StateCraft: Update

StateCraft: Update
Gaming at the Margins, Part 2

Warren Spector | 28 Mar 2006 11:00
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So, maybe there really isn't a choice to be made here, other than doing what we do and waiting things out. Eventually, guys like Joe Lieberman and Dave Grossman, and organizations like Mothers Against Videogame Addiction and Violence will be replaced by a generation of gaming Congressmen and parents and we'll be fine.

To be honest, I pretty much believe that to be the case. Eventually, some other medium will come along that we don't understand, and the cultural crosshairs will move, leaving us to do our thing while someone else takes all the heat.

However, there's a fine line between waiting things out and ignoring a problem in the hope that it will go away. Things could get ugly before they get better. In addition (and here I'm about to speak a bit of heresy - perhaps because I'm kind of an old fart myself!), I'm starting to think there might be something positive we can take from what these folks are telling us about our medium.

In other words, perhaps we can do something to reduce the fear factor among non-gamers, minimize the risk of outside intervention (i.e., regulation and censorship) while expanding our audience even further and contributing more positively to our culture.

To my mind, the best answer to the "problem" of the place of games in our culture is to expand the range of content we make available.

The Outcome(s)
The cultural crossroad can take us in a variety of directions:

We can continue as we are - making mindless, pathetic killfests or sports games that revel in blood spurts, bling and bad attitude. (And, no, I don't believe the industry statistics about how few games are actually like that.) That leads, I think, to a coarsening of our culture and to government and judicial intervention. And that means eventual cultural irrelevance.

Or, we can knuckle under to the pressure from external groups, clean up our games and offer players nothing but pablum. That's what comics did following congressional investigations and in the face of pressure from folks like Frederic Wertham. We see what that got them: A medium that almost achieved some credibility among adults was reduced to trivial entertainment for kids for 40-odd years.

Or, we can seek a third way, offering players a wider variety of game types:

  • We have to make games with a consciousness of our social obligations as creators of mediated entertainment and with a consciousness of the dialogue between designers and players.
  • We have to tackle design and technical problems at least as difficult as, and possibly more profound than, a new rendering model or better physics simulation, so we can do more than simulate the pulling of a virtual trigger.
  • We have to figure out how to create human antagonists and allies who can do more than offer a combat challenge.
  • We need to find ways to free players up to explore a variety of behavioral choices as they solve game problems, rather than killing everything that moves.
  • We can show players the consequences of their choices, rather than just patting them on the back for solving meaningless puzzles.
  • We can help players explore a broad range of emotions, instead of just offering them a cheap adrenaline rush.

I'm convinced if we do all this - if we ask players to consider why they're doing things in-game, rather than just rewarding action for action's sake - we'll have a compelling case to take to the would-be regulators and we'll appeal to folks who wouldn't now be caught dead playing games. And we'll contribute to the culture in positive ways apparent to all.

Diversified Development Community and Audience

The Situation
I see yet another best of times/worst of times situation in the aging of the game development and game player communities, as well as in an increasing number of female gamers.

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