GDC 2008: The Game Developers' Rant

GDC 2008: The Game Developers' Rant

"Being creative is easy," Hocking said. "The courage to create something that challenges people ... that's hard." He said he was talking to a friend, a programmer, about games who said to him "Dude ... it's code. We can do anything."

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A room full of game designers could do worse than take a lesson from this.

As well as the obvious lesson you're presumably thinking of, here's another one: games like this are only fun for ten minutes. :-)

The two people quoted in that article present an interesting dichotomy.

On the one hand we have Hocking who rightfully points out that games aren't taking the emotional risks necessary to mature the medium, instead relying on, and this is an excellent observation, things like object fetishism.

Then on the other hand is McGonigal, who should possibly be on suicide watch, saying that games are happiness simulators because life is crap. So Hocking is advocating a move towards greater verisimilitude and complex emotional connection, and McGonigal wants to move away from that, presumably towards gameplay innovations that reinforce happiness. Personally, I think Hocking is on the right track here. Games are already associated with happiness and entertainment. What they are not associated with is the complexity of crap that life provides.

Art can be difficult to digest at times, both in form and content, and we must not shy away from these same intentional obstacles in games either. Despite the implicit contradiction in terms, we need to create games that are neither diverting nor entertaining.

Dom Camus:
A room full of game designers could do worse than take a lesson from this.

As well as the obvious lesson you're presumably thinking of, here's another one: games like this are only fun for ten minutes. :-)

And?

Dom Camus:
A room full of game designers could do worse than take a lesson from this.

As well as the obvious lesson you're presumably thinking of, here's another one: games like this are only fun for ten minutes. :-)

I think that's because it's adults who want those kinds of games, not the usual younger scene.

No one is expecting the twitch fest, object whore games to go away. That'd be like saying action flicks and Bruckheimer movies are going to go away. But some alternatives would be nice and that's going to take some challenges to all the conventions people apply to games that trap them as a medium. Things like decisive winners, scores, Xbox achievements, reward as objective...all that stuff people just assume *makes* something a game needs to be challenged.

Dom Camus:
A room full of game designers could do worse than take a lesson from this.

As well as the obvious lesson you're presumably thinking of, here's another one: games like this are only fun for ten minutes. :-)

Fair enough, but it's really more of an exercise in understanding a particular concept; in this case, engagment. I think the idea is that the acitivity sheds light on one particular facet of an enormous concept, and a developer could then go on to apply this learning to his much larger project.

tendo82:
Then on the other hand is McGonigal, who should possibly be on suicide watch, saying that games are happiness simulators because life is crap.

Um, not really. I read a synopsis of her talk and it's more about how real-life problem solving and teaching techniques are busted, and how the effort/reward balance is busted in the real world, whereas in games those can be fine-tuned and some of that fine-tuning can be used to mitigate real-world issues.

When I get a chance I'll see if I can find that synopsis again... wouldn't be surprised if it was posted here.

-- Steve

I dident realy like Hocking's rant, he seemes like he has a realy narrow mindset of what makes a game good. I dident play WoW because of the fantastic storyline, infact getting that 5+ staff of Intelect was fun. Blasting away with the awesome balistics in COD4 was way better then the awfull (well, it had it's bright points) writing.

He also doesnt seem to realise that there are plenty of emotional games out there; i shed a tear when one of my Mass Effect characters died, i felt genuine atachment to Manny Calavera in Grim Fandango and i felt like mutilating every hunter i saw after they killed a certain person in HL2:Episode 2.

But upon reflection maybe Mr Hocking is right, there can never be to many games of this sort.

Me and my serendipity: 1up's article on "gaming" the office is more in line with McGonigal's rant than "life is a veil of tears".

-- Steve

Jane McGonigal has always seemed like the kind of genius best admired from a safe distance.

Anton P. Nym:
Um, not really. I read a synopsis of her talk and it's more about how real-life problem solving and teaching techniques are busted, and how the effort/reward balance is busted in the real world, whereas in games those can be fine-tuned and some of that fine-tuning can be used to mitigate real-world issues.

