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The Golden Age of Gaming

It’s an oft-heard complaint, but it bears repeating for as long as it remains valid: the vast majority of today’s video games are simply not as creative as those made during the Golden Age of Gaming, when a single programmer can become a millionaire due to technical skill and imagination. Compare a title like Pitfall! to any number of today’s “platform scrollers” and it’s obvious that aside from vastly improved graphics, modern-day entries in this genre suffer from a very bad case of derivative game play.
How did this happen? How did the industry lose sight of imaginative game play and focus instead on graphics? To be sure, it is inevitable that titles should be so derivative because most of the basics have been covered: there are only so many ways to do a platform scroller or first-person shooter. Isometric views, overhead bird’s eye views – they’ve all been done. There are only so many ways to present the adventure and represent its characters. Fine. But taken as a whole, the catalog of contemporary gaming seems sorely lacking.

This is due to the demands of big business, as corporations spend multiple millions to develop one single title, the stakes are so high that risk-tolerance is low to non-existent. Thankfully, there is a vigorously thriving independent gaming scene, relegated mostly to “puzzlers” and so-called casual gaming titles that are relatively easy to program and are simple enough in concept but can provide many hours of amusement. Though addictive enough in their own rights, these games can also be easily walked away from, the equivalent of a Microsoft Solitaire. Titles like Crayon, Flower, Osmos, World of Goo, and And Yet It Moves provide mental stimulation in entirely novel ways. 

Mobile gaming is another arena for independent creators to dabble in the most imaginative ideas without fear of corporate disproval. In fact, this segment of the gaming market is expected to grow and dominate industry trends in another five to ten years with improved connectivity. Similarly, browser games and even more recently, games hosted by social networking sites, for example Farmville on Facebook, are a huge presence on the market for very casual gamers just looking to keep occupied as opposed to actively seeking out the next gaming adventure.
In fact, the discrepancy there between casual gamers and serious gamers is what is currently driving the industry. Because console games for PC or Playstation or Xbox now cost millions of dollars to produce and make as much as blockbuster Hollywood films, they are designed not only to be low risk investments with minimal innovation, but they are geared toward gamers willing to spend $60 on a game. And because of that, they must be designed more intricately to hold a gamer’s attention longer, giving more incentive for them to shell out that $60. Browser and cell phone games however must only appeal to casual users with little better to do than waste time. It is interesting to see how this difference in appeal and demographic will impact this perpetually growing industry.
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