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Games Will Never Be Mainstream

By BurningStickMan | 23 August 2010 | Discussion Topic, Editorial | , , | 36 Comments   

[Update] Too long for ya? Try this convenient summary and come back later.

One of the big cage-rattlers coming out of GDC Europe is Warren Spector (creative designer for Deus Ex) warning the industry that it could end up as marginalized as comic books.

“If we don’t break out of big buff guys with swords and guys in tights and space marines in armor, we’re going to get marginalized in the way comics have been in the United States. I hope we can break free of the content of comic books.”

That’s a bold statement, and a kick to the nuts to the comic industry, but a fair example. For most people, comics are not a regular purchase. They certainly don’t see mainstream acceptance and blockbuster profits. Even their dedicated convention has been steadily steamrolled for years by the higher-profile presence of films and games – many with no discernible ties to comics in the slightest. It’s sad to see a fade into relative obscurity for such a creative industry that managed to grow out of its roots as simple entertainment for young boys, endure suffocating self-regulation along the way to eventually come out on top, and even work a few of its most popular mascots into the public lexicon.

Wait a minute….. oh… uh-oh.

A Comic Book Store

The future looks

The games industry is facing the same challenges – from overcoming the original stigma of being mere toys for young boys right down to licking the boots of the film industry out of desperate desire to be relevant and popular – and could potentially walk away from the whole ordeal with nothing more than a few token words like “Mario” and “Atari” lingering in the social consciousness. Imagine a world where FarmVille-style games are all that’s left, hardcore games are seen as a passed fad, and the GameStops of the world are replaced by a handful of kitschy, family-run video game stores in strip malls across the country.

Couldn’t happen right? Well, $60 games aren’t going to last forever, and the industry has crashed before when consumers got confused by floods of products from Johnny-come-latelys, irritated by the declining quality of quick cash-ins, and too poor to blow the dough on full-price titles. Plus, these are just frickin’ games we’re talking about here – the world can certainly keep right on turning without EA, Activision, Nintendo, or Microsoft and Sony’s respective games divisions.

This is normally the part where the pro-games author invites the industry to pull itself up by its bootstraps, work hard, and turn this potential train wreck around. Not this article. After trying to defend all sorts of game-related issues, I’ve come to think the continued marginalization of games is inevitable.

Why can’t games ever be embraced by the public at large? Why can’t they be as popular as movies, music, books, or television? Well…

Games Are Rarely ABOUT Anything

Great movies and great novels always have some subtext to them – a deeper reason why you’re telling the story and why it’s worth listening to. This can range from the unambiguous life lessons of Aesop’s Fables, to a more subtle example of a particular issue, conflict, or belief. The Hurt Locker gives a sense of what modern war is like and some of the challenges and sacrifices today’s soldiers must face, but that’s the surface – the film is really a frame for a story about addiction. The main character can’t cope with the banality of suburban life, so he leaves behind his wife and kids for another adrenaline fix at the razor’s edge.

Modern Warfare 2 is a game about shooting people.

Modern Warfare 2 screenshot

Illustrated: plot!

No, really. What’s the subtext? What’s the point of telling the story? Well, see, there’s some Russians, and they invade America, so you have to fight them back. Done. Plot twists occur, things happen and give reason to move the story along, but a deeper meaning, a moral, a message, a subtext, a reason the story is worth telling doesn’t exist. It’s all just a frame for the action.

You can apply this to just about any game you can think of. Starcraft – everything happens because Mensk is evil. Red Dead Redemption – Marston wants a new life, but he has to shoot everyone to get there. Mass Effect – Shepard gots to save the galaxy. That’s it. Events certainly happen, memorable moments occur, but the overall plot is as one-dimensional as the stereotypical comic story (evil villain is evil, has plan, hero stops him). While today’s games are certainly more elaborate, the plots are still no deeper than that of, say, Doom (Demons. Over there. Shoot ‘em.)

It’s the difference between Rambo: First Blood and Rambo Part II. Both films feature a ripped Stallone shooting an M60, but the first highlights the tragedy of a Vietnam vet without even a home to come home to, and the second is jingoistic anti-Soviet propaganda. The sequel has its place, and can be a fun diversion, but is hardly about something deeper. The movie even plays out like a typical video game plot – Rambo sneaks in, gets captured, meets the villain and his henchman, breaks free, regroups, fights back, and then goes through a series of increasing “boss fights” (Vietnamese general that killed the girl, buff henchman in the helicopter, big bad in a bigger helicopter). Metal Gear Solid, anyone?

If games want to be taken seriously as art or a worthwhile storytelling medium, there will have to be more games that aren’t simple diversions.

Some games get this. Braid, Bioshock, and recently Limbo all manage to be fun games that expertly handle a deeper subtext. They have a message. They make you think. They’re great examples of how the medium can handle style AND substance, and great examples of how video games can support powerful art.

Unfortunately, even if we have an entire legion of artistic games, that’s simply a positive step – not the conclusion. Games can be art and still never be mainstream because…

Games Are Interactive, Not Passive

One of the medium’s greatest strengths is also its crippling weakness. It doesn’t matter how mind-blowing your story is if you’re unable to play through the game to see it. The gameplay itself becomes a tremendous barrier to non-gamers, unfamiliar with the tropes, reflexes, and skills that the gamers these games are made for have honed over the years.

“Dumb down” the game and it may lose its edge, core gamers won’t accept it, or it may turn into a carnival of cutscenes – more “movie” than “interactive,” and lose the entire point of being a game.

But make a game with solid, established gameplay and you instantly cut down on your potential audience. What about the people that don’t want to dedicate 10-12 hours to a game when a 3-hour movie is already considered way too fucking long? What about the ones who have never touched a controller before, and are expected to pull off double jumps and headshots? Bioshock had an excellent story, but that was just a treat for people already used to playing an otherwise standard FPS. How can you expect a non-gamer – that is, someone interested in the story, but not the gameplay – to get past a few Spider Splicers, for example? Bastards are tough to hit for someone used to first person shooters.

Braid screen shot

Explain this to a non-gamer. Go ahead. I can wait.

Even if you get past typical stereotypes of games being shallow and focused on violence, games are the only medium where the gamer has to bring some active skill to complete the story. Roger Ebert can’t see games as art, because he doesn’t know how to play games. And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that. You can’t honestly expect everyone to be able to play and beat your game, or to even be interested in building up the skills required. Not everyone plays guitar. Not everyone can dance. Not everyone knows a second language. But everyone knows how to sit on their ass and watch a movie. That’s not a skill.

This will inevitably lead to a situation identical to comics – where gaming’s best and brightest stories will simply be turned into films, and those films will then gain acclaim and widespread acceptance. A lot more people watched Spider-Man than ever read a single issue of the comics. In the same way, movies will sweep in and take the credit while the source game stays comparatively niche.

Maybe some authors or game companies will be pleased as shit to cash out with a Hollywood blockbuster. But it’s hardly encouraging to see the game industry as a simple stepping stone to bigger and better things. How will that inspire a new generation of developers?

And just when you thought you haven’t divided your audience up enough…

Games Must Be Fun

Games have the unique ability to place you inside the situations they create. There’s a difference between watching Sam Fisher struggle with whether or not to murder his innocent pilot to protect his cover (early in Splinter Cell: Double Agent) and having to actually make that choice yourself. There’s a difference between watching desperate Russian soldiers charge at Stalingrad without a rifle (the film Enemy at the Gates), and scrambling to survive in the same situation yourself (the game Call of Duty). Games have a great capacity to affect you personally, to make you think, and to stay with you after you’ve put down the controller.

