June 30, 2008

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

One of last week's greatest entertainments was watching Gamasutra's Chris Remo in the thrall of a hype-induced seizure at the too-slowly-revealed Blizzard teaser. Over that week, the wildest dreams and fondest wishes of Diablo fans built and built to a pounding psychic shockwave of desire whose reverberations were felt across the internet. Personally, what I found more surprising than the announcement was that at the end of the week I really, really wanted this mystery game to be Diablo III. It wasn't a subject I had previously given a lot of thought to since the last Blizzard game I played was the first Warcraft.

Clearly, Blizzard can tease a game, but it was the sincere enthusiasm of the Diablo hardcore that did me in. Watching everyone reminisce over their shared obsessions with Diablo II multiplayer and all the nights they spent in college scouring randomly-generated dungeons with seven of their friends. I liked reading those stories even though I couldn't relate to them.

In fact, that kind of story is generally absent from my gaming memories. I've never had that experience with any multiplayer game; never had them transcend into massive social addictions and cultural touchstones forever identified with certain points in my life. In college, neither my friends nor I risked dropping out because we were hooked on Counter-Strike at the height of its popularity, or GoldenEye, or Mario Kart, or Smash Brothers, or Halo. It's not that I don't like those games, but for whatever reason they never made the jump to become nostalgia. In retrospect, it just seems like a series of accidents and missed opportunities which prevented that from happening in my case: always the wrong games at the wrong ages. And for a long time, though I liked games a lot, I was actually pretty bad at them. My best friend and I used to do Syphon Filter deathmatches and basically I'd run around in circles with the knife and get shot in the head. I hate Syphon Filter.

I'm not broken up about missing out or anything. For me, video games have just never been an explicitly social experience. Nor all that time-consuming: I didn't "lose a year of my life to Diablo II in college." When I think about addictive social experiences associated with my college years I think of smoking. Which might literally have lost me a year of my life.

Here's the thing no one tells you about smoking: it actually does make you more popular. And the social benefits of video games are completely and immediately outclassed by those of cigarettes. I feel like the worst enabler in the world writing this, but life is complicated.

In my last year of college, I was the least interested in games that I'd probably ever been. I still liked them in the abstract but I wasn't spending any time playing them, wasn't really thinking about them and I definitely wasn't reading about them. In college, I dropped out of video games. And instead I smoked a lot and drank a lot.

Maybe there's something about those years, and maybe it's something about living away from home. That somewhere in your brain you need to surrender to a system of rules or compulsions to help regulate what can be the most hectic time in your life; to find stability in instability. For a lot of people it's definitely not going to be the actual classes. It might mean following the Animal House playbook, vomiting on people and abducting school mascots. It might mean playing your life away in Diablo II. Or it might mean... well, what's a euphemism for substance abuse?

I still find it interesting to endlessly, hopelessly speculate about the road not taken. Which is why this is now waiting for me at home.


qrter said...

What I loved about the whole "is it Diablo 3?" thing was that almost no one thought it might actually be something completely new or different.

It either was going to be Diablo 3 or something concerning World of Warcraft. That's about it.

I'm sure Blizzard is absolutely fantastic at making sequels and they pour their collective hearts into them, but it would be more interesting if Blizzard would pump some of those fabulous Wowbucks into new, maybe slightly more experimental games. Even Valve, who were known as a We Make Half-Life-factory, have branched out a bit with Portal (it might even reflect back into the HL-series, so experimenting can positively affect your main titles.. everyone's a winner!).

(And I'm not counting Starcraft Ghost..)

By now it'll be abundantly clear that I'm like you, Duncan - I never really played Diablo at the time, so I have little sentimental attachment to the series.

I didn't smoke, although I think I would've married and had a couple of kids with alcohol if at all possible.

Steve gaynor said...

Let me know what you think of the Diablo bundle when you get it. I like Diablo 1 a lot and didn't really like 2 at all. I never played either multiplayer though. I'm also not excited about Diablo 3 because it looks exactly like Diablo 2. Chris had a really hard time wrapping his head around me not being excited over a Diablo 2 rehash.

Duncan said...

Steve: I shall. I also hope to be able to recommend either game to qrter.

As much as Diablo 3 was the underdog in that whole guessing game (which of course made it as satisfying an unveiling as it was), you're right that everyone immediately ruled out something new. Blizzard might make great games but they're clearly a business first. I don't know if I would have really cared if they'd announced a new IP. I think a lot of people want them to try something new only because they're as conservative as they are, not because they'd actually be interested in playing it.

qrter said...

I think a lot of people want to see them do something new because it's almost inconceivable what it could be, which on its own carries the potential for a very interesting new game.

Duncan said...

Yeah, I agree in theory but given how long Blizzard has been as conservative as they are, it's hard for me to see a new IP from them being as radical as even Portal. With all the money in the world, they're still clearly uninterested in doing any experimental or boutique projects. If they did a new game, it would still pretty much be a standard "Blizzard game", I think.