james tanner

james tanner

My name is James Tanner. I am 30 years old. I live in Staunton, Virginia, and I've been a gamer since I was -- early as I can remember, four years old. Something like that. For the past few years, I've definitely been falling out of games.

I suppose that there's a lot of things that have gone into it. Definitely just having less time compared to when I was a kid -- when I was in high school -- to sit down and play games. I certainly have a lot more responsibilities, that kind of thing, than I used to. Just feels like life has gotten in the way.

Does it feel like you're mourning the loss of something?

I wouldn't say I'm mourning a loss or anything like that. It's as much a disinterest in just games in general. There was a time where I was reading three, four, five gaming websites everyday, staying up on the latest news. That kind of thing. But I definitely felt there's a certain point where either I stopped caring because too much stuff was coming out or I didn't have $60 for every game I wanted to get, so I eventually just stopped paying attention to certain games or certain brands or something like that. Just that type of thing.

There wasn't any sort of tipping point?

No, you know. I don't think there was an ex-girlfriend who killed my ability to play videogames forever or anything like that.

You said, too, that you first fell off with single-player games?

I still will play single-player games here and there, but the focus has definitely shifted more towards multiplayer. With a single-player game, you sit down with it, and you kind of have to remember, "Oh, where was I? What I was doing the last time? What'd I have in mind for this character?" It could've been God knows how long in between. Certainly a lot of newer games are better about sort of informing you about that, but if you go back to an older game that doesn't have that feature, then you're just kinda stuck or you have to feel it out again.

I don't really feel engaged with game stories like I used to. A lot of it I just skip through or something like that because I feel that either the writing is bad or the voice acting isn't good and I don't really want to listen to it. Something along those lines.

But the reason that multiplayer games are so interesting to me is I can play them with my friends. It's not somebody sitting there and watching me play. It's the interacting with another person. I certainly like competition in games. My roommates and I play a lot of Smash Bros. and NBA Jam and all kinds of different four-player competitive games. It's more interesting to be fighting against a living, breathing, thinking person as opposed to just some AI that I might notice a pattern that I can exploit or something like that will never get changed -- if I do that in a fighting game or something for example with a live opponent, he can change his tactics up because he's figured out that I have figured him out.

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But you barely play at all now, and sometimes you occasionally play multiplayer? That's where you're at?

When I do play games, they tend to be multiplayer if anything.

How often would you say that is?

A few hours a week. I would say under 10.

And that's down from?

That's down from -- gosh. I used to be, easy, 30, 40 hours a week or something like that. I used to really be into this stuff.

What do you think happened?

Well, like I mentioned earlier, a lot of it is just not having as much time as I used to. I don't make a ton of money, so $60 a pop is a lot. Especially with DLC and microtransactions, those kinds of things.

Speaking of money, you raised an interesting point in your email that, "Is it possible there just isn't as much focus on things like AI to make single-player more interesting?" Why don't you think the game companies are investing more time or money on that?

It's probably something that's a little less tangible to most people. Something they don't think about very much. Certainly your marketing team is going to be focusing more on things that will actually bring people in: flashier graphics or a soundtrack by a famous musician or something crazy like that.

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I thought game companies care about fancy tech to brag about.

They do, but I think it'd be something that'd be a little more visceral. It's just more tangible to somebody that actually developing a good AI probably takes a hell of a lot more work than you might think, because you're trying to mimic a human brain and you have to think of all these cases, "Well, what if he does this? What if he does that? How would this react? Does it have the capability of evolving or learning or something like that?" So I think there's a lot of the logistical stuff that goes into it, too.

Maybe so, and I'm just a simple guy with a website, but it would occur to me that a lot of these companies have been making a lot of games where a lot of people play, and that certainly grants them the ability to track data and get metrics on the way people behave in games. Certainly it's plausible that if they were so inclined they could figure that out.

You know, I hadn't really thought about that. But you're certainly right. There's a lot of data-collection, that kind of thing, that I'm sure just about every company tracks. I hadn't thought about that angle before.

I feel like that it might be something that'd be a little harder to implement or it may not be as big a priority on the chain but, yeah, that sounds pretty reasonable actually.

