Thoughts about Brie Code’s ‘Video Games Are Boring’

ARE YOU ALL HAVING FUN?

I really enjoyed this perspective on videogames and why they might might be failing to find new audiences or miss out on new ideas by Brie Code for GamesIndustry.biz.

I advise you go read it in full before continuing here, but I also wanted to throw some of my own thoughts out there as an initial response.

For me the big things were, firstly, that homogeneity amongst the majority of game creators is a problem when it comes to promoting creativity or innovating:

“If there is any workforce full of people who are similar to each other, it is the video game industry workforce. We are mostly men, mostly white, and even more importantly, we are mostly gamers. Could it possibly be that maybe, just maybe, we could be missing something?”

Secondly, that it picks up on a point Tim Gunn (you’ll know him if you’ve ever watched Project Runway) was making in an article about the seemingly-unrelated field of designing clothes for plus-sized women. Code was noting that the lack of games which appeal to curious people from all kinds of non-gaming backgrounds “is a design failure and not a customer issue”. That Tim Gunn piece is a good one as well, by the way. You can read that over on the Washington Post if you missed it when it was doing the rounds in September.

My own brain works such that I’d like to see more studies in order to unpick what’s going on and how representative particular anecdotes are, but the overall sentiment rang true. I have friends who classify themselves as being into games, and I have friends who don’t. The middle ground is probably starting to get populated, letting people sit somewhere between the two extremes, but right now it feels more like a binary.

I find that friends who play particular types of games – casual phone games, for example, don’t think of themselves as people who play videogames or as being somewhere on a continuum. When I tell them about a game I think they would like for whatever reason, as soon as it seems more of a traditional game – maybe it requires familiarity with a controller, or literacy when it comes to a particular genre/control interface – you can feel them mentally taking a step back. The shutters seem to come down as they reach a point where this thing is Not For Them.

I don’t blame them for any of this because videogames do sometimes feel too much trouble for a newcomer. If you’ve never played a shooter before or aren’t confident in how to use the controls, you’ll never get to grips with that thing enough to see a great story or subtle characterisation that one might offer.

I mean, Adam tells me I’d love the stories Crusader Kings 2 generates and I absolutely believe him, but the interface makes me feel panicked and overwhelmed every time I decide to boot it up. Those wonderful stories he mentions are behind an impenetrable layer of game mechanic and UI glass unless I have an afternoon of particularly bloody-minded perseverance at my disposal.

For another example, I’m decent at Dota 2, which I know other people struggle to learn and which gives me a little thrill of pride. But I am also so aware that a childhood not spent using hotkeys or an ability hotbar or hitting particular keys with such frequency that their physical location became hardcoded into my skeletomuscular system made the task harder and my movements less precise than fellow players with a more extensive gaming background. Abilities and stats were also harder to parse at first because the language (nd the slang teammates would use) was always just a little outside my regular vocabulary for comfort.

Not everything is for everybody, but it feels like a disproportionate amount of PC gaming is locked away behind interfaces and control systems you should, ideally, have been familiarising yourself with since childhood. If you haven’t then there’s far less middle ground that I can see in terms of gaming unless you look to mobile or some of the more accessible indie titles or the Wii.

I’d like the industry to expand, enfolding new perspectives, catering to different levels of dexterity or muscle memory, or servicing different priorities when it comes to what gamers want. You’d still have the current types of game but they would sit alongside other titles – experiences we don’t currently have and maybe can’t even imagine what they look like yet.

I’d also love it to be easier to find those things. It feels like, even when a cool or weird, different game exists, it might just float around between people in the know even just by dint of being referred to as a “game”, never quite reaching the people who would love to play it. We try to highlight cool things on RPS, but I’m always aware that we will reach people who come to RPS and who feel at home here anyway, for the most part.

Obviously this stuff isn’t the result of one easily-changed factor. It’s because a lot of complex factors are knitting together. But mulling over pieces like Code’s and ideas that you don’t even have to agree with entirely, but which are thought-provoking, as well as looking outside games/including more people in games, can help nibble away at a knot like this.

I believe inclusiveness and diversity will help experiences find new homes and creators new ideas and opportunities.

From this site

56 Comments

  1. kud13 says:

    Read the piece. Mixed thoughts.

    I can see where the author’s coming from. Diversity is surely good, and i’d have no issues with people making such games.

    On the other hand, personally, i’m hitting 30s, I also have a new career, student loans, and juggling life and work, much like the author’s frame of reference cousin (except I’ve been playing computer games on and off since I was 10)

    Books I read, movies and shows I watch, games I play- they are mostly a form of escapism. I wouldn’t want to play a game about office politics or job-hunting- because I have had sufficient headaches dealing with that in real life to not want to spend my “decompress from reality” time facing similar challenges.

    So, yeah. All the power to diversity, and making different games for different people. But I’ll be honest, it’s unlikely I’d play them.

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      Grizzly says:

      Right, but with diversity it does not neccisarely mean that games should be super-serious affairs that are about every-day life struggles. If anything, our current games fall prone to that way more often, in the sense that they are often about death. And i’d argue that there’s quite a bit about everyday life that is very enjoyable when it is put in gameform. See also: The Sims. If anything, that you immeaditely went from “More diverse games” to “Games about office politics” is an indication of how people who play games often are stuck in the same mentality.

      Diversity does not mean that games fall away from escapism, it just means that games could approach escapism in a different way. If you look at some of the smash hits it’s always the games that do approach said escapism in a different way that are succesfull: Guitar Hero. The Sims. Mario Kart. Literally everything on the Wii. Yet there’s never really been any innovation beyond that. Guitar Hero did not spawn an entire genre revolving around rhythm based gaming, it crashed. The Sims stayed the Sims. The only company that regularly tries going beyond is Nintendo.

      • kud13 says:

        I listed office politics, because that’s something spoken about in the article, as a challenge in life of the same reference-point cousin. The author also tries to make a point of “games should teach us about life”, because of her broader argument of “we live in the Interactive age and games (interactive media) should be on the cutting edge of it”. Basically, the author’s idea of “diversity” seems to be “make games about types of things we do in life”. My answer to that is “feel free to do so, but I don’t want life stuff in my escapism”.

        I have 0 issues with others finding enjoyment in it, though.

      • Archonsod says:

        “Guitar Hero did not spawn an entire genre revolving around rhythm based gaming, it crashed. The Sims stayed the Sims.”

        Neither were particularly innovative. Guitar Hero is just a rhythm game with a novel controller; the Sims is just a computer dollhouse. Both types of games have been around since the 80s. If anything they probably owe their success to timing rather than innovation; The Sims evolved from Little Computer People via Tamagotchi then had the good fortune to release just when everyone and their dog was getting wrapped up in the whole Big Brother reality TV craze.
        It’s kinda illustrative with the problem in the article. It’s correct in that there’s little innovation, but what they then indicate to suggest it’s a problem is something of a strawman (I suspect the issue might be too much time gazing at one’s navel rather than the actual world). What they actually mean when they claim the gaming industry doesn’t cater for X is that the mainstream doesn’t cater for X. I’m pretty sure there likely already are games about office politics out there (in fact I remember playing a business sim in the late 90s / early 00s in which office politics were pretty much a central mechanic) they’re simply not popular enough at the moment to garner wide attention. That may well change, but if it does it won’t be something from the industry alone which changes it – it’s kinda like saying the popularity (or lack thereof) of Rock music is entirely down to the quality of the musicians producing it rather than anything to do with the people listening to it. Then going one step further and concluding that changing the musician therefore changes the listener. As anyone even passingly familiar with music history knows, the few times that works are vastly outweighed by the times it doesn’t.

