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Are Games Growing Up?


steven_poole
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I think the majority of games to date have been age-neutral; gamers made the games they would like to play, and rarely thought about a "target market" (this may have led to a small, incidental bias toward the concerns of the young, technophilic male: guns, girls, adrenaline and power).

The fact that they are seen as for kids had nothing to do with their intent. This is not limited to games -- Tom and Jerry was originally created for adult audiences, as shorts before the main feature, but their cartoons are now largely thought of as being "for kids".

In fact, I'd argue that historically there have been more games targetted at adults than specifically at children. Do you see a game like Balance of Power appealing to the average child? Infocom text adventures? Everquest?

I think what is changing is the ability to target specific markets, and the desire to do so exhibited by the current breed of publisher in response to the increased risk involved in publishing games. And a market with disposable income is that comprising working adults.

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The only thing I think that has significantly changed is ability of programmers and designers to render games in such as fashion that they can be compared to other more mature media forms, hence the ability to render Vice City and pay homage to Japanese post-modern horror. Just because gaming is now acquiring the vocabulary to express itself doesn't mean that it hasn't always has intelligent or adult thoughts.

Yes, you put it better than I did back there.

What I'm getting at is precisely this change facilitated by the new (visual) vocabulary. I think it's a substantive change. What current designers are actually doing with it, and whether it is enabling really "grown-up" games, is the issue.

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Strange timing for your topic, as I was in town today and my friend pointed out "FF CC" for the GC and I said I would prefer something a little less cartoony and with a more serious slant to it.

As I am 37 and have been playing games since the advent of the Commdore PET, I think I can say I have seen a lot of change in the industry, not all for the good.

As the demographic who play games expands, i.e. older gamers who still enjoy games, such as myself, I feel there is a need for more adult content in games. Most other entertainment genres have different content to suit all tastes and age groups, so why is a there such an outrage when computer games actually start to have a more adult content?

My taste in games has move on since my teens, and now I prefer games which are less cartoon like and have a grittier feel. Although I would prefer we do not enter a situation where there is gratuitous and excess sex and other more adult themes forced into a game out of context, otherwise the Daily Mail readers will no doubt be outraged just for the sake of it.

This industry needs to be taken more seriously and the best way it can is to admit that a lot of adults do still play games so it shoud take some risks and start to make more 18+ games but not exploit the adult themes and undermine what is still a fledgling industry. Soft porn is best left for the likes of cheap DVDs in my opinion!

Krish

Interesting post, thanks.

It seems to me that a lot of dedicated gamers feel it is somehow wrong to say that one doesn't like cartoony games, that realism in representation can affect the feel of the game. But I meet a lot of people for whom this is a real criterion. Why shouldn't it be?

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Yes, you put it better than I did back there.

What I'm getting at is precisely this change facilitated by the new (visual) vocabulary. I think it's a substantive change. What current designers are actually doing with it, and whether it is enabling really "grown-up" games, is the issue.

It's not.

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I know this is not what your after, but the only way that I feel I'm not being talked to as I'm a child is in better story lines. Perhaps not so much in a view of the complexity of the story, but in the emotional attachment. Two games I've played this year really touched me emotionally and were far better games for it - those were ICO and Beyond Good and evil. Should devco's manage to integrate an "adult" theme with an involving story and emotional content, then perhaps we'd start to see games grow up

Anyone played Shadow of Memories? It was kind of clunky, but as I remember the storyline was intriguing. Are we willing to forgive the limitations of "interactive narrative" if the script is thoughtful enough?

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Anyone played Shadow of Memories? It was kind of clunky, but as I remember the storyline was intriguing. Are we willing to forgive the limitations of "interactive narrative" if the script is thoughtful enough?

The story was the only thing carrying that game forwards. It was very basic as a game and a bit simple, however it hinted and touched upon some very interesting and advanced gameplay dynamics that could well be considered 'mature'. In fact, I'd almost call it a 'mature game', were it not for the very rigid structure that encapsulated most of it.

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Anyone played Shadow of Memories? It was kind of clunky, but as I remember the storyline was intriguing. Are we willing to forgive the limitations of "interactive narrative" if the script is thoughtful enough?