Would you have been so bummed about Aeris’ death if you hadn’t spent some 30 hours adventuring with her and seeing her innocent kindness over that time? Probably not. Affected, sure, but not in the same personal way.

However, most gamers don’t WANT to think, and consequences are annoying. Shooting the pilot in Double Agent lowers your standing with your government handlers. Losing Aeris means the loss of all her powers and skills you spent hours leveling. Running from cover to cover through a hail of bullets with nothing but an ammo clip in your hand… well, that one’s obvious. None of these situations are really that fun, and if you don’t care about the story, then they’re just fucking inconvenient. But many of the best stories require conflict, suffering, or loss. Good story writing even teaches that things need to go to shit by the end of the second act. Simply put, good stories aren’t always fun.

But do most gamers really want breezy, straightforward, not-necessarily artistic video games? Well… let’s look at the sales for last year.

Eight out of the top ten (not counting MW2 twice like this list does) games have no stories at all. The two that do (Halo: ODST and Modern Warfare 2) are more known and beloved for their multiplayer than their single-player story. In fact, the first time you see a game heralded for its story is Uncharted 2 down at #20. Then take a nap, because you won’t get to a Game of the Year for storytelling, Batman: Arkham Asylum, until #47.

Modern Warfare 2 saw astronomical sales, and its multiplayer is kicking Xbox Live’s ass from hell to breakfast. The Madden series rakes in big sales each year, as do most of the sports franchises. Are these games going to really benefit from having deeper meanings and profound stories? Does either’s audience give two steamin’ shits about their artistic content?

Hell. No.

Halo 3 screenshot

And fun it is.

These are people who play games to have FUN, and have done so since they started playing games to begin with. These are the people who take games to be “GAMES” in the literal sense, and are perfectly content with throwing a long bomb into the waiting paws of a distant receiver, or plugging n00bs with bunny-hopped headshots in Halo‘s multiplayer. And not only is there absolutely nothing wrong with these games, or the audience that enjoys them, games primarily or exclusively concerned with just having fun consistently bring in sales that wipe the floor with any indie, artistic, meaningful, story-based gaming attempt.

As long as “games” carry a particular connotation, they’re going to have to try and serve two audiences. Take Bioshock‘s excellent themes and story and break its gameplay mechanics. No longer Game of the Year, right? (now it’s more like Alpha Protocol).

The more game-like you make a game, the more you alienate a potential new audience.

The more accessible you make a game, the more you alienate your existing, established buyers for theoretical new money (hi, Star Wars Galaxies!).

How can the industry grow in this situation? Can it at all?

Not only that, how can you change what the stereotype of a “game” is when…

Games’ Creativity Are Limited By Technology

If there’s one thing that gamers and non-gamers can agree on, it’s that games sure are repetitive. Niko probably kills a third of Liberty City by the time he’s wound through GTA IV‘s epic story, Mario’s never done more than hop and swim (and drive a race cart, but never in the same game), and Starcraft II‘s story-driven battles somehow always break down into the same routine of establishing a base and building a strike force to smash the opposing team.

The reason is completely understandable – all locations and all activities in a virtual world have to be created and refined, and each takes significant development time. Even with as much as Niko can do in Liberty City, he can’t pop into any building because the interior has to be created. He can’t go dancing because there’s no dancing mechanic or animations to go with it. He can’t leave Liberty City because that would roughly double the time needed to make the game.

Grand Theft Auto 4 screenshot

Oh, how I hates to do zee shootings, but eets all I know!

Books are some of the richest creative works around, because they can create the most elaborate fantasies imaginable for nothing more than the cost of one author’s time. Movies take an army of professionals, but can hit 50-100 locations in productions measured in months because they don’t have to recreate reality from scratch. Games simply don’t have this luxury, and immediately have to look at ways to start cutting corners. In the movie GoldenEye, Brosnan’s Bond rode a motorcycle, flew planes, played baccarat, engaged in hand to hand combat, did some investigating, had witty conversations… you get the idea. Easy for a movie, hard for a game. So in Goldeneye 007, the player’s Bond shot lots and lots of guys. The game even changes most of the films scenes so Bond can shoot more guys, or shoot guys in a scene where no guys were shot in the film. Rare made an excellent shooting mechanic and rode that pony throughout the entire game.

Build a system, and then use that system to repeat its own content; swapping out locations, enemies, and objects as needed. It’s the simplest method of game design, and the only one that’s truly any kind of practical to do. That’s why you’re always going to see games be repetitive. They will never have the easy variety of books or movies, and because of that, they will always be somewhat-boring one-trick ponies.

Just look at it from a non-gamer’s point of view. The conversation might go something like this:

“You want me to pay you sixty American dollars to do nothing more than pretend to shoot clones of the same guys over and over again for ten to twenty hours?”

Followed promptly by:

“Go fuck yourself.”

Hey, it’s a fair point. Arcade shooting galleries offered the same thing for a dollar, and you usually got bored of it before your time was up.

But don’t you dare suggest that games should change from a 10-12 hour experience to being only as long as the story comfortably needs it to be (2-4), because then you’ll turn out with sales like Alan Wake. Established gamers simply won’t pay $60 for such a short experience, and there are too many ways (legal and illegal) that allow them to avoid paying and yet still enjoy the game.

Pride Predjudice and Zombies: The Game

With even more ultraviolent zombie mayhem than the novel.

Still not convinced? Here’s a fun challenge you can try at home. Turn the book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies into the most amazing game ever devised. (I’ve made it easy for you and included zombies, ’cause those things sell like hotcakes). You have to stay as true to the book as possible and include all (or most) of the scenes and locations. You have to make it cutting edge and graphically amazing (or it won’t sell). It’s got to be interactive, so you can’t make it like a classic point-and-click adventure game (or it won’t sell). You have to make it in no more than two years and be cost-effective with your development (or it won’t get made). And it has to be accessible to people who have never touched a game before, while remaining just as much fun for the hardest of the hardcore gamer (glad there’s zombies in it now, aren’t you?). Oh, and it has to be at least 10 hours, can’t rely on repetitive content, and you’ll need to have at least two DLC packs already sketched out. Also, that DLC can’t be content removed from the regular game, and has to be on the expansive level of Borderlands‘ acclaimed General Knox DLC (or gamers will feel cheated and get Internet mad).

Don’t bother actually doing this, as it is, in fact, impossible.

But okay. Let’s say for the sake of argument that we can somehow get past ALL of these hurdles (no mean feat). Let’s say some brilliant developer creates a game that truly bridges the gap – it’s fun, tells a hell of a story, and it’s still accessible enough that truly anyone can play it (maybe or maybe not using the Kinect or Move). Hell, they make a whole series of games that proves to non-gamers that these are consistently possible. That’s it then, right? Utopia achieved; everyone is playing games now, right?


The Current Model Is Unsustainable


Ticket prices have gone up significantly, but movies still remain one of the cheapest forms of entertainment around. Part of that price is volume (more people go to movies than play games), and part of it goes back to a previous point – capturing reality is as simple as turning a camera on, while video games must hire teams of artists and animators to get even a rough approximation of the same thing. Yet gamers continue to demand more realism. If movie tickets cost $60, most people would tell Hollywood to blow.

