In response to “Fresh Frontiers” from the Escapist Forum: That said, what exactly does this article bring to the table? Oh sweet game ideas. Guess what, I got plenty of those. All of us do. As a recent Extra Credits said, ideas are a dime a dozen. Hell, I got over a dozen, give me a dime. Turning those ideas into something workable is where all the work lies in.
Coming up with settings isn’t as easy as you make it sound like. The thing with settings like the World War II, Magical Medieval Europe Except Not, Grim Future Dystopia and Brave Future Utopia is that they have something – let’s call it ‘traction’. As you said, they get people’s attention because they already know what to expect. Releasing a single game with a new setting won’t obliviate all the other ones. There wasn’t a flurry of 10th century Middle Eastern conspiracy games after the first Assassin’s Creed was released. Or of underwater metaphors for extreme liberal philosophies after Bioshock. These settings didn’t stick, because they didn’t have traction. They’re good for a new experience but you don’t want to keep coming back to them. That guy from DnD with Pornstars wrote an excellent article on it on his blog, (in fact I tried to use his term for it but couldn’t remember what it was), trying to ask the question of why some DnD monsters have traction and why some don’t – why people who have never played DnD are way more likely to know what a Beholder is than what a Xorn is. Why a Beholder has more traction than a Xorn. Middle Eastern fantasy is is a Xorn. It’s cool the first time you meet one, but unless you live the game you don’t keep bumping into them. (Plus it’s not that rare – Magic: The Gathering was first released with a very loose Magical Medieval Europe Except Not setting, but their very first ‘new set’ of cards was in Magical Medieval Middle East And It Actually Has Characters From Arabian Nights What The Hell. Then again it went on to have settings as World Made Entirely Of Metal and World That Is A Single Medieval City Where Do They Grow Food You Ask The Answer Is Magic™ so it might not count.)
There’s also the fact that setting jump in an out of flavour. I’m still in shock at that comment on one of the new Deus Ex game that people just didn’t know what cyberpunk was any more. Apparently as its promises of a wi-fi connected world slowly become true the theme as fiction lost its appeal. And your suggestion for a 19th century London setting – well, come back in about ten years, after marketers and execs have had their way with the current steampunk craze, and you’ll be begging them to stop with the fucking 19th century London setting already.
All in all, you didn’t make a good case. I’ve seen amateur blog posts with more content. Sure, each of those settings has plenty of meat in it, but so many underused settings do, and so few stick. So few have that precious traction. Why sixteenth century Aztecs and not alternate history highly developed Mayans? Why Arab fantasy and not Nordic fantasy? Why near future emergent third world cities and not far future post-Earth-exodus now empty former first world metropoles? Why 19th century England and not 19th century British colonies in Africa?
Make the game, then we’ll talk.
Something Indian would be awesome. The Sikhs have their own martial art and a whole ton of interesting, unique weapons. Something involving the colourful, diverse settings of India and its myths and legends would be cool.
Something North African would be awesome as well. You play as a free roaming Bedouin across the expansive deserts. It would be like Fallout. Depending on the time period, the tech could be fairly schizophrenic, what with old weapons like Jezzails and schimitars mixed with the new guns from foreign Imperialists/traders. That would allow for a diverse play style.
The worlds created in children’s games are as rich as those in adult games, but adult players don’t always see that richness.
I think the principal mistake they are making is calling these “games intended for children.” The “E for Everyone” is an attempt to fix that, but they just can’t seem to get past the notion of it being a “kid game.”
In Western culture, anything that requires or speaks to imagination is for kids. Imagination itself is treated as a childish luxury. Adults have forgotten how to imagine, and thus have forgotten that it is not a luxury, but an essential life skill. It’s like chopping off your fingers because they don’t seem as useful as the thumb…
Take some random stranger as an example. Let’s say this guy is successful at his job, he pays his bills on time, he loves his wife and kids and spends good quality time with them, and is a fine upstanding member of his community…
…and in the evenings, to relax, he plays with action figures. Oh, now he’s a weirdo! There’s something wrong with him! He’s doing something that requires imagination (and is thus “for kids”), so we look at him slantwise.
