Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Is gaming relevant to adults?

Gamesindustry.biz just posted a great interview with Jenova Chen (flOw, Flower).

It hit on a lot of points that I've mentioned about the industry in this blog, and it was interesting to see a known industry developer discussing some of the same points I've been thinking about of late in relation to 'adult' gaming.

When talking about games for adults we're not talking about Gears of War (why does a 'M' rating and 'Adult' content make people think a game is for grown-ups?), we're talking about games that 'old' people might like to play, and the issue of making games more relevant to males over 40. Some quotes:

I don't play a lot of new games because I feel that games have to be - for adults like me - more relevant to my life. When you go out to an art gallery or go to see a movie, you're expecting the film [or art] to either inform you on an intellectual level about certain aspects of life or entertain you on a deep emotional level.

I think a lot of games fail to educate you on an intellectual level, and the emotions they evoke are relatively primal. They are too shallow. Games are very good at making you feel excited, feel thrilled, and feel addicted, but these are the feelings that are very primal - that younger kids or teenagers will respond very well to. As adults we expect to feel something more complex and more sophisticated.

Wonderfully stated and I liked the usage of the word 'primal.' It's a word I think I'll have to adapt to, and use more. The danger in such a statement is that by trying to bring awareness to a problem all games tend to get lumped together, and there is the occasional 'core' game that accomplishes what Jenova is talking about, but I'd love to see more ;).

Another quote:

I'm not against the traditional type of feeling that gaming evokes. Empowerment is a great experience. Even Hollywood has the equivalent in those super hero movies. But what I feel [games] are lacking is the complexity of feeling and the other hues of feeling. If nobody tries to evoke these other types of feelings, then the game market will be very limited.

My goal is to make a game that is this complex flavour. It's like cooking. The best food is not just with one flavour, you have a lot of secret ingredients that, when mixed together, create something very unique that you cannot forget. For me, if you play Flower from beginning to end, it is not all just peaceful. It has peace, it has wonder, it has twists, it has despair, and it has a catharsis.

What of course makes Jenova Chen different is that he is actively working to make his vision a reality. Perhaps much like anyone else, he is trying to create the type of game that he wants to play, but unlike much of the industry, I think he's got a much more 'adult' centered focus.

At a minimum, he's increasing the diversity of gaming, and as I mentioned in my last post, I'd love to see more planets of the gaming universe.

I've often pondered why the game industry is over 25 years old, but there are very few 40 year olds in it. I believe with more developers taking the angle of Jenova, there would be more 40 year olds both making and playing games (and that takes nothing away from the younger teen and early 20-something audience, in fact I'd say they are probably much easier to please, which if nothing else ensures games will be made for them until the end of time ;).

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.