I feel like I've hit the wall, both creatively and when it comes to gaming. I've so far ignored this current generation of games, as none of the "next gen" systems on offer feel like they have anything to offer me, and yet this creates a conundrum for me. I honestly cannot remember the last time a game absolutely blew me away, and yet looking back through the past, through my own memories, I can see dozens upon dozens of instances. Some of them were gaming "firsts", such as the first time I saw 'Super Mario Bros.' in action and realized games could be larger than one static screen like the arcades offered, my first encounter with 'Resident Evil' where I learned the potential games had to terrify, or the first time I wandered through a fully-realized 3D city environment in 'Grand Theft Auto III' where you could just drive around and explore without being tied to missions or even time limits.
In fact, the more I think about it, the more I realize it's those "firsts" that have given meaning to gaming to me ever since I was little. Playing 'Dragon Warrior' on the NES, my first real RPG experience. Watching Sonic burn through stages at warp speed on the Genesis. Two-player racing battles in 'Super Mario Kart' and 'F-Zero'. Taking my first steps in the City of Vilcabamba level in Lara Croft's shoes within the 'Tomb Raider' demo.
'Tomb Raider' was twenty-one years ago, the summer of 1996, and while there have been other games like it, nothing has matched that feeling of immersion, of danger, of solitude and exploration. Twenty-one years. I was nineteen.
'Silent Hill 2' turns sixteen this September. I've never played another game that was so good I wanted to keep playing, but took me to places so awful to contemplate that I had to put it down just to process what I'd witnessed. I was twenty-four when Jess gave me the game for my birthday that October. Others have come close, but none have matched the horror of James Sunderland's journey through hell, searching for his wife Mary.
I could go on like this, but it just makes me depressed. I have close to fifty games in my PS3 library, and not one I can name has left me with the feeling that I've experienced something life-changing. Have I had fun? Absolutely! I loved the 'Tomb Raider' reboot of 2013. 'Bionic Commando: Rearmed' is a fantastic port/update of the NES Classic. 'Just Cause 2' is awesomely explosive open-world entertainment, and 'Saints Row 2' and its two sequels have picked up the mantle 'Grand Theft Auto' ditched when they opted for gritty and obnoxious realism over the comedic joy and silliness that comes from playing a video game. Nathan Drake's antics in 'Uncharted' are entertaining, but is Naughty Dog doing anything different from what Core Design did years ago and Indiana Jones did a decade before that?
Even the lone game in my PS3 library I could name that gave me that kind of 'first' experience is nothing more than an HD port of two PS2 games. 'Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga' was ground-breaking in its mixture of fun and simplicity, but again, I'd played it already a few years earlier when it was 'Lego Star Wars' and 'Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy'.
Then I think: 'Dead Space'. 'Dead Space' came closest. It did a lot of things right. But just like the 'Alien' films, 'Dead Space' became a victim of its own success. If the first game was a claustrophobic journey through the unknown, the second was the big action set piece where the protagonist went from ordinary survivor to badass hero, and by the third it was clear the people behind the series had lost all touch with what made it great in the first place. So, for the sake of argument, I'll say 'Dead Space' fits the mold, the requirements, for what I've been seeking.
'Dead Space' came out in 2008. That was damn near a decade ago...what the hell happened to it (and to me)?
Scanning the shelves, my gaze settles on 'Heavy Rain'. 'Heavy Rain' was bloody magnificent, I don't care what the haters say, but 'Heavy Rain' came out in 2010. Seven years later, what is there to match it? What is there to look forward to when it seems so many game companies are playing it safe? Can the field evolve further? I don't mean in terms of technological gimmicks like motion controls, touch screens, and VR headsets. I mean in terms of 'firsts', and meaningful firsts at that.
'Parasite Eve' blew me away in 1998 with its cinematic storytelling and exploration of a New York City at the turn of the millennium under siege from a sentient biological threat. Its sequel ditched the RPG elements, opting for a more straight-up survival horror presentation, and its most recent incarnation for the PSP, 'The Third Birthday', abandoned the Parasite Eve name all together in favor of a pseudo-sequel starring an Aya Brea who feels nothing like the original, who sight-jacks her way through a tired third-person action shooter. Where is the sense in this?
Though I never played sports, save for a stint in cross-country and track in high school where I was average at best, I feel at this point in my life like a has-been, looking back on her youth, vainly trying to hold on to memories of her glory days on the presumption that things will never change, in denial of the fact that not only will things change, but that they already have.
Maybe I'm asking for something I can never have. People could point to the eruption of building sandbox games like 'Minecraft', but I've played 'Minecraft' and found it too complicated and too time-consuming for my tastes. I can watch other people play it on YouTube and enjoy myself vicariously through their creations and interactions with the world and other players, but I feel like I've aged out of the demographic who can pick up and play it or its ilk.
So here I am, stuck between two worlds, aged out of one and left pining for another.
The truth is, for me, there likely will never be another 'Tomb Raider' moment, another 'Resident Evil' moment, another 'Parasite Eve' moment, another 'Silent Hill 2' moment. Video games are no longer made for people my age. Controls are too complex, single-player is often an afterthought, and so much that we see walks the line of utter safety. Another 'Call of Duty', another 'Halo', another 'Medal of Honor', another clone, another me-too, another waste of my time.
Whether I outgrew gaming or it outgrew me, I don't know. Ultimately, it doesn't matter. I have my memories, I have my flashes of inspiration, and I have the thankfulness that I was there to experience it all. I literally grew up with video games. But like so many of the friends I made as I grew up, life happened, people moved on, and so have I. Just as it would feel awkward to sit down with an old friend I haven't seen in fifteen years, it feels awkward trying to re-kindle my relationship with video games.
I want to be the same girl I was twenty years ago, reading through the magazines, eagerly watching the commercials, lapping up coverage of everything interesting me, visiting the rental stores to try new titles, cracking open new demo discs, and immersing myself in that world. I want to be. But I can't.
Whatever that was, whatever I had, I've lost it. It's left me, hopefully to take up root in someone else's imagination. I hope it's found another girl who watches trailers on YouTube and finds inspiration, who doesn't have room in her house for massive Lego builds but has plenty of RAM on her computer to play 'Minecraft', who grew up reading "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark" and now picks up the PS4 controller to play through 'Outlast' or 'Resident Evil VII'. I hope she finds what I lost, nurtures it, makes it a part of who she is, and goes on to draw inspiration from it.
Because I think it's done with me. And I don't see it coming back.