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Are Games Growing Up?


steven_poole
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As previously stated, it depends entirely on your definitions of "mature", amongst other things.

My opinion: in short, no. Morality is brought into your life (or, most people's) from a very young age. The concept of what's right and what's wrong is driven home early in a child's progression. When playing Vice City, most of the fun is derived from doing things which are 'morally' wrong, and yet doable in the game world. Your average 12-year-old will be able to differentiate between real and fantasy, and will bring his/her morality in the game world and let it dissipate.

This is where the fun comes from, and IMHO, games such as Vice City are not indicative as to whether the games industry has 'grown up' with its mature themes. Kids can understand them. Same goes for sex, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and a myriad of other themes. Many of these 'themes' the kids will already have experienced in real life, or will have been taught about. And it's not as if this content is a new thing, is it? There was swearing, sex, and tonnes of violence in games 15 years ago, so how far have games progressed since then? There's more ways of killing people perhaps, and it's more graphically 'real', but the themes sure as hell haven't changed. And the kids who play it aren't experiencing these things for the first time, either, so it makes no difference.

Let's take maturity from another angle: intelligent content. This hasn't changed either, really. In fact, 15 years ago (and further back) you'd have found far more intellectually taxing games. Not to mention games with far more in-jokes, referencing many facets of society and popular media. Sophisticated humour was all the rage way back when, and it's such things as humour, dialogue, and other related periphery that had to be made use of when developers were working with such limited hardware. Now, if anything, I would argue that developers are tempted to spend more time on making a game look good than delve deep into the core of a game, what makes it tick, what makes it *feel* unique.

Could somebody tell me that games have genuinely matured in content? Survival Horror? The graphics are a shit-lot better now, but Alone in the Dark was out way, way before Resident Evil, and many would argue that it had more style, and a rather more unique atmosphere (rather than a Japanese version of a tired Hollywood cliché). Does anyone remember Darkseed? How many games like that do you see today? What about Dreamweb, where you went around killing indiscriminately for, amongst other things, money (or bounty)? What about Syndicate, where breaking the rules of morality were positively encouraged? Cartoon-style violence and satire alike were to be found in Cannon Fodder. I can still remember the storm that was cooked up when Sex Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll was announced. Even in 1982 you had Elite giving the player moral choices within the confines of a game.

Then there's scores more: Dune II in RTS, Civilization going way, way back as far as intelligent city-building goes, point 'n' click adventures such as Beneath a Steel Sky and LucasArts' romps spearheading a fantastic genre. Could you honestly say that modern games have as many laughs, as many little digs at people, as many references that only 'mature', learned people would understand? Platformers - or, rather, adventures - such as Flashback and Another World are, in my opinion, more 'mature' than anything to come out in the past few years. For RPGs just look at Ultima. One of the only genres which I feel has significantly matured is the FPS, with the likes of Operation Flashpoint et al. I may even go so far as to say that many games have been dumbed down to appeal to the mass market, as it's far less niche than it used to be.

In short, have games become more mature? No. The hardware's just gotten better.

Response to Dazza as I've had the opportunity of reading his post as he's below me:

We have now progressed from the days of the simple "damsel in distress" type of games like Mario, Zelda, and other titles from that era. Nowadays, while there is also a smattering of the now clichéd "damsel in distress" scenarios, we are more often presented with convoluted, Hollywood-esque plotlines, such as the government conspiracy story of Metal Gear Solid 2, the political tensions of Splinter Cell, and the labyrinthine, Illuminati-inspired narrative of Deus Ex.

Mario and Zelda were the only representatives of the bygone gaming eras? You realise, for a start, that MGS had a predecessor on the NES with a suitably Hollywood-esque storyline? In fact, most people thought MGS, with its comedy rollerskating boss, was more akin to a comedy than anything else. It's got sillier, not more mature. Kojima went a bit mental with his Western fixation, in the same way Western people go overboard with their (unfortunately inept by Japanese standards) fanatacism about Japanese things. You can see some games mentioned above for examples. Deus Ex drew on an incredible breadth of sources to complete itself, and this includes a slew of titles which showed us Cyberpunk, apocalyptic worlds of the future in which chaos reigned. Hell, it even drew shitloads of inspiration from MUDs. And considering Deus Ex is considered one of the best games of all time, it's hardly representative of modern games as a whole.