    • ersetzen says:

      I don’t know whether that is what the article aimed at. Skyrim was mentioned as an example of immersing yourself in a world. It is just that the main interaction with virtually all big games is violence.
      The list of major titles that aren’t either sport games or action titles is seriously short and if all movies that came out where made by Michael Bay I wouldn’t watch very many of them.

      I would love an open world game that is all about exploring and interacting with it instead of murder-spree tower-climbing collect-a-ton number 63 for instance.
      Outside of indie titles the game landscape seems seriously barren of unique or innovative titles.

      This cultural echo is also mirrored in the control schemes. After playing around with the steam controller a bunch I frequently find someone else’s or come up with my own crazy control scheme that just magically clicks with the mechanic of the game. Of course there is a huge pressure for game designers to keep with the standards so that gamers can quickly adapt but I strongly feel like some willingness to experiment and test controls could go a long way to improve them or everyone.

      I also feel like this whole discussion strongly centers around AAA titles, maybe more than it ought to. They are much more bound to convention because they have to bring up some return on their humongous investments so they can’t be the source of change.

    • Hammer says:

      “But I’ll be honest, it’s unlikely I’d play them.”

      And that’s absolutely fine. You don’t – unless you are some kind of superhuman – read every book either.

      Part of the problem with new types of games – and you see it below the line regarding everything from MOBAs to Grand Strategy to ‘walking simulators’ – is that some people can’t get over the fact that a particular game isn’t designed with them in mind or their tastes. As a community, we really need to get over that and just accept that we all have games that we wouldn’t play, because they aren’t made for us.

      • TechnicalBen says:

        People still get annoyed if shop A has a ton of filmB/BookC merchandise.

        I rarely see them, but then again shops are diverse… Gaming shops less so (more like a Warhammer or Apple Store… the customers would Freak if they found something else than advertised in there :P).

        For gaming to get more diverse, from say Wii/DS/Nintendo focused/simple or stylised games to cutting edge life simulators and the works, then the stores need to support that.

        But they do not, they chase the easy cash and the cheap/quick buck. But for a difference, see VR. It’s not the “mature” media that has it right, it’s the risky though “risk free” new frontiers where people have everything to loose if betting the farm or nothing to loose if making it as an art project. So we get great simulations/stories/narrative/experiments or the usual AAA closed corridors in the current VR trends. Yet entire consoles missed out on those types of games.

        Not that VR is any better, it’s just so new people are willing to experiment to find out what is good. With the existing ecosystem, people tend to copy or railroad into a certain type of game.

  2. Jimmy says:

    Late 30s, responsibilities, two kids, impossible to find time. What time I have cannot be spent with arcane interfaces, just more stress, so I say to the other half “Am off to shoot people in the head” in Insurgency as little else possible in 30-60 min window. Have Attila sitting there, its card-playing mechanics offputting and the poverty of its historical research means it is pointless, as I won’t learn anything new. 1 year since I last posted, uninspired, so I agree with this piece.

  3. amaranthe says:

    I think the article itself is evidence to support the argument. When she talks about games, gamers, and the game industry, it mostly centers around AAA titles and showcases Brie’s own prejudices when it comes to being a “gamer”.

    I think that’s where the crux of the problem lies: “gamers” are still bigoted enough that we look down our noses at those who play Candy Crush on their phones, and refuse to include them in our special group. And while it is true that the casual or mobile gamers also step away from calling themselves gamers, I think it’s more due to cultural backlash. They know we don’t see them as “equals”, and are under the impression that to be a gamer you have to be a nerd, a recluse, devote more than 30 hours a week to playing games, have to know every new release and preorder it before it even comes out.

    Whereas a person will easily say they love movies, are an avid movie watcher, even if they may only go to the theater a few times a year.

    This huge disconnect between the societal label of “gamer” versus what it actually means to “play games” is what I think needs to be fixed. There are plenty, PLENTY of games out there for casual gamers. I notice Brie didn’t try to introduce her friends to interactive novels, or dating sims, most likely because she doesn’t consider those to be “games” since they’re not AAA or made by a huge production studio. But they are games! And playing them is just as rewarding, and should allow you to be a “gamer” just as reading Harry Potter makes you a “reader” even though there are much deeper books available out there.

    I used to play a lot more games, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve started to play less, and so tend to focus my game time on games I really love. And when I don’t have a new game to play I return to the old favorites, starting a new game in Minecraft or picking up an old game I never played or finished. I might only buy a new game every few months, and often skip new releases unless it’s something I know I will enjoy. And it’s been interesting seeing my friends’ reactions — those who still play games nonstop, and buy every new release (you know, the types who constantly lament the 100s of titles they have in their Steam library that they’ll never play), those friends see me as less of a gamer than they — even though I still consider myself a gamer, and still love video games, but just don’t have that obsessive nature about them that I used to.

    So in my mind, it’s not just about making games for “non gamers” but about understanding we’re not better than other people just because we put 500 hours or more into Skyrim.

    • Jaunt says:

      In my opinion, “gamers” is just shorthand for a particular kind of person who plays a certain category of games. If someone calls themselves a gamer, I know they and I can probably discuss a few titles. On the other hand, if someone plays Candy Crush, I know we probably won’t be able to talk about Skyrim, and the chances of us being able to share thoughts NeoScavenger are vanishingly slim. I don’t really care about who is a gamer or not except insofar as it allows us to indulge in discussion about mutual experiences. Even among “gamers”, half of them only play Call of Duty or CS:GO or LoL, which limits our shared interests considerably.

      I also don’t consider myself a movie lover, even though I probably see one a month on average. I know movie lovers, and those guys are crazy. I’m just someone who watches movies and likes them. And I do recognize a difference between someone who listens to Harry Potter audiobooks on their way to work, and someone who reads an hour of Malazan a day (and it is that with the latter person, I can talk about Malazan with them).

      There are certainly elitist jerks out there, but in any other field, they get dismissed as snobs and they hold dinner parties and talk about how nobody else truly understand (whatever interest) and none of us are invited. Shrug.

      In short, I think the gamer vs casual gamer divide is more of a psychological divide than a real one, and there are all sorts of people who fall into a middle ground whose existence we just fail to note.

      • kud13 says:

        +1 for Malazan. I know a few people in real life who read SFF and lots of time the conversations revolve not around titles we’ve both read, but rather things the other person hasn’t read.

        With games (esp AAA releases) I can generally carry on a conversation even if I haven’t played a particular game – because I’ve read a bunch about it/watched some LPs or clips or w/e.

        It’s much harder to do that with books for me.

    • wengart says:

      There is stratification in games and I do not think it is a bad thing. Its in fact perfectly reasonable and rational to do.

      I play Dota 2, I play Titanfall, I play Arma, I play Crusader Kings, I play Decisive Campaigns: Case Blue.

      I have a friend who plays games like Candy Crush.

      We could both reasonably be called gamers, but we are only superficially equivalent. There is a vast gulf between the types of games we play that means we don’t have a shared hobby, but two separate hobbies that share the same technological base. This split becomes less prominent as you move towards a middle ground, but I still am not going to include my Dota playing friends in a discussion of reverse slope defense in Combat Mission.

