As I write this, my finger hovers over the “place order” button on Amazon . . . a click away from spending $400 on yet another game console—a PlayStation 4. That’s on top of the $500 I spent last year on the new Xbox One. How much have I spent on games in the past two years? Maybe $1,500 total? I have no idea. It’s hard to swallow when on a budget, but the City Paper pays me to do this, right? What I want to argue is, no matter how trivial video games seem, they’re worth every damn penny. Admittedly, my uptick in spending is an anomaly. Home console gaming is in an awkward transition, as one generation of games is slowly, painfully phased out over multiple years for more graphics-heavy successors. Games have never looked so realistic, felt so cinematic, and included so many online players. The last time this happened was in 2005. Ten years later, Sony (PlayStation) and Microsoft (Xbox) are flexing as hard as they can to capture a majority of the market.
Unfortunately, this means that some games only come out on one console. These exclusive titles are what Sony and Microsoft bank on to draw in new loyalists. It was the franchise “Gears of War” that compelled me to buy an Xbox a decade ago, and I stayed true to the Microsoft brand. When I bought the new Xbox One, I genuinely believed I could be happy with that singular console. Ninety percent of major games are available on both systems, and I had been, in the past, willing to pass up on those exclusive titles that were only on the competitor’s machine. That was until Sony stole my Souls.
To be more precise, they wrangled an exclusive deal with Hidetaka Miyazaki, the director and producer of “Dark Souls.” I previously called this game the “black metal of video games.” That’s about as close as I can get to describing the amount of dread that one of his terrifying and beautiful games delivers. I fell in love with not only the breathtaking visuals, but the punishing game play and sense of reward once you finally complete a quest. I’ve literally spent hundreds of hours playing this series for its strange take on the role-playing genre. So does that justify spending $400 on another console and then $60 on the game itself? Normally, I’d say fuck no. But here’s the thing. Games are that good. There’s a spoiler in the next paragraph.
I always explain one of my favorite games, “Red Dead Redemption’s” outstanding storytelling by saying, “Well, you play for hours and hours, trying to get your family back from these corrupt government officials. They’ve basically kidnapped your family to make you hunt down your old gang of outlaw friends. And you do all these terrible things for them. It’s classic Western stuff: sad and dirty and morally gray. You never get to see what your family looks like during all those hours of game play. But then you finally fight your way up a damn mountain to a man who knows where they are and you realize you’re going to be reunited with them after all this heartache and time. Then it starts snowing, lightly. You get on your horse and descend the mountain—snow growing heavier—and a song with lyrics starts to play. Well-produced, slow alt-country. And you realize this is the first time in these 40 or more hours of game play that you’ve heard a song with actual lyrics. You descend farther and ride and keep going and you see that the developers of this damn game are making you ride really far, like 10 minutes, to get to your family. Then you—not your character, but you—start crying.” Yes, this game got me that worked up. And that’s not even the end.
I’m serious when I say that I feel bad for people who love great movies and TV and books and music that haven’t played a great video game like “Red Dead Redemption.” Not only are these emotionally unique and conceptually strange experiences, they’re more immersive than any other medium I know.
Hidetaka Miyazaki’s new PlayStation 4 exclusive, “Bloodborne,” has been reviewed so well that I can’t help but crawl into another one of his nightmares. If this new game is anything like his “Dark Souls” series, you will be hacking through the pitch black corners of his brain with feverish glee. Finger still hovering over that “place order” button, I’m thinking about the gorgeous and dreadful and, maybe most importantly, experimental worlds I’m missing. On a budget or not, there will be Blood. Lots of Blood. Finally, I clicked “place order.”
Justin Sirois is the author of “So Say the Waiters” and “Falcons on the Floor.”
He lives in Baltimore and loves games.