Videogames: Just Grow Up!

For some time now many industry insiders have been wanting gaming to grow up in order to cater to a more mature audience. This goes beyond having R rated games due to the inclusion of nudity, violence, alcohol consumption and what not. It means having more titles which directly or indirectly tackle issues such as politics, philosophy, human emotion and difficult life experiences. To do this developers and publishers need to move away from catering exclusively to the (admittedly large) crowd who is only interested in mindless fun. Of course this is easier said than done. As much as I wish it was otherwise ‘provoking thought’ will likely never be as popular as ‘providing fun’ and successfully combining the two is a tall order.

024-growup-splitreason (1)
Mushrooms. Not to everyone’s taste.

Literature, cinema and music successfully cater to consumers who are not interested in the  frivolous but seek experiences which stimulate thought, challenge preconceptions and aid reflection. Even comic books have been doing this for a while now (although not always successfully) and it would be a fallacy to claim that videogames are still in the dark ages in this regard. True that the change has been slow but undeniably it is taking place. The resurgence of indie titles, which free developers from the constraints of appeasing the masses in order to make profits off a multi-million budget, have allowed creators to pursue themes which go beyond just entertaining us for a few hours. Titles like ‘To The Moon’, ‘Gone Home’, ‘Papers, Please’, ‘This War of Mine’  and ‘A Tale of Two Brothers’ have demonstrated that a good game can also be thought provoking. Even triple A games have successfully pulled this off with the likes of ‘Bioshock’ and ‘Beyond Good and Evil’ being noteworthy examples.

All this is not to say that games which are built from the ground up to entertain should vanish. Indeed this is an entertainment industry and keeping the player entertained will always take centre stage. There is a market for many different experiences and this is more a question of branching out rather than replacing what we have available at present. Unfortunately it seems to me that sometimes critics berate games which are meant to be mindless fun because they only provide what they set out to provide in the first place. Not every game has to teach us something or go all philosophical. For instance, games should be allowed to be shockingly violent for the sake of it, without the need to attempt to teach us that violence is bad. There is a market for that kind of thing. Some people just want to let off some steam after a trying day at work and that is perfectly fine.

The flip side is that the aforementioned thought provoking games are still required to provide a degree of entertainment. To give one example –  for all the praise it got I could not bring myself to finish ‘Depression Quest’ despite having a personal interest in mental health. I felt the ‘game’ part of the experience was lacking. The problem was compounded by the fact that it was created using the web page based Twine engine which relies almost exclusively on text making it more akin to a Fighting Fantasy adventure book (I miss them books). As an experience it is interesting and has some worth. As a video game? It just does not work. (Depression Quest is free and you can try it for yourself).

Increased discussion of ideologies and philosophies is the sign of a maturing industry which is trying to adapt to an ageing audience. Its a matter of fact that more gamers than ever before are in their late thirties. Mature discussions are important but we need to keep them around games which set out to create a mature conversation in the first place.


6 thoughts on “Videogames: Just Grow Up!

  1. The problem is games are interactive and thus must be both thought provoking and meaningful while not being dull to play.

    1. I cannot agree that they MUST be thought provoking and meaningful. Take a game of UNO which is neither thought provoking (unless by that you mean you have to think, which includes almost any activity we do to varying degrees) nor is it meaningful. Its still a fun game and serves its purpose (that of entertaining you).

      1. I was referring to video games maturing and approaching the more “serious” topics, how they will struggle to talk about these topics unlike any other medium due to the nature of them being interactive experiences.

  2. ‘.. many industry insiders..’ I am taking a wild stab in the dark but would these insiders be the sane insiders that have been involved in the industry for many years and are in fact now ‘mature’.

    Making games to show real world issues such as blindness, slow reactions of old age, impaired hearing and incontinence can be simulated by any 16yr old. Just fire up your favourite FPS, poke yourself in both eyes with your fingers, turn the game resolution to minimum, set your mouse to 600DPS, turn the volume down low and drink 3 litres of coolaid. You too will be able to experience my daily life as a gamer.

    Though I guess a CoD or BF game where you play an Arab chap going on Jihad to blow up the stinking western unbelievers would be possible and indeed different from the long string of ‘tough white guy with personal issues making him a loose cannon and yet unsackable’ type of games. But just how would that be received by the general public? particularly in the US with their over sensitivity to airliners crashing into tall buildings and people that aren’t them having guns in the first place.

    As you noted there are indeed several games out there that have broached the subject of real world issues. How many sales did they actually have though? How much impact did they have? What impact did they have on the world as a whole?
    Are we looking at ‘The colour purple’ level of thought provocation? I feel not, though This War is Mine is VERY good it fails because it tells me when I am sad rather than leaving it to me to recognise that I should have some emotional attachment to the pixels on the screen.

    And that very point brings me to the main issue with a game being a thought provoking piece of art is that games change each time you play them. That is their strength and reason for failure to provoke serious thought. If I fail I can start again/reload a save and try something else. It becomes very hard to feel an attachment to a character that exists as long as the game is running and is ready to begin again when you are ready.
    A flim or book however is the same each time you immerse yourself in it. The characters in a book, as equally fictional as Duke Nukem, are in the course of the book turned into some one we can relate to and empathise with and feel their joy and sadness, mourn their losses and even cry at the final passing of a beloved character…. damn you Snape, why Dumbledore whyyyyyy.

    Oh and Depression was the biggest load of t*t w*nk I have ever tried and the ending was so sudden and left me wondering if the person that wrote it got as bored as I did and not once did it actually give me the chance to kill myself to end the misery. Letting me swallow a bunch of pills and drink a bottle of something, let me wake up in hospital. Let me see the damage I have done to myself as I slowly die from organ failure brought on by the pills, show my family and friends around my bed telling me they love me, they care etc etc THAT would have had an impact, certainly on people that are depressed and contemplating suicide and follow it up with the anti suicide helpline.

    Whoops I have rambled on a bit, sorry

    1. Hehehe its ok. You are a master rambler. I am not sure I understood all of your points. But I will comment on three points.

      1) I feel that the fact that the game is interactive is a plus if used correctly. Then again its trickier to pull off. Despite the player having fate in his hands the developer can cause some events to occur no matter what the player chooses (as used to perfect effect in Bioshock)

      2) Not all of these games were best sellers but, do they have to be? As long as they are profitable its all good.

      3) I do not think that anyone is expecting any videogame to change the world. It can affect the world, just like a good book or movie can, but I guess even that is stretching it at this point in time. However if a game can make the person who plays it think then I guess that is enough.

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