When I get a chance I'll see if I can find that synopsis again... wouldn't be surprised if it was posted here.

-- Steve

I read the synopsis and if anything McGonigal's statements make even less sense. "Reality is broken" is the kind of psuedo ontological statement I would expect from Derrida or a Hare Krishna, and is merely a way to create an interesting soundbite.

McGonigal's view is "busted" in the sense that she thinks that reality is governed solely by some balance of effort and reward, and games exist to address any deficits in that balance. Games, like good art, should further illuminate or examine one aspect of the world. The point shouldn't be to merely alter reality to make it easier to deal with.

As an example, Van Gough's self portraits are depressing and intense paintings, but they go much farther in helping me understand or at least relate his sadness to sadness I have felt in my life, than a Norman Rockwell illustration of an idealized American family that never existed.

tendo82:

I read the synopsis and if anything McGonigal's statements make even less sense. "Reality is broken" is the kind of psuedo ontological statement I would expect from Derrida or a Hare Krishna, and is merely a way to create an interesting soundbite.

As I come from the bitter snows of Marshal "the medium is the message" McLuhan Land, that's feature-not-bug for me.

Games, like good art, should further illuminate or examine one aspect of the world. The point shouldn't be to merely alter reality to make it easier to deal with.

That's an extremely narrow interpretation of art and games, one I don't agree with. Art doesn't have to be a passive exercise in appreciating an aspect of reality (and gaming certainly shouldn't be... *cough*SimTowerzzzz*snore*) and can play an active role in shaping it. Else, what's the point of morality play and iconostasis? (Or ad copy these days.)

-- Steve

I agree art doesn't have to be a passive exercise in appreciating an aspect of reality.

Certainly the whole of great literature requires active participation by readers to be understood. That is to say, nobody just absorbs Ulysses; to read, understand, and even finish the work takes no small amount of participation on the reader's behalf.

Also, point taken in regards to ad copy. It would be foolish of me to ignore the enormous body of art that served primarily to further a political ideology.

My main problem with McGonigal is that I think her particular vision for games is kind of banal and conservative, and there's no shortage of either of those elements in today's games. Videogames already make people happy, time to move on.

With any luck I'll be successful in my attempts to get Jane onto the pages of The Escapist to present her views on happiness engineering more effectively than my hurriedly-scrawled, then badly typed notes on the speech. Cross your fingers and think happy thoughts.

Russ Pitts:
With any luck I'll be successful in my attempts to get Jane onto the pages of The Escapist to present her views on happiness engineering more effectively than my hurriedly-scrawled, then badly typed notes on the speech. Cross your fingers and think happy thoughts.

That might end up being very interesting, a while back i read this psychology book about happiness and what caused it.

sammyfreak:
That might end up being very interesting, a while back i read this psychology book about happiness and what caused it.

Mama says, happiness is little rays of sunshine that come down to you when you're feelin blue.

/I just watched the referenced movie this weekend out of boredom, and I couldn't help myself...

It's hard for me to fully appreciate Jane McGonigal's criticism of video games. Perhaps I'm taking her comments too literally and she isn't just focusing on the need to be happy after playing video games. I mean, satisfying any emotional void can be considered rewarding and enjoyable... but not necessarily bring someone happiness, right? For example, for those who watched American History X and enjoyed the movie... did it make them happy?

As I understand from her blog post on the subject and from the slides she offered the public it is more a matter of games as escapism. She states that games are escapism because the reality is somehow broken (mind you, not entirely, but in all the right places). And games are the premiere means of getting out of reality and into a new and improved reality where you can fix the broken things. This is what generates the happyness of the gaming activity, the fact that you take a clear stake in fixing things.

And the point I took home is that games could to a 180 degree spin and try to fix reality by really fixing reality rather than fixing it by providing for escapism. Yup, it making my head spin a little as I am writing it...

 

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