Meanwhile, $60 per game is barely enough for game studios to get by these days (see DLC, one-time codes, anything to squeeze more money out of each individual title) and that can only get worse as time goes on. Technology may improve to make development easier, but it will never catch up with gamers’ demands to be cutting edge. One guy can make a serviceable 2D platformer these days (a stunning accomplishment), but it’s not going to burn up the charts like it would have in the early 90s. Bump mapped 3D realism or GTFO. Why would the future be any different? As the old tech and ways of making games get streamlined, they also get forgotten. Unreal Engine 3 will one day soon be the exclusive realm of the indie developer.

If the industry doesn’t collapse again, it’s going to have to reinvent itself at some point. Gamers want everything – massive, realistic worlds with incredible stories and hours upon hours of value – but they don’t want to pay much for it (see piracy and used sales). Studios want to maximize every single penny from each gamer, and aren’t afraid to punish their own legitimate consumers to get it. This kind of antagonistic situation between producer and consumer simply can’t last- especially not for a luxury, optional product. Something, somewhere is going to have to give – and surely before that mythical game developer solves the enigma of the perfect game.

So how about it? Are you convinced the games industry is totally fucked now? Maybe we should give up on this foolish desire to be mainstream (you know, by pretending Inception or Scott Pilgrim are video game movies) and just be happy with our niche little hobby. Stop trying to explain to politicians, your girlfriend, or the media why playing a game where you shoot people over and over is loads of fun, but still not harmful or desensitizing. Stop trying to explain why games are just games, except when they’re not just games, but then they really are just games.

Bottom line: the whole world doesn’t need to love games as much as you do. Hey, you may not be mainstream, but at least you’re not alone.

[Update]I originally had this section in, but cut it because I felt this article was already getting too long. Based on feedback from a number of different sources, it seems like a primary argument is that games already are mainstream. So this section needs to go back in. Consider it optional extra credit reading. And this can now count as my doctorate thesis.

Gamer Culture Is Not As Big As You Think It Is

It may seem to you that everyone is gaming these days, but that really depends on who you surround yourself with. The internet’s most vocal and prominent denizens are naturally tech-savvy, and because of that, are likely no strangers to games. If you visit a bunch of gaming sites (you had to find this article somehow, no?), seek out a bunch of gamers to hang out with, etc, you’re going to feel surrounded by gamers. But the broader world is still fairly games-ignorant.

Is your boss a gamer? His boss? If you work for an indie game developer, maybe, but even if you work for a major games company (hi, Bobby Kotick!) the answer is probably no. Does the sales force play games? Marketing? Finance? Maybe. Probably not. When the NES and Genesis were around, most kids at school still didn’t play games regularly. Even in college, where a Playstation or N64 was always connected to a common TV, most people weren’t playing games.

Elderly gamers

Hardcore mainstream gamers.

You may be thinking that everyone you know plays games. Personally, out of all the people that I know from meeting face to face (i.e. not over the internet), about ten are gamers. I’m not just talking about members of an older generation that isn’t gaming; this includes people my age who still think gaming is a waste of time, or something for kids that they’ve given up long ago. They can talk the balls off a brass monkey about the upcoming football season, or that week’s episode of Lost/True Blood/Dexter/whatever, but bring up games and you get honest blank stares. Not because they play games, but games aren’t “cool” to talk about. Because they really don’t know what you’re referring to.

Here’s a totally unscientific video of a guy asking random people on the street about Final Fantasy‘s (one of gaming’s longest-running series) most popular mascot (the chocobo). It goes as you would expect. But maybe that’s just Cleveland though? Wark!

Ok, how about women gamers? What’s the rule about the internet? “Men are boys, women are men,” etc etc. Gamers make a tremendously stupid deal about girl gamers. Finding one is apparently as rare as a double rainbow. If they were around in regular numbers, it wouldn’t even register a thought. That’s almost exactly half the world’s population right there that apparently isn’t playing many games.

Let’s try some real-life situations. It’s date night with a girl you don’t know well. Do you take her to the movies, or somewhere to play games? You’re meeting a new group of people at some kind of social function. Would you feel more comfortable talking about books or movies before you bring up games? It’s Friday night – are you going to talk about your plans to see the new movie, or your plans to go home and play games all night? Being a “gamer” still carries a negative connotation in most situations.

Even if you personally aren’t, there are plenty of people who aren’t totally honest about their gaming habits. Even if you don’t lie about being a gamer, have you ever lied to someone about how much time you spend gaming? Why the shame? What’s to hide if it’s mainstream and totally accepted? But you’d never lie about games right? Fuck the haters! Well… would you admit in a job interview how many hours you play WoW? On a date that’s going well? Your convictions might change when it’s important!

How about this – who is the Roger Ebert of video game reviews? Who is an equivalently respected, published, cited authority on the subject? (I don’t know of one) When the mainstream media does a video game story, is it positive or sensationalist; treating video games as deviant, quirky, or a kid’s toy? I shouldn’t even need to link to examples for that one. Did you know that The Wall Street Journal does book and movie reviews for some incomprehensible reason, but not video games? In fact, while just about every major publication keeps a film or book critic around, you still have to go to a “game” website or magazine to get opinions on video games.

How about some numbers then? Statistics are easily cherry-picked and manipulated, but I’ll throw a few quick ones in here so it’s not just my personal experiences and rhetorical questions.

Line for Twilight

Modern Warfare 2 famously raked in the “the biggest launch in history across all forms of entertainment” with 4.7 million units sold in the US and UK the first 24 hours. That claim didn’t hold water. The Dark Knight pulled an estimated 9.2 million moviegoers in the U.S. alone. But hey, many of The Dark Knight‘s viewers were probably gamers too, so how about something where the audiences aren’t likely to overlap? Twilight: Eclipse drew in about 3.75 million viewers (assuming an $8 ticket) in ONE MIDNIGHT SHOWING. It would go on to bring in over 17.8 million eyeballs for that opening weekend (assuming the same ticket price). Remember, we’re not talking revenue here (games are far more expensive per unit), we’re talking tickets sold/units moved/eyes on the screen.

What about those Asian nations where people play games until they die from them? Like China, where there are a whole lot of people (1.3 billion). Game consoles are banned in China, but online games are not affected and have flourished accordingly. Still, estimates put only 68 million online gamers in China for 2009 (some of which, I’m assuming, are gold farmers). That’s not a lot by comparison.

69% of all Americans go to movies, according to Nielsen’s 2009 American Moviegoing report. (It’s not free, so no links for this one.) According to U.S. Census estimates for 2009 (305 million) that’s about 210 million moviegoers in 2009.

Television viewership has been steadily declining, but Nielsen still estimates 114.9 million TV-watching homes in the U.S. alone. That just counts homes, not multiple people living in them.

Exact statistics for books sold are apparently somewhere between difficult and impossible to get, but I can tell you that 2009 sales were somewhere between $13.5 and 26.6 billion dollars. And print’s dead, right? I mean, who do you know that still reads books?

The most successful game around, FarmVille boasts 63 million active users worldwide. That’s getting up there. But FarmVille‘s not a “real game,” right gamers? That’s something the secretary plays at work when the boss isn’t watching. It certainly hasn’t been proven to be a gateway to more hardcore titles, and very doubtful that many of those players come home to PS3s or Xbox360s.

