My full name is Farida Yusuf. I'm 17 years old and at the moment I live in Nigeria, which is where I experienced that falling out with games which we are about to talk about. But as for my introduction gaming, most of that took place in the UK, which is where I grew up.
One of the words you used to describe your feelings about videogames when you fell off was a word I had to look up: anhedonia. So what does that mean and how does it relate to videogames?
Basically anhedonia is defined as any period where you no longer find joy in something you used to find joy in doing or are generally attracted to as a pastime. I think I really related to that word because like you were saying before, it's not exactly that you ever really stop playing games, but that lapse is something that still happened and in reconciling the two feelings that I do love games but I also sometimes have a period where I don't really feel like venturing into that space anymore. It was really helpful in reconciling those two feelings.
How long was your respite from gaming?
It was a bit of a gradual process. So I'm not sure if I can attribute a solid time span to it. But I would say it lasted about a year.
And you've been playing again for six months now?
Yeah, pretty much.
The difficult thing with this is trying to separate out what was going on in your personal life from what was directly caused by games that made you lose interest. Over that period of time leading up to that year, what do you think it was that made you cut back?
During that time, ironically, it wasn't that games changed or there was a change in games that made me cut back. It was more that games had never changed to me. That's pretty much what I noticed. Maybe this is an idea that is bred from my perspective as a younger gamer, rather than most older gamers, people who have experienced the history of games through their lifetime. For me, it's been sort of like a modern exhibition that you visit or revisit in recent times. My view is based exclusively on present awareness. For example, the development between older games and newer games, it's mostly something I would describe through what I know now about games. It's not something that comes as a surprise to, say, people who played the NES when they were younger and now they're playing the Wii U. That general surprise phenomenon.
I don't want to be putting words in your mouth, but are you saying it feels like there's less reason to continue playing certain types of games if you didn't play those types of games? Like are you talking about a Mario?
I think it's something similar, yeah. Let me give an example to illustrate. For example, you know Super Mario World on the SNES, I think it was? And Super Mario 3D Land on the 3DS, for example. I first experienced those two games within the same year. So, basically the differences that were apparent to me weren't exactly surprising or anything. I mean, in both games, or in the entire Mario franchise, you have this objective of going from A to B within a certain level, like most platformers. The only thing that I can speak to was that how you travel from A to B within those two games -- in Super Mario World you're basically going left or right, up and down, but in Mario 3D World, people get to experience that innovation of 3D environments. You travel up, down, left, right, and diagonally. But the thing that comes with that development in going from 2D environments to 3D environments, it's just technical. At the end of the day, you're still just journeying from the beginning to the flag. There's nothing conceptual that comes with that development in the environment. Does that make sense?
It absolutely makes sense. You're talking about there being a sameness or things not really changing much. Is this specific just to Mario, what you're talking about, or where else did you experience that sameness?
I'm not just talking about Mario, but I think it's only the game I can use to illustrate what I'm talking about.
How long you had been playing before you gradually stopped?
I'd pretty much been playing since I had started, which was six years. Is there something I can ask you in response?
Yeah, please do!
While my observation of what may or may not have changed in games is pretty much just acting on hindsight here. On the other hand you've said that you've been playing games for a pretty long time, right?
[Laughs.] I think it's fair to say that, yeah.
Is there anything that you've observed actively growing up with games and everything during the time the medium was growing then that put you off? Any active changes?
It may just be that I played so many of them that they no longer -- this sounds really cocky or like a humble brag, but they didn't feel like a challenge to me. By that I mean it got to the point as a teenager where I would save up money all summer for a game and then I would beat in a couple hours. [Laughs.] For a kid, it's a much bigger preposition of trying to come up with $60 or $80 for an experience that only lasts a few hours. It no longer felt as worthwhile or as interesting. It's not like something else took my focus. It's just that it felt like a combination of what you're saying, of there being sameness to the experience, but also it not being substantive or longlasting. It's different today, I think, where you have indie developers trying to find ways to make games more effecting or affective in different ways to try to touch you emotionally, for example. There's also virtual reality to try to break out from that sameness, but before the Internet being as widely available as it is today, I think I went through it again. In college I would just use an emulator, but then just play a lot of the games I played before, or some new ones, but not nearly for as long and then losing interest.
Yeah, I think that's pretty much what I feel I just realized. I think I realized it's not exclusive to the timeline of playing. Comparing my experiences to yours, I think I've just realized it's something that's pretty much universal.
