I've been playing video games for almost three decades. I can't pinpoint the first time I picked up a controller and knew what I was doing or looked up at a TV screen and became captivated by a game, but I know by the age of four, I was mildly obsessed with my Mega Drive. Like everything I enjoyed as a kid, gaming was something you were made to believe you would grow out of. Thankfully I never did, and even better, the stigma of adults playing games has melted away somewhat since the mid-'90s, though unfortunately it isn't gone entirely.
While it never went away, much like the industry itself, my love of games evolved and changed over time. New consoles and better-looking games came into my life. I fell in love with football and discovered FIFA. The same can be said for music and I stumbled upon games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band. However, somewhere along the way, I stopped having fun, and it took me until relatively recently, more than 15 years later, to realize that.
The realization that I wasn't necessarily playing games to have fun anymore first started to sink in when people around me would discuss games that I hadn't played. Games that everyone else in the room had played and loved, but I had never touched. I would see viral tweets asking questions along the lines of “which major series have you never played and why?” Others would speak of their shame due to never playing a Zelda game, or having never taken Sonic for a spin. I would scroll through answers and realize I had simply missed out on entire series almost everyone else had played, and I had no idea why.
I had been playing games my whole life, never taking a break. Then it dawned on me. I hadn't been playing games. I had been playing a particular type of game. A type that has reached an unfathomable level of popularity in today's market. Today you might refer to them as Battle Pass games, and a fair few of them have consumed my life without me even realizing. The thing is, I was sacrificing every spare hour I had to play games Battle Pass-style games before Battle Passes were even a thing.
The aforementioned FIFA was my gateway game. As soon as lower league teams were added to FIFA in 2003, I was hooked. When I got home from school, I would fire up my PS2 and play FIFA. If I went to a friend's house, we'd be playing FIFA. Wake up on Saturday, Sunday, or during the school holidays, you guessed it, FIFA. Thank the football gods there was no such thing as a PlayStation Wrap-Up back then as the amount of time I spent playing those games would pale in comparison to the 500 hours Techland wants you to pump into Dying Light 2.
The first game I can recall breaking my FIFA cycle was Modern Warfare 2. It's my most played Call of Duty game by a large margin, yet I never touched the campaign. Just its iconic multiplayer for hours and hours. Repeatedly jumping into Favela and Rust to team up with and take on strangers. Although this entire piece is damning my time playing games this way, I'd still kill for a remaster of MW2's multiplayer mode. Hell, just let me sit in a full lobby and feel the nostalgia, I don't even need to play the game.
At university by this time, even when I played games with friends, I still wasn't experiencing the full spectrum of what was out there. If it wasn't FIFA, it was Rock Band, the perfect game to play before heading out for the night. The direction of the industry at this point only made the problem I didn't realize I had even worse. Shortly after it launched, I discovered Fortnite. The very first time I was tasked with progressing through a Battle Pass before that progression was reset, and I had to do it all over again.
Fortnite was eventually joined by Rocket League. Two Battle Passes on the go. Mindlessly doing the same thing over and over again so I could unlock an emote or a paint job I'd probably never look at again, let alone equip. It wasn't until I was playing Crash Team Racing one night that it hit me. Marvel's Spider-Man had pulled me back to the single-player, story-driven side of video games. However, as I sat down to play it one evening, something in my brain told me I needed to play CTR instead. I checked out the challenges and proceeded to race the same track over and over again, attempting to finish first so I could maximize my Battle Pass progression.
I didn't want to play CTR, but I couldn't stop. I was addicted to the feeling you get when you unlock a new character or new skin through a Battle Pass, no matter how meaningless that new item was. Spider-Man had unlocked something inside me, though. Something that had been locked away for more than a decade. That games have stories to tell. They don't have to be a never-ending grind without a narrative. They're supposed to make you actually feel something, and more important than anything else, they're supposed to be fun.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake furthered gaming's effort to drag me out of my Battle Pass haze, and it succeeded. Having been a huge fan of the original before FIFA dragged me over to the dark side, I couldn't stop playing. Every time I had a spare few hours, they were spent playing FF7. After I was done, I wanted more. Not more Final Fantasy necessarily, just more games with great stories I had missed while wandering through a sea of grinding for items and having my progression reset at the start of every season.
TheGamer celebrated Mass Effect which prompted me to start playing through them and yes, they are as good as my colleagues made them out to be. The Last Of Us has replaced Sonic 2 as my favorite game of all time. I consider myself a Pokemon fan but hadn't played a single game in the series since Yellow before picking up Shield. Speaking of which, an industry-wide obsession with remasters has really helped me catch up. Brilliant Diamond, Super Mario 3D World, even the version of TLOU I played was the remastered one available through the PS Plus Collection.
Although Fortnite and Rocket League have remained in my rotation, I've been playing them less and less. My partner plays Fortnite and offers me the controller whenever it's my turn. Recently though, she's been handing it to someone with a Switch in their hand engrossed in Legends: Arceus, so I've politely declined the chance to trade Hisui for The Loop. During Super Bowl weekend I jumped back into Rocket League to play the Gridiron LTM, perhaps one of my favorite things about the game, but after two matches I had almost no interest in carrying on. I resented leaving the GTA 3 remaster to play Rocket League instead, which is certainly saying something considering the state The Trilogy remains in three months after launch.
This is by no means an attack on Battle Passes, grinding games, and those who love to do so. If you love that side of the industry then have at it, you do you. There was a time when that's all I wanted to do too. I just didn't realize that somewhere along the way, that changed and I didn't realize. All the while I was missing out on some of the best stories and experiences video games have ever offered up. I'm catching up now, and being reminded of why I fell in love with gaming 30 years ago.
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