With the public generally becoming more reluctant to pay for any form of content, the video gaming industry is becoming something of an anomaly these days. Top sellers such as the Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto franchises typically outperform any movie or music releases, raking in the millions and billions movie and music executives used to see but can only dream about these days.
Yet, even as the gaming industry gets richer, the diversity that gamers were so accustomed to is drying up and dying out, as video game publishers increasingly focus on the very narrow range of AAA releases that are inevitably first person shooters or open world action games. While there are a select few gems in the recent year (the Saints Row and Bioshock series come to mind), pretty much everything else is a nth generation clone that add little to the done-to-death genres in question. If you had played any games at all before the 21st Century, you will likely wonder what had happened to all the other genres, be it RPGs, fighting games, strategy games or parappa-style music games.
I started playing video games when I was in the army, mostly as a form of escapism. While my army acquaintances were living it up by patronizing dance clubs every weekend, I was too anti-social and too broke for the clubbing scene. At the same time, I was somewhat depressed by events at home and in camp to do any of the personal upgrading I promise I would do just before I enlisted. Friends slowly drifted apart: guy friends were often too tired to meet up while girl friends were in a different phase of their lives as they moved on with their university studies.
It wasn’t long before a distraction in the form of an arcade machine would provide me with much reprieve from the tedious army days. Back in the days, there would be arcade machines in the army camps. Each game session would cost twenty cents, which was a solid deal since an equivalent session would cost around fifty cents to a dollar in the civilian world at that point in time. I quickly became obsessed with the King of Fighters 96 and its 97 successor. Beating Orochi with Leona as one of my main team characters was the highlight of my army years, I kid you not.
Anyway, shortly after, based on a friend’s recommendation, I picked up an original PlayStation, which was the first console I ever owned. With the PS1, I mostly played JRPGs and fighting games. Fighting games were my main obsession, as the games were often easy to pick up, but difficult to master. I must had spent thousands of hours into games such as the Street Fighters, Marvel vs Capcom, KOF, Tekken and countless other lesser-known Japanese fighters.
The first time you chained a combo and beat your opponent into oblivion is an exhilarating cause for celebration. As you get more proficient in pulling off combos, you slowly develop higher level skills such as judgment of opponent’s reactions, exploiting fighting mechanics to your advantages and consideration of trade-offs in move execution. Of course, these skills are mostly useless in real life, but I truly believe that the pursuit of mastering such useless techniques had helped to stave off an otherwise overwhelming depression in those dark years.
That brings me back to my recent re-entry into the gaming world, which has become increasing mercenary as games publishers piled on DRM, DLCs and micro-transactions in an endless attempt to milk as much money as they could. Amidst all the money grubbing obscenities, it is nice to find an old school game like Tekken Tag Tournament 2, which gives away all its DLC characters for free, lets you customize your battle music and unlocks new items as you progress in the game. Fifteen years ago, that would not have meant much, but in the new gaming world order, it means everything.