Video Games vs Computer Games

Call me purist. Call me curmudgeon.

For most, the terms "video game" and "computer game" are interchangeable. I disagree, and my complaint is more than just semantics.

You see, the difference is a simple one: video games are dumb.

That in itself isn't a bad thing. The problem is, they're making computer games dumber as well.

Let me explain. Video games, tracing their linage back to Atari and Pong, are designed with the living room and TV in mind. Their "10-foot-interface" is large enough to be seen from the couch, and control requires only as many buttons as available on the standard controller (under a dozen, unless you were one of the three owners of an Atari Jaguar).

Then there's the audience. This has changed over the years, so it's not fair to say "computer" gamers are older than "video" gamers (though they typically are, by a couple of years). Modern video games, like those found on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, are aimed at reaching the widest possible audience. As such, they lack the complexity and difficulty of many computer games. They have to. And in theory, this isn't a bad thing.

In addition to the limitations of the interface, one has to realize what vast sums of money go into publishing a game for the PS3 or 360. We're talking millions of dollars just to step up to the plate. Even though the games eventually retail for $50-$60, the royalties paid to Sony and Microsoft take a significant cut from every title sold. So making the development money back isn't a sure thing. That risk is reflected in the core of the games themselves: widest possible audience, highest likelihood of continued play.

The video game industry got hit by the global financial meltdown just like everyone else, so now the vast majority of games are released by only a handful of publishers. These big companies, like all big companies, are frantically afraid of risk. So the edict is mainstream or no stream. Rarely do you see "low budget" video games. Rarely do you see a game that tries something new. There can't be. The cost of entry, and the ease of failure, is too high.

This is also why nearly every game on the market now or coming out in the near future is a sequel or based on a known property. It's safe (if you see a parallel to the sorry state of the movie industry, it's for the same reasons).

The Wii takes this to another extreme, but as it was designed from the beginning for "casual" gamers, it belongs in its own category.

The biggest casualty of the dumbafication of games is the first person shooter (FPS), one of the most popular genres on any platform. Gaming controllers are imprecise tools, so concessions have to be made in terms of difficulty and level design. Games must be made easier to allow FPSes to work on the 360/PS3. Features like auto-aim may not seem like a big detractor, but removing the aiming challenge gives the gaming experience an "on rails" feel. Gamers move the thumbpad a little, shoot, move a little, shoot, with no real skill or activity. Worse, the games are designed with this style of play in mind, so disabling auto-aim makes them needlessly difficult.

Worse, knowing it's hard to move well with a controller, game designers implemented the dumbest invention in gaming ever: unlimited shields. Halo did this to the worst degree. Your character was essentially immortal. Getting shot too much? Duck behind cover and you'll be 100% in seconds! Gone is the strategy and tense gameplay. In its place, cut scenes broken up by glorified shuffleboard.