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

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

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 Gamesindustry.biz, 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.

[via gamesindustry.biz]

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User Comments (92)

TheXboxHero

#1

TheXboxHero said:

I actually kind of agree with this one, there should be a whole variety of games from ranges E-M and now, most developers are just trying to make these FPS to please the mature audience. We need some time away from these games and start going into the E to T!(But not a lot of E games because then we will get all these childish games from rookie developers)

A1234

#2

A1234 said:

also, where are gaming's grown-ups in real life? so many of the gaming grown-ups act like kids and I think that is because they still play games. young at heart. he asks an excellent question.

shingi_70

#3

shingi_70 said:

Gaming is still a pretty fledging art form and were now just coming arcoss a time where games can be taken more seriously as an art form or just having a competent narrative. There have been few examples thus far (bioshock, the original Mass Effect, Journey, the walking dead, Alan Wake, Heavy Rain, spec ops) with Bioshock infinite being the latest and being appulded more for its narrative strides more than having any real gameplay innovation.

This is a good thing but will probably still be a bit harder as the industry instead strives for more yearly blockbusters.

erv

#4

erv said:

Quite narrow-minded. Just because the worlds and their content are being perceived as childish or adolescent - purely because of their fantastical or non-real imagery - doesn't mean the scripts, actions or stories involved are childish or less socially relevant. In fact, there have been games that moved me and games that made me wonder about ethical challenges without having to deal with politics, policy or demographics and to be honest, those experiences were some of the most memorable and valuable. What I'm thinking when he says 'grown-ups' are things mainly related to me perceiving his lack of vision or his perception of grown ups naturally needing less fantastical elements to challenge ethics and social issues.

Looking at the popularity of the lord of the rings and the recent hobbit series, or the harry potter stories among adults, for instance, I think his starting point is moot from the get go.

On another note, we do have some strange regulation and culture in games. Why is sexual content, nudity or erotic material so shielded within gaming? Those are healthy aspects of any adult world, yet incredibly censored, sadly, due to silly regulations. Why is a game that challenges the psyche of a dangerous schizophrenic patient (second sight, manhunt?) perceived as disturbing and bloated in media? Even shed away from? What will he say to that? "Oh well, just watch an episode of dexter"?

Thinking grown ups need even less imagination is a silly position. To me, there are two kinds of people: kids and boring people, and I know which one my mentality is based on that's for sure. Adults need to lighten up and have the same sense of wonder and imagination as kids. It's the adults themselves that can use those elements to challenge more ethical or social concepts anyway.

TruenoGT

#5

TruenoGT said:

While not necessarily true for Warren, many folks seem to see/expect evolution of games in terms of narrative, not in terms of gameplay styles and concepts. For an interactive medium, this misses the point in my opinion. I for sure don't represent all gamers, but for me a narrative and visual design are simply a wrapper for interesting game mechanics. Games that tend to place a focus on narrative over gameplay don't generally lead to very interesting games in my opinion. I think if you look at mature game design approaches from senior Japanese developers for example (Miyamoto, Inafune, Mikami, etc), that's the evolution and maturity of game design. People need to reference games for being games, not from the comparative perspective of movie and/or book narratives and themes.

ballistic90

#6

ballistic90 said:

I would direct Spector to check out Dragon Age Origins and the Walking Dead adventure game series. Dragon Age Origins deals heavily with racism and slavery, as the elven population are analogs to the African American community before the civil rights movement (they are even forced to live in ghettos) and overall basic human rights debates (mages are locked up in a tower to keep them from being a danger and had their human rights stripped away). In the Walking Dead, the action segments are actually there to break up the dialogue, not the other way around. It is filled with tough decisions and a feeling of despair and triumph of spirit, and is worthwhile of its Game of the Year Awards.

ueI

#7

ueI said:

I don't want people to make mature games just for the sake of being mature. If people do make more games like the kind he wants, they have to have a selling point apart from this.

No-longer-postin

#8

No-longer-postin said:

Where would Animal Crossing fall?
It is not a violent game.
Sure, it is a Fantasy, but, it is about the Normal, everyday, routine, buying a house and property and maintaining it.
Keeping up good relations between you and your neighbors.

rjejr

#9

rjejr said:

Maybe we should have games where people apply for a HELOC or balance their checkbook?

Movies can be serious and dramatic b/c they last 2 hours. Life is hard enough, most people don't want to play a serious game for 12 hours.

Glad you mentioned Journey. I'ld add Unfinished Swan as well.

harpnbass

#10

harpnbass said:

Let the developers develop games and the people play them. This will determine the future of games and ultimately the universe...

The real answer may be in another castle.

Moco_Loco

#11

Moco_Loco said:

I think one thing he's forgetting is that the same person can enjoy "grown-up" themes in other media while preferring to play games just for fun. On the other hand, I tend to think the true grown-ups don't worry about being mature. I think C.S. Lewis once wrote that it wasn't until he was truly grown-up that he felt comfortable reading fairy tales in front of other people. I watch "Psych" so I can watch Shawn and Gus act like children while everyone around them tries, in vain, to be mature. It's a lot more fun to watch than more serious crime shows.

Tornado

#12

Tornado said:

Disagree.