In general, however, I feel that the world of videogames has no doubt benefitted from these distinctly more "real-world" situations, as they often result in the enhanced immersion of the player, due to the far more believable circumstances it plunges them into.

Graphics-related, not theme.

I do believe anyone who's been playing games for a long time would sneer at the thought of modern games being more mature.

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The BBC kicked started the thing with Revs and to a lesser degree, Elite.

They were aimed more at older games, and many adult orientated itles have been around on the PC, alhtough these are Sim based rather then true 'games for fun'.

As long as the formats exist to support both, then games can be enjoyed by everyone.

Theres nothing wrong with that. I am currently in transisiton as i can enjoy both, but am actually finding games aimed at all markets (sports games being an exception) are quite boring.

Many of genres aimed at the majority have been done to death already, so the hardcore tend to look for something different, and adult games tend to have content you can relate to.

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The thing is, whilst you all make very good points, can you explain why Joe or Joanne public percieves games as being 'childish'? it might be big business, but especially during the nintendo/sega years, it could never be said to have been taken seriously.

I think it's because what you actually DO in games is still very basic and crude; run, jump, shoot, drive. Whatever the storyline, the basic activity (which is what your Joe or Joanne will see looking over your shoulder) is still pretty much the same as it was 20 years ago.

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I think it's because what you actually DO in games is still very basic and crude; run, jump, shoot, drive. Whatever the storyline, the basic activity (which is what your Joe or Joanne will see looking over your shoulder) is still pretty much the same as it was 20 years ago.

but what other ways are there of interacting with the game? are you saying that there are new methods of gameplay that haven't been invented yet? As far as I can see, it's atmosphere that sets a game apart from it's peers and gives it it's percieved maturity.

I just think we're getting bogged down with semantics - where I see 'mature' as being games for adults i.e. no kids allowed, a lot of people seem to have read mature to be, possibly quite justifiably, as being 'deeper'. It's far simpler for a film or a book to be mature in this sense because it's all about the story - you don't interact with it. And I dont' think this could work with a game, unless you're prepared to sit back and 'enjoy' hours of non interactive storytelling.

how would you do 'Glengarry Glen Ross' the game? Or 'the name of the rose'? 'Kramer vs Kramer'?

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how would you do 'Glengarry Glen Ross' the game? Or 'the name of the rose'? 'Kramer vs Kramer'?

You already have in your mind that these wouldn't work as games. Try thinking without the technological hindrances, or inherent boundaries of the format, and think of making them *suit* videogames, rather than be direct copies in game form.

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but what other ways are there of interacting with the game? are you saying that there are new methods of gameplay that haven't been invented yet? As far as I can see, it's atmosphere that sets a game apart from it's peers and gives it it's percieved maturity.

Yes. I'm sure there ARE things that haven't been invented but I'm saying that PERHAPS video games, in the current form factor are fundamentally limited in the ways the player can interact. It maybe that this will never change, but if that's the case then perhaps we are looking at diminishing returns with future tech. It would also mean that any sophistication or emotional depth will come from the non-interactive parts of games. I sincerely hope that isnt' the case.

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You already have in your mind that these wouldn't work as games. Try thinking without the technological hindrances, or inherent boundaries of the format, and think of making them *suit* videogames, rather than be direct copies in game form.

I don't - I'm asking anyone if they can see a way that these 'mature' books/films could somehow translate to a game in such a way that would be seen as 'mature' in their own right.

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I think a mature game should teach you something, or make you actually stop to think about the decisions you make in the game. Mindless gaming is not mature no matter how much blood and gore you pack into it - a game that makes you think is a game for those maturing in life.

Youngsters are taught games when they are young to help them learn more about the world, or more about themselves. A mature videogame or a game which is designed for someone heading towards maturity should make you think about things.

A grown up can be childish and a mature person can be immature, just like a game can be. A mature game can still be immature. I class the Lucasarts Monkey Island game as a mature game, it makes you think, you are working out puzzles but it displays humour and immaturity to make you smirk and smile and keep the child in you happy.

We are all children playing in an adult world - and some games pander to that while others give us violence to feed our human nature to hunt and destroy.

