The games industry is beloved of rather unnecessary cool-sounding jargon such as “blast processing,” “parallax scrolling,” and, er, “going gold” for that matter. But it’s remarkably poor at saying what it really means. As an industry, we have a lexicon of cobbled-together Jap-lish phrases, meaningless PR speak and fanboy nonsense masquerading as our vocabulary.
(The primary reason for this likely being that there are far too many fans, journalists and business people in influential positions who are pretending very hard to seem like they know what they’re talking about… but I digress.)
In an effort at reeducation, then, I’ve compiled a list of the weasel words, doublespeak and downright nonsense that’s been annoying me in this industry lately.
You might think it means… “Games made for an adult audience.”
It actually means… “Games with tits, swearing and violence made for 12-year-olds.”
I guess the blame for this can go to whoever it was set out the ESRB definitions back in 1994. Rather than defining videogames by their content (“Violent”, “Sexually Explicit” or so on), or by audience (“17+”, “Restricted”), the ESRB chose to use the subjective term “mature” to define towering works like Night Trap and Mortal Kombat.
We most often encounter this doublespeak when it comes to the issue of “mature” games on the Wii, which are defined as titles like MadWorld (find entertaining ways to kill people while Bender and Greg Proops offer hiii-larious commentary), No More Heroes (be an otaku who slices people in half with a lightsaber) or The Conduit. (Alright, I haven’t played this one but it looks from the cover like a kids’ sci-fi novel. From the 1980s.)
In most other media, works with these base themes are generally viewed as the very opposite of mature. In gaming, it means putting in more swear words to make sure you get your desired ESRB “Mature” rating.
I’d swear my teacher told me that swearing was not a sign of being mature.
There is actually a genuine problem with this. The use of this word to define violent or sexual videogames has left us without a word that we can use for the few games that are genuinely for an adult audience – what I hope Heavy Rain will be, for example. What are we to call these games? Adult? Grown-up? “Brain Required”? Sigh. Who am I kidding? It’s not like we have enough of them for it to ever be a problem.
You might think it means… “The gaming literati, the core users and trend-definers of gaming.”
It actually means… “The people with most time on their hands to play and comment on mainstream games, i.e. teenage boys.”
Working in this industry, you come across a lot of obsessive personalities. Talking to these people can be a real education on subjects that you thought you understood. But what I’ll never understand is why only gamers seem to have such narrow tastes.
Cinema lovers will usually scoff at Hollywood and instead proclaim Kazakhstani post-modern film the future. Music buffs enjoy nothing more than knowing about Polish Polka-techno-fusion before anybody else. Any gourmet worth his salt wouldn’t be seen dead in any restaurant you’ve even heard of. But our “hardcore” are like people who eat at McDonalds, and refuse to recognize the existence of anything else.
Going back to Heavy Rain for a moment (you may be detecting a theme here), look at how many so-called “gamers” are immediately dismissing it as a QTE-fest, a modern Dragon’s Lair, or so on without having so much as picked up a trailer. Oh my god! It doesn’t look and play exactly like everything I’m already playing! Kill it with fire!
The same fate befalls Wii Fit or indeed anything with a new control scheme; even the most vaguely ambitious of titles like Okami or Beyond Good and Evil are ignored by the “hardcore” for their perceived differences. Perhaps, if our actual definition of “core” means anything at all, it’s an easy mass-market audience, the type of person you would market a Michael Bay movie or an American Idol winner to in other forms of media.
Again, why should anybody actually care about this? Because the terrifying thing is this is actually how games get made. Comments on message boards are used on proposal documents. Focus testers call in these kinds of gamers in early development periods and publishers actually put their opinions into the game. Has nobody in this industry ever heard that the empty can rattles the most?
(For more information, see entry for “Casual”, below)
You might think it means… “People who play only Brain Age and FarmVille.”
It actually means… “The average consumer.”
If there’s been one consistent trend in the last five years of gaming, it’s that people really have an affinity for games. With the rise of the Wii and DS, World of Warcraft‘s terrifying popularity, and the recent mass-market adoption of FarmVille and other browser games, it’s clear that people everywhere want to play games and will do so when given something in which they are interested. Gaming has value to people.