And, methinks the developer who couldn't get games about MICKEY MOUSE right has little room to tell us how video games should become more "adult."

andreoni79

#14

andreoni79 said:

We are talking about GAMES and I'm happy when they try to talk seriously about war and human relationships... but FUN is the core of the experience.
Fallout 3 can teach us that war is the worst thing on Earth, and I agree, but it does is with weapons and headshots!!!

Peach64

#16

Peach64 said:

@TruenoGT I could not agree with you anymore. You hit the nail on the head for me. Great films and great books usually turn out that way because they embraced their own medium instead of trying to be something else. If the narrative of your game is your number one focus... why not write a book instead?

It's ironic that Ebert just passed away, because I think he was entirely right when he said games are not art. They're a totally different medium to books or films. If you want to tell a deep story, then don't do it with a game. The idea of something being interactive, allowing the user to influence it, is in direct conflict with the idea of telling a story.

When books try to be games (choose your own adventure), they suck (I know they could be fun as a kid, but they're not going to be considered for any kind of literary awards, are they?), and when movies try to be games, they suck (again, action blockbusters can be fun, but you're never going to cite them as ever having any influence on someone's life). By the same token, games should not try and emulate books or films, because it will end up missing the point of what a game is meant to be.

Games for mature people and games with cultured stories are not the same thing, but he seems to think they are.

Jaz007

#17

Jaz007 said:

Well there are the Phoenix Wright games. Although it's old there is Ico. The combat in that was based off your feelings to protecting her. That game had horrible combat on it's own but with the emotion it worked. I do think there are too many games rated M, but that's not really related what he's saying.

cammy

#18

cammy said:

I'm not sure I agree with the guy's definition of "mature" and "adult" as many commentators have pointed out that a story with fantastical elements does not mean it can not deal with heavy themes (in fact this is one of the best things about sci-fi and so on dealing with bigger issues through metaphor).

However I do think there is a lot of growth that can happen in computer games. Just look to the choice in boardgames and tabletop roleplaying games. They have their share of the silly and fantastical but also more "real world" inspired stuff and games that purposely challenge players. But what form it takes in computer games is a very big question with a lot of guesswork and risk.

QBertFarnsworth

#20

QBertFarnsworth said:

Isn't it the job description for a guy like Spector? Shouldn't they be figuring this out? It's easy to make an adult movie because it only needs to last 90 to 180 minutes. A game needs to last 10-40 hours to be worthwhile. How do you fill in that time between the life-changing or story-defining moments in the game?

I was reading Kotaku's write-up about how unnecessary the gratuitous violence is within Bioshock Infinite. In it, they describe how the game does a good job introducing the story, the characters, and the environment, but the over-the-top violence takes you out of the beautiful world the game created. The developers even said that because they game was a shooter, they just threw in the violence because it was familiar. Rather than take a risk with game play, they played it safe.

Take another game like Heavy Rain which tries really hard to be "grown-up." Spoiler alert: in it, you have a story about a father trying to recover his kidnapped son. In the early stages it feels like Silence of the Lambs or Mystic River. It gives you the same discomfort as you had watching those movies where you're thinking, the bad guy is sick and messed up, but believable. Now in real life, when kids get kidnapped by strangers, the sad reality is it's probably to fulfill some sick sexual vice by the perpetrator. I'm not saying I wanted Heavy Rain to go there (and parents groups would have freaked out over a game in a way they wouldn't for a movie with the same subject matter), but the villain's motive was a cop-out - he wanted to prove a point about good parenting because his dad sucked. If the game had tried to pull off a plot that would have been acceptable in a movie, the game would have been a revelation in making a game for adults. Instead, it played it safe. The game gets further damaged when in an effort to feel mature, it wastes an entire level on "make the female character shower" and let's make two characters have sex. Do a half circle on the right analog stick and tap the triangle button to unhook her bra. Here the game mistakes mature content for a mature game. These levels are completely unnecessary and could have been handled with a quick cut scene. I'm fine with nudity or sex in a game if it's relevant to the story you are trying to tell.

In both games, they play it safe, and when they try to be mature, they do it in the wrong areas. In the former, by not pushing for new game play, in the latter by not pushing the boundaries of a video game story. The reason for this is they have to worry about sales. Fittingly, with Ebert's passing yesterday, you have to use this as an argument against video games being art. In movies, you can put out utter crap that will make money like "The Chipmunks" movies, and then reinvest those earnings towards a movie that would be critically acclaimed but a potential failure at the box office like say "Life of Pi" which did well, but the risk was there that it wouldn't. When game companies are willing to invest in the art of a video game while not worrying about commercial success, that's when games will grow up.

SpaceApe

#21

SpaceApe said:

The average gamer is around 35 years old.That says volumes right there but developers feel they need to keep making games for 2 year olds because well, it isn't hard to please a 2 year old now is it. Developers love the easy way out all the time. They are lazy. God forbid they actually use their minds to their potential and make something fantastical.

shingi_70

#22

shingi_70 said:

@Tornado

But he did get Dues Ex and System Shock right. But I agree unless he I still trying to push the medium forward in this way I really can't take him seriously despite his message being a potential wake up call for the industry.

