Look at us now my console brethren. DLC. Gimmicky peripherals. Pay to play. What happened to us? Remember cheat codes? Remember full products? No. All you remember is how many days it took you to get third and a half prestige in Call of Duty 5: Duty Assault. The soul is gone and you can’t even pinpoint where it all went wrong. I was once like you, afraid and misguided, but it all became clear to me. I was being digitally teabagged when it happened. But in that teabag, I saw the truth. I can now recall the exact moment when the console began to die.
It was early 2001 and I was excitedly flipping through the shiny pages of the newest issue of PlayStation Magazine. Though as a child I was never an avid reader, the articles were enough to keep me entertained while I waited on my brother’s return from the bathroom with the playable demo disc that was packaged with every issue. Prepared for a long wait, I happily flipped page after gorgeous page on a nonstop journey to the back of the magazine where the cheats for games were located. It was wonderful as usual and just as hype as the other issues I had read; I expected it to be a somewhat typical ride– but suddenly, that all changed.
I flipped another page and the air became heavy; I could feel that something had changed in the world. Something had changed in me. My journey had come to a violent stop and I was left sitting, stunned by a full spread. Socom U.S. Navy Seals. Oh, the glory. An online FPS. At the time, on the console this was relatively unheard of. My brother returned from the bathroom, his expression confused and his face dripping with sweat, he too had noticed the change. “What is happening?” he questioned, almost fearfully. It was too late for questions. All I could do was hand him the magazine.
We knew something strange had taken place in our bedroom and also moments before in the bathroom with the disc. I was naive and did not trust my gut. I ignored what my mind, heart, and soul were telling me. At the time a part of me knew this was wrong but I was still so excited. Surely the people I would play with would be nice. Surely I would make friends with them all. They would never pretend to place their testicles on my face or in my mouth. I read that piece about Socom more times than I can remember. How could something that seemed so great be a sign of the Consocalypse?
Not too many years later, that basic online functionality on the console became full blown Everquest and it seemed the console was transforming, from standalone game box to not-as-good PC. It wasn’t until 2005, with the release of the Xbox 360 that times became truly dark. I expected good games with shiny new graphics and instead received DLC, other non-game media being jammed in my face, and focus on the multiplayer experience. At the time, I didn’t want anything jammed in my face and hoped the assault on everything I loved would soon end.
Spoiler: It didn’t.
What was once perhaps harmless online console fun is now small children trolling you to death with rockets at your respawn, patching of content in order to fix games, and a desire in the game industry to limit general usage in order to make more money. What were once gorgeous worlds that were painstakingly created are now environments that are rushed and released with bare bones gameplay features and matchmaking capabilities. So often, developers are telling the player “Your stepmom and I are going upstairs, here is some online stuff, go do a deathmatch or something.” They stopped caring about us a long time ago.
Now, the “proto-duty” that was Socom has mutated into the full evil that is the CoD franchise. Though the title sounds like the desire to move one’s bowels, people are still eating it up and are prepared for even more. Its no secret that most of the best-selling console games are now first-person bro shooters that have gameplay that relies heavily on online matchmaking and its also easy to see that there is no end in sight for the duty or the FPS multiplayer genre. This change is permanent.
None of this is to say that the single player narrative experience no longer matters or that there are no longer any fun single player games. They are just not as important. There are great games with little to no online connectivity, they simply lack the love and close detail of games before the DLC era. BioShock, GTA: V, and Mass Effect are all wonderful games but they lack greatly in gameplay and writing when compared with titles like Metal Gear Solid, TES: Morrowind, or GTA: Vice City.
Some of the only games that make me feel special on the console now are from indie groups and are typically multiplatform. Telltale projects, Minecraft, and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons are some of my favorites. These somewhat unusual games take me back to a time when I didn’t have to worry about updates or friends coming online, breaking my immersion. They take me back to a time when I would never have to play with people I wouldn’t otherwise play with. They take me way back, to a time when I did what I wanted to do with my games and I could flick through manuals and I could become invested in the games I played.
At the end of the day, this is damage that is irreversible and all I can do is mourn the console as I knew it. I will follow the growing indie scene as I continue to bitterly place all the blame on the birth and popularity of the online console shooter. I have faith that those who have played the games I have played will allow for in the future some form of content to ease the pain in my heart. I will never give up on the console but for now I’ll return to my Artificial Girl 2 save on the PC. I am the only one who will be doing teabagging around here.