Even I do it. Like right now, I feel a compelling need to qualify this statement by saying I do not play with action figures at 28 years old. Because I do not want people to be under the impression that I’m “that guy.” I feel it, too, even though I can’t pinpoint anything in particular that is wrong with “that guy.” We shun imaginative people as childish, regardless of the evidence.
What makes a guy that goes to a sporting event wearing his favorite player’s jersey and shoes, cheering the team and yelling, “WE won, WE won!” any different from the guy that goes to a Star Wars premiere dressed as a Wookiee? The usual answer–one is imitating a real person that makes real money, and the other is imitating an imaginary character. Okay, what makes sports so important? It’s entertainment. A game. It serves no functional purpose in society, so it’s just as frivolous as a movie. It’s just that it doesn’t require imagination (and you can bet money on it), so it’s “grown up.”
Imagination is a critical thinking skill. Without imagination, it’s a lot harder to solve complex problems. How can you solve a word problem if you’re not able to imagine the situation the word problem describes? How can you develop spatial reasoning skills for geometry-heavy jobs (like carpentry) without the ability to imagine complex three-dimensional figures and perform operations on them in your head. Yeah, it’s possible, but it’s a lot slower. Lacking imagination robs you of that mental flexibility.
How can you empathize with someone without being able to imagine yourself in the same situation and decide how you’d feel? How can you effectively communicate with someone if you’re not able to do that? Wonder why so many people are so awful at communicating or arguing in any reasonable way? That’s why–they are fundamentally incapable of imagining themselves on the other side, dealing with any abstraction.
This same logic applies to video games. For some reason, those that imitate real life in some way (and space marines are still imitations of real life, so most sci-fi games are in this boat) are considered more valid, more grown-up. Games that are more abstract and imaginative (look at Limbo for a quick example of an imaginative game clearly not meant for little kids) are written off as “kid games” or “casual games,” or some other title that indicates they’re just junk food without any real meat.
As we forget how to imagine (as a culture), we’ll be less accepting of these imagination-based games. And as a result, the obedient market will make less of them, further leading us to forget. This downward spiral in an unfortunate product of a culture that forgets that the currency of the world isn’t the dollar (or pound or Euro, to be fair)–it’s the idea.
Teach kids how to manipulate money, and the world becomes the machine world of the Matrix without even having to make the machines. Teach kids how to work in ideas, and the world can improve. After all, how do you create a better world if you can’t even imagine what that better world would look like?
Im going with the argument that innovative M rated games are innovative. There can even be innovative games that are M rated and DO involve killing zombies.
But I still get to kill zombies, right? It’s hardly worth playing if I’m not killing zombies.
(Yeah, I’m a mindless hype-slave that follows every trend and can’t see a bandwagon without jumping on it.)
In all fairness though, I agree with the idea that M-rated games don’t have to be less innovative. My question, though, would be: is it true that all, or even most, “E”-rated games are shunned by adults / the “hardcore” gamer set? There are a lot of games that are obviously (and fairly exclusively) aimed at kids, true, but they tend to be for a couple of specific platforms (hello, Nintendo Wii / DS) and marketed in a certain way.
Case in point: the “Tycoon” games were suitable for “everyone”. Would anybody call “Transport Tycoon” – a colourful game if ever there was one – something that’s only marketed at the kids?
And come to think of it, isn’t the so-called “hardcore gamer” a very specific minority in today’s market? I play a lot of FPSs (although I haven’t bothered to try any of the “Medal of Honor”, “Call of Duty” or “Modern Warfare” series, I’m more of a Bioshock / Fallout kinda guy myself) but there’s no way I would call myself “hardcore”. And that’s despite the fact that I probably average several hours a week playing videogames of some kind or another (I know, compared to the biggest WoW or FPS junkies that’s a pittance, but I have a full-time job as well).
