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.