The Breaking Bad series finale aired September 29, and a void has been created in my television-watching schedule that will not be replaced anytime soon. It has received hyperbolic praise for the acting, direction, cinematography and level of commitment to a storyline that bordered on dark comedy in the first season to a tragic, operatic finale that left audiences shocked, speechless, stunned and satisfied. We’ve never seen anything like it.
I’m sure the hoopla will wear down as the months go by, but critics have deemed that Breaking Bad belongs in the discussion of greatest shows ever. It’s no secret that television has evolved so far in the past decade that it’s leaving movies behind in the dust. Viewers no longer have to rush home or tape an episode in order to enjoy it. Most hit shows are available for download in some form, giving users a degree of freedom that their parents never had. Netflix’s House of Cards is a show that gives you all 13 episodes to binge watch at your pleasure. It sure beats waiting week to week, and there’s no risk of you missing a moment.
So the way in which TV is presented has changed, but also the quantity of quality shows has never been higher. AMC is now in the same conversation as HBO. Breaking Bad will undoubtedly influence future TV makers, hopefully for the better. Does that mean it’s the greatest show ever? And what does this mean for games?
Calling something the greatest in its field is usually a cry for attention by the proclaimer. It sparks debate, and gets users to your site or forums to agree or call you insane. Panels at conventions often cover these kinds of topics, and industry experts are quizzed by reporters on the spot. Of course, Breaking Bad is not everybody’s type of show. No matter how well made it is, it may be too violent or drawn-out or unrealistic. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, and that goes for nearly every piece of entertainment ever made.
The difference with Breaking Bad and TV is that people are saying it might be the best show of all time, and they’re not crazy for saying it. No book today, no matter how well written it is or how many copies it sells, would immediately receive such sky-high praise. What’s the best book ever? Narrowing that down from thousands of years of literature is a tall order.
The same goes for music. You’ll never get a large group of people agreeing on what the best song is of all time. It’s too divisive; you’ve got hundreds of different genres, along with amateur artists now having access that musicians in the past must have dreamed about. Can you imagine if a respected journalist or magazine proclaimed a new 2013 hit “the best song of all time?” They’d be a laughingstock.
Movies are a bit more agreed upon, for what that statement is worth. Citizen Kane, Casablanca, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Vertigo and The Godfather generally are in the midst, and nobody would be perceived as batty if they claimed any one of these titles deserves the crown. Why? Movies haven’t been around as long compared to music and books. Many of the films I mentioned above were groundbreaking, as well as critically-acclaimed. All the pieces have to fit in order to be in the discussion of best of all time.
Television shows and games are the newest of the group, and that’s where I believe the connection lies. Here we have a show that many are saying is at, or near, the top. But what about 100 years from now? Will it even be in the discussion? Does Breaking Bad have the advantage of being groundbreaking because it doesn’t have hundreds of years of history to compete with?
Can video games reach the storytelling level of Breaking Bad? Can a modern game have the widespread praise of Breaking Bad and be in the legitimate discussion of greatest game of all time? Would games be wise to emulate TV’s latest model of distribution?
Games are the new kid on the block. It’s why some people dismiss them outright, claiming they’re only for children, don’t meet the criteria for art and are a waste of time. We’re just entering a generational shift, when those who grew up playing games are reaching adulthood. The average age of frequent players is roughly 35. The appreciation, and the industry, is growing at a fanatical rate. Does this mean games are primed for their king to arrive? Or is it 50 years down the road?
Games are a different breed, in that the way we play games isn’t a constant; it’s a river, fluid and ever-changing. Sure, we play them on screens, but with the Oculus Rift on the horizon and companies adapting inputs via tablets and motion controls, we really have no idea how we’re going to play games in the future. The undisputed best game of all time may not even have a controller; perhaps you play an RPG with sensory technology, somehow implementing tiny electrical charges to your face, arms and chest. How incredible would it be to rescue somebody in a game and actually feel them hugging you? Or somehow shake hands with your best friend, who lives in a different country? To actually feel it… it’s science fiction for now, but if you showed current technology to somebody 50 years ago, they’d think the same.
Crowning a current gaming king is tough. Games are meticulously ranked by millions around the world, so maybe checking collaborative scores is the best way to determine it? No self-respecting gamer would allow that, however. Games are more about scores from sites; they’re about how they make you feel, how they innovate the way we play and how much fun they are to play with friends. So what’s the best? Is there one?
The games usually in the conversation are games like Super Mario Bros. 3, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Metal Gear Solid, Halo and Grand Theft Auto III. These are classics; they’re still fun to play today, they broke new ground with gameplay mechanics and a level of polish not seen before. They stand the test of time, and are critically acclaimed.
What about more modern titles? Super Mario Galaxy 2, Grand Theft Auto V, Uncharted 2, Half-Life 2, The Last of Us, Skyrim, BioShock? The majority of the reviewers gave these games high scores, and rightfully so; the immersion is impressive, the graphics are better than ever, the controls are tight, worlds are fun to explore and they attempt a level of storytelling not seen in previous generations of games. I could name 100 more games that groups of people feel strongly enough about to say that yes, it’s the best game ever made.
The rate at which games are changing makes it excruciatingly difficult to say which one is the best. I can’t say that even the all-time classics I mentioned above will garner much interest 50 years from now. They may seem so rudimentary that future generations will dismiss them entirely.
Games have already started emulating television in a way. Independent developers release games that can be enjoyed in shorter doses. Telltale Games and others release content episodically; The Walking Dead is a great example of a similar format. Writing in games is getting better, but it’s a long way from Seinfeld. Or The Wire. Or, yes, Breaking Bad.
But they’re on the right track. The emotional connection I found in The Walking Dead rivaled anything I’d ever played, watched, listened to or read. The Last of Us really is gaming’s closest thing to a mature, modern television hit. It hits all the points needed for an incredible gaming experience, but doesn’t wimp out when it comes to moral dilemmas, voice acting (how soon before we just say acting?) and dramatic, knuckle-clenching situations.
We’re not even close to the best of all time for games. As a widely popular entertainment form, it’s barely 35 years old. Every year, the technology improves and more people become dedicated to creating this incredible type of storytelling. Games may not have the advantage of experience, but something like Breaking Bad will come along that will get the entire industry chatting about how it very well may be the best. Given that they combine elements of movies, television, music and books, I’m sure we’re in for a phenomenal experience.