The ESA finds that 64% of American households play games – a number which seems to put it directly against cinema attendance (though remember, that’s just theater attendance – the total cultural impact of movies also includes DVDs, TV rebroadcasts, online streaming; additional markets that the games industry doesn’t have). However, the ESA’s report doesn’t mention what they consider to be games, or how many hours are spent playing them. Aside from sales figures I’ve already referenced (showing a skew toward casual party/family games), the only real clue is the statistic of 42% of online game time being devoted to “Puzzle, Board Game, Game Show, Trivia, Card Games,” i.e. “casual games.” Which leads back to games being seen as simple diversions instead of frequently-consumed, respected, universally-enjoyed media.

You probably have a board game somewhere in your house or apartment. This means you’ve bought a board game. You’ve played a board game. You count as a statistic of board gaming households, but would you consider yourself a “board gamer?” If you’re like most people I know, you bust that board game out maybe once a year, but it hardly factors into your daily routine like movies, TV, or books do.

That’s why it’s hard to count casual gamers as proponents for, or examples of, mainstream gaming. Games for them are temporary diversions. Certainly not something they do often. Certainly not a lifestyle. Certainly not a passionate hobby.

Certainly not up there with established “mainstream” media.

Screenshots yoinked from Giant Bomb.


  1. Posted by Dave "Boris" Orosz on 23 August 10 at 7:11pm

    I hear you buddy, I hear you. You hit the marketing angle on what I tried to say about games as art some time ago:

  2. Posted by david r. on 24 August 10 at 12:34pm

    There’s a problem with your argument….. games already are mainstream! Everyone I know (I’m 24) plays games regularly. Generations below play them even more!

  3. Posted by Dave "Boris" Orosz on 24 August 10 at 11:08pm

    I’d venture to say the term “mainstream” refers to more than just us and our friends. It means everyone. All types of people go to movies regularly and voluntarily. All types of people read books voluntarily. Not all types of people play games voluntarily of their own impulse.

  4. Posted by Sean Marks on 26 August 10 at 11:43pm

    I find your cynicism…..intoxicating.

  5. Posted by simon on 29 August 10 at 6:52am

    Games are already mainstream, It happened about 15 years ago.

  6. Posted by Chris M on 29 August 10 at 6:59am

    While you weave a convincing tale, much hangs on the seemingly banal premise that to become mainstream you need to convert non-gamers into gamers which require simplified controls etc; however this is true only in the short term. Turning your grand-parents into FPS playing fiends is a lost cause, but you don’t need to, just wait another 30 years and those that play games now will be in that demographic.

    Children have little difficulty picking up the complex control systems required in most game genres which are “abilities” they will retain in later years where learning such a control system would have been daunting.

    The ever escalating budgets required for AAA game titles are a concern but may not be inevitable. With improvements in procedurally generated content and ready made (gfx/physics) engines the cost can be dramatically reduced. Also if gamers ever do become mainstream, there will hopefully be a sufficiently large niche market to handle more adventurous content.

  7. Posted by Rune on 29 August 10 at 8:19am

    I agree with Chris M – games are already mainstream among younger generations and the average age of “gamers” is constantly rising as generations that played games as children become increasingly older and continue to play games. This is not really news. Games becoming mainstream in general is just a matter of the non-gamer generations gradually dying and the gamer generations growing up and eventually covering all age groups. This still won’t mean that everyone play games, but then, not everyone read books either.

    As for how many will be “gamers” – well, the term will probably refer to an increasingly small and hardcore subset of people who play games in order to not loose its meaning. After all, not a large proportion of people who watch movies or read books regularly will refer to themselves as “movie-lovers” or “bookworms” just because they consume this type of media. Games will be just another form of media/entertainment while “gamers” will refer to the smaller segment of people who takes their love for this media in particular further than most people. I believe this is already the case today to some extent. For example, I play games now and then (just as I see movies now and then) – and not casual games either – but I don’t get most of the game references in this article. I’m probably not a gamer but I do often play games. So talking about how many people are “gamers” is missing the point in my opinion, as you’re then talking about a minority almost by definition.

  8. Posted by JackShandy on 29 August 10 at 8:23am

    This might be nitpicking, but the “Explain this to a non-gamer” image- what? It’s not hard to explain. “The ring slows down time around it, so I’m using it to make this platform go slower so I can jump over there and get that puzzle peice.”

    By “Non-gamer” did you mean “Idiot”?

  9. Posted by Feroxas on 29 August 10 at 12:12pm

    Great article. Lots of great thoughts. A couple of points I think you didn’t mention

    1) Say what you will – but games are still young. It’s true that some decent titles are counting their third or second decade now, but technology, content and reception has changed a lot in the past 6-7 years. There are still changes to come.

    2) Does it really have to be mainstream? Games will never be as mainstream as films, but do they have to? Why becoming mainstream is so desireable? Sure there’s this public opinion, which looks down on games and everyone who plays them, but screw that. I don’t really need approval of people, who judge me just because I play games. Do you? [Your point about games not being a part of an accepted conversation and not a topic to discuss on a date or with a future employer is only partly valid - the same works for the latest basketball match and "what's your favourite beer" discussion]

  10. Posted by Byth on 29 August 10 at 3:11pm

    I posted this over on Rock Paper Shotgun, where it was linked to. I’m reposting it here because the people here seem to be eating it right up, and I think that you’re totally wrong. I do not mean it to be insulting, but I made my points as passionately as you made yours. I have edited it here because I had time to get off my high horse.

    I just read your comment here, but my comment at the end covers it even if I was making a slightly different point.

    Hey guys, the Hurt Locker had a good story! Well guess what? MW2 didn’t really have a story! Then you proceeded to marginalize a handful of other video game stories. Well, Hurt Locker is just about some drunk who wants to kill Arab people. Right? Redcutio ad absurdum is really bad and can go both ways.

    Lots of movies don’t have stories, and lots of video games do have stories. And the ones without stories tend to sell more to the mainstream audience. The Hurt Locker is an exception, but so is every Heavy Rain.

    As for your points about gameplay, they’re blown way out of proportion. “Games are too hard….” OK, sure. Has this stopped any of these games from selling millions of copies? No, it hasn’t. And the interactivity only enhances the story. “But only if it’s done right.” Yeah, well some movies suck too. The fact of the matter is that the things that hold video games down aren’t necessarily the things that hold other forms of media down. Yes, in some ways you can compare them to movies, but they’re a hugely different thing.

    Let’s be honest here: Ebert hasn’t tried to play a game. If someone doesn’t know how to read, are books suddenly in the same boat that you put them in?

    “Games becoming movies”
    hmm. OK. Yeah, it’s still a game. You could not call it a “film” unless you had someone play through it in the projection booth. Not to mention that some games are based totally around the player being able to make the choice. Shadow of the Colossus had a story that couldn’t be experienced via cutscenes. It’s a different medium, and the slippery slope you presented is completely fabricated. Yeah, we see it sometimes, but it’s hardly the new definition of a video game.

    Regarding your point about sales figures and stories, who cares if the multiplayer is more well-known? It’s still a part of the game, and it DOESN’T DO ANYTHING TO STOP IT FROM BEING MAINSTREAM I’ve been trying to refute point-by-point, but this was going through my head like a police siren throughout the whole reading of the article. What in the world are you arguing against? I liked Teddy Ruxpin when I was a kid, but it’s not as popular as Sleeping Beauty. If all of a sudden astronomical sales figures suddenly mean that something is niche, then what the hell is mainstream?