QBertFarnsworth

#24

QBertFarnsworth said:

@SpaceApe, in video games, "Mature" generally means targeted at 14-year-olds, in the same way as when I was 14, a movie meant for a mature audience (Rated R) was really targeted at me (Van Damme, Seagal, Stallone, Schwarzenegger movies).

Cirno

#25

Cirno said:

Games, to an extent, can be treated as an art form but oftentimes that may overtake the gameplay and turn it into an interactive movie, which isn't really a game imo (even if it's still bloody fantastic). I think that games could go between 2 sides of a spectrum "games" (Light on narrative but strong on gameplay, like Mario) and "Interactive Movies" (Light on gameplay but strong on narrative, like Heavy Rain) and I think that these games should be taken on their own merits on what they are trying to achieve rather than what you want them to be.

EDIT: Also remember the deep narrative of Epic Mickey? No? It actually makes me question what sort of game Spector wanted Epic Mickey to be.

Nintenjoe64

#26

Nintenjoe64 said:

While there's obviously some truth behind this, I can't help but feel this is Spector talking bollox because he is about to start promoting some incredibly pretentious game that will have little to no action in it.

If anything, movies are copying games more now and both games and movies have seasonal blockbusters that are normally set piece heavy action films/games. These are the bread and butter for the Hollywood studios as much as CoD is the bread and butter for big game studios like Activision. Games are always trying something new and many had a social conscience anyway. During the late 80s and early 90s every game was preaching to kids about litter or pollution. I don't see what he thinks is so good about the 'mature' movie industry in terms of the concepts it produces. Look at what wins Oscars. It's the same old stuff every time. These films only get made to be an award winner. I don't want that to happen to games. Imagine if every game took itself seriously, it would not be fun to play any more.

cornishlee

#27

cornishlee said:

I was going to write something here but there's already been a lot of great comments; especially those by erv and Peach64. Frankly I'm too tired to bother adding anything to that. Well done guys.

Phatosaurus

#28

Phatosaurus said:

Games are a strange medium.

Films have a variety of genres. Horror, thriller, animated, musical, ect. all targeted to different audiences.
Books have a variety of genres too, all targeted to different audiences like films are.
Music, again has a variety of genres for different people and targeted towards different people.

Games, as the developer/publisher see them, have only ONE audience they want to sell to anymore.
The CoD audience.
It seems every genre in gaming over the last 10 years has been melted down and molded into a shooter of some sort to attract more sales.

For example, survival/horror games are almost a thing of the past. When a good one does come around, it gets panned by reviewers for being too challenging.
Instead, we now have "spook shooters" where you go around shooting enemies like any other game until something pops out goes "BOO!".

It's funny/sad too since the majority of the CoD audience is quite happy playing CoD.
So the developers/publishers **** on their existing fanbase to make a game for another fanbase that doesn't even want to play their game.

Davidiam007

#30

Davidiam007 said:

@erv I mostly agree, but I don't think nudity or sex should be in a game. I don't think my wife would appreciate and I actually see it to be pointless.

MetalKingShield

#31

MetalKingShield said:

Excellent points from @erv.

I just don't think there is anything childish about "simple" themes. In real life I follow poilitics and current affairs, but when I turn on a game I'm happy if it's just about exploring, jumping from platform-to-platform or fighting monsters. It's the quality that counts, not the "maturity" of it.

Also, I do think developers should be more free to include sex and nudity whenever they want. At the moment it's often allowed only if the game has a serious or "mature" theme. Personally, I think it's more mature to just accept it's something many people like and it's OK to have it just for the sake of it!

Bucbanzai

#33

Bucbanzai said:

I think he is too focused on the main stream. Movies in the main stream focus on Action, Comedy and Family. Only rarely do they stray outstide those 3 areas in the main stream. Life of Pi may be a rare exception but Argo is just a real life action movie, Simiar to Apollo 13. It has a "social conscience" but was selected because it would make a good action/adventure movie.
Main stream games with a moral concscience have been in mainstream and may not be as recognizable as such because of the medium. The Sim City series promotes a strong social/economic understanding rewarding those who practice correct ones and punishing those who abuse the values. Sim stories such as Animal Crossing and harvest moon promote social responsibilty as well ecouraging strong relationships and work ethic. Unlike movies which are narative based and have a "perspective" they are told from games leave the choices up to the gamer. If the game leads the gamer too much they no longer feel in control and lose interest.

Davidiam007

#34

Davidiam007 said:

I play games to have fun. Not get off. Why would there be a need for sex in a video game? What purpose would it serve?

SteveW

#36

SteveW said:

Those games also wouldn't sell as well, just look at the lack of simulations on consoles... it's all about the money these days, no room for anything unique.

Rapadash6

#38

Rapadash6 said:

While I do see a lot of number four within the gaming community, I don't feel that's entirely the reason games have yet to "mature" as a medium. Stripped down to its most basic form, a game has a different function than that of film; to entertain through interaction. Where as we could argue that in film its main connection to audiences is through narrative and visual composition, games from the beginning have always been about input and the freedom of choice. Somewhere along the way, the trend in games has become mirroring the structure of film, but I feel this goes against the nature of what makes the medium of games so unique. Not to undermine the need for quality story telling in games because they too have to express their own reasons for being, but there has to be a balance between the two.