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      ffordesoon says:

      I agree with this, I think. What really jumped out at me with the piece, as with so many of its type, is that almost all the games mentioned were either unabashedly meatheaded AAA productions or “prestige” indies like Journey. Both are fine, to be clear, but they aren’t remotely representative of the breadth of experiences already out there.

      I realize every dude who responds to an article like Code’s will play the “What about Game X, stupid!?” card, but I couldn’t help thinking of so many better games she could have hooked her sister up with. Hanako Games’ Long Live The Queen, for example, sounds like it would be a fantasy game right up her sister’s alley: low game literacy barrier, narrative/social bent, feminist themes, easy-to-grasp core loop with a lot of mechanical depth… Really, the only barrier is the rigid “you win or you die” structure, and even that is thematically consonant. Reigns would be even easier to pick up despite having a similar amount of depth. And that’s just games which play with similar fantasy tropes to Skyrim. 80 Days, Choice Of Games’ output, the hundreds of Twine games out there… There is plenty of stuff for her sister to play. It’s just not “real videogames.”

      “Real videogames” means Skyrim, Assassin’s Creed, Bioshock… anything where you kill stuff. In a pinch, it also means games like Myst, where you solve puzzles, and Journey, where you move around in three dimensions and do other typical videogame-y stuff (at least, to the untrained eye). But those games are highly abstract and don’t really speak to anyone’s lived experience on a concrete level. The AAA games, meanwhile, are scared shitless of taking anything which might remotely be seen as a stance on an issue, and so couch their themes (when they have themes) within the warm, cozy confines of shopworn fantasy and SF tropes. In that world, “What if you were actually… the BAD GUY!?” is still viewed as edgy and out there, even though indie games moved past that phase like a decade ago.

      So yeah, I think the problem isn’t necessarily the lack of games to recommend to people like Code’s sister, but their lack of visibility and legitimacy compared to “real games” (for real men in a real war with real guns).

  4. Eight Rooks says:

    Broadly speaking I agree with it, but – I think this is what I’m feeling – it annoys me how it holds back in some respects. It’s like someone trying to write Leigh Alexander’s “Gamers are over” piece without being confrontational when it should be obvious that approach is disingenuous at best. To hijack Pip’s example I think it’s a perfectly valid argument to say that, from a regular person’s point of view, Crusader Kings II is poorly designed to the point of being essentially broken – if you have to spend hours upon hours simply learning how to play (and I say that as someone who owns the game and would dearly love to be able to get to grips with it). You don’t just say “Well, those games don’t interest me in the slightest and have no relevance to how me and millions of others live our lives and we don’t have the time or the energy to devote to actually figuring out how they work… but, uh, you carry on enjoying them, I guess?”. Countless books or films require little or no prior knowledge or experience to make sense of – why not demand outright to know why an entire creative medium thinks it’s okay to do things differently? You’re talking about ripping up the rulebook – why not be a little more contentious about it?

    Conversely, a few of her arguments also sound a bit too evangelical, like someone who’s had the eureka moment but hasn’t yet paused to reflect on it. I know what Train’s big gotcha! is – I’m not convinced it’s remotely as awful as watching Come and See, for example, which had me literally paralyzed with terror while showing nothing at all. And I’ve seen numerous people saying This War of Mine doesn’t reflect the reality of a city under siege (who were apparently there). Again, I like it – I hope her studio gets to make some of these games she wants to see, and maybe I’ll even play some of them – but it’s… not the best of these encyclicals I’ve seen, not by a long shot.

  5. FuriKuri says:

    Meh. Code’s article reads like the typical fare when it comes to this issue – justifiably critical and hinting at revolution but ultimately threadbare in establishing exactly what the alternatives are.

    I suspect the short answer to that is ‘strong AI’ that evens out the dissonance between character-as-scripted and character-as-acted (E.g. how NPCs behave in cutscenes vs how they behave ‘in world’ in observance of your actions). But that is a Hard Problem far beyond the reach of the videogames industry – both in terms of software and hardware – for both the near and mid-range future.

    Also, to be blunt, I do not understand the impetus behind the need to convert people into videogamers who are, essentially, hostile to the idea. I’m happy her cousin at least found herself enjoying Skyrim – but I’m equally dismayed that after the alleged Lydia epiphany she seems to have stopped there. There are games with much stronger characterisation even in the console-only AAA world but the fact that her experiences didn’t kindle any residual curiosity speaks poorly to the idea that a number of games crafted to their desires would ever amount to more than fleeting distraction. Equivocal, if you will, to the rise and fall of the Nintendo Wii party/fitness genre.

    Equally disappointing is the fact that the few games that already do exist in this category tend to be indie titles on PC – a platform that is utterly anaethema to the tablet crowd anyway…

  6. Drib says:

    The article is interesting enough and makes a few good points.

    But it kind of smacks of making games for people who don’t want to play games. Sure, I could make music for the deaf, and maybe some portion of it could be enjoyable. I could make paintings for the blind, and yeah, paint texturing could be cool or something.

    But it’s not the target demographic, is it?

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      Grizzly says:

      When you make music for the deaf, your target demographic is the deaf. Target demographics are not inherent, they are a concept that exists in the head of the marketeer and the designer. It’s a bad example anyway, as it relies upon the deaf not enjoying music, nor the blind enjoying paintings and they do. Most people were not deaf or blind from birth. People who were blind or deaf from birth are known to enjoy sensory experiences like that.

      Making games for people who don’t play games is the point! When you know what people want and you keep making what they want you don’t get any innovation. You just end up making the same stuff. Over. And over. Diversity is in this case about finding those things that people didn’t know they’d want until they experienced it.

      • Drib says:

        I suppose that is reasonable and now I feel like a bit of a tit.

      • Chillicothe says:

        It’s more that this has this ugly whiff of claptrap starting circa-2004/5 that you MUST make your game for those who don’t like your last one if said last one was outside this new normal or you’re a failure.

        You know, misunderstanding the importance of player desire, necessary design, and the saturation of markets that lead to the LACK of variety that hounded much of the last ~15 odd years both in console and computer gaming.

        It just lacked nuance and that is something very necessary to avoid the discussion (and our industry) not falling into those very same traps again.

    • Jaunt says:

      I think your concept is sound, even if your examples are poorly chosen. Here’s another shot at it:

      I don’t like ballet. I don’t even like dance as a medium. You could try to make dance as accessible to me as possible, to a ridiculous extent, and it won’t help. Youtube has made it possible for dancers to do experimental, interesting…moves? And for them to cut it however they want (so there’s no downtime or boring parts). And for me to watch them for free, in the comfort of my own home, in about 2 minutes. The amount of dance routines I’ve watched start to finish this year is still zero.

      I’m just not interested. Don’t pander to me. Don’t worry about appealing to me. Just do your thing and pay me no mind. Not everything is for everyone.

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    Grizzly says:

    I think that the mobile space and VR does see a lot of interesting games which discover, or re-discover, a lot of things. Both VR and mobile gaming demand a certain finesse being applied to interface design, for obvious reasons. It’d be hard to look at something like 80 Days or Sorcery! and not say that those are great games. What matters is not your ability to fiddle with your thumbs like in Dark Souls, what matters is that you get a choice in shaping a story. It’s the extraordinarily compelling thing that says that the further you progress, the further things are happening because of the choices you made. That is an example of “Escapism done differently”. Yes, it’s swords and sorcery(!), but unlike, say, Mass Effect, where the story are the interludes between violent combat, here the violent combat is almost entirely optional (if not entirely optional, this is very much a game that lets you talk to the monsters) and if it happens it’s an interlude to the story. You’re more likely to spend time playing dice then you are feinting, parrying and riposting. And you do all that on your own pace, and you only need one finger and one eyeball.

