Generational gap

I recently stumbled upon a video channel about people reacting to videogames. From seniors reacting to a game like The Last of Us, to teenagers suffering while playing the seminal P.T. demo/teaser. But the one that I was more shocked with was about today’s teens reacting to an old school game: Contra, from formerly cool game developer Konami.

Now what is fascinating about this video is how today’s teens are… simply not prepared to face a game like this. They simply didn’t grasp the most basic of fundamentals gamers of those days were expected to have… which are the basic fundamentals gamers of today also have. It’s not about being “good” or “bad” at a game, either. Let me explain.

Since we have long since gone past the wonderful era where your first minutes with a brand new game were opening the box and reading the manual, gamers are invited to often “feel” the controls of a new game early on – I’m talking even before the games of today start telling you in big bold letters which buttons you must press for the most mundane of tasks. In a game like Contra (and hundreds of its ilk) there’s really two basic actions beyond moving: shooting and jumping – basic stuff.

I am flabbergasted at how these teens didn’t shoot as much as they could. Yeah, they easily figured out that B was used to shoot but they used it sporadically. For reference take a loot at this gameplay (the first few seconds of the first level are enough):

See how this player fires his gun? Constantly. It’s not that it’s a requirement but as you can see in both videos, Contra is not a game that skimps on enemies. It also had that old-school thing about enemies popping up ad infinitum if you stood in the right (wrong?) spot. The teens in the video barely fired, which resulted in a lot of “contact” deaths.

Also of note is that this very fact could indeed reflect the way things are with most games now: everybody wants it easy. It’s a common complain which I won’t touch much further, but it’s also the reason why games like Demon’s Souls (and its Dark children) became such phenomena: in a sea of games that treat the player like an inexperienced puppet, the Souls dared to let gamers find the frustating joy of discovering their own skill. Also priceless is when one of the teens says that in Call of Duty you can take a few shots, in response to how everything in Contra basically one-shots you. Welcome to the 1980s, kid. Ninja Gaiden would like a word with you.

Don’t get me started on how they didn’t figure out you could jump “downwards” a platform. Though I admit, that was very much a thing in games of those days… much rarer now in today’s 3D worlds.

Smarter men than me which much more time on their hands will probably analyze these videos and draw wonderful conclusions about gamer habits, evolution and society. As a 36 year old guy that lived the golden age of NES games such as Contra, I can only facepalm and laugh while I reminisce of the good times.


4 thoughts on “Generational gap

  1. As for a 30-year-old woman who didn’t play the platform games of yesteryear but was instead playing computer RPGs, I don’t think this is about the whole “kids have it easy these days”. It’s more that they were thrown into the deep end of the pool and expecting to swim right away. I’m not surprised they have a tough time figuring out the controls, I would and I actually played some on a NES back in the day. Maybe if they played modern platformers, they might have an idea what to do but a non-platformer vs. a platformer have very different controls. I’m usually pretty good at navigating any 3D game but I have problems in Terraria and Starbound simply because it’s a perspective/control set I’m not used to. I certainly wouldn’t know how to “jump downward”. As for why they’re not shooting constantly, there’s not many games these days that don’t have a limited ammo system. In the chaos, it probably never occurred to them to just mash that button. It seems like some of them are even trying to jump on enemies like in Mario, likely the only platformer they’ve had experience with. And they’re only given a few shots at the game. Given more time, I’m sure they would have been able to figure things out (and they already were beginning to).

    Most games these days are very different from the 80s games on the NES and that’s what’s going on here. I wouldn’t expect someone who’s a pro at retro platformers to be able to waltz into Dark Souls or Call of Duty and not die almost immediately. It’s not a generation gap but a gap between different types of games.


  2. I don’t know what the arcade scene looks like nowadays; NES games came out in the heyday of arcades which featured games that were on the whole more challenging than your average console game. Exceptions would obviously be titles like Battletoads or Ghosts & Goblins. Cabinet-based games like Moonwalker, Smash TV, etc. were designed to take your money unless you were exceptionally skilled; even then, a game like Moonwalker could reasonably consume a couple of your dollars as the cost of completion.

    We’re getting more bang for our buck these days and it’s a trend that is quite noticeable. If you’re paying $60 for a game like you did for Super Mario Bros. 3, you expect to be able to smash through a lot of it with variable difficulty settings and enjoy copious amounts of DLC. Those darn kids these days have different expectations than someone like me (teenager at the time but still a child at heart) who was able to eventually defeat the pixel graphics and sprite flickering of Ninja Gaiden (NES) without taking much damage. I think they’re developing some of the same fundamentals in a different fashion – with much better graphics and in 3D playing fields where jumping down through platforms as a mechanic isn’t necessary as a function of maximizing the available environment. The Metroid Prime series and even Super Mario 64 annihilated the 2D platforming of their (S)NES predecessors in terms of their mechanical potential.


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