By Neil Merrett
If our current digital age can allow us to access a literal world of games and entertainment at the touch of a button. How does one choose whether to stick with a game, or to ditch it for a thrilling new experience? One possible answer lies in the zen-like mind of a 1990’s mature gamer.
Choice can be as much a problem as it is a wonderful thing.
Technological advancement has meant a person’s ability to access any number of media forms has never been broader. This is as true for literature as it is movies, TV shows, videogames or even music.
Yes, there are some limits to such choice, notably in the form of having to have sufficient wealth, access to hardware or a stable enough internet connection.
However, the trusted adage about online pornography is now true of any facet of a culture. You can truly find anything online, whether as a means to sate an obscure kink, or rediscovering the fandom of a long forgotten French/Japanese cartoon that transposes Homer’s ancient epic poems into a weekly space adventure with robots and laser swords. For some, these things may be one and the same.
The internet has given us access to a literal world of media and collective knowledge that is made available without even having to dress yourself. How then do you satisfyingly pick or discover something new and entertaining amidst the noise?
The problem sometimes really can be choice. Technologists have previously noted the psychological difference between physically leaving one’s home to pick up some form of entertainment, whether at a largely defunct video stores that rented games and movies in physical formats, as opposed to obtaining something instantly at the touch of a button.
Without the ability to change a film at the press of a button or the touch of a screen – as is possible with modern streaming on home and portable devices – experiencing some major new movie or game a few decades ago was a balance of considered choice and compromise.
Whether as a group or individual, if you had to physically go out and gather some movie, it was imperative to make sure that an individual picked wisely, or otherwise face the risk of ostracism and familial mockery.
There is a psychological factor here that is already being seen in how humanity consumes entertainment, information and more broadly understands itself.
As Gady Epstein wrote in the Economist in 2017, the idea of ubiquitous mass entertainment at our immediate disposal, and its impacts on society, is being seen all around us.
He wrote, “Mass entertainment today can be tailor-made, not one-size-fits-all. There is something for everyone and at any time that suits. At the beginning of the day in New York, the dreary subway ride to work is filled with music.”
“In Tokyo, the journey home from the office is a time to devour manga on a mobile phone. In the evening in a rustbelt city outside Beijing, workers who cannot afford a night out may tune into broadcasts live-streamed by their fellow citizens. Billions of people can choose from a large range of mobile games at any time.”
The illusion of endless choice
As opposed to committing an hour of your life to some album or music, or settling down for a 120 minute film, games have their own unique challenge in keeping our attention in an age of potentially endless choice.
This is particularly the case of some major AAA-titles such as the online squad shooters Destiny 2 or Anthem. These are games intended, depending on preference, to require tens, if not hundreds of hours of playtime, the choice of which game to engage in next, or indeed to go back, can be a problem. A happy problem perhaps, but a problem nonetheless.
Like so much in life, prioritising is often the key, but where do you begin?
In getting older, you begin to see the increasing wisdom of elders from your past and their logic. As you begin to reach their age, something that seemed somehow alien during childhood can be almost zen as the year’s draw on.
One such maverick was a gentleman by the name of David Jacklin. Back in the 1992 and the days when Nintendo ruled the console gaming world, Super Mario Bros 3 was released to a world where children were overcome with anticipation for what was a must-own game.
This was a title that built on the loose principle of Super Mario Bros, but with a seemingly infinite expansion of colours, costumes, worlds and characters. It was billed as being everything people loved about Mario, but somehow larger, much more vivid and with a wealth of costumes and abilities at the player’s disposal to get around a particular level in numerous ways, rather than just simply jumping past your problems. Should you struggle with the game’s treacherous jumps, then when not turn into a flying rodent-man and glide above them?
As if some kind of safari tour, the now established Mario formula was further established in this game. This was seen partly in its creative enemy design, which was built around giving unique psychologies for each creature, whether a shy ghost that cannot stand being held in the direct eyeline of an enemy, or a gigantic fish seeking to swallow you up in one gulp as if Plankton.
Super Mario Brothers 3 seemed to have an entire ecosystem and foodchain that Mario had to battle through, as if some living breathing digital world.
It was a must-play game in the early 1990s. Millions of people obliged as soon as they could get their hands on a copy. Yet not everyone moved to the sequel straight away.
To Mr Jacklin, patience was key. How could he even look at this bright new world, while still in the midst of playing through super Mario Bros 2? A very different yet compelling game.
In short, he didn’t. David Jacklin refused to even watch others playing the game while Super Mario Brothers 2 was yet to be completed. The drive to push on was partly the potential of some new game at the end of his quest.
It is this sort of adult logic that can seem impenetrable in youth. Why would you rob yourself of the chance to immediately embrace the newest and most wonderful thing in games?
However, Mario 3 was there waiting for him for years to come to eventually play and experience in his own good time. Why not push on with the second game, looking for the wonder and challenge in what you have, rather than jumping into a new experience.
There are limits of course to how long one can wait to engage in some exciting must have new title. But as David Jacklin showed, it is equally important to push through and try to fully experience a game, before forgetting it in the clamour for the latest experience.
It was like the game of Pac-Man and its many sequels writ large. As a child, it can be hard to understand the value in saving those limited pac-pellets that provided vital, if temporary invincibility against your ghostly pursuers. Saving them instead for when you were really trapped and in trouble.
That drive of a child to consume as much as these valuable treasures, regardless of immediate need, still remains understandable now.
But like a challenging book or series, perseverance for a little longer, rather than launching into some new, potentially captivating digital adventure has its own rewards.
The emergence of online gaming and the shared connection with some close friends means this isn’t always possible.
But while it can be fun to embrace childish wonder and throw yourself into a new game the minute it is available, it can be equally as rewarding to stick with a challenging game and discover its outstanding mysteries.
Decades on, it is not a bad lesson to remind yourself of. Thank you Mr Jacklin.