November 24, 2008 8:00 AM |
[After we at GSW - and Gamasutra - ran EA designer Brice Morrison's opinion piece on a game designer outgrowing video games, he got such a major response that he returns to GameSetWatch to answer some common questions, and set a competition to conceptually design a game that makes its player better.]
My article on 'Why I Outgrew Video Games', originally posted on my blog and then on Gamasutra and on GameSetWatch, has received considerable press coverage from Slashdot, from Kotaku, and other online news outlets.
The discussion generated around the article has been very thought provoking; many readers sympathized, claiming that they too have been forced to leave games behind as other more important aspects of life crept in during their 30's and 40's, unable to justify the time sacrifice for pure entertainment. Many more readers had some very intelligent contentions.
I'd like to further fuel the discussion by responding to some of the great points raised by readers:
You say that as you grew up, you found no adult parallels to Super Mario. What about games with deeper themes, such as Shadow of the Colossus or BioShock?
Shadow of the Colossus and BioShock are both magnificent games. The reason that they don't quite reach the goal of being life enriching experiences is that they are still designed from the ground up with the primary purpose of being entertainment. Yes, the compelling stories, settings, and characters in both games may provide some tangential learning of the concepts of mindless pursuit of a selfish motive (Shadow) or the perversion of humanist beliefs (BioShock), and these are not to be downplayed.
However, games as a medium could offer much more if the original intent was to express an idea. It's the difference between a fictional movie that causes viewers to consider the real world parallels and a real life documentary. Both eventually get to the purpose of causing the audience to grapple with the concept, but one goes through entertainment on its way, and the other seeks to make its point first and be entertaining second.
Of course, the reasons behind this have a lot to do with the nature of the video games business itself. Games are made for a profit, and entertainment is more profitable.
There are plenty of mature games that were made quite some time ago: Trinity, Hidden Agenda, or works of Interactive Fiction, to name a few. What about those?
Great point! These are all games that do much more than provide entertainment. Hidden Agenda, for example, educates players about the intricacies and difficulties of the political climate in South America, and does so through engaging gameplay (despite its use of only black and white colors).
Many of these games were tested by the market in the 80's, and sadly faded from the mainstream. Jim Gasperini, creator of Hidden Agenda, wrote that "Hidden Agenda was created in an early, idealistic time in the development of the game medium. " Since then, it would seem that simple entertainment won out in the marketplace. This is good for those who simply want entertainment, but it's bad for others who need more to justify the time spent.
Still, those are some games with more mature themes than Mario. How can you say games are still a child's medium?
In addition to the low proportion of games that deal with adult themes, another issue here is simply the public perception of games. While the Wii, online casual gaming, and other movements are helping to make great strides, it is not outlandish to say that many people would still view games as kid's toys, though few would say the same of a medium like literature. There are children's books and there are adult books, but with games the public perception is more myopic.
This is also true of comics; many readers commented that comics that touch on mature themes do in fact exist, such as Watchmen or Maus. but the public perception of the medium as a whole tragically does not reflect this.
Your article claims that many people have outgrown games, but many older people DO actually play games: board games, like chess.
True, but as someone who left my NES behind, I wish that there were video and computer games which received the same love from the general public. The capabilities of video and computer games are far beyond what any board game could be, and thus are something to be taken advantage of.
Also, board games oftentimes have peripheral advantages that make them "worthwhile" in the player's mind: spending time with family, flexing mental muscles, etc. It's difficult to come up with the same justifications for many video game titles out today.
Why are you saying we need more boring games? Games are supposed to be fun.
This was actually a misconception of Ian Bogost's recent Gamasutra article. The goal isn't to create boring games, but when boring games have been created, then we will know that games have truly been accepted as a versatile medium by the general public.
Some readers mentioned army training and pilot training games, which is exactly the type of boring games I believe Bogost would say he's looking for. As these become more ubiquitous, it can be seen as a thermometer that our medium is becoming more accepted.
What's wrong with games as simply entertainment? If you want intellectual stimulation, why not turn to something else?
Nothing is wrong with viewing games as entertainment, but there is so much more that could be done! Games have the capability to be incredibly experiential because of their capability to provide interactivity.
As designer Dan Cook from Lost Garden wrote, it's the difference between hearing about the time someone decided not to pull the trigger, and deciding for yourself not to pull the trigger. Actually going through experiences yourself is much more compelling and personal than reading a story. The opportunities are too ripe not to pursue the possibilities.
Additionally, it's sad for someone who loved games while they were younger to have to turn away later in life because the days become busier. Other activities, sports for example, are still viewed as a worthwhile use of time, but only because of some other benefit in addition to being entertainment, such as exercise.
Video games also have the capability to provide the same kind of peripheral benefit. This doesn't mean entertainment should be shown the door, but I think even popularizing the idea that games could be something more is a good step.
"Edutainment" games are terrible. Why would you be asking for more of them?
Edutainment games aren't terrible by definition; sadly these games have that reputation because they are oftentimes simply not designed well. A few years ago, we all would have agreed that those crazy bicycle games in front of TVs at the science museum were terrible.
Exercise games don't work, we would have said. But after a professional team got their hands on the idea of exercise, Wii Fit was born (and I don't need to talk about the popularity of Wii Fit).
The problem is a game design problem, not a content problem. In terms of making compelling reward systems, the content is nearly irrelevant. I would venture to say that the greatest asset games have over other media is to take any topic and make it interesting, such that the player decides to forge ahead of their own volition.
Game Design Competition
Games have the ability to discuss and teach real world politics, history, science, health, business, psychology, and so much more. Games have the potential to not only be entertaining, but to have the player put down the controller and say, "Wow. I am a better person for having played this game. Those last few hours have contributed to my well being and will continue to enrich my life long after I'm done playing."
Many developers would agree with this thesis, but the real question is how. To follow up this discussion, GSW editors have allowed me to host a game design competition, focusing on creating games that do more for the player than simply entertain.
If this topic has interested you, I'd invite you to consider participating. You can find more information on the competition on my weblog.
[Brice Morrison is a game designer who has been developing quirky titles since he was in middle school. Before taking a job at Electronic Arts, he developed several successful independent games such as Jelly Wars, an action adventure franchise, and QuickQuests, a casual MMORPG.
While at the University of Virginia, Brice founded Student Game Developers, an organization which continues to produce games every semester and open the doors to the games industry for students. His blog at BriceMorrison.com discusses games in a broader context and how they can be more than simply entertainment.]