Hot off the controversial news that Twitter will be expanding its 140-character limit later on this year, the social media giant announced today that it would also be making significant improvements to its most famous contribution to the English language: The hashtag. Once also restricted to 140 characters, hashtag users were often forced to abbreviate words and phrases to convey complex ideas. For example, a user looking to confess his or her love of milkshakes may have to resort to posting #milkshakes4lyfe rather than expressing their true feelings about their favorite dairy beverage. Such restrictions will soon be a thing of the past, as Twitter has announced that hashtags will now have an infinite number of characters to work with.
It amazes me that, in 2016, the general consensus about video games is that they are mostly a meaningless form of entertainment meant to amuse and pass time. Most people would look at you like you were crazy if you used the words “video game” and “art” in the same sentence. If you were to watch a movie or even crack open a book every night, nobody would bat an eye because those are pieces of entertainment with class. But if you consider those latter two forms of expression art, you should be including modern video games in the same conversation.
Much ink has been spilled trying to nail down the definition of what art is. The classical definition is very narrow in scope, basically limiting it to physical works like sculptures and paintings. But the modern definition of art has evolved to include basically any tangible expression of thoughts, sights, or sounds that resonate and connect with us on an emotional level. Music. Film. Dance. Most 21st century people would agree that these are forms of artistic expression. So why not video games?
Producing a modern video game is no easy task. Games are no longer developed by three guys in a basement; they require thousands of uniquely talented individuals, all working in tandem to create one unified project. A blockbuster game can have a budget in the tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars, an entertainment allowance previously reserved only for Hollywood. Another thing that’s new to modern gaming are game experiences that connect thousands of people in one persistent gaming world, requiring extremely sophisticated online infrastructure and networking know-how. With all these moving pieces, it’s more difficult than ever to ensure that a game is ready for the public’s consumption.
Because of this, game developers have turned to something known as a “beta” test, which lets a select group of individuals test out a game before release. This is a sensible move for a lot of reasons, but it’s starting to cause some disturbing trends that are ultimately hurting gamers. I’d like to delve into how beta tests have changed over the years, and why I believe it’s turning into more of a marketing ploy than an earnest desire to improve the final product.
Flashback to 1995: When six-year-old Adam sat down to play a game of Super Mario World on his Super Nintendo, he was given two choices: Run and jump. He never considered the morality of stomping hordes of Goombas or shooting fireballs at Koopa Troopas. He was never given the choice to take a step back and understand the intentions and convictions of his foes as they methodically moved from right to left. They kidnapped the princess, and that would not stand! Good was good, and evil was evil, and that was that.
For those of us who decided to give our money and vote of confidence to Microsoft this console go-round, the number-two placement of the Xbox One is more than OK: It’s great. We are fewer in rank than we might have been had Microsoft not made a myriad of missteps back in 2013, likely costing them millions of customers. From their commitment to Kinect to the baffling inclusion of mandatory internet connectivity, Microsoft made the classic mistake of misinterpreting the desires of their customers.
Meanwhile, Sony’s PlayStation 4 had practically won without even trying. To Sony’s credit, it learned from the PlayStation 3 release and its newest console was developed and marketed in the safest way possible. That conservative stance paid off for Sony. Late in 2013, both consoles hit the market, and to the surprise of no one, PS4s flew off the shelves as former Xbox lovers switched brands in droves.