  8. a very affectionate parrot says:

    I’ve never agreed with the idea that videogames are for everyone.
    People are allowed to not like videogames, this isn’t some issue with videogames, it’s just that they don’t like them.
    I don’t see the appeal of extreme sports and I don’t want some adrenaline junkie constantly trying to persuade me to throw myself off a building by insisting that this particular building will appeal to me.

    • DanMan says:

      Agreed. I don’t care about watching sports. That doesn’t mean they have to invent some new type of sport to get me interested. That’s how only a marketer would think. There’s enough other stuff out there to keep me busy for the rest of my life. Easily.

      That said, feel free to invent new types of games. Having played games for decades, I am getting tired of history repeating itself, only in shinier clothes, myself.

      If you want to make the game of your dreams without considering what the market wants – fine. But don’t complain, if noone’s buying them.

  9. Darth Gangrel says:

    There are certainly times where you feel like absolutely every game “needs” to have a certain feature or be a certain way, but then I just look at my backlog/wishlist and conclude that there are *far too many* not-boring games out there.

  10. HuvaaKoodia says:

    I can think of a few reasons why some people are averse to digital games.

    1. Traditionally games are about winning and decision making, i.e challenge. Case in point: non-digital games and early digital games. Some people just are not interested in challenge.

    2. Lately “non-traditional games” have been popping up thanks to the growing developer pool. These new titles are still called games though. Do you expect someone with a predisposition against games to wade through a bunch of them to find a diamond in the rough? Unlikely.

    3. Even if a developer has made an interesting interactive digital title and labelled it accordingly (interactive fiction for instance), there’s no place to sell it. Non-commercial titles are not legitimate in the eyes of most ordinary consumers, if they even get to see them.

    4. The gamer culture. Enough said.

    One possible solution:

    Create a marketplace (and a killer app) for another interactive digital medium (be it interactive fiction on tablets or interactive movies in VR) and make it extremely apparent that this is something new, nothing to do with games. That could work. Any takers?

  11. The Rocketman says:

    I don’t think gaming as a hobby fits the same criteria as reading or watching a movie. For those you don’t need any real abilities or background, generally speaking. Sure, they can help with the experience, but they’re no necessities. Kids love movies and books for instance, even when they’re just watching the images and don’t understand the story. It’s accessible.

    Gaming however is more like sports to me. Something you can be good or bad at, with various skills to improve. Case in point: I’d like sports a lot more if I’d be more fit and athletic.

    I guess non-gamers have the same hurdles to overcome, augmented with all the problems the article describes. They lack the skills (for lack of a better word) they need to overcome to start enjoying the experience.

  12. Ghostwise says:

    1/ Prepares to comment because both articles were interesting
    2/ Glances at the other comments
    3/ Wisely decides not to comment
    4/ Snickers at the irony this represents given Ms. Code’s thoughts
    5/ Wanders away to check out that game about collecting cats

  13. owlnout says:

    Diversity in tech is something that is called for time and again.

    “It’s mostly white males” is the tagline.

    But I think we neglect one large reason for this lack of diversity: economics.

    In the 80s and 90s, who was more likely to have personal computers? A white male of middle class+ economic standing.

    Computers used to very expensive for the individual to own and they still can be. If you want more diversity in tech fields, it starts with GIVING COMPUTERS to those who do not have access to them.

    You can enforce arbitrary diversity quotas or bemoan the lack diversity all you want but do not expect it to change when you utterly ignore the root of the issue: access to a computer.

    • Regicider 12.4% says:

      And now it’s back to computers for the privileged and phones for the rest.

      (although a lot of it is choice of convenience and not having a use for a PC that has to be replaced as often as the expensive phone)

      • Regicider 12.4% says:

        Also like to add:
        “In the 80s and 90s, who was more likely to have personal computers? A white male of middle class+ economic standing.”

        I’d rather say “A middle class+ economic standing”.
        Middle-class families owning a computer in the 80-90’s statistically had ~ 50% girls and 50% boys so I don’t believe the lack of women choosing tech have to do with exposure but rather some other underlying reasons discouraging them.

        I’ve studied both computer science and electronic engineering (in Scandinavia with free education might be worth pointing out) and while there were around 1/4 women taking the introductory classes *none* of them remained through the second year in computer science.

  14. CartonofMilk says:

    I definitely am not looking to find answers to life when i play a game. I’m a gamer of over 30 years and i still think games pale in comparison to books or movies to tell meaningful moving stories but it’s also not really what i want from games.

    Actually aside from general escapism there’s not one specific thing i look for in games. Sometimes i DO want to lead a violent fantasy life but generally that only entertains me for so long. In fact the older i grow it seems the less it entertains me. Other times i just want to build things. I do love game that allow me to express who i am in some way though. And to use my creativity too. Either through customization of character, through building/crafting, etc. I also like if i’m allowed to have my personality be accounted for in a game. Building my own narrative, making choices. Crusader Kings II IS actually a good example of that. Although to play this game successfully you are pretty much required to leave at least most of your morals at the door. (and as an aside if there’s one misconception i’d like people to lose about CKII it’s that it’s difficult to understand, it isn’t, it isn’t nowhere near as complex as a lot of reviews have made it out to be, i hadn’t played a proper strategy game in 20 years when i started it and was super intimidated but within a few hours i had figured out pretty much most of the interface, it looks complex, it’s not that bad. Sure there’s little details that will take more time to get but they are not of vital importance to the game. At least not early on)

    Any game that doesn’t allow me to have a (at least somewhat) unique experience that is specific to me is pretty much not worth my time nowadays.

    I think though , or i have to think anyway, that one of the possibly many reasons some people don’t like games is maybe they just don’t care for escapism. Maybe games AREN’T for everyone. hell i’ve known some people who didn’t like movies! It can happen. Some people love to practice sports, it lets them escape their daily worries, it makes them feel accomplished. I hate sports. It’s drudgery and misery and makes me feel like I wasted my time (which could have been better invested in video games!). Maybe games of any sort will always make some people feel this way. Why do we feel EVERYONE should be enjoying games?

    But it is also true that for some people who never got naturally introduced to games, there’s the whole complexity aspect to consider. It seems obvious to me to, say, drive a car in any game but to someone who’s never touched a controller it’s a skill that takes a while to learn. Probably not even just a few hours. but days.

    Many years ago i tried to get my partner into games (she has essentially never played games aside from maybe one or two once in a while 30 years ago on the NES) through Sims 2. I love the sims and since her main hobby is collecting (barbie style) dolls (and also photographing them in dioramas and also actually MAKING/sewing doll clothes) i thought this would be a natural thing. Sims is basically an automated dollhouse. She seemed to like it at first, making her sim and all that. But once the game properly started she soon gave up. I think one of the mistake i made looking back now is i tried to have her play the game the way i play it. As a strategy game. Whereas probably if i’d given her a money cheat she might have had a lot more fun with it. She gave up saying it was too much like real life, depressing, with friends coming to your house expecting to be entertained and jobs you had to get to and still find time in the day for entertainment and your love life and EVEN to have a piss. The sims series which i consider one of the best chill and cheery series of games out there was to her a source of stress and worry.