The quicktime event, for example, simplifies complex choreography into a simple press of a button (or perhaps a combination of buttons), defeating the "risk and reward" mechanic which should be inherent in all games. Looking at the newest Castlevania game for the 3DS, we see this applied to boss battles, most likely to intensify the visual pagentry in order to make for a more cinimatic presentation. The problem with this is that it inturrupts the flow of the gameplay, and because there is little recourse for missing these cues, the player is sometimes forced through these sequences multiple times.

Now, in a well made film, the viewer is never forced through scenes; they want as much exposition as possible because it enhances the experience. Games don't work this way because they are by nature a trial and error endeavor, and the goals of the audience are different from those viewing a movie. With all due respect to Mr. Spector and other industry veterans out there, I feel the issue he's expressing exists because too many deny the true nature of games, and that goes for both publishers and the consumer.

Ndayday

#39

Ndayday said:

@QBertFarnsworth
You make a good point, even though I disagree with how long a game needs to be (people do certainly expect to devote 10, 20, 30 hours to a game). It has to be tough to make a game fun and have some adult themes in it. I don't mean themes of sex, violence, and swearing, I mean thought-inducing games that give a good lesson. @Bismarck brings up Little Inferno, and that's a good example. Compare Little Inferno to what gaming is typically associated with — shooters, action games, violence in general, etc. It's like films today. Watch a movie like Lincoln and compare it to the rest of the options at the theater. Go back and watch movies like Doctor Strangelove...these give real lessons and make real points without devolving into gritty war and action.

Now gaming doesn't have to be like that all the time obviously. Gameplay is no doubt integral to a game. It's a game after all. Just need to expand the thoughts and not be restricted to what sells.

Davidiam007

#40

Davidiam007 said:

@The_Fox which is not a good enough reason. I don't care for sex in movies and books. It doesn't add to the story and doesn't further it's progress. sex is infused into most movies and books to satisfy lust which people mistake for love. You don't need to see two people make love to know that they are passionate for each other.

The_Fox

#41

The_Fox said:

@Davidiam007
Whether you personally care for it in books and movies isn't terribly relevant (I'm not trying to sound like a jerk there). People like sex. Video games are a reflection of society so sex is going to find a way in one way or another.

AJWolfTill

#42

AJWolfTill said:

Aside from some frustrating fan service I found the Zero Escape games conveyed an incredibly deep and mature experience even if the level of interaction is rather minimal.
I think strong imagery is a good way of building up the maturity and depth of a title, the suggestions of events behind the Indie game Limbo are something that can be appreciated by everyone

Jaz007

#43

Jaz007 said:

@Davidiam007 I agree completly that sex and nudtity shouldn't be in any form of entertainment. If anything all it does is put a false love between characters that is driven by lust and not real love. Real love would be better shown without characters having sex so it's actually bad for the story to have it. I believe that sex is something that should be kept within marriage and hate when it's any form of entertainment.

GreenDream

#46

GreenDream said:

For Spector's points, I would say his first and fifth points are the most prominent and true.

The earliest game I've ever played regarding his first point is Breath of Fire 2. That game challenged religion (especially those based around Abraham), faith without investigation (following religious scripture, just because they're said to be "The Word of God"), and aversion to positive change (despite a wealth of available evidence). It's a wonder that game ever got released here in the USA... it was a Firestorm of criticism towards the history of the Abrahamic religions.

There's plenty of games which challenge the status quo, one just needs to know where to look...

Jack_Package

#47

Jack_Package said:

One and One Story is the only 'love story game' that I have connected with.

I think the genius of design in One and One Story shows how difficult it is to tackle grown up issues through play.

GreenDream

#49

GreenDream said:

As for the Violence and Sexuality issue... the reason why violence is A-OK, yet sexuality is taboo, for most computer games, is because much of the industry is influenced by the puritan principles of American culture. We often idolize war heroes who cut deep into their foes, yet give no quarter to honest journalists who cut deep into important issues.

There are plenty of games released in Japan, dating back to things like Shin Megami Tensei for the SNES, which address this issue of "sinful imagery", while still being fantastical enough to not be inflammatory. Mara of SMT2 is a perfect example of this. It was a personification of evil impulses, and was something to be reviled.

GreenDream

#50

GreenDream said:

@SteveW Yeah, Breath of Fire 2 is really passive aggressive about it... It emphasizes embracing Nature and "Infinity"... Meaning something along the lines of Buddhism.

sketchturner

#51

sketchturner said:

I play games first and foremost for the fun of PLAYING, not for social commentary or emotional tear-jerking.

Ren

#52

Ren said:

He brings up some interesting points but is still over simplifying the whole thing. I have the same frustration with gaming the last few years and I get exciting when I see a hint at movement towards more mature storytelling but they're still few.

