Ode to a Console

I’ve been a gamer for as long as I can remember. From the board games of my tender youth, to the Atari, to the Commodore, to the GameBoy (old skool, mind you), to the Super NES – games have always been the source of my great power. It used to be that console games were my passion. Absolutely nothing could replace the feeling of holding that controller in my hand, which functioned more as an extension of my physical self than a piece of technology.

Sometime between then and now, though, something changed.

You see, I’ve owned a Playstation 2 pretty much since the day it was released. You may remember that it was nigh impossible to buy a PS2 within the first three months of its release, so it went without saying that anyone who owned a PS2 at that time went through great pains to obtain it. It’s almost as if gamers were required to endure tests and trials of epic proportions in order to prove they were indeed worthy of being blessed with a PS2. Okay, perhaps I exaggerate a bit.

Anyway, to get back to where I’m going with all this: I used my PS2 more as a DVD player than a game console. Here I was with a powerful new machine with an extensive game library already available, and I just wasn’t interested in it. Like I said, something changed in between my SNES days and my purchase of the PS2.

Here we sit now on verge of the dawn of a new generation of consoles, and I don’t even have 10 games for my PS2. The only reason I have more than 5 right now is because 4 of my games were given to me. It’s almost embarrassing, but that last game I purchased for it was Gran Turismo 3.

This is why I found myself startled to suddenly be pulled back in by such a silly little game as Katamari Damacy – a game I’m seriously considering purchasing now. Released last September, it slipped under my radar of awareness until its designer, Keita Takahashi, showed up with a keynote speech at the 2005 Game Developer Conference. This article from GameSpot regarding the talk is the source of one of the most provocative comments I’ve ever heard from a game designer: “Children would be better off playing outside.”

I’m still searching for a good English transcript of the speech, which is proving difficult because it was delivered in Japanese. From the pieces of it I’ve gathered, though, he is one of the few game designers out there who realizes that better technology does not automatically produce better games.

The deep wisdom of this is present in every good game that comes to immediate memory. Space Invaders, Asteroids, Frogger, Legend of Zelda, Super Metroid, Super Mario Brothers. Street Fighter 2, Sonic the Hedgehog, ad nauseam. Do you think people still play these games today because of the cutting edge graphics? It’s all about the gameplay, with an efficient interface being a close second. Look and feel may run a distant third.