Yeah… I gotta go with the naysayers on this one. What the author seems to be arguing here is that a very specific subset of gamers – which is a VERY small percentage of the whole – who are into a certain kind of thing, are in some way deficient because they’re ONLY into that certain kind of thing. Well, everyone has different tastes, I won’t stop you from doing what you want if you don’t stop me from doing what I want, etc, etc. I don’t think it’s a problem.
There is no “down time.” You see the characters in action, and they are built solely for that. You never see the hero without the weapon strapped to the side, because it’s been an integral part of the character since conception–the character is a vehicle for the delivery of combat, not really a “character” in the literary sense.
There is little or no denouement in movies, either. Climactic fight scene, victory!, credits. No epilogue provided, or it’s quite disposable if it’s given. It’s the story equivalent of a selfish lover immediately rolling over and going to sleep after “getting his/hers.” The action’s done, nothing more to see here.
You raise an interesting point (as does your whole post) – characters in games are always doing something and are very rarely, if ever, seen in a state of inaction or introspection. I might suppose that it’s a symptom of the nature of games, but the examples provided in the article and others throughout gaming prove that it is simply not the case. The player does not necessitate the constant forward movement of the plot or continuous action, but merely expects it, as such moments are the simplest forms of satisfaction; as the player is constantly “doing stuff”, he is constantly receiving input on that “stuff”. Games can and do utilize periods of inaction to an equal and perhaps greater effect than constant action.
One example of a brilliant use of home is in Persona 4. As your days are spent doing a number of options, from going to school to exploring televisions to entering the meat dimension and killing demons, you always come home from the evening and are greeted by Nanako, your young niece. Her “Welcome home, big bro!” and beaming smile seems grading after a while, but it’s a constant and you begin to expect it. Suddenly, when the plot removes her from her home, you come home to silence and an empty house. No more Big Bro, no more smiles. It’s a change that adds a sudden emotional weight and seriousness to your quest – you’re not just trying to “save the world”, you’re trying to save Nanako, and the human sense of scale makes it a far more personal, and thus more important, objective.
To include home in this sense, or in the Fallout sense, or in any brief form provides with indirect exposition an emotional narrative, however brief, that simply cannot be achieved through direct narration, least of all to the degree that indirect narration could. You aren’t told that “War never changes”, but you see for yourself, for your own personal perception and interpretation, that war, and by extension human nature, never changes.
For me, one of the happiest bits of good news on this front in the past year was the handling of Hyperion in Starcraft 2.
Getting comfortable on the ship and getting to know the characters outside of combat built a stronger bond between them and the player than in the original and reminded me of what I loved about the Wing Commander games, which had been doing this since 1990. If either Starcraft 2 or Wing Commander had been nothing but constant combat, what would you be fighting for? Why would you care about your crew or your wingmen? How could you become invested in an empty universe?
P.S. I have to echo 9NineBreaker9’s praise of the Persona series and would like to add an aside about Final Fantasy XIII. Persona 3 and 4 are just about the pinnacle in getting players invested in the characters and the universe by making what would normally be considered downtime in an RPG into, arguably, the best portion of the game. On the opposite extreme, Final Fantasy XIII, in which the focus was squarely (no pun intended) on action, there is no ‘home’ and practically no downtime. When everything moves at a lightning-fast (again, no pun intended) pace, you can’t reflect on what you’ve been doing or why any of it is supposed to matter.
In response to “Battlefield: washington” from the Escapist Forum: Maybe this is just me, but I was operating under the impression that you had to be at least seventeen or older to purchase M rated games. As well, isn’t it usually the parents’ discretion as to what games they allow their children to play? My parents have always been pretty lenient, yes, but they were also pretty strict on the mature games. So I thought most parents were like this, that it was the parents’ responsibility to look after what it was that their kids played; it’s not that hard to figure out that a game with a Mature rating isn’t appropriate for a young kid. Still, I think it’s more of something that should be left to parents’ discretion instead of having the government enforce something that seems incredibly subjective – what defines ‘deviance’ and ‘extreme violence’ anyway?