And yet, at least from my perspective, there seems to be a lack of this admission from so many people who write about or make games. That they feel this. I felt this. And they don't really talk about it, at least publicly. This is a big question to ask you, but why do you think people don't really talk about this?
[Laughs.] Yeah, it's actually possibly the biggest question that revolves around all this. I think it might have something to do with the fact that we here, right now, talking about our dissatisfaction, it's not really something you get to hear from the majority so I think it's often dismissed as some marginal concerns. But I think the fact that we here, and maybe it's just the two of us and in reality it's much more than that, but just for the sake of theory, we're here, we're talking about this. I think that might be enough evidence that the current culture is not all that sustainable.
I think we're seeing a lot of evidence of that. I don't think it's good for any group of people for there to be that expectation that when you're done you'll just move on. Or if not an expectation, at least there being a widespread shrugging over it.
Yeah. I definitely agree.
Because you said you felt expelled from games, from this sameness. But to flip things a bit, when you were at your height playing and were most excited about games, what were you playing? What did you enjoy about them?
To start off with, I would say I played pretty much everything I was able to come across back then because at the time games were an entirely new medium for me and experience for me. I enjoyed being able to inhabit a new character and a new plot, which, again, due to my lack of experience with games at that time was pretty much what every game was able to me offer. But as time goes went on, I would say that I was able to narrow it down to RPGs, adventure games, and life sims I think they're called?
Like The Sims?
Yeah, pretty much. I was able to narrow it down to that mostly because -- you know that feeling of space you get sometimes when you play certain games, like certain adventure games and RPGs like Zelda and Final Fantasy? Like, you know you're on a linear mission, but at the same time they give you this space that you're able to go around and explore. At the time that was pretty much what drew me in with those games. In hindsight, the games I enjoy now are pretty much founded on the principles of those games that I found most enjoyable, but just without a lot of the restraints that were put on those games with the sameness factor we're talking about.
Do you have specific examples of games?
I would mention The Sims but I think it's a little bit more of a complex example. While the sameness is there, I think it exhibits itself in a different way compared to the other adventure games I just mentioned. I will mention Animal Crossing, though.
As an example of something that's holding your attention now, or an example of sameness?
An example of sameness.
You're saying it exhibits the sameness in a different way, or that it's not really worth your time?
When I said The Sims exhibited that sameness in a different way, I was talking about -- The Sims doesn't exactly have a narrative to it the way other games do, but at the same time, you still have limited options in what you're able to actualize with the game.
Although I'm not personally a fan of The Sims or of Animal Crossing, I think there's still something to be said about how they have something in common with The Legend of Zelda or with even the first Mario where there's really not much of a story, but it's a game that functions as a toy. Where there's a lot of room for play, and there's stuff you can do, but the stuff you have to do --
Really takes precedence.
That's interesting. So are you not of the opinion, then, that games weren't as good as they used to be when you were younger?
There's nothing that would lead me to say that I know games are better now than when I was younger, or they were better when I was younger than they are now. It's more of an inflection from how my taste, what I was looking for in games and everything was projected onto games. But I can add what contributed to my not finding them as interesting anymore, and, again that can be pretty much be balled down to that sameness factor we keep bringing up.
At the bottom of most games, it's like there lies some sort of template, a tried and tested formula with most games. The fact that I rarely get to venture out of that, it's contributed to that feeling that games are starting to taper off.
You mentioned some of what you liked about games when you were younger. Usually there's this thing people fall into, which is sheer nostalgia, where they say games aren't as good as they used to be. What am I curious about, though, is there anything you used to see in games six years ago that you don't see as much of anymore across the landscape of games that you know about?
The thing is, I'm inclined to answer that most things I found in games when I was younger pretty much still would be there. I think what changes is just the fact that I don't find them as surprising anymore. I don't know if that's what people are referring to when they say games aren't as good anymore as they were back then. Because to me I don't think it's a matter of active change, just the perception.
Do you think that sameness you're talking about only applies to specific types of games?
I don't think so. I think it applies to the majority of games if not all games. I think what I can say is it just exhibits itself in different ways across different games.
What made you decide that games were worth your time again?
I guess buying a new system was the start of it. [Laughs.] Also I think more people I knew were hyping different new things that were coming out. I wasn't as busy as I was during the period when I wasn't playing anymore, was feeling sort of left out, and I was sort of idle, so I thought, "Okay, well, I should get back into that. I mean, there's no point in feeling left out anymore." So I was ready to just dip my toes into the water again. I honestly didn't have much of a reason to stay away from them as I had initially.
