Talking Point: Warren Spector Asks, Where Are Gaming's Grown-Ups?

Questions for a young industry

As a Nintendo website, we often treasure and talk the most about games that are based in fantastical and, often, family friendly lands — an Italian plumber running and jumping, miniature creatures assisting a stranded rocket man, an adventure played out by LEGO characters and so on. Occasionally we get edgy and batter zombies (or maybe we should say zombis) with cricket bats, or blast space pirates with rockets.

In the first of a series of monthly columns for, well-regarded game developer Warren Spector addresses the question of role models or "grown ups" within the gaming industry. He's targeting the development community, publishers and by extension consumers, and considering the current trend for movies with a "social conscience and a seriousness of intent", such as Ben Affleck's Argo and the film adaptation of A Life of Pi. Ultimately the bottom line, in Spector's view, is that gaming is struggling to move away from an action-focus to produce challenging, mature work like that seen in other industries.

Below is a key excerpt.

Can you imagine a game about a guy on a spiritual quest in a boat with a tiger? How about two old people struggling with the pain of love and aging? Or the story behind a raid to kill the world's most notorious terrorist? Okay, we could probably do an okay job of that last one, though probably not the events leading up to it - do you water board that guy or not? Seriously? But you get my point.

The breadth of content game developers are allowed to explore is stultifyingly narrow. In mulling this over I can come up with only five possible explanations, none of which feel right or satisfying:

  • One, I'm just missing something and serious, real-world concerns are being expressed in mainstream games and/or by mainstream game developers. (I hope this is true.)
  • Two, games are incapable of expressing ideas that lack a strong action component. (I hope and believe this is not true.)
  • Three, we're still such a young medium that we haven't figured out how to move much, if at all, beyond spectacle. (I hope this is true but it's not a very good excuse!)
  • Four, gamers and game developers are arrested adolescents with no interests outside the childish worlds of Alien Invasion, Zombies, the Mysteries of Ancient Magicks or the Activities of Criminal Masterminds and Lowlifes. (I categorically reject this, though I'm sure many will feel it to be true.)
  • Five, the monied interests that support, and therefore direct, the work of game developers have no interest in a different kind of fare. Or, related to that possibility, no developers have yet achieved a level of clout that would allow them to buck the system. (These points are almost certainly true and likely to remain so until and unless new business and financing models allow us to broaden our perspective.)

Sony gamers may point to experiences such as Journey and Heavy Rain as games that strive to fit the "grown-up" bill. Spector does acknowledge that some indie games and the "largely unheralded 'serious games movement'" do tackle new approaches, but he's addressing the bulk of the mainstream market. Depending on your genre or systems of choice, it's likely that your major purchases in recent times have involved platforming, driving, shooting or, recently, slaying enormous beasts. Should we be offered, and would we buy, more serious-themed games from the big-budget publishers and developers?

What do you think of these comments? Do you feel that gaming should remain a past-time focused on genres of fantasy and escapism, or would you like what Spector regards as the "grown-up" approach to become more mainstream? Let us know what you think in the comments below.


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