    Continuing, your idea about the games being limited by technology is pointless. So were movies and music in their infancy, and we’re getting around that barrier very, very fast. Anyway, how does this stop games from being mainstream?

    And then again with the way-too-specific examples that don’t mean anything at all about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and suddenly WHAT THE SAM HELL IS GOING ON HERE? I don’t want to be mean, but again, they are very different mediums. Cross-movie-book-video game things don’t hurt any of the three. Movie games suck. So do game movies. And the same for books. And then you decide that it needs this and this and this and this to be called a ‘core’ game? Hardly.

    The current model is unsustainable? No it’s not. 11 bucks for one and a half hours or 60 for 10? About the same. And that’s for a short game. Most games have more, 30 is an average, and the rare title can get hundreds. Games are doing great and were not hit as hard by the recession is because they’re so very, very, cheap per hour of entertainment, and there have been plenty of articles published on this very topic.

    As for gamer culture, who cares? There are more hardcore gamers that contribute to the culture than hardcore moviegoers. Or audiophiles. Casual moviegoers are what makes it mainstream, and casual gamers (Bejeweled/Wii Sports anyone?) make gaming mainstream.

    Oh, and movies and music can be simple diversions too. They can be simpler than other songs or films. But the point is that they are still songs and they are still films just as casual games are still games.

  11. Posted by Shnyker on 29 August 10 at 3:20pm

    This is a great article, very well thought out and the points made are excellent and I hope someone in the industry is taking notes.

    However, I completely disagree with the main argument. First, never say never. Second, games are already more mainstream than comics, already more mature, and still a young industry. At ten billion dollars yearly it’s not lightweight. Nearly 12 million people play world of warcraft, Modern Warfare 2 has solde some 4 million copies, I struggle to find a well-to-do family that DOESN’T own a Wii.

    Perhaps what I refer to as “real” games or the “true” games will never be in the spotlight as either an acceptable or mainstream form of entertainment, Halo will never be something most people share like Tetris or Sudoku Puzzles. But that’s just it, artsy films aren’t mainstream, straight to DVD movies aren’t either, but the medium as a whole is. Games may never be as big as movies, the movie industry is simpler to maintain, and has a massive head start not to mention universal appeal. Gaming though, gaming is now a well known hobby, it has it’s own cable TV station, games are about as mainstream as they could hope to be, which is quite a bit.

    My fifty year old mother has games on her iphone, my girlfriend loves zelda games, my history teacher even platyed WoW when he was getting his masters degree. I think I’ve made my point about the spread of games now. You have some smaller points I’d love to contend with but they are still very good points and any contention would just be over the universal language and phrasing you use.

    Very well written, and very good read. Really my complaint only boils down to the choice of words you picked and how poorly the arguments were developed (when you get around to the final points of each I agree 97% but you need to make that end clear in the beginning, or people will get angry early and miss the real truth you have to tell us, they will see “Games will never be mainstream” and explode before getting to the “BUT they don’t need to be, and I only mean core games, as of this point in the development of the industry, and it doesn’t matter either.”)

    Look forward to kritiking you more, and reading your work.

  12. Posted by Mo on 29 August 10 at 3:23pm

    “Gamers want everything – massive, realistic worlds with incredible stories and hours upon hours of value – but they don’t want to pay much for it (see piracy and used sales).”

    Do we though? Does what we *think* we want even matter? Isn’t this very similar to how smartphones *must* have physical keyboards, and how next-gen consoles *must* have HD graphics and 16-button controllers?

  13. Posted by origo on 29 August 10 at 3:24pm

    Hmmm, what was one Bond movie’s name again, never say never? Anyway, one can argue about this ‘never’. Few points to start with…
    -how much time did it take for movies industry to get where it is now? How about books, when did they becomes mainstream?
    -things evolve, even if you dont notice (if the evolution is too slow). Try comparing games from 20 years ago with what you see now. Now try imagining how games will look after 20 years.
    -as with movies (home movies – no need for cinema), game mediums are expanding too. Games on smartphones, plenty of that? Seen this, ?

    In the end i dont know where games will go, but i know one thing – i cant see the future. We’ll see when we get there.

  14. Posted by Nick on 29 August 10 at 4:04pm

    You definitely make some good points here, especially concerning the current state of the games industry and games as a whole. I think games face a lot of problems in the search for cultural legitimacy and acceptance, but I’d agree with the cautious optimism of Warren Spector and Chris Hecker when they say that games can become mainstream, or at least culturally accepted. There are a lot of things that the games industry needs to do for this to be possible, and unfortunately most big publishers and developers don’t seem to be interested in doing such things (they are risky, after all). I think indie developers and the modest home PC will probably do more to make games mainstream than any big publisher or $60 blockbuster.

    I also think it’s unfair when people ask questions such as ‘why do we care if games become mainstream?’, or ‘why do we care if games are recognised as an art form?’ (I realise these are different debates which don’t necessarily overlap). Whilst insecurity may be a factor, I think there are some very good reasons why we should want games to be seen as culturally legitimate, or even mainstream. First of all there’s the fact that the more accepted games are the more people will be introduced to games. This will mean there’ll be a bigger audience for games, and so developers will be justified in taking bigger risks. Arthouse films will only be watched by a tiny percentage of regular film-goers, but because the film-going audience is so large this percentage is generally enough to sustain such niche films. It would be great, I think, if this could happen with games.

    Second of all, the more people introduced to games the more creative people there will be who decide to create games, thus the more new and interesting ideas there will be that are introduced into games as a whole. Had comics become the culturally dominant medium instead of films what kind of comics books would the likes of Kubrick, Scorsese and other great film-makers have made? It seems that the more culturally prevalent games are the more talented, creative people there will be that decide to make games.

    There’s also the issue of things like government funding and tax breaks, and it doesn’t seem crazy to think that more money would be pumped into promising, risk-taking games if games were not seen by so many, including many in government, as simply a child’s pursuit, or a hobby akin to bowling or golf.

    I also think your choices of analogies at several points are unfair, and I could come up with an analogy to argue the exact opposite of the points yours do. Analogies don’t prove anything alone. Neither do your statistics I feel; they don’t show anything about how the future will be, merely how some select things are now. Yes, more people watched Twilight on its first night than bought Modern Warfare 2 on its first day, but that doesn’t really mean anything.

  15. Posted by Mo on 29 August 10 at 4:59pm

    That wasn’t my point though. My point is that you make all these assumptions about what gamers demand from their games. I’m saying it doesn’t matter. Portal happened, is universally acclaimed, and is the complete opposite of what you believe gamers demand from their games.

    Similarly, if Apple asked smartphone owning consumers what they wanted from the iPhone, they would have demanded a physical keyboard, removable battery, etc. By going against the status quo, Apple created a breakthrough product.

    In my mind, Portal and the iPhone are very similar in this regard.

  16. Posted by Jonathan Barrickman on 29 August 10 at 6:49pm

    ‘Ey Mo!

    I may be wrong, but Valve never charged “full game price” for Portal. It was basically a free add-on for The Orange Box (I even vaguely remember it being market as “Eh, here’s something cool some of our guys threw together.”) Once people responded to it, I think it came out standalone at a sub $20 price.