Nope.

If your trying to involve a story of some sort it shouldn't be at the expense of the gameplay.

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I don't think maturity has anything to do with the content of a game, but rather how it plays. I'm sure most people feel the same.

Vice City has a mature storyline spanning the mafia, drugs, sex and violence. But at its heart it is a game where you drive like a maniac, kill with gay abandon and ultimately just fool around.

I'm working on two games at the minute and I consider them very much mature in their gameplay. One's a footie management game, but one where the core of the game is based around getting your players to play tactically, and the main gameplay is devising and tweaking tactics to best suit your players. Unlike the genre's typical Chelsea approach to football management, it's a game that requires a lot of thought.

The other is in early planning, so there's not much to go on, but it's basically an Elite-a-like with an emphasis on total free-form gameplay, and one where you are rewarded for thinking outside the box in your approach to achieving your own goals.

Theme-wise though you've got football and space shooter, you've got the childhood dreams of being a star striker or a spaceman. It's the nuances of the gameplay which will hopefully (it's still only theoretical) show them to be quite adult-minded games. They're freeform, they give you the tools to achieve your goals and its up to you to use them, unlike the majority of titles that present to you the problem, the obvious solution, and leave it up to you to carry out the preset tasks.

This, I feel, is where the real maturity lies. Letting the gamer lead the way.

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I consider KOTOR to be quite a mature game in the same way that Deus Ex was too. I could make moral decisions that affected the gameplay/universe to a large extent.

Part of maturity is that we as adults should not only understand right and wrong but also consequences. I mean, any kid can tell you what's considered right or wrong, but only after a certain age can they really understand consequences. I guess my points that more games now will let you experience consequences for your actions not just throwaway choices.

Yes, there is this, too. MGS2, Splinter Cell 2 and apparently Fable are beginning to toy with this, providing a scenario where you can experiment with the moral consequences of actions. Would people agree that this constitutes a form of grown-upness?

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Yes, you put it better than I did back there.

What I'm getting at is precisely this change facilitated by the new (visual) vocabulary. I think it's a substantive change. What current designers are actually doing with it, and whether it is enabling really "grown-up" games, is the issue.

Are some Genres intriniscally not grown up?

(Could there be such a thing as a Mature FPS?!)

I'm not sure I understand what a "grown up" game would look like - even given that a much wider range of visual techniques may now be available, gaming is still stuck to the cinematic conventions of story-telling. And while it is... it's not growing up as a medium in its own right.

So, yes - games may well be growing up in their use of story ( eg. PoP's use of time as a building block *for* the story, that then has consequences *on* the development of the story ) but they're still stuck trailing a long way behind cinema.

Memento - the game. Lost In Translation - the game. Even Seven - the game.

It just isn't happening.

JP was spot-on.

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I am finding it kind of hard at the moment to see this growing up thing with games, so I think probably what I attempt to say is nonsensical, I will do my best!

In my opinion it’s strikingly obvious we are currently stuck in the same commercial rut as Hollywood. Nearly every game is going for the 14 to 25 age bracket and to be perfectly honest it’s getting tiresome. Profits may be high but creativity isn't that noticeable in so many of today’s games.

For games to be seen as growing up they need to be tackling subjects with maturity, the word "game" itself is still evident in every single title you play. I don't mean literally, I am talking the way everything is made. It is always the same mechanic; nothing truly pioneering ever seems to happen these days.

Never do I seem to experience an immersing piece of entertainment anymore - yet now I'm not actually sure if I ever have. Everything is 'just' a game.

For the first time ever (hell it could be grim realisation) I am actually bored by games, never mind trying to do this whole maturity lark. Yet even on this "all new" angle for entertainment its spectacularly failing in every single way.

It is my opinion for a "game" to be truly mature it needs to cease trying to be a game as we know it and take things to a totally different angle - though what this is, I am still uncertain.

What we have is post modernism in games, but we never had the modernism to start with.

Great last line. :(

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I want a game that question my thoughts about love, hate, loss, friendship and history as some books, movies or plays did.