    I recently got one of my non gaming friend (she hadn’t touched a game since playing tekken 3 with her college roommate in the late 90s) into games through Rimworld. But my partner, she’s watched me play Rimworld recently, which i like to think is sims but with violence (which let’s face it is what sims always needed…at the VERY least the option to become a serial killer..surely i’m not alone on this one), and said, as she saw my characters constantly getting nervous breakdowns and sometimes attacking my other colonists, that it looked like the most stressful and miserable experience ever. The antithesis of fun she said. Those things that to me create fun challenges that add to the narrative of my colony are to her just depressing comments on human nature that she has no interest in experiencing even in a game. Maybe rimworld does say something about life though (aside of course from the fact that men can’t really truly be bisexual) and what it says it’s that being a person with thoughts, needs, wants and trying to survive is completely shit. Though for fuck sake if i just survived a crash on an hostile planet and somehow survived long enough to have build shelter and find food, i’m pretty sure I dont GIVE A FUCK how big my room is and how many people i’m sharing it with, i’m just thankful to be alive! YOU HEAR THAT YOU WHINY COLONISTS? erm…but I digress…

    There seemed to be hope recently when i showed her my cool looking base in space engineers, she did seem impressed and interested but when even an experienced gamer like myself was frustrated as shit with the terribly unintuitive UI of SE in the first like…20 hours… not sure there’s a chance for her on this one.

    In any case, anecdotal evidence of potential reasons as to why some people aren’t into game aside, i am not against the idea that more games need to be developed that aren’t meant to cater to gamers. But before any bigger companies get involved into making those, they’ll have to have the proof there is a market for it. Until indies start tapping that market and making everyone into a gamer, major publishers will keep putting their millions into Assassin’s Creed 24. Hell, Minecraft made millions and show me one AAA developer that has truly done a proper Minecraft clone. I can’t think of any. Even attempting to replicate minecraft is seen as unsafe

    • TechnicalBen says:

      Some difficulty settings on RW give you a starting bonus trait where they have a “good feeling” to counteract the bad. Called “new colony hope” etc.

      It’s some of the micro managing that annoys me, like stopping people eating the *wrong* things. But all in all, it is FUN. :D

  15. Sly-Lupin says:

    There is a lack of creativity in games.
    But it’s not because of a lack of diversity. It’s because of money. Big budget games don’t take risks, and you can’t be very creative without taking risks.

    Lack of diversity is a symptom of large scale social problems… It has nothing to do with video game publishers dumping out the same cookie cutter games every year. Race and gender politics are serious business and all, but come on, you gotta pick your battles.

  16. kingfelix says:

    ” You’d still have the current types of game but they would sit alongside other titles – experiences we don’t currently have and maybe can’t even imagine what they look like yet.”

    I think that this is a point that a lot of ‘gamers’ miss when they come out of the woodwork to start decrying new experiences or additional perspectives joining the industry of video game creation. At the same time, as the article itself notes, there is a lot of history in video games as a niche industry created by and for a small subset of the human population so it is understandable that there is a sense of ownership there that feels threatened when someone comes along and tries to do things differently. I just can’t think of another artistic medium (or I don’t interact with the fans of said medium I guess) where people are quite so malignantly cancerous in their defense of the status quo.

  17. Premium User Badge

    Ben King says:

    I live in a bubble where a most of the people interact with enjoy video games, even my parents who don’t use many beyond minesweeper or myst (back in the day) appreciate the raw cleverness and creativity being thrown around. The cousin’s perspective seems spot on for my folks attitude. A couple comments compare books movies and tv to games but I can’t tell you the last book I read or movie I watched that was in the least bit comparable to the nonstop blood misting murder spree that is my typical weekend sitdown with my games collection with friends. On the contrary I CAN think of a great game that was a lot like some of my favorite TV shows- a game with no fail states, no repeated violent death, and long elaborately scripted stretches of characters wandering around talking to each other like people do on tv. It was VIRGINIA and I think a lot of non gamers would LOVE it for the same reasons that anyone loves any kind of narrative or mystery but it’s still a game locked inaccessibly away behind a twin stick control scheme. I have wildly optimistic hopes that VR could really expand the games medium audience by providing a way to interact with a game space naturally without the need for abstract controllers but that living room holodeck is still a distant and wildly expensive goal. And even that alone doesn’t address games content. I feel like the thigs that would give games broader appeal are largely things that would appeal to every gamer: effortless interaction, deep and intelligent characters to talk to, and a diverse selection of experiences to chose from. To nag on the book,tv and movie comparison again- there’s just not much thematically in common between your local bookstore’ fiction section, and the aisles of titles in a games store, nor an evening of TV. Not that there COULDN’T be similarities or that there neceissarily SHOULD. But It’s a world of content locked behind a storefront who’s windows are decorated with hulking scarred men holding chainsaw-bayonet guns dripping with blood, sportsball guys, half erotic pinups wielding glowing swords, and Saturday morning cartoon characters. I love all those things in all their cornball glory except for the sportsball stuff but there’s a lot of people who quite reasonably take one look at that and say no regardless of how compelling it may be. Nevermind the entry fee that typically constitutes anywhere from 1/2 day to 2 weeks pay and a controller that looks like 2/3 of the keys fell off your keyboard then it melted into a puddle topped with some skittles… Anyhow Pip thanks for sharing this one, it was a really good read for me with lots to think about.

  18. TechnicalBen says:

    “People playing mobile games don’t think of themselves as gamers” (paraphrased)

    IMO they are not. I only mean that in a factual observational way.

    I recently uninstalled a game from my phone. I liked it. The mechanics were great. The gameplay had a good pace. It was a match 3 game… well, it would be except it was obviously “cheating”. No matter what I did, my score always matched a daily limit (even though I paid out for unlimited plays), where if I played worse, I got better “drops” and if I played better, it trolled me so hard is was funny (10+ of the same blocking move drop to stop me moving). I could blame it on bad programming or automatic balancing… but as it met a nice “gold” drop limit, I’d put it down to funnelling into additional booster packs purchases.

    I was not “gaming”, I was “being gamed”.

    When you are sitting at a card table, and everyone else is colluding and deciding what cards to throw your way, it’s no longer a game, it’s a play.

    (That is not counting games like Flappy Bird… but even normal game mechanic titles have dlc/drops/gold perfectly tuned to change a players results to almost force in purchases)

  19. lglethal says:

    I enjoyed the article but I think it misses one important point – Economics.

    You cant make something for a non-existent audience, and expect to keep in business. You especially cant make something for an audience which is actually averse to your product.

    The very non-gamers that she described that put up the shutters once you mention the word “game” are not going to be magically attracted to a new “game” even if it is aimed at them.

    Gaming Companies realise this, and so they cant (even if they wanted to) make a game which doesnt appeal to gamers. As gamers are the market. They may not always be the target, but for now, they are the only ones buying.

    I dont have any solutions for how to solve this conundrum, and when someone does, they will make a sh*tload of cash, and many new people will discover our wonderful medium. But before that happens, the economics of the situation say, game companies build games for gamers, because gamers purchase their games. Breaking that cycle is not going to be easy…

    • genoforprez says:

      I think this is kind of a copout. This is the same problem that ANY product faces. When you make a new thing and take it to market, you’re not guaranteed an audience, and you’re not guaranteed interest. You have to CREATE interest.

