The problems that gaming faces in earning a respect on par with cinema are rooted in the industry's unique history. The industry grew too big too fast, becoming incredibly successful before it had a chance to figure out its core principles. The bulk of games that were made simply emulated what had been successful before - think only of the endless sequels we're still bombarded with - and this bred a widespread risk-aversion that unintentionally stifled creativity.
But game makers such as David Cage recognize the need to break this cycle and depart from formulaic conventions. His game Heavy Rain attempts to be engaging rather than just fun, and Quantic Dream's steadfast refusal to be corrupted by the easy options of guns and violence opens up a world of possibilities, including that elusive third path that Hecker is aiming for. Games might be growing up, and it is about time, says Cage. "We need to stop making games for kids. That's enough."
Cage hopes that Heavy Rain will be to games what Citizen Kane was for films. Since the industry is so fond of hefty sales figures, the fact that this unconventional game has sold over a million copies to date could well determine a shift in direction for game development. Quantic Dream stuck to its avant-garde guns and was lucky enough to be able to finance their venture, but the very fact that they attracted such attention for doing so points to what a rare occurrence that still is.
Indie developers exert a positive force in driving game development forward, but, without the mainstream industry on board, the medium as a whole cannot hope to live up to its promise. "I think it will be a question of taking baby steps, but a couple of decisions in the MW2 No Russian level could have had more impact on humanity than Braid will ever have in its lifetime," said Hecker, who firmly believes that creativity and commercial success are not incompatible. "I look at it like a Venn diagram: there's the circle of stuff that is interesting, artistic, creative and meaningful, and there's the circle of stuff that will sell. Those circles overlap, so why not pursue ideas that are in the intersection?"
Looking at these conflicts between commerciality and creativity, it can be helpful to track the development of other media and art forms such as film. During a recent talk at GameCity Squared - a games festival in Nottingham, UK - award-winning director and producer of the classic film Chariots of Fire, Lord David Puttnam, compared the stage games are at now with pre-1930s film. Before people realized film's potential as a storytelling medium, penny arcades in the early 20th century showed short films of car crashes and other events that showcased the technological novelty without attempting to engage the audience in a narrative. This focus on technology over creative content is holding the games industry back, argued Puttnam, to the point where most games are little more than the equivalent of those first simplistic films. "My reason for being here is to beg you not to hide behind technology but to challenge yourselves to make connections with people. You've done the exploding cars, so now my challenge to you is the same as was put forward by Steven Spielberg; to produce a game that makes people cry. The game that does that will alter the medium forever," he told his rapt audience.