Here is a happy / weird / suspicious / indifferent fact for you; it’s almost Christmas.
That’s right. The festive season is approaching, although this time probably without much festivity making it just ‘the season’ with a lot of socially distanced turkey eating yelling “pass the cranberry sauce” down a 40 ft long dining table.
Although Christmas Day is just one day (clue is in the name) really, we treat Christmas as a season. There’s the Advent. There’s a build up, and growing anticipation. From complaining about mince pies appearing on supermarket shelves in September, to advent calendars that used to be about nice little pictures and counting down the days but now they’re all about chocolate and that big twenty four door.
Point is, we feel Christmas ramping up. There’s a context shift. Our minds start thinking about new things. Now we’re thinking what gifts to get the family, and does that person deserve to be on my Christmas card list? Will Santa Claus be ok getting through the newly installed log burner, and the excitement of opening that BIG TWENTY FOUR DOOR. Oh man, it’s such a big door.
Look I don’t think you’re appreciating how amazing that door looks.
Just look at it. I want to open that door so bad.
Anyway, all of this is before Christmas Day has even arrived.
So here’s a jolly thought experiment for you; can you truly imagine what Christmas would be like if you removed all that build-up?
No thinking about Christmas before the 25th.
No decorations before the 25th.
No seeing a Christmas tree, or hearing Christmas music.
No talking about it.
No letters to Santa.
No thinking ahead to having time off work, or holiday plans of any kind.
None of that. Na da. Zip.
And then, WHAM! Like Santa vaulting over his sleigh and drop kicking you, it all suddenly happens in one single day.
I don’t know about you, because I’m me and not you, but to me (who I am) that would be super lame. Christmas wouldn’t have a chance to feel special. There would be no magic. No time to ponder or absorb the charm or flavour of it before it was gone. There would be no mental shift, no ease in, and certainly no season to enjoy.
I feel games have suffered a sort of similar fate.
You see, once upon a time here on Planet Earth, a video game didn’t start when you hit the ‘play’ button in Steam. The season of a game started much earlier.
It started here. Games came in a box which gave them a phyiscal presence. Here was something about the game you could see before you’d turned on your computer, covered in art and writing that conjured up the atmosphere of the game within.
And then what’s this?! When you opened the box, in amongst all the discs you were often treated to some extras:
We haven’t even turned on the computer yet but already your mind has material to start imagining the world which awaits you.
Enough reading! It’s time to start playing. Let’s get this game installed!
First up the store has given me the wrong game but second up, where’s the installation wizard? Where are the generic looking grey buttons? Surely that’s what should be used here?
WRONG. Here comes Westwood showing:
A) If you want, you can turn something that is usually boring and dull, into something sexy and glorious. Take THAT installation wizard.
B) Even when installing a game, you can set the stage and build the style of what is to come.
All of these are examples about how the magic of a game world could spill out over it’s executable.
As time has gone on we’ve lost these opportunities, in favour of charmless and generic alternatives. The need for phyiscal boxes and phyiscal goodies has gone, replaced by a store page on Steam that looks like every other store page on Steam. The need for an installation experience has been replaced with a generic Steam download bar.
Because there are faster, easier, and more generic solutions they’ve been adopted.
These choices have made getting and playing games easier for sure, but at a cost of losing opportunities to conjuire up meaningful atmosphere and sow tantilising seeds of imagination and anticipation in our minds. And I believe that we continue to underestimate the value of that, and how powerfully that affects how we think of a game and hold it in our memory. Just like how Christmas Day wouldn’t be the same without the season, a game can be more than just the game itself.
I believe we should be thinking of ways of bringing more of that charm and atmospheric magic back.
I believe games deserve a big twenty four door.