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.
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.