Scott Steinberg: Less is More
Maybe it's some sort of social Rorschach test, but every time I meet someone who shares an interest in interactive entertainment, they always seem to ask: Which games are you currently playing? If I'm feeling sporting, the answer is simple: An eclectic mix of titles like Brutal Legend, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Uncharted 2, Heroes Over Europe and Saw (evisceration-prone fun for the entire family). If I'm feeling blunter, though, frankly, I'll be more honest... Games such as Trials HD, Plants vs. Zombies and "Bloody hell, how I do cram 60 hours' work into a single @#$! day" are really getting the most love as of late.
Sound familiar? Then you too may also be one of a growing number of disenfranchised hardcore players, whose desire to snipe the next commando or slay the latest dragon has been severely cramped in recent years by this little thing called reality. Much to my poor wife's chagrin, it's not that, as a grown man, the desire to traverse Mass Effect's wartorn galaxy or explore BioShock's sunken utopia has cooled. More so than ever, in fact, I suspect that many relish such chances to escape life's everyday pressures. Rather, it's just that between the increasing demands of today's ever-growing work week and the speed at which society moves, well... let's just say there's barely enough time to sit around the dinner table and catch a little telly after a 16-hour stretch at the office, let alone stop and save the universe. Hence the reason so many raised on classics such as Wizardry and Beneath a Steel Sky are today most excited by what is arguably gaming's best new trend: a shift to shorter, more immediately fulfilling digital diversions.
Call it a sign from above. You know there's a massive sea change happening when a company that once billed itself as "Epic MegaGames" feels compelled to pump out a quick, easily digestible (and rather spiffy, if I do say so) outing like Shadow Complex. Or when literally thousands of talented developers suddenly start fleeing public companies and set-top consoles en masse and flocking to setup shop out of their garage and push bite-sized gaming experiences out via alternate distribution platforms like Steam, WiiWare and the iPhone. Methinks it's a smart move, though - nowadays, players are just as likely to get their fix of thumb-waggling thrills on their cellie while waiting in line for the bus or a film as sitting in front of their 50-inch plasma anyhow. Or, for that matter, fire up Facebook and enjoy 10 minutes of Mafia Wars between classes or quickly download and enjoy an indie game or episodic title on their PC that barely lasts as long as the average made-for-TV movie. And in my opinion, it's a healthy shift for an industry that's long put too much emphasis on 60-hour odysseys that didn't fit in with fans' changing lifestyles or interests.
Don't get me wrong. There will always be a special place in my heart, as well as millions of fellow enthusiasts' aortas, for sprawling adventures such as Borderlands or Dragon Age: Origins. But between work, play, parenthood and the rigors of the daily routine, chances are, you'll be more likely to find most of us - yes, even those who grew up with joysticks glued to our hands - playing rounds of Zombie Apocalypse or clocking in quick hits of Battlefield 1943 going forward. Because while you can't turn back the hands of time, well... let's just say this. It's a hell of lot easier to rearrange one's schedule to fit in 10 minutes here or 15 there versus trying to set aside a three-hour marathon session in front of the couch, only to find the 5 o'clock whistle's suddenly crept up and bit you in the ass.
Video game expert and TV/radio host Scott Steinberg is the author of Get Rich Playing Games and the creator of game industry documentary series Players Only. A celebrated gadget guru and technology expert, he frequently appears as a technology and video game analyst on broadcast networks like ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and CNN, and has contributed to 400+ outlets from The New York Times to Playboy and Rolling Stone. For more of his insights, visit www.scottsteinberg.com.