Recently at a social gathering with new friends and acquaintances, the subject of video games came up, and someone quipped that modern video games aren’t as good as older games. The graphics have improved, but the gameplay has not, they claimed. Another person vocally agreed. The insinuation was that modern video games are overly complex, and as such have lost their sense of fun. Was this just a statement of someone pining for something intangible from their youth, or is there some truth in the assertion? Are modern video games too complicated?
Early arcade games and home consoles often only offered a joystick and one or two buttons. When the NES came along, it had two main buttons, along with Start and Select. As video games have evolved, we now have a modern controller with 14 or more buttons, multiple sticks, and a d-pad. Early video games were usually 2D and the mechanics and controls were relatively simple. Now there are huge 3D open world games, with branching paths, tons of options, and a large variety of inputs necessary to perform various actions.
Older games, like many current casual games, appeal to a wider audience through their simplicity and ease of access. Modern sprawling AAA games risk being a niche activity due to their complexity and large time commitment requirements. During my early twenties, I took a break from new video games. Once while house sitting, I decided to try what at the time was the most recent gaming system and a copy of an entry in the Assassin’s Creed series. I barely made it out of the tutorial before I gave up due to how complex and hard it felt for me at that time. While I have since re-entered gaming and feel comfortable playing such games now, I understand first hand the difficulty folks face who haven’t held a newer gaming controller.
While some modern games may have a higher barrier to entry, many are worth the extra effort for newcomers. Video games have evolved and improved due to the new technological advances. Many early games lacked quality of life features that are now common, and relied on a punishing level of difficulty to pad out their play time. They weren’t able to tell more nuanced stories or really allow for branching narrative. People who claim early video games were more pure or fun are often looking back with rose-colored nostalgia glasses. In addition, there are now more games being created and released of all types, including plenty of new games with simple, easy, and rewarding gameplay, especially in the mobile space where the controls are more intuitive to casual players.
I believe that the complexity of modern games is mostly a good thing. While of course not every new game is as good as the best of the classics, there have always been video games of varying quality (e.g., E.T.). In general, I believe video games have found ways to increase not only their visual appeal, but their gameplay loops. There are games being made today that span the spectrum from easy and simple, to complicated and intricate, and the hobby is better for this. It may be difficult for new players to sift through the many offerings, but that’s a separate issue. With some help or persistence, I believe there is a modern, current game that would appeal to just about any new or veteran player.