So what has been lacking, you think, that might get you interested in playing again?

Certainly, there's a lot of concepts in gaming that have been explored and many of them have been repeated to some degree or another. Creative games seem to have novel approaches to something that has been done before in a way that makes it feel fresh. I have a hard time playing MMO games anymore because all of them just feel like a grind. I'm just doing the same thing, killing rats or something, over and over. But, you know, if a game were to figure out a way to me for that to feel fun, in some manner or another, I think that would be creativity right there.

How about just fewer games that start off with you killing rats? That's my vote.

[Laughs.] Yeah, yeah. I agree.

Have you ever run into the expectation that you should have moved on from videogames before you turned 30?

I don't think there's been anything so overt as somebody approaching me, being like, "You're immature because you play games." Or something like that. But it's definitely one of those things that as time goes on, you're talking to somebody who's a bit older than I am, you tell them that you play games a lot or it's a hobby or a passion for you, they'll give you a weird look at least. I think I started running into that right around my mid-twenties or something along those lines and it's definitely something I don't mention to people as much as I used to.

Why is that?

Mainly because I know it makes them think lesser of me in some capacity or maybe they think I'm a weirdo or something like that because I like games so much.

What do you think their perception of what it means to be a person who plays videogames, from the people you run into?

Well, among my peers, everyone as old as I am and younger, just about everyone seems to be in with games. Or at least the people I associate with now. But I suppose there's your whole stereotype of the guy who doesn't shave, doesn't bathe, lives in his mom's basement. That whole thing. Fedoras.

When you talk about that perception, what do you feel is missing from the complete picture?

I think gaming is becoming more and more of a cultural staple. Especially as the industry gets bigger -- I believe it's even bigger than the movie industry now. As that becomes more and more mainstream, I think that people will sort of get that it's something you do for recreation, just like watching TV or a movie or playing basketball or something like that.

Have you ever run into the notion that people who play videogames aren't "qualified" to give an opinion on them?

No, I don't think I've ever really run into that. Most people don't have a problem when it comes to that kinda stuff. Maybe in a certain crowd, if someone figures out that they're among "elite gamers" or something like that, then they might be a little bit more quiet about that kind of thing. But at least among my friends, I haven't had trouble with that.

Why would people who play videogames be quiet around people who are "elite gamers?"

Well, when I think of an "elite gamer", what comes to mind are people who are serious in the fighting game circuit, or a serious MOBA player, or something like that. Basically, someone from one of the more toxic gaming communities, where less skilled players are often scoffed at. “Don’t know what item build to take? Sit down while the big boys play, chump.”

Is there anything that seems weird to you about the intersection of videogames and the Internet?

Not really, no. I've been playing games online since Quake, so they've always been hand and hand to me. Or do you mean more like if I were to go to Google News and see a story about videogames like that? Well, it certainly feels out of place.

How do you mean?

Well, generally, I don't see articles about big movies or anything like that all that often on the top page of Google News. But oddly enough it feels like games are a bit more of a niche thing, even though like I said before, I think videogame industry makes more money than the movie industry now, but it definitely feels like a subculture thing.

What do you think has been holding videogames back in that regard, where they seem to be more niche than TV or movies?

Well, certainly the user base, going back to the whole perception thing, I think that has a large part to do with it. The hardware side of it probably doesn't make things easier. You buy an Xbox and then a couple years later the Xbox 360 comes out or something like that, so then you have to get that. People probably don't like that very much. You buy one DVD players and then you can play all the DVDs you ever buy for it without having to upgrade it or anything.

So there's more obstacles to having a window in?

Precisely.

Is there a way in which you don't feel included by videogames?

Not particularly. You know, I don't really feel like I've ever been a part of the main demographic for lots of games to begin with. [Laughs.] So I guess I don't really feel any more left out than I ever have.

When you were playing much, much more, how did the games media impact what you were interested in.

Well, definitely, if a game had a good review on whatever website I was reading at the time, that would certainly influence my opinion most definitely. Nowadays it doesn't seem to have as much of an impact. I guess I've just learned that that's not always going to be an accurate way of measuring a game. There are games that I like that get mediocre scores, and there are games that get really good scores that I just don't think are good at all or not good enough. So I've certainly come to rely upon them less than I used to.