      So you have companies that will make WWII Shooter #5,232,028 and pay all this money to create advertising and ads for it, and put those ads in targeted places where people who are interested in those experiences are likely to see them, and you could theoretically do the same with ANY type of game about ANYTHING. (Nintendo kinda did that a little with the Wii, and it worked out KINDA REALLY WELL FOR THEM FINANCIALLY.)

      I think there is just a culture / folk wisdom problem.

      • DanMan says:

        I think the point was that you don’t create a game for the game’s sake (that’s what art in the purest sense does – make stuff just to express yourself, not to necessarily have a purpose for anyone else), but you create it to sell it, so you can hopefully make another one.

        • genoforprez says:

          You say that as if you are somehow contradicting me or suggesting I didn’t get the point. Your assumption is that if I make X kind of game and put it on Steam (or wherever) then that won’t sell so why bother. You also assume I’m talking about making game’s “for art” or “for the game’s sake” which I’m not necessarily talking about either.

          What I mean is that you can make whatever kind of game you want as long as the game meets the needs of some particular person, but for the kinds of audiences described by the author of this article—i.e. the people who want games but don’t KNOW that they want games—you can’t just plop that game onto Steam or the istore and hope for the best. That’s not going to work, and it’s not going to sell, obviously.

          But then you look at something like the Wii. Nintendo decided it was going to go after a different kind of person with that console—people who don’t usually play games. And they actually pulled it off and that worked out REALLY well for them, and that’s because they put forward the effort to connect that product with the kind of people whose needs it was designed to meet.

          In other words, it’s potentially not a marketing problem in the sense of “people just don’t want X kind of game”, but instead a marketing problem where there ARE people who want X kind of game, but the marketing either can’t/doesn’t reach them (they aren’t listening to gaming channels and targeted advertising doesn’t target them). A lot of games (especially the PC indie scene) don’t really market themselves at all outside of dedicated gaming press, which these people are not listening to.

          So it becomes not a problem of nobody wants to buy X kind of game; it’s that there are potential buyers out there for X kind of game but it’s almost impossible to get all of their attention and show them that this is a thing they would want. At least not using the usual way of doing things.

          • lglethal says:

            I think the Wii example is not really that good an example, except to show that there is a market out their for the “casual gamer”. It was a combination of taking a big risk and being their at the right time. Nintendo also had the brand recognition to attract some people to actually look at what they were offering.

            Since then Tablet casual gaming has taken off, and despite still having all the same sort of features you would expect from a next gen Wii, in order to attract the “Casual Gamer” market the Wii U tanked hard.

            The problem I was trying to explain above is more how do you sell something to people who don’t know they want to buy it? Games are sold in game stores, on Steam, GOG, etc. but non-gamers don’t look in those places, because they think that games are not for them. So where do you put the games that they might be interested in, in order to get them to see them and hence be able to buy them.

            To give a sort of made up example, you have developed an amazing bike that is super comfortable to ride, but its not for people who are really into riding, its more for the casual rider and those who don’t like riding a traditional bike. You can try selling it in a bike shop, but you are only going to get sales from people who come to a bike shop and those people are the ones already into riding. Some word of mouth might get you a few sales, but your still not really connecting to the people you want to target – those who think they don’t like riding a bike. How do you reach them? Where do you sell your bike to reach those people?

  20. genoforprez says:

    I agree with the article for my own reasons. I have been gaming for as long as I could hold a controlller–and a gaming spectator even before that. (Thanks, older brother!)

    I have played and enjoyed (and not enjoyed) games of every kind from every genre. I spend A LOT of time playing games, as I imagine most of us here (especially in the comments) do.

    But I’m now over 30 and increasingly feel that games ARE boring. It’s not only the same ideas and the same return to the same Tolkien/Star Wars/Bladerunner well over and over again, but it’s just the same gameplay as well. Video games are a reverberating echo chamber in which a bunch of dudes repeatedly fan fic each other, and then fan fic each other’s fan fics, forever, to infinity.

    I used to play more shooters and action games, but I don’t anymore. I especially dislike the fad among PC games lately where everything wants to be PUNISHINGLY DIFFICULT, pandering to that raving Dark Souls fan base. Not to mention the deluge of “roguelikes” boasting “difficulty”-via-RNG.

    I don’t like games that are frustrating, and my frustration threshhold has diminished significantly over the years. And when you complain about this, gamers will often respond with some snarky “git gud” type comment, but the issue isn’t that I’m not skilled enough to play these games. It’s that I INCREASINGLY DON’T LIKE THEM. These are two different things.

    After turning 30, I have rekindled my love for JRPGs. (Western RPGs tend to bore me because incessant Medieval/Tolkien/Wizard/Dragon stuff is so overdone to me at this point that it just puts me immediately to sleep.)

    The reasons for all of this I think are very similar to those communicated in the article. Now that I’m an adult, I have plenty to frustrate me and stress me out. I have zero interest in being “stressed for fun”. Hence, you won’t find me playing X-COM despite all my white male gamer friends insisting it is the best game of all time. (I hated it, but that wasn’t its fault.)

    Anymore I play games that are just relaxing, where there is gameplay, but there is low stress. Games like Minecraft, Stardew Valley, and Euro Truck Simulator are games that can be played for 800+ hours just like Skyrim, but they are low-stress and relaxing. One of my top games for play time has become Viscera Cleanup Detail–a thing I didn’t understand for the longest time because on paper it seems like the worst idea for a game of all time. YOU JUST CLEAN. Literally. And it’s kinda tedious cleaning at that. But it is very relaxing and satisfying in an odd way. You can just pretend-clean spaceships while listening to a podcast and it’s very relaxing and you feel accomplishment at the end.

    Basically, every game is a personality test, but video games are strongly catering to an echo chamber consisting of a subset of personality types and leaving a lot of others out in the rain.

    (Note also: It would be cool if we could understand why Minecraft is appealing and make some other games for those reasons instead of making 1,000 “Minecraft but with X” games, thanks.)

  21. jalf says:

    The part I latched on to, and something I’ve been thinking about as well is the bit about how games are made by gamers. Games are so obviously inspired by games, made by people who’ve played games and decided to make the game to end all games. And yes, as much as much as a silly adventure game can make me laugh or an action game can give me an endorphin rush, it’s still ultimately so boring. So bland. So “been there done that”. Games are designed to be disposable and forgettable, to never ever have something to say, to never ever matter. And I think a huge part of that is because they’re inevitably made by people who grew up playing games that had nothing to say and didn’t matter. People who would really have benefited from having more diverse interests and hobbies.

    Games are great, but it is such a closed ecosystem and it just start feeling stifling. Games could be so much greater if some of them were made by non-gamers, by people who could bring ideas to the table that aren’t based on “this game I played once”.

    • Blackcompany says:

      This is whyy gaming PC has been powered down for two weeks.

      I…no longer see myself turning it back on. Ever. It’s amazing how much I DONT miss shoot stabby run and jumper gun face number 37 any longer.

      It’s been…liberating.

  22. sosolidshoe says:

    “I don’t blame them for any of this because videogames do sometimes feel too much trouble for a newcomer. If you’ve never played a shooter before or aren’t confident in how to use the controls, you’ll never get to grips with that thing enough to see a great story or subtle characterisation that one might offer.”

