The Revolutionaries

The Revolutionaries
Pensioners That Play

Gearoid Reidy | 4 Apr 2006 12:05
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"People who never even liked computer games are now getting hooked," the article quotes Nintendo's Ken Toyoda as saying. "We're not surprised."

Well, of course they aren't. For years, Nintendo has been telling anybody who'd listen that this was the new market for games. And right now, Nintendo is the only one exploiting it - with games like Eigo Zuke, a drill for improving English that at once skillfully exploits both a niche in the English-obsessed Japanese market, and the unique handwriting features of the DS. Or the forthcoming DS Bimoji Training, a drill for improving handwriting, which taps the grumble of many elderly Japanese that cell phone-obsessed youth can't write properly. A talking cookbook and dictionary might well outsell the more talked about web browser and TV tuner.

There Is Another
The success of these games is forcing publishers to slowly realize that, in their pursuit of fanboy homage, they are letting a world of profit pass them by.

No less so than movies or music, the game industry must take stock of itself and ask why it's losing customers. Why statistics show that teenagers are playing less games, and the market has declined since its peak in the late 1990s. Why half of the top-selling PC games in the U.S. in 2005 weren't even released that year. Why the U.K. top-seller list could have come from 1995 or any year since - two soccer games, two movie licenses, GTA.

It may be an exciting time for the market, but the future may not be so bright. Xbox 360 and PS3 games, sold on the promise of high-definition graphics, will bring the colossal risk of having a multi-million dollar flop that could ruin companies. Games threaten further appeal to the lowest common denominator for maximum possible profit.

But there is hope. The success of the DS in attracting new gamers hints the future of gaming may lead in a different direction.

Until this generation, handhelds, with their inferior screen and archaic graphics, had been regarded, at best, as an aside, at worst, as gaming's black sheep, the relative you try not to bring up at parties.

But now, like the original PlayStation, handhelds have broken through a barrier; the one that Steven Poole, the author of Trigger Happy, once described as "the switch from 'that looks like a computer game' to 'that looks like a film.'"

These sleek handhelds exist in a time when portable electronics like cell phones or iPods are commonplace and cool. With consoles threatening to aim increasingly at a tech-savvy early-adopter market, handhelds might just be the way gaming finds the mainstream - compared to the investment needed in a 360 or a PS3, handhelds are practically impulse buys.

And with smaller budgets, niche games are possible. Seeing the success of DS games such as Trauma Center: Under the Knife or Phoenix Wright warms the heart because it offers a peek into exactly the sort of new market games can tap. There are millions of people stuck in Dilbert cubicles who dream not of being a sword-slinging warrior but a lawyer or a surgeon. These games are the first steps toward letting them live that dream.

It's time the games industry learns that even when we grow up, we can still want games. We can still have fantasies, and not all of them need be final.

Gearoid Reidy is a journalist working in Japan, and yes, he is a well-off young male. You can find him at

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