Compared to most six-year-olds, who usually have the attention span of a golden retriever on amphetamines, I was a patient child. At least, under the right circumstances. After rifling through dozens of 5.25 inch (truly) floppy disks, I would find the one I wanted, slide it into the disk drive of my Commodore 64, put in my proper commands at the two-tone blue main screen, and wait. And wait some more. I cannot fathom the cumulative hours lost watching a monochrome game-company logo progress through all 16 available colors. The "ECA" of Electronic Arts, big block letters composed of rainbow horizontal lines, remains emblazoned in my subconscious to this day.


Fortunately, the limited capabilities of the hardware compensated for this lost time by keeping learning curves low. Though designing/programming legend Sid Meier was indeed at work back then, games like his Alpha Centauri or Civilization series would have a while to wait before becoming feasible.

Go back even earlier to the Intellivision and the Atari 2600. Their games, due to their relative simplicity, were essentially - and almost invariably - low time investments. There were exceptions, sure, but those exceptions stood out. Anyone who's played the Intellivision's Triple Action can attest to the clarity and directness of many of the era's titles. The world was a different place when you couldn't save your game.

With the lack of even the possibility for anything more, the simple games (which were the only games) were the money-makers. But things changed. The hardware advanced just enough, leaving a development gap that was promptly filled. The "bigger is better" ethos, loosely and liberally applied, took - and still takes - videogames on a long, uphill road. This road represents the doctrine of progress.

But the high-polygon flash of the explosion masked a subtle, often undetected truth. The road had actually split, and only one path truly began the climb. This marked a definitive philosophical bifurcation in attitudes toward gaming. As a gamer, you now had a choice. Take the low road, and you can jump in whenever you like, without much of a commitment, guaranteed to meet (but rarely exceed) your expectations. Take the high road, and you force yourself into a sometimes trudging uphill climb into a potentially fuller, more robust gaming experience. You do end up higher; you just have to work for it. The developers face the same decision regarding what type of title to launch. The road metaphor is perhaps analogous to the distinction between the experience of MTV and feature films. You can get your flash, quick fix of buzz entertainment, or, lose yourself in a grandiose, multi- million-dollar Gesamtkunstwerk. Each choice has its strengths, and each its fans.

As much as hardware develops, the envelope never stops being pushed. And why not? Given the growing market share of videogames in the entertainment industry, isn't this what people have been shown to want? Aren't the games actually better? Constructing a detailed, elaborate environment means for more involved gameplay, and a more immersive experience. Or does it?

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