The best recent ones were Walking Dead (which still relies on Zombies to get you in the door, if it was a topless apocalypse it'd be the same problem), and Kentucky Route Zero, which is amazing and shows the difficulty of this.
Firstly it's very popular these days to talk about gamings themes in comparison to movies because many of the action sequences in big releases now look similar to expensive action movie scenes. This is just because the technology allows games to look very real, but the similarities end there and this poses a big problem. To compare these is like comparing an apple to a bulldozer
The maturity or experimentations with new styles in general needs to be looked at much more broadly. What if we look at development and cost in general and see what it takes to make a game that people can play at all? only in the last 20 years has it quickly become possible to use a camera that can be operated at the touch of a button, with sound, without special lighting, and then plugged into a basic computer and cut together with titles etc. even more recent it's gotten slightly easier to produce a film that is even watchable and accessible to a wide audience thanks to the internet within a few thousand dollars, that's still without considering any marketing, distribution, rights, etc., but it has spurred so much of the creative new ideas that have made film so vast, creative, and open ended in it's content. For an average person to actually construct a basic film it wasn't until maybe the 60's and super-8 film that you could attempt to make your own and get it seen and sellable without a big studio or huge personal investment.
Video game development is at about that stage now. The pool of people who can just get their head around starting to develop playable games is still very small, not to mention getting it to a wider audience. That is changing fast but realistically we can't expect the content to broaden more until it's much easier to create the experiences for a wider range of types of people. Film subjects and experimentations exploded into amazing far reaching places since it's been accessible to minority groups, lower income groups, queer communities, children. We are still far from that with gaming but we will get there. Right now game development is still in the hands of those who are very computer/programming savvy first, and those with a steady funding stream to finish it.

We can't guess at how or when or what more mature, and thereby creative interactive experiences are going to be until the technology can allow more people not so computer focused to make the games from the ground up. That was a silly idea just a few years ago, but I think it will happen pretty soon, and when it does game companies will hate it, but they will still have a place in the market after it happens (see Kodak, Panavision, ASC, on digital cinema around 2000).

I would also like to make games with a social conscious, a nice dramatic touches, beautiful looking scenes and fun interactive parts, but I couldn't in a million years. If I could it wouldn't be 1.5 hours long, it wouldn't look like a camera looks at a dramatic scene and I might play it together making choices with 2 or 50 other people.

Those things are not and will NEVER work by trying to make it like a 'good' movie is made, and right now even developers are trying to do it that way. They are as guilty as we are at looking at movies and trying to make games from the feeling of them. everyone here is thinking about the games we're playing now and the way we play them; games are so much more than movies and so much more than we can see right now. There is room for anything and everything when the creation 'democratizes' more the way film did so famously around 2000. (I work in film for a living and I can't wait to see what games will be in 15 years)

DarkKirby

#54

DarkKirby said:

Games and movies are inherently different as games must find a way to keep the player engaged in an interesting way, movies do not. All a movie has to do is keep playing, if a game is sufficiently terrible enough, the PLAYER will stop playing. That's why most games have action built into them, to give the player something to do. It doesn't have to be action, but it has to be something you are asking the player to do that's fun and interesting. Phoenix Wright for example, is not an action game, but keeps the player involved with an interesting story, lovable memorable characters. and challenges the player to figure out the mystery. Games often must be a minimum of 5 hours, movies often cap at 3 hours, and most are 1 and a 1/2.

When people tell me that Asura's Wrath is a great game, my response is Asura's Wrath was a $60 movie with the last 1/4 of the game cut off from it and sold as DLC. You could literally watch a video of the game and not miss anything from the experience. That's why I can't call this a game. Even in visual novels, you are often given choices to make that change the outcome of the story.

The other point I think he's making though is how movies can tell stories that games can't, from a socially acceptable standpoint. This is true to an extent, but it's closer to how many of the movies he described directly translated into a game would be boring, and there would be no market for it. So they are BETTER as movies. You can make A Life of Pi into a game like Asura's Wrath, but would anyone buy it? With that kind of interaction, you might as well just watch the movie instead. Then you can do what other movie based games do, add action sequences that didn't exist in the movie or add in mini games for the characters actions, which often turn out badly. If you wanted a game about survival under usual circumstances with a good story and asks of things from the player to keep them engaged and interested, there are games that would do it a lot better than Life of Pi, and a lot of them incorporate action. "Two old people struggling with the pain of love and aging" (I know he's talking about Oscar winning movies but I don't watch it and I don't remember the names), you could make a Heavy Rain game out of it (mash Square to keep standing!), but who the heck would buy it? The people who watch that type of movie don't play video games (at least most don't) and people who play video games don't want to play a game about an old couple doing mundane things.

Joke example of how it's completely possible to turn something mundane and without action into a game. But after the novelty of how silly it is wears off, all that's left is a bad game (if it were real).

http://tinyurl.com/yfun34v

GreenDream

#55

GreenDream said:

@Koto Farming, at least, is an action. Everybody can agree farming for your own family, no overlords, with your own two hands and feet can be a good thing.

GreenDream

#56

GreenDream said:

@Bucbanzai Argo is currently being blasted for it's "Iranophobic" features. Even the government of New Zealand denounced the film as misleading, a misrepresentation of true events. Frankly, the computer game industry doesn't need that right now...

Spector probably should not have mentioned Argo as being a beacon of "social conscience and a seriousness of intent"... some film topics are best left to documentaries, lest they be defiled by action movie tropes... It doesn't matter if it would make a good action movie, if it's disrespectfully ignoring the culture and history of the story's setting.

gsnap

#57

gsnap said:

@TruenoGT

You are correct. If we must discuss stories in games, then the most important thing is not exactly what the story is, but how it's experienced. The story itself doesn't have to be anything like an Oscar winning movie. It doesn't even have to be a story, it could just be an experience. If it is delivered to the player in a "mature" interactive way that movies cannot, then it is a successful "game narrative".

