For quite a while now I've felt like video games are as much an art form as a billboard on the side of the road. The answer depends on how you feel about billboards. Free-2-Play is really taking off and not showing signs of slowing down. In that hit-driven lottery, the science going into monetization is getting downright scary. Thank goodness for indie games... Thank goodness for... Nintendo?!
I remember games of my youth as having some semblance of dignity. I'd put Mario or Zelda in the console and the game would just play. I'd install 7th Guest or Quake or Warcraft 3 on my PC and it would just play. Don't get me wrong, we had Sonic ice creams and Mario cereals, but that didn't infect my play experience, it was just Mario's face on the same compressed flakes of sugar I had always been eating. There is a difference. Injecting artificial content into the game mechanics would have been like picking up a box of Frosted Flakes and getting Colon Blow inside; it's not the same! Though I'm sure I could have pre-ordered a box and gotten a limited frosted edition.
These days video games are unsurprisingly like going to the theater. You can't get to the restroom without crossing the arcade or the food stand. You can't just buy something without being asked to buy more or upgrade "for just $0.25 more". You can't just enjoy the movie before watching a series of TV commercials that are bordering on being longer than the movie. You can't even enjoy yourself because there are more interruptions than that guy with a small bladder who insists on sitting in the middle of a crowded aisle with a 120 oz diet coke. It's important to remember however, the distinction of the film itself from the experience built around it. A movie can still be great, even if the theater sucks.
I get upset when the topic of "games as art" comes up. I want to defend it, but I honestly can't. I want to say, "Look! Games like The Last of Us, GTA, Red Dead; heck Mario and Zelda, prove that games can be compelling!" but the reality is that games like those are the outliers. More and more, they represent the exception to what a video game is today.
Honestly, a younger me would be screaming right now. I would be pulling my hair out, trying to understand where exactly it all went wrong. There is a younger generation that is more accepting of this however. They've grown up their entire lives with banner ads being pushed in their face; it's amazing at how quickly these young kids have learned to hit X on the popup ads without even blinking. Now games have resorted to corporate sponsorships and clinical trials of addictive gameplay. We've moved beyond the question of, "is it fun?" into the psychology of, "how much can we monetize this?".
I look at a company like Nintendo and I just don't know what to think anymore. I was just as angry as the next Nintendo fanboy at how they've been treating their brand lately. I kept expecting them to do something wild and different from their steady path, to follow more closely to Microsoft and Sony. I wanted them to stop recycling their franchises. I wanted them to grow up a little.
In looking back at it all now, I feel like I may have been horribly wrong. For as much as people lambast Nintendo for being, "behind the times" I don't know that I've ever had to stop playing one of their games to dig around for my credit card. I bought their game, put it into the console, and it just played... The Wii was like this, and I'm told the WiiU is very much the same. They may be slow to adopt modern ideals, the shareholders may hate Nintendo's stoic reaction to the mobile gold rush, and they may be working at a snails pace to catch up to Xbox LIVE, but that stubbornness is also what has kept them from completely destroying what made gaming special for my generation.
I think it's cool that we can live in a world where A Link Between Worlds is rated on the same scale as Assassin's Creed, but at least Link didn't need to pre-order Exclusive pants to make him run faster... I may be adding a WiiU to my Christmas list. I think I'm finally ready to accept that it's okay to just have a little fun every now and then; the kind of fun you put into your console and it just plays...