Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Video Games needs a Copernicus

We all know the name Copernicus. He is that guy that found that the Earth wasn't the center of the Universe.

Today we have a similar problem in gaming. There is a certain niche in gaming that seems to believe the gaming universe revolves around them. This is the same group that is angry at the Wii selling in greater numbers than any console ever. This is the same group that that sees casual games as stupid. This is the same group that despite sales (or because of sales?) thinks that no Nintendo game, no wait, actually the statement is broader. It is that no game on any Nintendo platform is any good.

The gaming Universe is big.

In fact, I think we've only started to discover it. We're really stuck in our own solar system currently. I don't think we have an inkling about the galaxy that contains us, and the concept of the Universe is still far beyond our self-obscured views.

The last generation of gamers has become very resolute in thinking that the true base of gaming is their planet of games and that the whole of the gaming Universe is orbiting around them. There is a very dismissive and ignorant point of view seeing things like casual games as being a dark moon orbiting and obscuring people from seeing the wonder of the amazing planet of games that "hardcore" people play. The Wii they see as another moon orbiting and obscuring the beautiful views to their planet as well as cluttering their views of the stars at night. Which stars of course all orbit around the wonderland of "core" games. Someday, they wrongly believe, the people visiting those moons will realize that the moons are just stupid little hunks of rocks orbiting the magnificent, true source of gaming. The euphoric "core" that was the driver of the last generation of gaming.

Of course no innovation is made anywhere else than that motherland, the glorious center of the gaming Universe. How could it be? Being able to play games with your feet or by moving your arms? Gimick! Being able to shoot around a building's edge or through a window in a shooter? Brilliant new innovation!

It's a bit satirical, but I wish it was more satire and less reality to the opinions of those who constantly lash out, laying heresy charges against anyone or anything that suggests gaming doesn't revolve around "core" games.

There is a whole universe out there to be sure, but I believe we're really having trouble finding it. Part of the reason games have had such a hard time maturing, (and I mean really maturing, which is not at all the same thing as increasing the number of M-rated games) is because not just the "core" gamers, but even the majority of the game developers, operate under the belief that there is only type of "true" game fan. The one who thinks that Halo, WW2 shooters, and GTA are something akin to Nirvana, and that those games are clearly the basis for the gaming Universe. It's the center around which everything else orbits.

Until we, as an industry, fully decouple ourselves from this prehistoric approach, we're not going to mature. Copernicus lead to Galileo, and a completely new understanding of how the world worked and our place within our solar system, galaxy and universe. "Core" games are just one planet. They are floating around with other planets and may not even be the biggest or most important planet in their own solar system, let alone in their galaxy or in the gaming universe.

Gaming needs a Copernicus to disrupt the industry with truth, to change the perception of what gaming is. Maybe Nintendo can be it, maybe casual games, maybe something yet on the horizon or a combination of all these things. Actually, based on all the negative remarks made by "core" gamers, maybe the transition is already happening, and it's just the stubborn old ideas that are taking time to change as we don't want to let go of our old beliefs.

Regardless, I'm excited for a new age of understanding and discovery in the world of games. I'm excited to see what new planets of gaming that we haven't even conceived of yet exist just outside of our gaze. As I mature, I look forward with hope, that the industry can expand its horizons and search out new understanding. It's a hope that keeps me making games and playing them, despite a tremendous amount of negative feedback in regards to many of the games I trully enjoy.


Brett Douville said...

Actually, what's amusing to me is that the broader audience doesn't even really hear all the noise from the hardcore.

A year and a half ago, I bought my folks a Wii, along with a couple of party games (Wii Play and Mario Party 8, which they had enjoyed with their grandkids previously). I've also given them Wii Fit, which my mother reportedly really enjoys.

The fact is, hardcore fans can complain all they want -- while they remain a sizable market, big publishers will continue to create games for them, until it ceases to be profitable to do so. In the meantime, the rest of the galaxy will continue branching out and trying new things, or even being introduced to videogaming altogether. They don't read about the hardcore's biases and their whining. Hardcore gaming is in that respect a bit of a backwater -- they think they're important, and to some publishers they certainly are, but other publishers are finding there's more money to be made going after that larger audience.

I don't think we honestly need another model; money is driving it that way already. We don't need to convince the hardcore -- the opportunities are there for smart investors like Nintendo to make money from.

Russell Carroll said...

Yeah good thoughts.
My thoughts were aimed more at how to get some of (in reality the majority of) current game developers to think beyond "the Wii is a toy, what we make is real games, they don't belong on the Wii."

I have two contradictory thoughts on that. The first is that it would be great to get the best game developers making games for the Wii. They might be able to expand the types of games that we play by introducing things that are new and interesting.

The other thought is that we don't want Kevine Levine or CliffyB to make games for the Wii. They simply don't have the ability that would be needed to make a good Wii-game. They are just too one-dimensional (though I'd love to have them prove me wrong). Instead we should let the Wii create a new generation of developers who are able to make great games for that broader audience that you mention. I think you are right in your statement that the money will have a high probability of making that happen.

...and it might be the best way to get where I dream of going :).

Brett Douville said...

Hey, I know! I work for the guy who compared the Wii to Teddy Ruxpin; he was saying that he views it as being in a different space from the X360 or PS3. And he's probably right, to some degree. And for that matter, if I really want that experience, I guess I can go out and buy a 360. But really, the occasional hardcore experience from Nintendo and a few others are usually enough to satisfy me.

That said, I don't really know anyone I wouldn't hand a Wii controller to for a little while, for some of the minigames on Fit, or Wii Sports, or even some of the party games. That's a much more interesting audience, far less provincial, gaming-wise, in a manner of speaking. We hardcore players and developers are far too set in our ways.

I too would love to have some great designers there, but on the other hand, I remember working at a company with a bunch of project directors who basically had to die or leave before anyone could enter that group, and they were young enough and not leaving. It seems like the tendency of the hardcore on both sides (developer and fan) to ignore the Wii opens up some real opportunities for interesting games and new faces in the pantheon of gaming gods.

L.B. Jeffries said...

Good read. I think analogies like this are really helpful to get people to start seeing beyond game to game and look at the bigger picture. It's like how all the psychological studies in games are just on whether they make a person more violent or not. It's just the tip of the iceberg.

The learning potential of games has hardly been tapped. The therapeutic value, whether its through direct impact on dreams or personal relationships, is just starting to produce some major research. Physical therapy, interactive's all happening. And the only thing some people can do is bitch that it isn't like the tiny little bit that we've accomplished thus far.