Amazingly for our industry, we find this a problem. Everyone who is not in the true definition of “hardcore” (see above) is looked down on as a “casual”, unwilling or incapable of understanding the true brilliance of having twelve-year-olds insult you while they are teabagging your virtual corpse. When all available evidence points to the overwhelming desire of ordinary people everywhere to play videogames, we as an industry continue to retreat into our shell and make some more “safe” shooting, racing and killing games, helpless to understand what these scary new people want or how to make them go away.
Our only solution to this is to convince ourselves that these people are “casuals” – the very name implying some lack of commitment! – who will not be around for long. They’ll be gone once the wind changes direction. Best not to risk it.
This is only true to the extent that most normal people are not bound to the same idiotic hardware loyalty as we gamers are. Put it this way: five years ago, I was using Opera to browse the Internet. Four years ago, I was using Firefox, and now I’m using Chrome. The important thing is that I’m still using the Internet. In just the same way, these “casuals” are gaming on the DS one day, Facebook the next, the iPhone the day after that. They haven’t actually gone anywhere. In fact, they are everywhere, because they are regular people. Remember when we used to sell games to people like that?
You might think it means… “Convenient new way to buy games.”
It actually means… “Convenient new way to make you buy games they way we want you to.”
The talk these days is all about digital distribution and DLC, because some publishers hate secondhand gaming, and live in the same fantasyland as record label executives do. To wit, they believe that gamers would spend more money on gaming if only we could make them, rather than recognize the reality that gamers are spending what they can on gaming, and that trading-in and swapping games is a very large part of our core audience’s (again, see above) game budget.
Our solution to this is to rush into a world where swaps, trade-ins and rentals will be impossible. Where there will be one store per platform and competition will be a thing of the past. iTunes has no DRM because the market forced to them to – who is going to compete with Microsoft, Nintendo or Sony on their own platform?
It’s strange how backwards our thinking – and complaining – on the digital realm can be. We bitch about DLC and wanting everything “on the disc” (when nobody boycotts movie Director’s Cuts or the “deleted scenes” you often get on the disc release of TV series – what’s the difference exactly?). But we have no problem with there being almost no competition in the realm of digital games, doubly so for platform-exclusive games like Flower or Shadow Complex, where there is literally only one place in the world legally entitled to sell it. The only competition is amongst publishers themselves, who are mostly more than happy to silently agree on a price point and maintain it. And right now, most of them are undervaluing their produce. Isn’t anybody upset about where this is going? Not everybody’s going to be as generous as Valve is. Shouldn’t we have figured that out by now?
Speaking of which…
You might think it means… “A principled stand to speak truth to power! This’ll show the bastards!”
It actually means… “Sweet, free publicity!”
Consider the UK “Rage Against the Machine for Christmas Number One” campaign, a pointless-but-amusing moment of consumer “activism” that began on Facebook as a backlash to Simon Cowell’s pop domination of the music charts (er, at least I think that’s what it was about). That’s a piece of mischief done through the Internet correctly.
In gaming? Let’s see, we had the Modern Warfare 2 server backlash… wait, that didn’t work out so well. How did that Left 4 Dead 2 one come along? Oh wait… In fact, the only correlation I can see between boycotts and sales is that boycotts actually help.
At least the Rage Against the Machine lot helped raise some money for the homeless. With countless millions dying of hunger, wars raging in nations around the world, and many more in your own neighborhood unemployed and in need of help than this time two years ago, gamers choose to put their effort into half-heartedly “boycotting” a videogame until it’s made the way they want it. 30,000 people signed up to the Left 4 Dead 2 boycott group on Steam alone. Well done, guys. Gandhi would be proud. How about putting your time into Child’s Play, or something more productive? Choosing not to purchase a product is your right. What annoys me is that people like Valve actually have to take time out of their schedule to humor you.
Every one of these boycotts should be filed as further proof that people on the Internet talking about games and people in the shops actually buying games have only a passing correlation – if even that.
Say what you mean, mean what you say – what gaming jargon annoys you?
Christian Ward works for a major publisher. Guess what game he’s most looking forward to this year?