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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Game on: ‘Video games have gone downhill’ is a silly notion

The Game Awards 2023 announced its nominees Monday. While it still features unsurprising nominees like The Legend of Zelda and Fortnite, the list is also joined by innovators like Hi-Fi Rush, Baldur’s Gate III, Dredge and Sea of Stars. 2023 has been an excellent year for video games.  (Game Awards)
By Riordan Zentler For The Spokesman-Review

If you’ve spent any time on social media or video game-centric corners of the internet, you’ve likely come across the proclamation that video games “have gone downhill,” or that games “aren’t fun anymore.” The statement is often accompanied by a depressing video clip of someone browsing their library of games before giving up and resorting to everyone’s favorite 21st-century activity – mindlessly scrolling their smartphone.

It’s difficult to take this pessimistic notion seriously coming from a modern-day media consumer glued to their phone. There’s certainly nothing wrong with a bit of media escapism – it’s one of the luxuries of our time – but, just like everything else, it’s easy to go overboard. I’ve personally found that putting time limits on my phone usage has improved my quality of life.

Accordingly, although this is a video game column, I’m going to suggest a wild concept – it’s OK to take a break from video games. While they’re typically more engaging than scrolling social media, games are undoubtedly capable of overstimulating a person’s dopamine receptors all the same. So take a break or better yet, try something new.

Gamers who spent 2023 revisiting Call of Duty or Minecraft for the thousandth time have ample reason to feel burnt out. But the year was also full of countless fresh, innovative titles from AAA developers and indie studios alike – a refreshing take on the BioShock formula with Atomic Heart, the innovative rhythm-based fighting game Hi-Fi Rush and the return of System Shock, among others.

Some of the most popular indie titles of the last decade received excellent sequels this year – among them, Darkest Dungeon, For The King, Wargroove and Oxenfree. Brand-new franchises like Pizza Tower, Dredge and Sea of Stars surprised and delighted gamers by introducing new concepts to tried-and-true genres.

Baldur’s Gate III took the gaming world by storm with its steadfast commitment to emphasizing the “role-playing” part of “role-playing game,” offering countless dialogue options and moral choices that truly influence the outcome of the game and the characters in it. It’s deservedly been nominated for eight awards at the Game Awards 2023.

Most of those preaching doom and gloom seem to be gluttons for punishment, returning for the thousandth time to grind ranks in Apex Legends and Rocket League or finish their timed battle passes in Fortnite and Call of Duty: Warzone. These games are designed to be addictive and prey upon players’ fear of missing out – it’s no wonder that those unable to pry themselves away to try something new are feeling negative about the industry as a whole.

Like any business, consumers vote with their wallets, so if you don’t support loot boxes, paid cosmetics, pay-to-win elements and other greedy practices, simply don’t play games with those features. But with mass-layoffs occurring this year at major companies like Bungie, Electronic Arts, Epic Games, Microsoft, Amazon and Unity, it seems many gamers are already making that choice.

Last year, Sony promised 12 live-service games by 2026. This month, they revealed only six would make the cut. Sega’s late bid to join the live-service landscape, Hyenas, was canceled during its beta. Perhaps these games as a service are beginning to bleed money. Whatever the case, it’s clear that a big shakeup in the AAA game industry is on the horizon.

Speaking of shakeups, my time penning Game On has come to a close. It’s been a marvelous run, and each and every reader response emailed to me was a delight to read and respond to. Without a doubt, writing for The Spokesman-Review has been my favorite “job” to date – and I struggle to call it a job because it was a true joy every single week.

Game On debuted in March 2020, a result of a frenzied newsroom brainstorming what content could grace the Arts & Entertainment section during a worldwide pandemic that closed down the Pacific Northwest’s venues, stadiums and theaters. While COVID-19 is far from eradicated, I’m happy those despondent days seem to be behind us. Thank you for reading.