man w axe

I've been playing video games for decades now.

I played some of the first classic games, when they were released. Secret of Monkey Island. Another World. Even obscurities now lost to time, like the French scifi game Captain Blood.

I fondly remember arthouse developers of the time, too, like Psygnosis.

There was always a question, from the beginning, as to what these computer games were really about.

Were they games?

Were they military simulations?

Were they art?

That was one axis.

Were they about doing (often simulating violence), or were they about thinking?

That was another axis.

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In the beginning, technical limitations decided it: they couldn't be simulators, because the graphical resolution was too low, as was the audio and video capability.

That kept a certain element out: people who wanted their games to reflect a tough, brutal aesthetic.

The resolution was just too low to convincingly sell that, and people who liked that kind of entertainment stayed away.

So video games evolved in an artsy, abstract direction, even in mainstream releases. Even Mario had his chiptune soundtrack and stylized, graphically striking monsters.

It was partly a choice: that's what games at the time could do.

But then it attracted a crowd around it. It become self-selecting, and self-supporting. A lot of them seemed like somewhat gamified art school projects.

If you share this point of view, that puts the history of video games in a different light.

Your milestones are different, your masterpieces are different.

For me, when Doom came around, in 1995, it was a little bit ominous. It was fine. I could see that, technically, it broke new ground.

At the same time, it wasn't really my kind of game. Contrary to the news reports I've seen before and since, I wasn't electrified by it or anything.

'Cool, maybe new games will use this engine' was the extent of my excitement over it.

The colors were drab. As much buzz as it got, I didn't find everything about it to be genius. It gets old, moving around the same-looking dungeons, shooting your gun.

It's not just that games have gotten better since then. I had favorite games back then too, and Doom wasn't a favorite.

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I could also see that there was a kind of literalness to it that I wasn't crazy about.

The movie-dominating story of a guy with a gun had come to video games too, in a way that no longer seemed totally ridiculous.

Now that kind of guy was going to advocate for games like that to come to video game shelves - and that didn't sound great to me.

What I didn't think at the time was that this was the beginning of a trend that, from my point of view, got worse.

As time went on, games like 'Doom' took up more and more oxygen.

Next came Quake.

Doom had some gonzo creativity going for it, but Quake, to me, just seemed boring; now they were really going hard for simulation. It felt, convincingly for the time, like being in a claustrophic room, playing paintball.

I didn't want that.

I could enjoy that in small doses in a James Bond movie, but I didn't want that one scene stretched out over hours as 'entertainment.'

At the same time, something weird was happening in the media landscape.

There was a long tradition of people playing video games pretty seriously, to that point. But it seemed like the perception hardened around the Quake/Doom player as the quintessential video game player.

You could ask: Why? I did.

It was just one more kind of game, one flavor of many. But that, increasingly, became what games were about: iterating on the Quake model, pretty much to the present day.

And although it may be heresy to say it, I find that flavor dull.

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From my perspective, games started out good. They were original. They worked within tight constraints. They were, mind-warping. They were, always, strange.

A lot of the developments post-Doom I didn't particularly like. By college, I'd quit entirely.

Years later, I got back into 'indie' games, which, as the name implies, is a niche. But from my perspective, those were the game that continued the tradition.

It's a different view on game history - one where games started out fun, lost their way when they become commercial, and then splintered off in a way I could love again.

But it's a reminder, when you see a history about 'how it happened,' the milestones, the breakthroughs, the most notable achievements, may not be the matter of consensus that front page articles suggest.