see you in Diablo III, but part of me would rather be playing The Adventurs of Lolo, and wondering how it will all end. Video games need their revolution, we need the video game equivalent of Elvis. I can safely say that it's not going to come from the big budget developers either, as it is just too risky.
A few years from now we're going to look back and realize how stale games were. They looked great and every once in a while there was a fantastic game, but overall it was just boring.
I really believe that games are not going to recapture that same atmosphere that they had when we were young until independant developers are able to cheaply and quickly make the games that they want to make, regardless of whether or not they are well received in focus groups. It's already starting, with digital distribution quickly becoming the primary mode of delivery, and content creation tools becoming more and more intuitive I think it is only a matter of a few years before we have hundreds of wildly creative indie titles available, and it forces the big developers to rethink the tried and true and try to follow suit by allowing their staff to really think outside the box, and bring us back to the amazing worlds that we want to explore.
I suppose it's also possible that games are currently great and I really am just old and jaded.
Either way, I'm placing my bet on independant games taking the industry in the right direction long before Blizzard or EA Sports.