Like any cultural phenom, the game industry waxes and wanes. Its attitude shifts, it grows older, gets pimples, passes some classes and fails others, grows, moves on. The past year, for whatever primal reason lurking in the dark waters of the collective ludological unconsciousness, has been one of intense cynicism, maybe even despair. And I have to say I'm getting damned tired of it.
Some of this is personal. I feel a bit of specific onus because my existential wail into the ether exposed one of the industry's most long-festering and serious ills, and it seemed that right after developers woke up from the deathmarch mindset and started to turn in a new direction - a really positive and terrific thing that's been a joy to observe - all of this gnashing of teeth kicked up again.
There was a gloom at this year's GDC that hadn't shown its face in years. Rather than being a rallying cry for growth and change, the "Game Developers' Rant" had too much genuine bitterness, too much fear, to spark drive or any real discussion. I heard veteran developers mutter that the industry really was on its way out. And don't even get me started on Chris Crawford. His reiteration of an old schtick about the death of videogames made me wonder where he was for Katamari Damacy, Trauma Center - or, hell, the entire Nintendo DS as a system - or Shadow of the Colossus. Was Patton Versus Rommel really embodying creative innovation in a way these games weren't? I get a little misty reminiscing on the Zork days of yore once in a while, too, but come on. I respect Crawford as an original gamemaker, a fine mind and a skillful game technician from ages past, but he's wrong. He's dead wrong.
The game industry is alive and well, and it ain't going anywhere. Neither, for that matter, are many of the developers. Some of the best and brightest people I have ever met work - present tense - in the game industry. The golden lure that yanked me away from graduate school and into games had nothing to do with the "glamour" or any idiotic pipe dream about fame and fortune - it had to do with the people.
But we are bleeding talent at a horrendous rate. This is the real bogeyman for the actual development of games, and it is a big problem that brilliant, creative students are taking one look at industry working conditions and making a bee line for Microsoft. One of the caps on all of the recent doomsaying was another blog that hit the shared internet mind: Danc's "Joyful Life of a Lapsed Game Developer." Man, talk about a downer.
But it pissed me off, too. I'm more than familiar with all of this stuff. Cancelled projects, corporate espionage, vicious and psychotic publishers, unrealistic deadlines, nervous breakdowns, milestones squeaked by thanks entirely to chemical substances of questionable toxicity and legality - been there, done that. I have seen shit. And it isn't acceptable. But despite these crazy conditions, I'm not going anywhere, and I'm not alone. Like cinema, democracy and rock 'n' roll, we're here to stay, because the current age is one of the most exciting times for game development in all its brief history.
Acres and Acres
There is a saying in fiction writing that every would-be author has several hundred pages of crap prose that has to be processed out of the mind before the "real" writing can begin. I think that this holds true for any creative practice and for every new medium. While it's certainly true that games of old have had more than a brush with greatness, they also provide a foundation for expansion into a true renaissance and awakening of the potential of games as a medium - a pixelated enlightenment, if you will.