I recently needed to clear up space on my Playstation 4, so I went through my digital archive of saved videos that I’d collected over the years. These videos were captured after a round that I’d thought (at the time) was worthwhile remembering. I flicked through the videos, watching mayhem occur at 2x speed as I was trying to figure out why exactly I had saved this video. At the end of each video, I hit delete, left none the wiser why I thought this was a worthwhile gaming memory to keep. At the end, I realised that there was nothing particularly memorable about the time I’d spent with the Battlefield series.
Now, that’s not to say that I don’t have fond memories of games that I have spent countless hours with – I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for Lydia from Skyrim, and I’ll never forget destroying a town with a nuclear bomb in Fallout 3, both games I’d spent over 100 hours in -, it’s just that when you’ve spent a month with something, you usually walk away with something afterwards. When my only memory of Battlefield 1 is of the moment when Peter O’Brien appears as an Aussie soldier, well, the egg is well and truly on my face for having fallen for the guise that is online gaming.
This is not to say that great memories haven’t been created within the realm of online gaming – after all, people have gotten married to people they’ve met online -, it’s just that it’s in the field of online gaming that the ‘game’ (read: two sides compete, one wins, the other loses) aspect of gaming becomes more pronounced. Developers finely craft and hone the wealth of their technical prowess into a wholly manufactured experience that is designed to consume your time. After all, as Netflix has shown us, time is money. Netflix no longer gauges how many shows or movies people watch, but rather how many hours they consume, and how many days they consume those hours.
As video games evolve, they look to monopolise on that precious currency. Game series have no longer become annualised affairs that reach into the dedicated players pockets and retrieve their cool, freshly earned $100. Instead, they’ve gradually become services that request the player invest an endless amount of time, and for that player to invest said time, they will (ideally) become hooked onto whatever narrative the game is spinning.
(A brief sidenote: That $100 would take the average Australian just under four hours of work time to pay for, if we operate on the assumption that they’re earning $33.68 an hour. It seems that people rarely discuss how much work time they have had to put in to be able to purchase the game, console, book, or movie, that they want to have entertain them. Ask yourself – if a game like Red Dead Redemption 2 offers over 60 hours of ‘entertainment’, is having worked four hours at your job worth the time to cost ratio?)
It could be the genre defying space western series that is Destiny that quietly nudges players towards buying the latest DLC content to get the most out of the game, managing to do so by just as quietly adjusting background stats for weapons. Or there’s the parent-worrying Fortnite, which is a game in itself that doesn’t have a narrative per say, but the continually morphing map encourages player interaction en masse, even though the actual gameplay doesn’t appear to change all that much.
Ubisoft have become a company that has managed to finesse the ‘games as service’ format. Take Rainbow Six Siege for example. A basic team based shooter when it began, utilising a familiar format. But, when ‘seasons’ were introduced into the game, and new characters were able to be purchased by the players, the longevity of the game became clear. Yes, the format stayed the same, but the map rotation was consistent (and most importantly, free for all players), and the new characters helped keep the gameplay fresh and inventive for all players. For those who wanted to purchase new characters, you had a whole new toolkit to play with and perfect. For those who wanted to purchase the base game and simply enjoy the stock standard characters that were offered, then they had the option of doing so, with the understanding that gameplay would change as new characters came onto the scene.
Rainbow Six Siege has been a major success, and has been carrying on with this format for three years. To bring it back to Rockstar, Grand Theft Auto V is, again, the highest grossing piece of entertainment ever. A cool $6,000,000,000 plus change. That’s what games as a service can do.
But, you could argue, for the mere price of $50 or so, you could pick yourself up a Dungeons and Dragons handbook, and have yourself over three hundred hours of entertainment. And, this is entertainment that you are likely to remember and recall actual moments from as you’re engaging with real, physical human beings. And, you’re not wrong. As the ‘games as service’ format has long been perfected by Dungeons and Dragons. New adventures become available every so often, bringing a burst of life to the game. Dungeons and Dragons is built with ingenuity and memorable moments in mind. It’s built with player creativity, encouraging you to live out a fantasy world and to never let anything hold you down.
Arguably, that’s also what Grand Theft Auto V online manages to do. It throws open a realistic world and allows you to wreak chaos and mania on the digital citizens who occupy the streets. Part of the joy of Grand Theft Auto V is being let loose into a digital world that looks not too dissimilar from the one we currently occupy, and being able to do pretty much whatever you want. It encourages player creativity, and encourages mayhem and chaos.
Destruction, chaos, violence, mayhem – it’s the currency of choice for many video games. And while that may be enough for some players to engage with as a way of blowing off steam, or as a digital sandbox for them to play with, there’s a dark, underlying current of monopolising on real world tragedies that has utilises this destruction as a way of creating entertainment. The ‘war’ genre of gaming has long been a major culprit of digging into the graves of soldiers and resurrecting battles that they lost their lives over.