A Long Cold Winter
This past week temperatures in the Twin Cities soared to well above seventy degrees Fahrenheit, which I believe translates to something like nine-hundred degrees for those of you on the Celsius system. For March in Minnesota these kinds of temperatures lead some to light an extra candle at their tasteful shrine to Al Gore, but mostly it just encourages us to wear shorts, roll down the car windows and skip work. What it does not do is give me cause to play video games.
So why the hell are all the good games being released when the weather is nice?
There are months, in this flat, prairie land when humans of any meaningful sense do not venture long out their front doors. Those months are January and February and they are cold in the way I imagine sunbathing in the Oort cloud might be cold. The best decision one can make is to bask in the heat of one's own home and simulate a type of active hibernation, feet warmly wrapped in a really good pair of socks, and pass the hours with mindless entertainment. Thankfully television broadcasters have the good sense to recognize that these are the days when people watch television, and transmit new programming.
For this kindness, the portion of my brain that craves constant entertainment is deeply indebted.
But, when I settle myself before my computer or Xbox 360 in these dreary months I am met largely with a stack of familiar, overplayed or uninspiring games. There is no 60-day stretch of the calendar year when I am more primed, more enthusiastic for absorbing myself into a new game, so why then must publishers offer great heaping piles of nothing to a time of year aching to be spent marinating my brain in the digital brine of an all consuming game.
I understand on a logical level that blowing their collective wads on the retail feeding frenzy of December makes sense of at least a dozen important revenue pie charts and cash-flow graphs, but I'm also keenly aware that the offerings of December are usually rushed to completion and broadly targeted games that are designed less to be played and loved than to make for great seasonal marketing. Which is to say, that if you open the game on December 25th, you'll have probably forgotten all about it by New Years Eve. I draw a line of distinction between the kinds of games released for "gamers" and those made for everyone else, and the Christmas season brings a lot more of the latter.
There is elitism in that sentiment. I realize that, and I don't mean to entirely disparage games made for wide audiences. More people playing video games means more games get made. My problem is that those titles, the ones developed for large audiences and that seem to be released for the holidays, rarely prove to be the ones into which a gamer can invest themselves over months or even years. It is the endless game that I need in January and February, like an Elder Scrolls: Oblivion (released in April), a Civilization IV (released in July) or a Diablo 2 (released in June).
Historically, January and February are lean times for the gaming industry, and I suppose there are some who have the wherewithal to save a nice stack of games from November – a historically good month for releases – for the darkest part of the winter. I am, in this inevitable simile, the lazy grasshopper to their industrious, goody-two-shoes, goddamned knowitall ant, starving the winter darkness in impotent rage as they sit fat in their frozen hill, smugly satisfied to have stored gaming goodness for the cold.
I suppose I could have simply played more World of Warcraft, and truth be told that's exactly what I did. I abandoned another wheelbarrow full of time to that insatiable sinkhole in the landscape of my life, and that's fine enough I guess. It just would have been nice to have found a new Sisyphean task. It's not that nothing was released in these wayward months, but games like Lost Planet, Vanguard, Ratchet and Clank: Size Matters, hell even Crackdown, these are just filler titles of temporary relevance while nothing better is around, and they marked some of the biggest releases of late winter.
But, of course, now that the weather turns bright, the leaves begin to peek from winter slumber, so does the gaming industry rise drowsy and hungry from its own hibernation unleashing God of War 2 and Command and Conquer 3 the same damn week that temperatures creep out of jacket territory. I realize that the traditional stereotype of the hardcore gamer is that of a pasty-faced retail jockey living in his – gender most certainly specific – parents basement on a diet of Bawls and Cheetos, but I think the truth may be something at least slightly different in some cases. For example, I have a wife, a kid, a mortgage, a financial advisor, a 401-k and a fuel-efficient Japanese sedan, which means that occasionally during the warmer months I venture forth in the verdant unknown of this sunny world.
So, while those who fit the stereotype will be enjoying Mass Effect, Lord of the Rings Online, Too Human, Quake Wars, Bioshock and Hellgate: London while our middle-age yellow star burns bright and warm, I'll probably be thinking a lot less about video games and a lot more about afternoons in the park and evenings on the porch with the barbecue. It's an easy choice when I think about it.