Some recent examples would be Journey, The Walking Dead, and Dark Souls.

In Journey, the narrative takes a backseat to the interactive experience of traversing an unknown world with an unknown partner. The interactions that you have with that person and how it allows you to experience things you've never experienced and build your own story makes it a mature gaming narrative.

The Walking Dead is obvious. Choices with consequences.

With Dark Souls, the player is essentially a historian/archaeologist. You're not presented with a story. You're presented with a world with a history. As you discover that history (whether via NPCs, items, secrets, etc.) you learn more and more about who you are and what you're doing.

Movies can't do any of that. So just because none of those games dealt with a stuttering king doesn't mean that games haven't matured in the right ways.

I keep hearing people talk about "the Citizen Kane" of games and how we're not there yet, but that's not true at all. It's already happened. Super Mario Bros., Ocarina of Time, Chrono Trigger, the list goes on and on. These are crowning achievements in gaming. Games are a young medium, yes, but they're old enough that they need to draw inspiration from their own past to make good games, rather than the past of movies.

ramstrong

#58

ramstrong said:

Anything by Will Wright is for mature audience. Mature as in wisdom, not sex. Also, not too many people remember this now, but Chris Crawford's Erazzmatazz project is designed to appeal to adult exploration nature. Of course, as soon as people hear the word "text based interactive fiction", their eyes glazed over. Still, there are people who do write them. Andrew Plotkin recently went on Kickstarter for his projects.

As for mainstream developers? They are so risk averse, it'll be a wonder if they actually make a new game instead of continuing the old tired franchise.

SCAR392

#59

SCAR392 said:

I agree, but it shouldn't hinder the actual gameplay. That's usually the main reason why I play these games, is to see the different things that I can't do in real life. I think games do need a better story that play more apparently on screen. Sometimes we look at the over the top actions on screen that look great, but it plays no part in the story. I don't think games need multiple endings per se. That actually makes the game worse IMO most of the time, because that means the message can be mixed or not matter, because there is an alternate outcome that will more interesting, or is determined by actual skill of the player. That could mean you actually never see the TRUE ending, and that can put alot of people off.
As for more mature themes, they shouldn't be so obnoxious. I don't think nudity and violence are really necessary, but if that's how the script goes and it's supposed to mean something, ACTUALLY make it mean something. The only reason why I even did the sex scenes in God of War was to get the points. Red orbs ONLY.
There are ratings for these games you know. Chances are if the people around you don't like your gaming choices, movie picks, activities, etc, you're hanging out in the wrong crowd. Nudity shouldn't be that big of a deal if there are 2 TRULY mature individuals watching or discussing said content, without focusing on only that aspect. It also depends how people go about these things, but it seems that even grown ups can't seem to handle these concepts, which is very questionable to begin with.

mookysam

#61

mookysam said:

@GreenDream I thought Final Fantasy X was also quite clever in its damnation of organised religion.

Many games are quite "adult" in the themes they deal with, but what exactly is "adult"? In terms of narrative, games are different to other media in that they are not passive experiences. There are many ways to tell a story or set a scene but at the same time a game has to fulfil its core purpose of providing an engaging gameplay experience that has some sort of goal. I think Warren Spector's argument is far too generalised. He should embrace the nature of gaming!

On the wider discussion of "Games as art", I think they can absolutely be considered art. Not just in their aesthetic, but in the ideas they communicate (and how they communicate them) and in the emotional responses they have the potential to provoke.

People initially believed film could not be considered art. Or rock music. Now it's the same for video games and in the future it'll be the same for a new media.

SCAR392

#62

SCAR392 said:

@mookysam
I think you explained what I was trying to say better. I still think better handled mature content is a better way to define these 'issues'. Really, we already see what could potentially be entertainment gold, they just don't handle it very well.
Even glitches can turn someone away from a game, because it just doesn't even work gameplay wise.
I think the problem is, is that people see horrible depictions of these themes, and can't see any other way it can be done, so they automatically turn down a general idea that was poorly described in the first place.

GreenDream

#64

GreenDream said:

@ramstrong Chris Crawford disbanded from making computer games as we know them back in 1992; he's been working on a mysterious medium called "interactive storytelling" ever since...

JebbyDeringer

#65

JebbyDeringer said:

I agree. What most people consider as "mature" games are mindlessly childish, sexist, and racist garbage if you take an educated look at them. That doesn't mean they can't be fun but they are extremely shallow. Most adults I know consider video games themselves childish so...yeah they still have a long way to go.

eviLaTtenDant

#66

eviLaTtenDant said:

Says the man who just made two Mickey Mouse games. :P
But seriously, games have their own strengths and shouldn't try to just copy movies. If you don't advertise to people with an interest above the usual stereotypes, you're not going to sell these games.
Personally, i love both. Games that only exist to be pure fun and the more thought-provoking ones. To me the setting doesn't matter. It's more important that they don't feel too forced and superimposed.
And i disagree about the whole Zombie thing being childish. It might not be used well often but they are an effect of mankind doing wrong and offer enough room for the main protagonists to reflect on what they personally have done wrong that contributed to the situation. "Lowlifes" as characters also have potential to tell some misunderstood outsider stories that make us "normals" look awfully stupid.

