Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Creating a game that matters

So does it really matter? Does a game have to be significant? Does it have to have meaning? Should it have some kind of worth that extends beyond simply an entertaining distraction? Well, of course it doesn’t have to. We all know that. But is that what the gaming industry should be moving towards? More meaningful games?

This post is not intended to be an industry bash, and I don’t want to condemn the many shortcomings of today’s most popular games. I think that would be too easy, and I tend to be fairly open-minded about what games are trying to accomplish. If a particular game is not for me, that’s fine. I don’t automatically consider it bad just because it’s not for me. And actually, I have enjoyed many flashy, senseless games over the years; and I still do. I love Devil May Cry- a game that is the epitome of flashy and senseless. =)

Ultimately, my interest is more about balance, and not about choosing sides. So why is the gaming industry so imbalanced, with flash far overshadowing substance? Well ok, we’ll start with the obvious. The development of games is primarily a business. Businesses need to entice consumers with a product, and they need to entice as many consumers as possible in order to make as much profit as possible. In order to accomplish that, businesses are very apt to exploit the compulsions of their customers (compulsions, being tendencies that are, by-and-large, out of your control). Sounds bad when it’s spelled-out like that, but it is the nature of the beast. So, there it is; in order to make the most money, you need to be the best at targeting the shared compulsions of the most people possible. Now lets focus on the biggest sellers in the industry... What are these games providing their customers? There must be a need that these products are fulfilling within the people who buy them.

The biggest need that is being fulfilled, as I see it, is the need for power. The biggest sellers overall are those games that offer the player a sense of power and control. Why are attaining these things compulsions? Well simply because they are lacking in real life. Really, in real life, we are slaves to the system. Don’t like the system, well too bad, you don’t have any other options. So it’s either conform or be marginalized. But the conformity amounts to slavery. In these times, more and more people are realizing this. But what can be done? Your typical game offers you the experience of being powerful; it offers you the opportunity to be skilled. And it allows you to escape into a world where you can readily attain mastery. But does this mastery have any significance outside of the fictional boundaries of the game? Do we care? Does your mastery, weather attained in real life or in the constructed game world, have to have societal value? Again, of course it doesn’t have to, but wouldn’t it be nice?

I think games are pointing to something. Within the game world, you are free to do as you please. You can cause havoc, and there are no real consequences to your actions. You can run around like a fool, and who can stop you? Who is going to criticize you? In the game, you are free of the repression that we must all endure in our everyday lives. No one in real life is allowed to be free really. And perhaps the games that we play are preparing us for true freedom as a society. What I mean is, it takes a certain maturity to be able to handle true freedom. Give total freedom to a barbaric society and what you will often end up with is anarchy. The children need to grow up, and I believe that games are offering us the opportunity to grow-up.

Violent games allow the repressed animal to express himself in a safe, inconsequential environment- the gaming world. I don’t think the animal can simply be erased, and I don’t think the animal can be punished or suppressed into non-existence. But that is how we normally do things. What we do in our society is condemn, punish, ignore, and suppress. But all we can get from that is a façade of order; a façade of peace. While just underneath the facade, the animal is waiting to surface. He was never really transformed; he was never truly civil. He only conformed because the consequences of non-conformity were too severe. And if you look at it that way, even violent games can be seen as a gift. The game allows violence to be channeled in a way that brings harm to no one. Of course, it is dependent upon the individual as to how this gift is used. Does the individual use the gift as a means to further his violent tendencies, by acting-out the things he experiences in the game? Or does he simply play the game and carry on with his life? Well, I think it’s clear that that is what most gamers do.

The games we have now can be seen as a bridge to more meaningful games. To be transformed, first the animal needs to be expressed. But there is a further step. The expression is only half of the equation. After the need for the expression has subsided, a reeducation needs to take place. "How can things be done differently?" Another way needs to be shown. A different expression needs to take the place of the old one. I suppose meaningful games will rise in popularity simply because a new identity is needed. Throughout our history, the animal was needed. But as times change, it is needed less and less. Consequently, it as been relegated to fictional worlds- video gaming worlds. This may be a good thing if it is seen as an opportunity to become something greater. And I think it has prepared the way for something greater. So maybe there is no dire imperative to create a meaningful game. Maybe it will simply be a natural unfolding; something that happens because there is nowhere else to go…