Gaming is still waiting for its Eisenstein or Cervantes (the writer, for you SC fans).

I don't have a single clue how to do it, mind. But something that could "open" games. As long as the player needs to do what the designer wants him to do, I think no "new visual vocabulary" is relevant.

And I want Wario Ware also.

And yes, I'm a pedant.

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I thought Vice City had a great script and acting too. I'm not sure it's any more 'mature' than Mario other than in a not-suitable-for-children way.

I'm a bit of a gameplay purist; most games consist of (often poor quality) movie sequences strung together with gameplay. Often the gameplay covers the bits that would rightfully be left out of a movie (like travelling to meet someone on the opposite side of the city just to trigger another cut-scene). Currently, this our best approach but I can't help feeling it's a bit of blind alley. The scripts may get better, the graphics certainly will, but what the player actually does is not really changing, just the context.

I'd like to think it will be those developing pure video games rather than the want-to-be-films types that make the breakthrough.

Do you have any ideas or wishes as to what the breakthrough would constitute? Real AI and natural-language voice input or something?

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Yes, there is this, too. MGS2, Splinter Cell 2 and apparently Fable are beginning to toy with this, providing a scenario where you can experiment with the moral consequences of actions. Would people agree that this constitutes a form of grown-upness?

Yes. It was also grown up when it was introduced to games 20 years ago.

Are you still making graphical distinctions or not?

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The thing about SoM though, is that the story very nearly made a part of the gameplay very different and interesting. It could have been fantastic given some extra time and work.

I agree to a piont, but I feel the gameplay should be the focus of any game. I don't like the idea that the story is the main aspect of a game and then you decide how to make it interactive.

What does that lead too, Pixar style interactive movies where every so often you pick a path for the script to divert?

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Yes, there is this, too. MGS2, Splinter Cell 2 and apparently Fable are beginning to toy with this, providing a scenario where you can experiment with the moral consequences of actions. Would people agree that this constitutes a form of grown-upness?

The level in Manhunt where you have to not be seen or your family gets killed seemed like a wasted opportunity in this direction. This could have lead to an understanding of Cash's character in whether you chose to keep them alive or not. As far as I can see, having them killed has no consequences whatsoever. In this respect then, are MMORPG's the only way we could really play a game with proper consequences in that you are playing with other people rather than against AI?

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I think the term "really 'grown up' games" isn't helping. If your saying that it is the themes that make a game mature then what visual representation is used shouldn't matter. Or am I missing the point here?

I am toying with various criteria for "grown-upness" and seeing if any work.

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there is definitely a theme evolving which could be termed Arthouse Gaming. whether it's more mature or not i don't know but it's definitely more sophisticated, play wise. take Manhunt; it's stark and minimalist and doesn't rely on thrills such as bullet time to carry it. it relys on game play alone. it's a back to basics approach really which seems to have come about because gamers are getting sick of copious FMV and licenses. they want fresh, innovative ideas not style over substance.

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I agree to a piont, but I feel the gameplay should be the focus of any game. I don't like the idea that the story is the main aspect of a game and then you decide how to make it interactive.

Well it was very different to that. It wouldn't have worked without the story behind it. The gameplay was very nearly extremely clever timeline-affecting stuff, with performing actions and triggering decisions in different timelines in order to activate alternate futures where you'd escape death. It's just that the implimentation of those actions was stuck in a kind of limited 'go-here-activate-this' rigidity, and a linear mission/plot structure.

I think a sequel with proper free-form actions and more concequences for those actions would be an excellent example of a 'mature' game. However there may well be a few games that have already done this that I'm not familiar with, seeing as technology wouldn't be the requirement for it to work (only to visualise it the way it is/was).

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Having considered the arguments presented here, I would argue that games really haven't grown up at all.

A game such as Deus Ex, which offers moral choices and simulates consequence, hints at what is possible with current technology, but that technology hasn't been exploited.

Also, the story of Deus Ex, while good in game terms, is still sub-X Files.

Recent games that have vaguely stimulated my grey matter include MGS2 (which tackles contemporary issues in a clunky yet provocative way) and Vice City (which features satirical humour and sharp dialogue in the 'Robocop' vein).