This is your DS Lite you're talking about?
No, I got a 3DS about two years ago.
What did you have before that when you were first into games?
That's the DS Lite.
Gotcha. Do you notice any difference between the 3DS and the DS Lite, as far as what's available on them? That's what you do the majority of your playing on, right?
Yeah, between that, and the PC. And honestly I think both of their libraries demonstrate similar tendencies at the base of it all. I honestly wouldn't say that anything has changed or there's anything significant about one over the other except maybe quantity. [Laughs.] I guess what could be said is that games on the 3DS are sort of doing more with what differs the 3DS from the DS which is not necessarily connected to gameplay but basically in just what entices you into the library.
As a result of trial and error, picking up what's popular, not really liking it and putting it down again. That sort of thing. I think it no longer has that much influence what I can find consciously interesting, like, what I decide to follow through with other than the factor of exposure. At the base of it all, the media is still pretty much responsible for coverage. But I wouldn't speak so confidently against the idea that the basic culture, of which the games media is a vessel, it might still steer me towards certain games or ideas by default. Like, what catches my eye. But other than that, I will say that I follow through with and what I buy, it's not that much of a factor anymore.
How would you describe the culture of games?
It's kind of hard to attribute a description to games culture because from where I'm looking, it's kind of hard to differentiate the culture from the marketing. Do you feel similarly?
I just know that I never really feel comfortable around people who self-identify first as a fan of games. I have never felt that love of games or buying games or playing games is the foundation for much when interacting with other people. I've never felt like it's a thing that connects me with another person. Does that make sense?
I think it does, yeah. I mean, even though I play games regularly nowadays, I would also agree that I never felt like that activity is the central foundation of any relationship I have with any friend or anything. It's just a thing we bring up sometimes when we're playing. "Okay, what're you playing? What're you interested?" It's just a side thing.
Something I've been thinking about lately is just skepticism of there even being games culture. I suspect some of that has to do with what you said, which is that a large part of the culture is determined by the marketing. To me, what comes to mind is let's say there are aliens. Let's say they come and abduct random people off earth and then they put them somewhere else, together. All in one colony. What would those people have to talk about with each other? There is that very shallow connection of, "Oh, you were abducted by aliens? Yeah, me too." It doesn't necessarily mean that you're gonna have a lot more to talk about beyond that. Do you know what I mean?
[Laughs.] Yeah, yeah, I do know what you mean. It's a very interesting example. An interesting experience that I've had, actually, is I have met one of my closest friends at present through this gaming forum where people congregate and talk about games. But outside that forum, which is mostly where our friendship, like, outside that forum, I find that games are just one part of what we talk about. It's not really what our friendship is currently founded on or anything. Obviously we're both still avid gamers, but that's just another thing we talk about.
Is there much of an arcade scene in the UK or in Nigeria?
I think there is an arcade scene in Nigeria, but the thing is it doesn't have that ambiance of hardcore gaming fans or anything. It's more of an element of popular culture like people go to arcades, they play whatever catches their eye, they go home. In the UK, I think it was actually quite similar. It wasn't really characteristic of any intense interest in games. It's just basically, if you wanted to play a game there, you pop over and you play a game.
Actually, there's this question that I've had knocking around my mind. A big theme in what we're talking is actually how secluded the games culture is. People are saying this element of seclusion is from the history of games as being sort of like niche entertainment, where avid gamers, like I'm not so sure how long ago we're talking, but at a time avid gamers had formed groups all over the place. It wasn't this whole huge integrated culture. So it basically was outcast as being unpopular just from a niche hobby.
Well, when I was growing up, videogames were never supposed to be cool. It has a different stigma now, but it used to have a stigma of being antisocial or you don't know how to connect with other people. But for me and my friends growing up, and even the friends I have today, games are a way of connecting with other people. It can be in a social setting, like, "Hey, let's go to the arcade and play games together" or "Hey, let's go to each other's houses and play games." It's sort of like a communal act.
Yeah, I think that's how any common interest functions.
I feel like it's inevitable with technological advances, because while it's certainly great because how else could someone like me get connected with someone like you, it also has ways of secluding and isolating us further. Which is great for games as a business, but I don't know if it's great for games as a creative medium. That's some of where I'm coming from.