Ren

#67

Ren said:

Ok, it is really funny that he's coming off of the Mickey games. Maturity will come with real innovation and video games haven't had a massive shift in a while. Games are really amazing now but they're still all based on showcasing the way in which we interact as "wow, I'm controlling this real stuff". Alone that hasn't been anything special in a long time, but kids still get a rush from it hence the kiddy factor.

for "mature" games to really break out of being "video games" outside of the pac man context, they need to shift into crafting an experience with a particular motivation; story, changing something, making something, learning something, being part of something with others online, etc. But WHY? not how. Then determine the input or control that works best for it. I was excited for the Wii remotes, and sure, keep innovating inputs but give me WHY, and make me want to do it. The best games ask me questions, and make me want to live through something, not just impress me with fancy tech. An office game could be cool if you can give me the WHY and think about the drama. Programmers don't think about drama and they shouldn't have to, but they're the ones with all the control. They think about "how much can I do? can I make all this work on this thing?". Only the indie games where it is all made by a few people are the ones with a truly fresh voice but they can barely hold together under the costs because it's just too hard still. I think 10 or 15 years off will give us the stupid "Citizen Kane" of games. and it might come to us on a phone or a browser whether we like it or not.

Chunky_Droid

#68

Chunky_Droid said:

Get this guy a copy of BioShock Infinite :)

Also, he didn't help matters by releasing two Epic Mickey games

wober2

#69

wober2 said:

@erv your avatar pic reminds me how grown up i thought xenoblade was without very much gore or graphic content.

MAB

#70

MAB said:

The only decent mature themed games that are classics would have be the Silent Hill series... Except for SH5 & Downpour on PS360 ;) they were terrible.

DePapier

#71

DePapier said:

"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."

I'm ashamed this acclaimed game designer hasn't played the campaign of Black Ops II. As for his other examples, he probably hasn't played any JRPGs. Just saying.

Mortenb

#72

Mortenb said:

Gaming is about playing. It's an inherently childish activity. Would anyone aks "Where are sports' grown-ups?"? Ok, games have a story, and sometimes good ones, but withouth the playful element it wouldn't be a game. This does not lend itself to every kind of story.
That said, it might be possible to have some alternative themes in games that he is asking for, but perhaps not more than there already is, because most people play games to satisfy that basic playing instinct first and foremost.

Henmii

#73

Henmii said:

While I have doubts about him being that good (the Epic Mickey games come to mind) he does have some interesting points!

Can a game tackle serious themes like the meaning of life, politics and stuff? Yes, they can! Take Bioshock infinite for example: It does tackle racism! But sadly it also contains gruesome violence!

While the game still looks very intriguing, I think it's sad that there's so much violence! Quite simply: Sex, violence and "simple" themes like aliens and zombies DO SELL!! That's why not many developers try something deeper, something more serious!

I think we will see games with deeper themes more in the future, but it won't be the standard for the next 20 years I guess!

@Phatosaurus,

What to think of 3D platformers?! They are almost extinct! And the funny thing is there's exactly the place where there could be the most innovation! Since shooters, sports games and stuff have been done to death!!

As it stands, all the interesting looking games with original gameplay/artstyles go straight to download! Only mainstream stuff like shooters, party games, sports games and anything Mario go on a disc! Though it must be said A LOT of developers bring sidescrollers to the download systems! While I have nothing against them (they are great), there are many more genres to tackle! And why must all sidescrollers be downloads? I think they could still bring them to discs/cards, but sadly they think otherwise!

Needless to say I want new, big, sprawling 3D platformers with cool new ideas, and ON A DISC! I think it's worth 50 Euro! And the same goes for a big, cool sidescroller, ON A DISC!

Sp00n

#74

Sp00n said:

A video game about two old people getting cancer.

Man, you're right, I wish that someone would stop making games fun.

JGer

#75

JGer said:

(Super long post warning!)
Actually I completely agree with Mr. Spector.

First of all, I thoroughly enjoy any old-school games like Mario, if only for nostalgia's sake. And I hope and pray that these cartoony, whimsical, and completely unrealistic games continue to get produced. They're fun, and that's all they need to be.

But I've played three games in particular that make me yearn for something else to come out in addition to that.
(Spoiler alert!)
Braid, To the Moon, and Dragon Quest V.
Braid is a super simple game (get to the end of the level, collecting stuff only if you want), but what makes it one of my favorites is the very well-written diaries throughout the game. The whole concept of time, looking back, and regret... It was very moving, and I found myself relating to so many of the things that were written. In addition, although the story seems to be about a guy losing his former love, there's a different thread hidden underneath the more obvious narrative. And it's never completely revealed... Only hinted at. I love that... Any book, movie, or game that makes me stop and just ponder upon completion has done its job.

To the Moon is less a game and more a novel, sure... But it's so wonderfully put together. Again, the script is so well written, the plot takes some great turns, and the music is just spot on. But I really enjoyed this game for the simple, yet very realistic love story. It's heart wrenching, delightful, and so frequently makes you just stop and think. It's one of the few games I picked up and played straight through. I could not stop until I found out how it ended.