However, I regularly purchase games expecting something refreshingly grown-up (e.g Eternal Darkness) only to find it disappointingly simple.

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I tend not to like supposedly "mature" games.

I like simple games with bright colours that only require a short attention span.

I'm not at all attracted to the graphics in games such as Halo, Metroid Prime or Vice City but love the look of supposidly kiddy games such as Mario, Viewtiful Joe and Super Monkey Ball.

I also dislike games full of aimless wandering (sorry, massive exploration and vast non-linear worlds).

Games should be quick simple and fun, and about beating your previous high score.

Most of all though, they should be fun. I just don't find most "mature" games fun - though it seems some people do.

(oh, and for reference, I'm 26).

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Oh, and people cite Ico as being a 'mature' game, and yeah I can kinda see where they're coming from. I mean, it goes out of its way to not be tied down by game 'cliches', shunning things like life bars and boss fights and levels, and so on. And it ends in a way that actually makes you think and consider things. But, again, much of what it does doesn't really fit into the actual gameplay. I mean, you find out who and what Yorda is, who those shadow things are, where you are and why you're there and the story 'evolves' around you, but you're still not doing anything different - you're still in a castle jumping from block to block holding a girl by the hand and solving puzzles/hitting ghosts.

How hard must it be to actually merge content with substance? Can you really evolve the core gameplay around mature themes in any meaningful way that doesn't simply overlay existing narrative examples on top of samey gameplay templates?

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Do you have any ideas or wishes as to what the breakthrough would constitute? Real AI and natural-language voice input or something?

I don't have any specific ideas. Those are two possibilites, although I don't think they are imminent.

I don't think enough effort is being put into improving gameplay. In the last few years we've been (understandably) distracted by the emergence of 3D hardware and the opportunity to represent fairly realistic worlds.

The recent widespread use of physics 'engines' is a good sign that developers are moving beyond graphical improvements and looking at using CPU power to improve gameplay.

By talking about this I'm starting to realise what Nintendo are banging on about. We are reaching a dead end with current tech - or rather the 'form factor' of video game devices which hasn't changed significantly since NES. There will be a point where simply having better graphics will not be enough to excite game players; or more to the point, they won't mask the familiarity of the underlying gameplay. The DS is an attempt to change the form factor and thus stimulate creativity simply by default - ANYTHING that makes meaningful use of 2 screens will be original and hopefully fresh & interesting to the market.

This isn't necessarily connected with maturity or sophistication; perhaps games are not destined to move in that direction anyway.

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I think I would have to agree with the previous posters who say that games haven't grown up (or aren't growing it), it's just that they've received a superficial wrapping of maturity in terms of visual styling. It might be the case that games are a more-or-less purely visual medium, in which case you might be able to argue that they are maturing, but I would hate to think that that is all there is to them.

At heart games lack sophistication in terms of plot, characterisation and acting. They lag far behind other forms of popular culture such as writing and cinema. Most games come off badly compared to even the crassest novel or film; they're basically "Janet sees Spot. Run Spot, run", and even that might be generous. I have a feeling that the basic problem is that the vocabulary of games isn't yet sophisticated enough to articulate what they're capable of saying.

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Oh, and people cite Ico as being a 'mature' game, and yeah I can kinda see where they're coming from. I mean, it goes out of its way to not be tied down by game 'cliches', shunning things like life bars and boss fights and levels, and so on. And it ends in a way that actually makes you think and consider things. But, again, much of what it does doesn't really fit into the actual gameplay. I mean, you find out who and what Yorda is, who those shadow things are, where you are and why you're there and the story 'evolves' around you, but you're still not doing anything different - you're still in a castle jumping from block to block holding a girl by the hand and solving puzzles/hitting ghosts.

How hard must it be to actually merge content with substance?

IMO, Ico does just that. The emotional bond between Ico and Yorda is borne out of the gameplay, as opposed to the cutscenes. Most of the game is spent trying to help and protect Yorda, and his leads to an unusual degree of emotional investment in the characters which is beautifully exploited towards the end of the game.

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