    This kind of thinking infuriates me. You mention elsewhere in the article that some games feel like they expect you to have been learning their interface and gameplay conventions since you were a child, and that’s right enough. Meaning many of these games were first played and learned by children. If an adult isn’t willing to put in as much effort as a child to learn something, the fault is with their lazyness not with the thing they’re unwilling to learn.

    • Sargonite says:

      As far as I’m aware, the consensus is that – whether for neurological or psychological or cultural reasons – adults are much, much less adept at learning entirely new modes of thought or action than children are. Languages are a great example of this. This is compounded by the fact that adults tend to have far less free time available than children do. It’s not an unreasonable complaint.

  23. RichUncleSkeleton says:

    “If there is any workforce full of people who are similar to each other, it is the video game industry workforce. We are mostly men, mostly white, and even more importantly, we are mostly gamers. Could it possibly be that maybe, just maybe, we could be missing something?”

    Video game developers live and breath video games and put up with middling pay and excruciating amounts of overtime to make them. Here’s the hard truth about diversity in gaming development: if there was some major surplus of non-white/male/gamers willing to tolerate those working conditions to make something they don’t deeply care about on a personal level, they’d already be doing it.

  24. noxohimoy says:

    I approached the article with disgust, after I read that she is an Assassin Creed developer. That game promised to be much more, but turned into a generic arcade, with idiotic game mechanics, like the magical rope, which ruined what should had derived into climbing puzzles. The game is made dumb-proof easy, so there is no point into planning tactics. The player comes rapidly overpowered.

    But, I agree with many things she says. Games failed to deliver their promises. They fall into common recipes.
    What the first Tomb Raiders made as “secrets”, -rewards for the player thinking out the box, exploring and testing the bounds-, turned into work: flag collecting, repetitive gameplay, “secrets” which cannot be avoided because they are in the middle of the single obligatory path.

    Crappy game designers despise the player. They do not want to make games, they want to make C class movies, forcing you to watch their boring cutscenes, forcing you to walk on corridor so they can show you the scripted “dramatic” scene which can only happen on that particular place. Call of Dorky shooter on rails do not give you a game to play with, but just a showcase of what could be game concepts. They think “a sound suppressor bomb! Look how cool are my ideas! But you cannot use it when you want. Only when I script ´´press P to pay respect´”´

    Alien Isolation could had been so much more. The small community still obsessed with it found lots of ways to hack the game to make interesting things: is possible to manipulate the NPCs so they open locked doors, is possible to lure the facehuggers so they fight the guards, is possible to steal the advanced pipebomb early, so you can kill androids on interesting ways, is possible to run silently, is possible to enter the Apollo Core with a shotgun, is possible to complete the game without saving or dying, is possible to lure the androids to the fire until they die, is possible to scare away the alien with the pistol by creatively using the environment, is possible to repeatedly taunt the alien on places that look hopelessly defenseless, is possible to jail the alien… Lots of creative things which could had been used to make a better game, but were wasted because the developers had a single idea, of a single story, on a single corridor, approaching game design from the viewpoint of how to restrict the player to do only what had been designed, instead of “what if the player finds a way to do XX?”. What if the player hacks into this locked room or enters a forbidden area? What if the player saves the NPC which is supposed to die? What if the player destroys the cameras? What if the player kills an “immortal” android which is supposed to unlock something? What if the players outrun the android/Alien to a switch/door, what if the players manage to cause a wall explosion over the alien? What if the player purposely avoided picking weapons? What if the player closes a door scripted for something? What if the player smuggles explosive gas tanks into a room?

    Developers only care about how to forbid that, instead on how to make a game where unexpected things do not break the game, and let the player make his own story.

    Minecraft has no tasks, no script, and no objectives, but succeeds because it just creates a world, and lets the gamer to make whatever he wants. A game like Ailen Isolation should had used that approach: making a world where the player may do unexpected things, and a story is possible; the player may follow the script, or just choose to make a fort and keep the aliens away, luring the NPCs into the fort until the space station is destroyed (or is saved), attracting and collecting/jailing androids, throwing all the androids into space one by one, or protecting the nest to make facehuggers, and baiting them to kill all the guards, even at the cost of having the station crowded with aliens…

  25. DragonDai says:

    I enjoyed the article, but I felt that while it brought up some interesting issues, that A.) It didn’t tell us why we, as gamers, should care about these issues and B.) it didn’t provide ANYTHING even remotely like a solution.

    As to A.) it’s obvious why developers should care. More players = more sales. But if you make a game that is so fundamentally unlike the titles we have today, a Skyrim without Dragons and Fighting and Swords (which we’ll talk more about in B), you are NOT making the Skyrim WITH Dragons and Fighting and Swords. Some other company might, but your company is not. There are so many man hours, so much money to budget for games. Game dev isn’t a zero sum game, but there are limitations. And devs need to decided if the audience they don’t have is worth the audience they might lose. I know the ONLY reason I played Skyrim is SPECIFICALLY because of Dragons and Fighting and Swords.

    But more importantly, as a gamer, I want games that appeal to me. It’s totally selfish, sure, but I’m willing to compromise so long as the overall experience is still good. Sadly, Skyrim without the Dragons and the Fighting and the Swords would not, to me, be a good experience, overall. That’s just not something I’m interested in at all. And so if I HAVE to pick, Skyrim WITH D, F, S or Skyrim WITHOUT, I would always rather the first.

    And that’s the second biggest issue. It’s not JUST game devs you have to get on board with the ideas presented in this article. It’s also gamers. Because even if you make the perfect “non-gamer game,” the perfect game that will draw in all these people who don’t play games because they don’t like Dragons and Fighting and Swords…they probably won’t know it exists at first. And they probably won’t buy it right away. And they STILL may not get into it, etc etc etc. And if you’re hemorrhaging the paying customer while you’re seeking the new customer, well, that’s how you go bankrupt. In other words, you have to maintain SOME of your current player base or something like this is doomed from the word Go.

    As for B.) This is a lot simpler. What does a Skyrim without Dragons and Fighting and Swords look like? I mean, we know what a Skyrim with Dragons and Swords looks like, it’s called Fallout 4. But what does a Skyrim, or a Fallout, or a Battlefield or a Mass Effect or a Dark Souls or a Civ 6 or whatever look like without Fighting? At first I wasn’t sure…but I realized I knew the answer. It looks like Minecraft Creative Mode, but less exciting. And while Minecraft Creative Mode is interesting and has some serious adherents, a less exciting, less unique, less creative Minecraft Creative Mode is NOT what the industry needs. Very few people would pay for that, on either side (gamer/non-gamer).

    Because really, if you take away the Dragons and the Swords and, most importantly, the Fighting, from Skyrim, all that’s left is a giant world with very linear ruins, tiny cities, lots of duplicate items scattered about the world, and little reason to do much except wander till you get bored of looking at the scenery and talking to the very boring locals.

    And I get that Skyrim is a bad example here, because it’s older, but new titles, titles off on the horizon, they aren’t looking like better examples. We are still limited by technology. NPCs still only have X number of responses to Y number of dialog options. Putting a realistically sized city into a game with entirely unique NPCs is still years if not decades away. Putting an entire nation, like Skyrim, into a game, making it realistic in both size and scope, filling it with 100% unique people? That shits at least decade away. We’ll likely be waiting on an entirely new type of technology AND true AI before that sort of thing is a reality.