I’ve never encountered anything that has a higher rating than M though. :/
But this reminds me a little of the fear-mongering that the media tends to do whenever video games get involved and it bugs me. A lot. It feels as though a lot of these people have never picked up a video game before and are just wildly speculating about the fact that just because someone might have played a game before – whether it’s extremely violent or not – that automatically means that it’s entirely the games fault for what they did or how they turned out. It’s like all of the other factors that could come into play into turning someone into a ‘deviant’ or criminal are irrelevant because obviously video games are the primary culprit. /sarcasm
Seriously, I wonder why people try to argue something when they don’t even understand what they’re arguing against. And that can come back and shoot them in the foot. To use an example: Recently a Catholic priest read through the entire Harry Potter series which has largely been deemed ‘Satanical’ and the like, and discovered that to the contrary, it promoted values that Christianity encourages or endorses.
Then again, there are a lot of idiots out there who fail to realize that somethings are a joke and continue to think that they’re in the right despite their own ignorance. As my Social Studies teacher once said: “You’re not entitled to your own opinion, you’re entitled to your own INFORMED opinion.”
Okay, right. What?
Okay okay, so this law would state that the sale of games rated as violent would be illegal to sell to people under 18? Soo…? I don’t quite get it, I was under the impression that that was how things worked here in the UK. Even if it isn’t, assuming it does not ban these games, what is stopping the children asking their parents to get it for them? I’m clearly missing something as everybody is up in arms about it.
Also why is stopping children, with parents who don’t pay attention to what there children do, getting access to games a necessarily evil thing? Sure games may or may not effect development at a young age, but stopping 12 years olds buying Postal (which has come up a lot in this case) isn’t entirely evil. I just watched the Extra Credits video on this and I still don’t get it. Now I’m very pro games are art, and should not be restricted more than any other medium, but here in the UK I think I’m safe in saying that games/movies/whatever have age ratings, these ratings are issued by the people who know what they are on about and the sale of such goods to people under this age is illegal. However it is not illegal to buy them for someone else, or for some one under age to use the product (a key difference between smoking & drinking products).
I have read other posts that say this law could allow them to control the release of games to the entire public, how so?
So please, someone enlighten me.
The point is they are making a special exception for Video Games above and beyond any other form of media, and enforcing those restrictions through law. See, content like films and music that gets labeled as ‘explicit’ or ‘restricted’? Enforcement of those ratings is voluntary for the industry involved – there is no legal barrier preventing 12-year old kids from buying an album with explicit lyrics, attending an R-rated film, or buying an M-rated game; with only one exception (porn), all forms of media enjoy equal protection in law. By that I mean if a theater knowingly or accidentally lets kids who don’t meet their own internal age requirement into an R-rated film, they are not criminally liable for doing so.
That is the sticking point – the California legislation would mandate that the state rate all video games by content (as opposed to the ratings produced by voluntary participation in the ERSB) and would make it a crime to sell video games deemed “excessively violent” to children. Never mind that when it comes to internally enforcing age restrictions, the video game industry does a vastly better job than the film or music industry at actually keeping kids away from mature content. It would codify in law that video games do not enjoy the same free speech protections as other forms of media do, hands over rating authority to state bureaucrats without addressing just where the hell they’re going to find the funding to do all that rating (hint: Our tax dollars!), while producing chilling ramifications for the development of mature games – where is the incentive to develop such titles if the distribution side of the equation isn’t going to stock them for fear of being criminally liable?
It might seem to be much the same thing, but there is a whole world of difference between voluntary enforcement of store policies that translates into an effective ban on sales of violent video games to minors, and a law mandating an actual ban on such sales via the stick of criminal liability.
As for the UK comparison, I am understandably fuzzy on the details of the their rating board and the legal status of those ratings (what with being an American and all), but are you certain that the act of sale of a game that was rated “18 and over” to a minor is actually classified as a criminal action?