What trends did you notice in the things that game outlets would cover or not cover?

Typically it seems like most of your big shooter games would certainly get a lot of coverage, when you have your Battlefield and whatnot. Those always get a lot. Halo. Shooter games. Actually, it doesn't seem like as much attention is paid to say, real-time strategies, different genres of game that either have a higher learning curve or just a little more niche or something like that. I understand that a lot of these game websites are paid by publishers to promote a game or something like that and little devs don't have that kind of cash. It definitely feels pretty saturated with the whole "bro" type of game, if you know what I mean by that?

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Yeah, like the Mario Bros.?

[Laughs.] Yeah -- hey, wait a second!

Games about brothers.

[Laughs.]

When do you remember that starting? The "bro" stuff in games?

Probably right around the time of Halo, when it was getting bigger in colleges and things like that to link up your Xboxes and have tournaments and those kinds of things. I think that was the inception of it.

What do you think the games media could be doing to help improve the industry?

So, I feel like there'd have to be a sea change in the industry or something like that. In order to really improve the game industry -- game reviewers would probably have to dog bad games more and really really hound people for big mistakes that they've made so those mistakes don't happen again. I understand that there are politics in this kind of thing, and publishers paying writers or something like that.

If you go to IGN and you see their entire theme is Dizzel or whatever game, then they're probably going to give that game a decent review. So maybe getting the money out of it would certainly be good? But I don't think that's gonna happen anytime soon.

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What sort of mistakes do you mean people should be dogged for?

It's a pretty common trend for newer games to have terrible releases. Especially online games. Everything has a day-one patch nowadays. It wasn't always that way. It feels like more and more games are being released unfinished. The word "beta" doesn't mean as much as it used to.

I think I remember E3 last year, they mentioned a game would be available in alpha. And I don't remember that ever happening before.

Right.

Do you have any of the current systems?

No. I've got a pretty decent PC but I don't really see myself buying any of the newest generation.

Why is that?

If I do want to play games, there's nothing that's really new that is not on PC as well that I really care about. I can often find games for much, much cheaper on Steam than I'll be able to get them just about everywhere else or for any other console. So that definitely has a big hand in it.

Do you feel like games used to be better?

Yeah. I think so. There's certainly always been garbage out there and as the industry has grown that volume is of course going to increase. But from what I've read, it seems like during the '90s or something like that, it was as much an industry of passion as an industry of profit. In my opinion, the Super Nintendo is the best console that ever came out because there were so many super-high quality games for it. And you have a lot of games for PS2 and stuff as well but it felt like there was a bar they were shooting for that has been significantly lowered since then.

What do you think lowered that bar?

Probably money. I'm sure that the fact that development cycles are not as long as they used to be so games can be cranked out faster has something to do with it. I get that you have to please investors and that kind of stuff so you have certain kinds of deadlines and that means certain things are gonna cut or they're gonna be shipping bugs or something like that. Just that type of thing, I suppose.

Does it feel arbitrary, the things that seem to become most popular in the games space?

I don't really feel like I read enough websites for that kinda thing anymore to give you an answer one way or another. Pretty much all I pay attention to these days is Giant Bomb and they seem to do just whatever the hell they want to whenever they want to.

This aging out of games -- why do you think it happens? Why do games become so important to people and then they lose that importance?

I feel like -- especially if you get into 'em when you're young or something like that, they can be a form of escape for whatever's going on in your life. And as you age, maybe life gets a little bit more heavy and that same escape does not have the effect that it used to.

You go to play a game and it's just not giving you quite the same response that you used to have with it so you maybe change a little bit.

Do you feel like games are less creative?

AAA yeah. It seems that a lot of games that have a lot of money behind them are safe games. But you have this amazing indie scene that's happening nowadays and I feel like they're carrying the torch of creativity if no one else is.

Do you think it hurts anyone or matters if those bigger games are less creative?

I feel like it can certainly hurt the public opinion of something like that as games become more mainstream and more culturally accepted. But I feel like there's enough of a separation between AAA games and indie games that it wouldn't really have a negative impact on it anyway.

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