    Portal 2, meanwhile, is getting the full treatment. 10+ hours, epic story, online multiplayer, graphical overhaul, new mechanics, etc etc. And it’s a $60 title now.

    Sure, Valve tripped over themselves and into success with Portal, but now they’re looking to exploit that in Portal 2, and answering a whole load of fan demands in the process.

    You have a point with Apple, but how much of Apple getting away with that is because they’re Apple? Why has no other company dumped Flash on a whim? Why are iPhone imitators just not selling as much? For whatever reason, Apple has that kind of clout. If a manufacturer like, say, Samsung was the one making that move in 2007, people probably just wouldn’t buy the phone.

    Both the Kinect and Move will be good gaming experiments for your point. 3-D gaming to a point as well. All three things don’t really seem like something core gamers are interested in, but we’ll see how they sell at market.

  17. Posted by Dave "Boris" Orosz on 29 August 10 at 10:35pm

    I’m just going to say this: The most important part of the “mainstream” debate is audience. Whether or not something is mainstream has everything to do with the audience attachment and commitment and far less to do with revenue. Revenue is a result of cost per unit, but it’s blind to audience demographics.

    The meaning of “mainstream” must be defined before debate can occur. To say that games are mainstream is to say that there is comparable appreciation for them across most demographics, not just specific markets. Mainstream means that people of all types and ages are directly affected by its presence and whose lives would be significantly changed were it to be taken away. Entertainment mediums such as TV, Movies, Books all fall into this category.

    Before you say “my grandmother has a Wii” or “FarmVille” is mainstream” i’ll say this: Just because your parents or whoever play sports on the Wii, or Wii Fit, or have a virtual farm, doesn’t place them in the mainstream of gaming. They play it for simple amusement and activity, but would not be greatly affected if it were taken away in any comparable way to the absence of other mediums. Until something is emotionally stimulating, or intellectually interesting and moving for people outside the typical “gamer” demographics, then it’s foolish to call it “mainstream”.

    All my friends play games. The all play games because we are all in the demographics which are most likely to play video games. Your stream isn’t the only stream.

  18. Posted by James on 30 August 10 at 3:39am

    In the Media Studies dept. of the Institute of Education they originally studied games in the way they studied movies and tv, it’s the most obvious thing, they’re on screen – then they realised that games are ‘games’ and they lumped them in with card games, board games, playground games, sport and role playing games – since then they have much more success in studying them, because they are just sophisticated versions of these other things, does Cluedo or Monopoly have a ‘story’ – yes but it is just a frame for the action, is Monopoly mainstream? Games are Games

  19. Posted by supressor on 30 August 10 at 3:57am


    i did read thru half and then became bored. i apologize in advance because i hate when people do this to me but your post is just of unnecessary length. i disagree with many of your points though…

    you talk about being mainstream right now. why the rush? everyone below 25 plays games these days as someone mentioned already. there is no need to target on old people who didn’t grow up with games….gamers will become older and in one or two generations there will be a fairly big amount of them. yes a lot of people will stop playing because of shifted priorities or will play very cusually but there still will be players. my father is going to be 50 next year and he played action games, rpgs and WOW until recently. all on fairly good level because he became gamer in his 20s. sure in WOW he couldn’t compete with reflexes of a teenager but he had the concentration and brains so he still managed to play in a very good guild.

    Games are called games because we want to have fun and being too realistic usually breaks the fun. art in terms of games doesn’t necessary mean the same thing as with movies or books. sure visual stylization can fall into traditional category of art but im convinced that things like a perfect sandbox game can be a form of art – a world that lives even without player and has so many random things happening seems kinda artistic to me (yes I am looking at you Red Dead Redemption).

  20. Posted by zipdrive on 30 August 10 at 5:10am

    Jonathan, I’m afraid I must disagree with most of the your points, or more to the point, with the facts that the evidence you bring means gaming will never be mainstream.

    First, I have to agree with Rune on the definition of Gamers. You claim “gaming” will never be mainstream, but does not define what constitutes “going mainstream” for him (game sale numbers? percentage of population playing?), nor what gaming is.
    On the one hand you claim games aren’t popular enough and on the other that they might be popular, but only as diversions. Why is a mainstream diversion not good enough?

    Do you consider only hardcore, action, games? Do Wii games count? What about casual games? Web games? Facebook games?
    How often should one game before he’s called a Gamer? Daily? Weekly? For how many hours? Playing how many games? If a person plays game X (MW2, Tetris, Wii Sports, WoW) and only that game, for 20 hours a week, never playing anything else, are they gamers?

    When the definitions are murky, you can make whatever point you want.

    Let’s look at some points:
    1) “Games Are Rarely ABOUT Anything”: Let’s assume this is so. So what? Are sports about something? Do newspapers have a narrative? Does dancing make one think deep thoughts? You keep mixing up being a medium and being an activity.

    2) “Games Are Interactive, Not Passive”: Yes, they are. You pose a false dichotomy between games being accessible and deep. Is chess accessible? Is Go? I would think yes.
    In addition, gaming isn’t, and shouldn’t be monolithic. Not all games should appeal to all audiences, specifically hardcore “old school” gamers vs. kids. vs. soccer moms like not all films appeal to all audiences. Can you say Spongebob Squarepants, Friday the 13th, Twilight and Blue Planet have the same audience?

    3) “Games’ Creativity Are Limited By Technology”: This is true. However, I think we can look out to a future where computational improvements will be a] so difficult or b] so unnecessary that developers, probably using middleware, will be using one hopping big set of standardized tools and assets to develop multiple games, where the incremental assets needed for creating an entire spaceship or characters for a new game will not be significantly higher than for building a new movie set.
    Game engines, graphic tools, and so on will make it easier for companies to reuse stuff.
    Fact is, other mediums are limited in other ways by their technologies: Movies (especially at home) have been chasing resolution, books can’t be read in low light, music is also limited by the quality of the instruments and sound equipment.

    4) “The Current Model Is Unsustainable”: This point is true and worrisome. You conclude, correctly, that “[the industry]’s going to have to reinvent itself at some point” -I agree, but how does that prevent it from reaching the mainstream? These things look unrelated to me.

    5) “Gamer Culture Is Not As Big As You Think It Is”: Well, while I can critique some of your points from personal experience (I never thought gaming is already mainstream), I can’t see the point of this.
    Yes, gaming (especially the hardcore gaming you’re bent on talking solely about) is not as big as movies or some other stuff yet. So? How does this affect the opening question of this article? It’s silly to claim gaming won’t be mainstream because it isn’t so now.

  21. Posted by Dave "Boris" Orosz on 30 August 10 at 1:47pm


    On one side, I have to agree with you that video games should be generally grouped with games for amusement such as card games, board games, etc. Certain games however transcend their idle amusements and become more-so vehicles for the storytelling, more comparable to a book. The qualities of a game are that you have a goal with a number of ways to achieve it. Games like Uncharted though really only have one outcome (though still interactive) and fall more into straight up storytelling than it does a “game” because of the linearity. Chapter 1 starts and ends at the same place every time. But it’s probably best that deep story or linear games like Metal Gear Solid or COD respectively be separated when discussing “general amusement video games” with more in common with Monopoly. These linear games though aren’t mainstream.

