Triple-A Games Are A Lot Like The Chicago-Style Hot Dog

A Chicago-style hot dog is, of course, a hot dog. But, it's so loaded with toppings, it can be easy to forget that the tube steak is the main course. The bun and dog are there, as usual, though you need to make sure the bun is studded in poppy seeds and that the dog is all-beef. But the dog is so covered in toppings that, aside from the ends poking out, you usually can't see it. On top, there is mustard, relish, onions, tomato wedges, celery salt, and pickled sport peppers. When you're chowing down on a dog that has been "dragged through the garden" it can be easy to forget what the star of the show is. Triple-A gaming often feels the same.

I'm from Michigan originally, and I never had a Chicago-style dog until I moved to Illinois. As a kid, I was a picky eater and wouldn't have touched one with a ten-foot pole. I loved hot dogs, but had them prepared as simply as possible. Bun, dog, squiggle of ketchup on top. Now that I live in the land of Lincoln, I've come to appreciate the Chicago-style dog's overloaded charms. Is it too much? Maybe. Does it hit the spot when you've had a few beers and want something to chow down on at midnight in a diner? Absolutely – what could be better?

In that way, Chicago-style dogs remind me a lot of triple-A video games. The history of video games has been a history of expansion. Not like expanding your house by building a new wing, or expanding your waistline by eating too many Chicago-style dogs. The history of video games has been more like the history of the universe since the Big Bang: constant expansion forever outward with no apparent end point.

Games are always getting bigger. When I was playing Assassin's Creed Valhalla back in 2020, it felt like there was no limit to how big the game could get. I was working on guides for it and had to inform the editor overseeing the project that, after our coverage plans were made, I had stumbled onto an entirely new, big area. It felt like a game that launched with its expansions already included.

At the core of the modern triple-A experience is the campaign. That's the meat; the most important part. But, over time, developers have piled an increasingly huge amount of optional ingredients on top. Side quests, crafting, towers, races, shooting challenges, bandit camps, competitive multiplayer, campaign co-op, gear, loot boxes, mini games, collectibles, level creators, cooking, Machine Strike, and more, and more, and more. Even historically linear franchises like God of War are expanding into open–world territory. Ragnarok is a giant game. Seventeen years ago, the first God of War was a critically beloved hit that only took nine hours to beat. Over time, everything gets bigger, new features get grafted on, and the time that these games take to play (and develop) grows and grows. Sometimes, we want it all. Just like sometimes, I want a Chicago dog.

But, there are other ways to make a game. Sometimes, the campaign is all you need; sometimes competing with your friends in death match is all you want. Sometimes you want just want a simple hot dog in a bun. Maybe with a squiggle of ketchup on top.

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