Regular Later Levels visitors will be aware that The Secret of Monkey Island had a huge impact on me as a child. It taught me that worlds I thought only existed in books could be brought to life through pixels on a screen. Meeting Guybrush one Christmas created a lifelong love of the adventure genre – along with wannabe pirates, swordfighting insults and fine leather jackets.
I know many other people in the same age group have had similar experiences with other titles, and most seem to have one that that has defined them as a gamer and influenced their tastes. Just look at The Games That Define Us collaboration project being hosted over at Normal Happenings. Ian from Adventure Rules has picked Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door as his choice; Luke from Hundstrasse has gone for Resident Evil 2; and Chris from OverThinker Y is going to write about Kingdom Hearts.
A number of the questions posed by Graham at Digital Brain as part of his recent Sunshine Blogger Award nomination (thanks so much for this, if you’re reading!) were focused on how we perceive video games along with the relationship between this media and culture. They got me mulling over whether their cultural impact will change going forward and then eventually onto the subject of these personally-defining titles: will future generations of gamers still have individual games which resonate so strongly with them?
I guess the most obvious answer to this question is ‘yes’, because we have access to such a wide variety of titles nowadays that there’s something out there for absolutely everybody. From quiet and thoughtful adventures to epic quests about saving the world, there’s a digital story somewhere in between that’s going to speak to directly to the heart of each person. But talking to friends who are parents and teachers, and observing my own stepson when he plays video games makes me start to wonder.
Several people I know work in a teaching capacity in schools and each has said they’ve noticed a change in their students over recent years. Instead of being willing to take the time to research an idea in a book, it’s now hard to hold their interest unless the material is delivered to them instantly. Parent friends with youngsters have echoed similar sentiments and say their children have shorter attention spans and become easily distracted, with many placing the blame on technology such as mobile phones.
With my own stepson, I’ve certainly noticed differences in the way he approaches video games compared to my other-half and I when we were kids. Ethan is becoming more fickle the older he gets; he can play a new title for an hour one evening and go on about how much he enjoyed it, then move onto something else in the morning and never return to it. There have even been a few instances recently where he has installed a new game bought with his pocket money but never actually started it up.
I get that things are so much different today in terms of frequency of releases. When we were young – and I’m talking over 30 years ago here – the space between video games was far greater so you made the most of those you had. When you knew the next new title you could get your hands on might be three months or longer away, you kept plugging away at the one you were playing regardless of how painfully difficult it was (I’m looking at you, DuckTales).
But what effect do limited attention spans and endless distractions have on personally-defining games? Could failure to reach the ending cutscenes and those associated moments of realisation mean an end to gamers having that one title which sets them off on their future digital path? Ethan is aware how much The Secret of Monkey Island means to me, and it’s hard to imagine him not having similar conversations about his own special game with his kids one day (because obviously they’re going to be gamers too).
If I’m still blogging in ten years’ time, I’ll make a point of getting him to read this post and share his thoughts while he’s in his early twenties. I’ll ask him which title he feels left a mark on him and see whether he has a personally-defining game.
Let’s just hope it’s not Minecraft.