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Yes. I'm sure there ARE things that haven't been invented but I'm saying that PERHAPS video games, in the current form factor are fundamentally limited in the ways the player can interact. It maybe that this will never change, but if that's the case then perhaps we are looking at diminishing returns with future tech. It would also mean that any sophistication or emotional depth will come from the non-interactive parts of games. I sincerely hope that isnt' the case.

Which is where the entire semantics argument comes in. personally, I'm quite happy with games to be mature in 'my' sense as it were. I was quite put back by a lot of people's reactions to manhunt, for instance, including various high profile games magazines, who were quite put aback by the idea that anyone in their right mind would want to play this game, because of it's main premise. Big deal - I've enjoyed john carpenter films that couldn't be considered mature in the 'deep' sense, and I liked this game because it was just like that. Games seem to want to have as much mainstream appeal as possible, and it's nice to see that there are

games being made that are just for 'us'.

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I'm not a games designer, but there's been videogames which have had buckets of laughter, true horror, suspense, love stories, death, sex, drug abuse, kidnapping, murders, and not just done for comedy purposes either.

And these elements are totally under the control of the player, or they're part of the non interactive story/narrative? Anyone could write a good mature script and plonk it on a game it would make the player laugh, cry, scared and so on - does that immediatly make the game itself mature then?

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I suppose some of the first examples of creative game design outside of storytelling (which has grown up admirably over the years) are things like In Memoriam which break free from the traditional isolated world of the game.

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And these elements are totally under the control of the player, or they're part of the non interactive story/narrative? Anyone could write a good mature script and plonk it on a game it would make the player laugh, cry, scared and so on - does that immediatly make the game itself mature then?

Well if you found a game that could make you feel emotional attachments, and maybe even make you cry, what do you think?

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I suppose some of the first examples of creative game design outside of storytelling (which has grown up admirably over the years) are things like In Memoriam which break free from the traditional isolated world of the game.

not really, because as good as that game was, it was essentially a load of shockwave games that triggered the next part of the, here it is again, 'non-interactive' movie sequences. it was all about the storytelling.

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but it's not the game elements that are doing this to me. Do you see what I mean?

If you were attached to a character throughout a game, so much so that you formed an emotional bond, you could destroy this with your own folly, by perhaps making a mistake and getting her killed. You could have saved her, and this is interactive. This is an interactive part of the game, and is very much possible.

But having said that, I must say that you're utterly wrong. FMV is just as much a part of a game as the "playing" bit. It's an experience, it's a journey, and sometimes on journeys all you can do is sit back and watch.

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Yeah, but couldn't it be so much more? At the moment, the gameplay of games rarely raises anything but the most simplistic (albeit incredibly intense) emotions. Could gameplay some day raise the same sort of subtle emotions in players as storylines currently do?

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So, basically, you're hoping that the emotional story of going through, say, a Tetris game could someday evolve into something grander?

Yes. And I think it can be done.

In my own experience I played Elite back in '85 or so on the speccy. I became fascinated by the fact that I got REALLY emotionally involved in battles. Sometimes I would be so determined to destroy a particular ship that I would continue fighting when I SHOULD have escaped. It was that emotion which inspired me to design Feud. I wanted to recreate that feeling of...hmm... hatred is the wrong word but a sort of passion for the battle.

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If you were attached to a character throughout a game, so much so that you formed an emotional bond, you could destroy this with your own folly, by perhaps making a mistake and getting her killed. You could have saved her, and this is interactive. This is an interactive part of the game, and is very much possible.

This is interesting because personally I am NEVER protecting my character. I AM the character. Perhaps I'm just a selfish personality but I've never seen games as about protecting Mario or Lara. It's more a role play thing.

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And you don't think people are striving for this?

Oh, I do, I was just making a point. Of course the two aren't mutually exclusive ways of creating emotion. Imagine the sort of sense of uncertainty and guilt about your combatative successes that MGS managed to (occasionally) raise in its plot coupled with the intensely viceral satisfaction of the combat in a good scrolling shooter.

Games still have a lot of development ahead of them.

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I meant more along the lines of a 'friend' you meet in a game. When people played Half-Life they reported how incredibly disappointed they were when the grunts killed their Barney friend. Personally this led to "DIE YOU MOTHERFUCKING COCKSUCKING SONS OF BITCHES ARGGHHHHH!" and the releasing of several grenades which I was 'saving'.

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