I wasn't around for the '80s or most of the '90s for that matter, but when I'm looking back at popular media from around that time, like films and TV shows from around that time, I noticed that a lot of them feature arcades as a popular social setting. I have been given the impression than when gaming became more secluded, it sort of coincided with when home gaming systems came to replace arcades as the main path to gaming. Is that true? Arcades being popular at some point during that time?
Yes. In fact, you could make the case that home consoles really killed the arcade. I don't think anyone in America would debate that. They're just sort of extinct. There are still arcades in Japan, by way of comparison, and that's much more part of the culture. I mean, that's where videogames as we know them really popularly come from. They spread. And there is a revival of arcades happening here, but there seems to be just less of an impetus for people to leave their homes and play a game. So, they're very niche again in a weird and different way. The path that sameness sacrificed what made games, I think, special. So you missed some of that. Those games are still around, but the context is lost.
I have played them, actually. Either in arcades or on certain sites on the PC where you can play those older games. I'm not sure if that's legal or not.
[Laughs.] Yeah, I mean, because I wasn't able to experience that firsthand, I'm just trying to connect the dots.
Did I connect those dots or do you have any other questions?
You connected most of them, but I'm just thinking. You know how we were saying how gaming was pretty popular in Japan, whereas in America there's the whole revival process that went on, I mean, would I be right in thinking that there's less of a stigma in Japan, given that arcades never really underwent that death that America experienced? It's more of an aspect of the popular culture there? There's no seclusion as we face in most parts of the West?
I'm not sure. I think those trends range among the fact there's popular appeal, name recognition, or shock factor. But one thing I can notice is that you know how there's this -- we'll put it under the whole indie section of the industry. I'm not sure if you realized this, but I always found there's this sort of division between mainstream game coverage and indie game coverage. Mainstream game coverage is pretty much what keeps people coming back, but games media also pays attention to indie coverage because it's pretty much what's trending recently. I mean, am I the only one who thinks that?
You think indie games are being treated as trendy or hip?
Well, yeah, basically. Which is pretty much their place in the media. If indie games hadn't really caught so much traction, I really wouldn't expect them to be covered. Like, for instance, I've actually been pretty curious, I've been meaning to ask you this question. I've been curious to hear what procedure for popular media outlets follow, if any at all, where they determine what to cover. I think back in 2012 I worked this one site for some time as a games reporter. I really had nothing to do, and pretty much all that was given to me as an objective was to follow my nose, cover what's big, etc., etc. I think the takeaway from that games coverage relies on intuition, in finding what to cover, in finding what's big, I think that probably speaks to how static games can be. Like, falling back to the point that marketing and media entities are fundamentally intertwined.
So wait, what's your question?
Working at one outlet and basically just branching all over looking for stories might be different from your experience as a freelancer, but what might you be able to say to say of the trends in games media as a freelancer?
I was actually going to say that was pretty much what I was talking about once I experienced working at that small site and covering news and everything. You're basically just regurgitating what you're fed. I mean, I would like to think that maybe at some point or in some place there's a method that differs from that, but I don't know. Looking at how even the biggest of the biggest sites operate, I think that's pretty much the modus operandi.
I can't speak for all sites. I can only speak for myself. I always thought the term "games journalist" was so weird because you don't get Pulitzers for covering marketing. I think there are some writers who do a good job for writing about games in interesting ways, but by and large they're the minority. But I think they're part of what's changing in games and what's trying to change in games, which is that games are trying to grow up. And by that I don't mean they're going to be about adult or mature things, but to try to break out of this sameness. We as players and lovers of the medium either have to get proactive in finding things or we make our peace with it, say it's fine and don't expect it to improve, or you just stop playing. I think those are the three things that typically happen.
I actually think that was pretty spot on.
So I guess my big question, then, is why does it matter or who does it really hurt if bigger games are less creative and it requires much more effort to find other, more interesting things?
Well, I'm inclined to say in practice it hurts all of us. I mean, some people aren't hurt as actively or as presently as others, but that's why people can still find objection to these sorts of discussions we're having, but if some people are really concerned for, like, our own dissatisfaction that we're talking about right now, I think the least we can be concerned for is the legacy we're leaving for videogames as a medium. It's not looking particularly good right now. Twenty years from now we'll probably be hard pressed to explain why most of the money in the industry is coming from spiritual sequels to Rambo. [Laughs.]
As time goes on, we're going to have a generation of people looking back, and that generation may not be either yours or mine, or it might just be us in the future, but we're going to look back and we're going to look at what we had then. If there's no plausible change, I think it's honestly going to come across looking really curious.