Growing Apart: A Love Letter to First Person Shooter
Dear First Person Shooter,
I’ve been sitting in front of a blank page for an hour now, trying to find the right words. This is isn’t easy for me, but it needs to be said.
You had to know this was coming. We’ve been growing apart for years. I’ve been playing new games, making new friends, and you’re in the same place, hanging out with the same people. I tried to tell you you’d never go anywhere if you kept spending all your time replaying the same objectives. Oh sure, you keep saying you’re changing, growing up, reinventing yourself, but nothing really seems to change. New customizable weapons? Adding more polygons?
Ugh. No. Sorry. I told myself I wouldn’t get so emotional. It’s just, tough, you know? I mean you and I were together for years.
Okay, fine. I’ll say it. I loved you.
I loved how you made me feel like I was the only one in the world. I was just a kid then wasn’t I? But you made that kid feel special. I could load up any of your games and even if there were hundreds of things happening on screen, I always knew that I was the only one that mattered.
I loved that my parents thought you were dangerous. No one understood us, back then. We could spend hours together, staying up until the early hours of the morning. In those days it wasn’t even about the trophies or achievements, I just wanted to be with you.
We both started getting older and making new friends, but that was all just part of the process. Those parties were so fun. We came to know so many cool, hilarious, talented people. I introduced you to my little brother. He used to really look up to you. Together, we were all dreamers, thrilled at the idea that games would one day be recognized as a thoughtful and meaningful medium. We were going to change things, all of us. It was thrilling.
I’ll give you that. You taught me to dream. You taught me that the breadth of my imagination was the only limit and I believed you. I still believe you, even if it feels like you don’t any more.
Do you remember two Christmases ago? I sure do. I was over at your family’s house. Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3 had just come out and everyone was playing. But not me. I was sitting on the couch, watching. You came over and asked me if everything was okay. I told you it wasn’t. Maybe my timing could have been better, but I didn’t want to lie. I was bored. I wanted to go somewhere else. Calm down, you just need another achievement, you told me. But the truth is, I’d gotten too many achievements. Sure, your new games were flashy and exciting, but I could see that beneath the shimmering veneer were the same tired mechanics that we’d reveled in on those summery adolescent afternoons. You had been drinking and you started getting angry. You said that those tired mechanics were what I loved about you and if I didn’t appreciate those anymore, I could just leave.
This was hard to hear. It was true. I had fallen in love with your mechanics but I no longer feel fulfilled by them. Is there something wrong with me?
Your mechanics were beautiful to me. The ability to pick up a gun and lead the charge into battle was exhilarating. It didn’t matter if that battle was in 1940’s Europe, a dystopian future, or the modern Middle East, you always made me feel like the hero. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that there’s more than one way to be a hero. You gave me the illusion of doing something great with my life, but you were never able to push me further than the illusion; never able to help me drop my weapons and begin, instead, to create. That was something I had to do without you.
That night, I pushed my way hastily towards the door and said I was going to play Dear Esther. He isn’t even a real game, you shouted into the night.
That was the last I saw of you for months. It was so refreshing. I had never realized how limited my life had been before. I started meeting new people. All the Indiesand the Casuals; they weren’t at all what you made them sound like. I had imagined them as the most arrogant, boring and pretentious games imaginable. And sure, some of them were that, but at least they were trying something new! They didn’t need to put a gun in my hands to make me feel like I had a purpose. They created systems and experiences that I had never before imagined, and more importantly they reminded me that you don’t need a gun to be a hero.. The woodland critters of Botanicula restored my childhood sense of wonder and The troubled child of Papa y Yo created a troubling metaphor for a heartbreakingly-real problem.
You couldn’t stand it, could you? Watching me flourish without you like that. You hated it, and you let me know it. You always sicked your perverted little friends on me with their name calling and taunting. As if that was going to make me want you back! Then when that didn’t work you came begging on hands and knees. I’m maturing as a genre… I’m sorry but I have heard that line too many times before.
I don’t want to be dramatic. I want you to know that this isn’t anything personal. Just, please, understand what happened between us.
We found each other when I was just a child. But I’m not a child anymore. I thought I needed you, because I didn’t know who I was on my own. But I’m learning and I’m doing it without you.
There’s a whole world out there, waiting for us to explore it. To learn about it. To create new things within it. I just wish you could see how much more there is than running and shooting and reloading and shooting different guns at different things.
First Person Shooter, you’ll always hold a special place in my heart, but not the same place that you used to. I believe that you can grow up. You can mature. But I need to see it, not just hear your empty promises. We can still see each other. We can still be friends. But I need you and everyone else to know, it won’t be the same as before.
I’ll see you in a month or so, Bioshock Infinite comes out. I’m hearing a lot of promises about it, but I’ve heard promises before…
Yours, perhaps, eventually…