    So how do you make a Skyrim without Fighting (and the other stuff, but mostly the fighting) interesting? Well…you make it into an interactive book or a movie or TV show. These games already exist. And while they have their fans, the majority of gamers are not interested AND the majority of non-gamers aren’t either.

    In short, unless someone comes up with some REALLY out of the box idea, B.) is the real nail in the coffin here. The search for the “Skyrim with Dragons and Fighting and Swords” is a Quixotic quest with no happy endings for anyone.

    • soijohn says:

      Can’t wait for that out of the box idea, but, to go back on your A, the problem is that non-gamer don’t realize that some games are a multi-experience kinda thing. I can play skyrim, and skip the sword play ( yes it would be boring but i can tailor it. Mod it. I know non-gamer people who plays the sims… but only the construction mode. ) Everyone has a hook but cater to one specific demographic and make a game per hook isn’t gonna work. They should try to expand the definition of the world “gamer” and stop using nonsense separation blocks as casual or hardcore.

      And more important : The gamer community, devs or players or marketing people should try to explain what is a game better. What it involves and what it could bring you. Yes, you, there, who wants a Skyrim but only for Exploration of Scary Ruins and Survival in the Snow.

      It’s not entirely a game design issue, is my point.

      • DragonDai says:

        Thanks for the reply :)

        “Everyone has a hook”

        Yeah, but some of those “hooks” have a VERY small player base. Skyrim with no combat, Minecraft Creative Mode, Sims played exclusively through construction mode (which is actually something I do), etc. There IS a market for those things. But the market is TINY and not at all profitable enough for AAA devs to make those games.

        I’m not saying there isn’t a market for Skyrim without Dragons and Fighting and Swords. I’m saying that the market that wants Skyrim w/o D, F, & S is NOT the same market as the market that wants Skyrim as it is, that the Sw/oDFS market is orders of magnitude smaller, and that the majority of Skyrim-as-is fans will NOT want the Sw/oDFS game. And that’s why Sw/oDFS doesn’t exist.

        “but cater to one specific demographic and make a game per hook isn’t gonna work.”

        But that DOES work right now. That’s EXACTLY what pretty much ALL of the biggest, best selling games ever are. They are a VERY specific demographic targeted with extreme precision with a single, extremely well polished hook. CoD, Battlefield, WoW, Dark Souls, Super Mario, GTA, Tetris…the biggest, best selling games almost always follow this. There are exceptions (Sims, Minecraft), but they are the sort of thing that, by their very nature, don’t and can’t happen every day.

        The bigger issue is that the game that tries to do everything will fail at all the things, at least currently. Again, in the future, we will be able to have much more complex games. Things like Skyrim WITH Dragons, Fighting, and Swords, or without, whatever you like, equally enjoyable for the people who want one or the other. But, for now, we’re limited by technology. REALLY limited. I know Skyrim seems like a big step forward from, say, Pong, and it is. But the step from Skyrim to “realistically sized Skyrim with realistic scope and player choice” is orders of magnitude bigger than the tech jump between Pong and Skyrim as is.

        I’m sure that we’ll see the sort of games the author wants in my lifetime. But it’s gana be a while. At least 2-3 decades. Maybe longer. Until then, most games will HAVE to focus on one “hook” (with maybe a few, small “side-hooks”) and target a specific demographic if they want to be commercially successful. That’s just the realities of tech limitations. :(

        Oh, and I’m right there with you. I can’t wait for the out of the box idea either. I love Skyrim with Dragons and Fighting and Swords, but I’m sure that, given the right tech and the right devs and the right vision, Skyrim without Dragons and Fighting and Swords could be just as compelling.

  26. A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

    That was a good read, thanks for highlighting. I found myself nodding along a lot while reading, but I’m not sure I read anything I haven’t heard or thought before.

    One issue for me that you both pick up on is there seem to be no studies to investigate the numbers behind this, which is true. For a long time some stat appeared that over 50% of women play games that seemed to get quoted everywhere to shut down arguments of inclusively. Frankly that’s bullshit, I don’t think 50% of my male friends play games never mind female ones. And that includes casual phone games. Be interesting to know the true numbers.

    I can definitely agree that a huge majority of games assume an understanding of games to play, and we are very bad at accessibility. While it’s OK to have games like that (books and film also have plenty of examples of things you just won’t get unless you’re versed in literature and film) the proportion seems way off.

    VR, if it gets off the ground, could open some doors. It’s the controllers that put people off, whenever there’s a new way of interacting (see Wii and smartphone screens) there seems to be a greater take up. Again, though, what are the numbers?

  27. KingFunk says:

    Interesting discussion. However, I’m not entirely sure that the subject matter of games in general is really the issue. I actually think that diversity in terms of subject matter has been gradually improving (and will continue to do so) in recent years, presumably because digital distribution opened up the market to those who couldn’t afford to launch games physically.

    I’m inclined to agree with Pip’s point about the bar for entry for enjoying a majority of gaming experiences. In my eyes, this comes down to two major points: control methods and design language. Control methods is easy to point out – whether the issue lies with the UI or with controllers, as Pip says, pre-requisite knowledge to get onboard with an experience is always going to limit a game’s potential audience. Think of Charlie Brooker trying to educate Jon Snow…

    The other point, design language, is a little more complex. A lot of design unintentionally relies on experience of games and the tropes involved – the most classic example being how ‘gamers’ know which doors will open and which are ‘just scenery’. However, this also extends to UI – I’m much better at navigating a smartphone’s settings menu than my wife, despite barely using one, because I’ve spent years navigating game UIs and understand how designers approach UI problems. However, truly great design is intuitive and doesn’t require experience. This idea extends into many facets of game design – people not currently defined as ‘gamers’ are less likely to accept things ‘we’ take for granted because we ‘know’ what comes next. This could be anything from fail-states without an automatic restart to understanding an implicit objective rather than an explicit one.

    We don’t need to ‘dumb down’ but I think the original article was right in that great design should consider how newcomers will interact with games. At this point, I will cease rambling and leave you with a quote that feels appropriate:

    “Perfection is Achieved Not When There Is Nothing More to Add, But When There Is Nothing Left to Take Away” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

  28. CdrJameson says:

    The GTA problem annoys me.

    Hey, we’ve made this great game with these fun mechanics and excellent emergent chaotic gameplay!

    Then we added lots of pointless sweary gangsta violence and misogeny to it! That always attracts people!

    See recently: Titanfall 2.

    Would be loads of fun, perfect for say a 12 year old, so WHY is it a 16? Same mechanics would work fine in a lower rated game, but nooo, we need more sweary and blood’n’guts, just so it’ll alienate parents!

    Splatoon it’ll have to be.

  29. PancakeWizard says:

    “maybe it requires familiarity with a controller, or literacy when it comes to a particular genre/control interface – you can feel them mentally taking a step back. The shutters seem to come down as they reach a point where this thing is Not For Them.”

    But isn’t that the whole gamer/not a gamer dichotomy? Have we come full circle now and realised this whole ‘gamer is a toxic term’ thing was an utter waste of everyone’s time and ire? If you’re playing to simply pass the time on a mobile game it’s really no different to doing a paper’s crossword, right? Having to engage with ‘traditional’ gaming to get the most enjoyment out of it is more of a hobby/enthusiast approach.

    This was always the case and it shouldn’t really be a surprise that rather than considering gamers themselves as exclusionary, non-gamers are happy to not be defined by something they aren’t passionate about or don’t prioritise in the same way.

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