    I’d be willing to say that card games board games are mainstream, but part of that has to do with the age of the type of game. I believe also though that video games will reach that point after a certain amount of time in existence. For now, phone games are far more mainstream than console games because their presence when the general populous is looking for something to occupy themselves becomes marginally important. These games are typically other card games though, but it’s still a gateway to Pop Cap type games. These games will become mainstream faster than linear story games because of their concept of utilization. Far more people are playing and enjoying iPhone games than even the player realized they would.

  22. Posted by Alan Twelve on 30 August 10 at 6:37pm


    Good article – well written and thought-provoking, but I really can’t agree with your conclusions and would take issue with how you’ve presented some of your arguments. Some points:

    Wii Sports has sold over 60 million copies worldwide. That’s more than AC/DC’s Back In Black – it’s sold more than Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Born In The USA put together. Thriller is the only only album in the history of recorded music that’s sold more copies than Wii Sports. The only way that you could possibly argue that games aren’t mainstream is if you try to argue that casual games like Wii Sports don’t count. (Or, I suppose, that music isn’t mainstream entertainment.)

    Of course, you’ve tried to argue that casual games like Wii Sports don’t count, but that’s like arguing that because Mogwai or Yo La Tengo will never sell hundreds of millions of albums, music will never be mainstream. I would argue that it’s the casual audience that you’ve tried to dismiss who make whatever form of entertainment mainstream. Mainstream cinema, for example, is exactly that which appeals to the casual audience, not the ‘difficult’ stuff that takes work. What makes games different?

    And I’m not arguing here that mainstream is necessarily bad – someone made a parallel with straight-to-DVD films upthread, which made me laugh, as Modern Warfare and its ilk strike me as being the gaming equvalent of straight-to-DVD trash movies. I’d rather go bowling on the Wii any time.

    A minor pedanticism – The first two Rambo films are called First Blood and Rambo: First Blood Part 2.

    I don’t agree with those who argue that ‘hardcore’ gaming will become mainstream as current under-25s grow older. I think it’s far more likely that the vast majority will stop playing ‘hardcore’ games, partly because they don’t have the time and other things become more important, and partly because the majority of ‘hardcore’ games are juvenile tosh.

    Ummmm, I’ve forgotten what else I had to say.

    But, can everyone please just stop saying ‘medium’ all the time. Please. Like, really fucking pretty please with a cherry on top. It’s lazy, bad English and it’s almost always incorrect in the context it’s used (although, in fairness, there are a couple of uses in the article that are just fine). Just stop and think – “a medium for what?” Or “What other word could I use that would better express what I’m trying to say?” There will almost certainly be one. Oh, and the plural of ‘medium’ is ‘media’, For fuck’s sake. Rant over. Till the next time.

  23. Posted by Kadayi on 31 August 10 at 2:48pm

    ‘Most gamers don’t WANT to think’

    That is utterly hilarious. An interactive experience is always about thinking. You might not recognise it as that (because you seem to be using a very narrow definition of the term), but computer games are principally mental challenges at the end of the day. What makes someone good at say, TF2 or MW2 is much far less about their ability to physically move a mouse or press a button fast, but their ability to strategize on the fly based on their knowledge of the games environments, rule sets etc etc and to predict the probable behaviour of their opponent.

    What is extremely interesting with multi-player games is to see how when players develop successful strategies , those strategies spread (like all good memes do) and counter strategies start to emerge as a response. There is a constant churn of ideas and approach within multi-player gaming communities. Now sure you can say well what does that teach gamers? Well it’s certainly not going to teach them something factual ( George Washington DIED — December 14, 1799), but what it does teach them is the power of adaptability when it comes to problem solving, which is a surprisingly useful talent in this day and age.

  24. Posted by Jonathan Barrickman on 31 August 10 at 3:05pm

    @ Kadayi

    I’ll agree with you on that. Developing strong AI even seems to have fallen from priority around the time multiplayer capabilities expanded, as developers pushed off the task of providing smart, challenging opponents onto masses of faceless networked gamers.

    Yes, good multiplayer is good strategy, and the idea that its brainless shooting is (mostly) a stereotype. There are plenty of Xbox Live kids that play it that way, but they usually lose.

    I meant don’t want to think in the terms of the how and why they’re shooting. It’s digital paintball. The experience is the reason to play.

  25. Posted by Xiphiasar on 31 August 10 at 3:12pm

    Deus Ex.
    Shadow of the Colossus.
    Fallout 3.

  26. Posted by Jonathan Barrickman on 31 August 10 at 4:17pm

    @ Xiphiassar

    …. are all good games?

  27. Posted by Kadayi on 31 August 10 at 4:41pm

    @Jonathan Barrickman

    Game A.I. is a misnomer anyway. A bunch of scripts is never going to present much of a challenge until it is able to adapt it’s play style as rapidly, frequently and as capriciously as a human player can. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to continue to pursue though. The people doing the really interesting game AI work in my view are the Sims guys. The fact that Sims remember previous events and will act on them is quite an impressive feat Vs most combat orientated AI. The Sims guys just need to build in some AI adaptability (that sim personality traits are presently fixed rather than subject to drift based on stimulus response is a shortfall at the moment). I think as multi-core processing advances and the pursuit of ‘realism’ plateaus out a bit, we might actually start to see more sophisticated AI models like the Sims start to creep into more adventure/action orientated titles. Probably initially to add flavour to the environments beyond the usual walking wallpaper, but in different directions. Presently I’d say the hardware just isn’t there yet to support it. though.

    Also I kind of think you missed out the whole sims playerbase in your assessment of the balance of male/female gamers. There’s a substantial number of female gamers out there.

    The other thing I’d also say is about have you assessed the quality of last years best selling books, the top grossing films, and the most watched TV shows? Beyond the odd ‘I’ll teach you how to be rich/successful/Kim Kardasian’ best seller is there really anything of genuine substance amongst those big hitters, are they principally all just forms of entertainment that fill time and provide water cooler talk?

    Also with respect to the old onion of ‘can games Art’ the natural response is ‘do they need to be?’ Exactly how relevant is modern Art to most people? Modern Art is a hardcore pursuit when you consider the number of people worldwide who don’t go to galleries and see exhibitions Vs those that do?

    Talking of which. What’s not to love about Assassins Creed 2 taking people (many of whom will probably never be able to afford to see it) to Venice? As well as introducing them to some choice early and late renaissance Art? As someone whose been (possibly the bizarrest City on earth), I have to say they did a pretty good job of replicating the environment from a spatial perspective (it was quite uncanny in a lot of ways). Sure not perfect, but one has to look at this things as transitional. Computer games are still very much in their infancy, Vs other media. Right now we’re still in the process of coming up with better cameras, but eventually there will come a time where the technology beds down and game design will be less tied up with the juggling of the limitations of the technology vs the ambitions of the game designer, and more about the game as an experience (informative, entertaining, seductive).

  28. Posted by Kadayi on 31 August 10 at 4:44pm


    I really need to proof read these things. Ignore the obvious spelling and grammatical errors. Lack of caffeine.

  29. Posted by Jonathan Barrickman on 31 August 10 at 6:05pm

    @ Kadayi

    Good points on AC2. I actually got interested in FPSs in the 90s out of the “virtual reality” aspect of it. I was interested in exploring imaginary (or based on reality) places. The shooting was less important to me than the first-person exploration. I certainly hope there are many more games that expand in that direction (though it’s expensive to do!)

    To your other points:

    Art can be more that just what you see at a gallery or hear at an opera house. Putting stories in games also doesn’t necessarily equate art. Plenty of games don’t need a story at all, I’m saying we need to explore having more that do.

    I would guess that Sims players are casual gamers, and may only play the Sims. Casual games have yet to be proven as a gateway to becoming a committed games consumer.

    Re: actual quality of mainstream media – The questionable tastes of the public at large is (amazingly) beyond the scope of this article. :p

  30. Posted by Kadayi on 31 August 10 at 7:39pm

    “Art can be more that just what you see at a gallery or hear at an opera house. Putting stories in games also doesn’t necessarily equate art. Plenty of games don’t need a story at all, I’m saying we need to explore having more that do.”

    Going back to my earlier point though, computer games are really in their infancy as a form of medium, to the extent that there’s not one universal all delivering game engine format (or camera if you like) that we can all subscribe to as a creative tool at present. One that frees designers/story tellers up from the technicalities concentrate on manufacture/shaping of the experiences they wish players in engage in. Until then the industry is handicapped.

    The fact that developers are reinventing the wheel most of the time in order to drive their creative ambitions is a constant drain on peoples resources if you think about it. Jim Rossignol said to me recently that there have been something like 5 or 6 games all set in New York in the last few years, and each studio made their own model of the City (or part of) every time. That’s like commissioning a new version of Helvetica every time you publish a book. Utter madness when you think about it, and simply the result of electronic gaming technology being in it’s infancy.

    With a universal engine, all of those sorts of things could be outsourced or sold through stock sites (gamestock as opposed to istockphoto). From buildings, vehicles, weapons, motion capture, etc, etc. (you get the gist)

    Sure naturally you’d still require people to make new and unique stuff, but the fact that you could buy in the gaming equivalent of the Wilhelm Scream would undoubtedly save a considerable amount of development time, as well as reduce the burgeoning size of teams, and open up the opportunity for developers to perhaps move away from having to cater to the lowest common denominator a lot of the time and still make a profit.

    “I would guess that Sims players are casual gamers, and may only play the Sims. Casual games have yet to be proven as a gateway to becoming a committed games consumer.”

    I think you’ll find that Simmers are a pretty committed bunch (it’s a game without end and one in which can drive the narrative). Sure they might just play one particular brand of game, but is that really any different than sat people playing MW2 multiplayer or WoW for instance? What makes someone a hardcore gamer Vs a casual? Guns and killing, or the time sink?

  31. Posted by Pendler on 01 September 10 at 5:31am

    Most, if not all of the points raised in this article can be applied to sports as well (among other things), and those certainly have become mainstream. I really don’t see why those exact same characteristics (lack of a focus on story, etc.) would be an inherent hindrance for video games. Also, it’s kind of a strange thing to say that games aren’t mainstream already, simply because they’re *not quite as mainstream* as the cultural dominators (movies, books, music, television), which have been around for much longer. Of course movies or books have a bigger cultural impact, considering there are *many* more people who have grown up with those than with video games.

    The article isn’t entirely wrong, but I think you’ve jumped to quite a few really weird, unsubstantiated conclusions.

  32. Posted by codicier on 05 September 10 at 7:37pm

    Like alot of the people who read it i didn’t agree with everything you wrote but i didn’t disagree with everything either, and if nothing else you sure know how to start a damn good debate.

    The example Spector used is Comics, and when people as gamers look around at Comics they think to themselves ‘nah that could never happen to us’.

    The problem is we haven’t are only just beginning to even hit the high watermark of Comics at their peak.

    To give a rough idea at it ‘s height Captin Marvel sold 14+ million copies a year in the US at its height, Modern warfare 2 is currently at around 12 million mark in the US (although greater worldwide sales). US population has also double roughly in that time, making the 14 million yearly figure even more impressive.
    Now the best selling Comics are hitting yearly figures just over 1million (in the US).

    You could postulate that something about Comics made them especially vulnerable, but Comics decline was far from inevitable you only need to look to Japan to see that,in 2009 the top selling Manga also posted sales of over 14million.

    Now a argument can be made that globalization has made media formats more entrenched than they used to be, but that seems to much like wishful thinking to me.

    Part of what led to comics decline was the Comics Code a legislation brought in to force in the 1950 which forced the majority of comics to not contain content which was unsuited for children. This crippled the mediums growth and any chance it had of really cementing its cultural acceptance. The Nov 2nd Supreme court ruling on the Californian games law proposal could easily end up pushing Games backwards both culturally and artistically.

    Anyways rant over, my somewhat rambling point is: Don’t take Gamings current growth for granted. Because if the proposition Jonathan makes in his title does come to fruit the medium could end up not just standing still, but going backwards.

  33. Posted by Josh W on 09 September 10 at 8:58am

    I apologise if this is uncomfortably brief, I just lost lots of thoughts in a browser crash and I wanted to get this out to you before anything else happens to it!

    What’s so wrong with repetition? Over on RPS they made the point that games are similar to music, and repetition is a big part of that. Development of themes, their interaction with each other in different combinations, the exploration of their priority over each other and their internal changes due to those interactions, this kind of thing allows you to explore the idea of character, habit, the nature of desire, and all that stuff Shopenhauer got into about the nature of lived experience and wanting stuff. Repetition allows you to take a moment of decision, a certain kind of action, or an experience and plumb it’s depths, from different angles.

    The problem with games is not that they include repetition, but that they include repetition without difference, and repetition as a cost of failure, rather than as a reward for success. Basically if games carry on some form of narrative through player failure, like heavy rain or the first wing commander, then they can still have an accessible narrative, games that work like “win to get new stuff, loose to get the same old stuff” if they provide narrative, have to provide it in a very different form. This kind of narrative is like the puzzle-box film or book; incomprehensibility surrounded by confused conversation, which a few people persevere with and then “get”. Bare in mind that one surprisingly popular book has based itself on a series of puzzles culminating in an insight; the da vinci code! It does this as many mystery books do by providing a track of action to overlay the increasing understanding offsetting the frustration of those who are confused, and giving those who already have got what their aiming at something else to do. Games of course can separate those tracks, but if your going to use it as a template, it is important to keep that part of the mystery structure that the confused person experiences, because it is there first and foremost to make it accessible for them. Basically, in these forms of game passive narratives correspond to failure, the purpose of the narrative being understanding of the underlying systems and insights on which the game is based, and interactive narratives correspond to success, narratives of consequence, desire, compromise and all the other business to do with power. Memento fits a passive narrative, Emma fits an interactive narrative.

    If you want to read up on it Gilles Deleuze, Soren Kierkegaard, and Christopher Alexander all put different useful spins on the idea of repetition, which I’m currently working through myself.

  34. Posted by riverfr0zen on 10 October 10 at 3:50am

    As someone who had to go through hours of Art History, let me assure you that video games will definitely be represented in the courses by 2040 or around there. The history of ‘Art” is a sophisticated subject that exhibitedly does not suffer ‘small view’ perspectives such as, say, a guy who reviews movies, but not games, and who basically is entrenched in his little world.

  35. Posted by Nathan C on 12 October 10 at 5:52pm

    Good bit of critical writing. There are no breaks in your argument and as a professed gamer for 20 years this article makes me cry a little for how truthful it is. Keep up the good work.

  36. Posted by Gta 5 Download on 06 April 14 at 7:45am

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