And finally, Dragon Quest V, which is super old, I know - but there are some true mature themes in this game. Watching your father die, breaking free from slavery, reuniting with old friends, getting married, having children... I can't think of any other game that pulls you through multiple generations like that. And when it was over, it was one of the most bittersweet moments I've every had during any sort of movie, book, or game. I was totally overcome.

I want more experiences like that.

MarkyVigoroth

#76

MarkyVigoroth said:

I defend Reason 4 so hard, especially since video games are essentially for little kids from which teenagers need to wean.

Then again, I also poke around Reason Three. After all, plays were once 'silly fares' (hence why William Shakespeare did not publish them).

Chrono_Cross

#77

Chrono_Cross said:

Developers are afraid to walk away from the norm due to the gaming audience. It's not a developer's fault it wants to develop yet another zombie game because it sells well.

Video games will never grow up because grown up entertainment isn't something any gamer wants to engage in (there are a few exceptions). It's a lost cause and very disappointing at that.

onlyaman

#78

onlyaman said:

I normally think that Spector is a ham head, given his past efforts, but YES he is right. Most of my most influential digital experiences these days come from the more experimental and risk-taking indie scene. It may take a few more years for games to catch up with the likes of Aronofski, Nolan, et al... but they are slowly getting there. With no help from EA. :p

Reddaye

#79

Reddaye said:

@onlyaman

Being the designer of some of the gaming industries most critically acclaimed and beloved games makes you a ham head? Interesting.

I agree with Warren for the most part. I think there's a place in gaming for a more emotionally involving and less action oriented titles. A game like Ico springs to mind instantly as a game that narrows that gap. Theres room for growth, and theres a place for this kind of thing.

I think people who are assuming he thinks every game being released needs to fit this description are being a bit narrow minded. Its mainly an expression of the fact that theres a place in gaming for this kind of experience if developers were willing to nurture it and help it grow more.

onlyaman

#80

onlyaman said:

@TruenoGT Despite what I just wrote, I agree that games are games, and that they are at their best when they realize and play to this fact. So huh, quite the contradiction. What a great medium.... it makes me feel happy to be alive in this time. And great comments guys... good reading, and much more thoughtful than on most websites.

onlyaman

#81

onlyaman said:

@ Reddaye ... Sure, he is a ham head. I'm not saying that he does't have good ideas or occasionally back good games, but he has a history of hamming it up. But honestly, I think that his priorities are mostly in the right place. Like Warren, I am also an old gamer who thinks that mainstream gaming has lost its way... we'll see what happens in the next few years.

Zombie_Barioth

#82

Zombie_Barioth said:

I think theres definitely a place for the kind of games hes talking about, even if its a small one, but every time the he says the word "grown-up" or "mature" he talks as if his idea of those things is having as much personality as a bucket of wet cement.

Ultimately video games are just that, games and there only so much you can do with the narrative before they stop being games.

Nomad

#83

Nomad said:

There's a reason the word game appears in the term 'video game'. I don't know about most people but I play (PLAY) video games for fun. Why do some people insist that video games be something more than a game. I have no problem playing video games for fun, yes FUN. If I want something like Warrens describing maybe I will go and read a book or watch a movie, even the news. I've always been a fan of Nintendo because more than any other video game company they have never lost sight of this one simple truth, that gaming is about fun.
Don't get me wrong, I don't just play 'kiddie' games, I'll play anything that's fun, from Wonderboy to The Witcher. Lets not get too serious.
Anyway, I just got home from work doing the mature grown up thing. Time to relax and have some FUN PLAYing a video GAME, maybe Luigis Mansion.

MAB

#84

MAB said:

They need to implement doing the weekly laundry, fixing a hearty dinner, looking after the kids, mowing the lawn, vac the floor, general mundane home maintenance, washing the car and not getting any because the wife has a headache before going out to cause chaos in GTA 5 ;)

ViRtUaLbOy11

#85

ViRtUaLbOy11 said:

We as a consumerists' industry need to revisit our gaming days of yore in an attemp to address and inspire against these notions.
Games like Lighthouse, Out Of This World, Apollo 18, and that PC game from the late Lucas Arts called "Day of the dead", or something to that affect, all did a marvelous job at pitting us up against very adult themes, with a bit of fantastical rhetoric peppered in, so as to even out the imaaginations of even the most disciplined minds.
The industry is at its crux, and should it fall to the side of quantity over quality, -mass production over idea and simplicity- our industry would be in trouble, and ultimately dead in the water as we know it. The time is nigh developers!! Create! Create! Create!
Idea is king!

scrubbyscum999

#86

scrubbyscum999 said:

Great narratives in games have been around since SNES days. The thing is though that certain games focus on different things. An RPG will probably focus more on story than a run and gun. Nothing wrong with that, just a different approach. Games are an interactive medium that has GAMEPLAY at its core. Whether it's making decisions or fast reflexes, that's what sets games apart. I do feel that games should be treated more maturely, but I don't want to make some super long mature game just for the sake of being mature. That's what I'm afraid this guy is promoting judging by his language. Video games are different from movies we should remember that and not lose sight by making pretentious boring games in the name of "mature".

scrubbyscum999

#87

scrubbyscum999 said:

@Chrono_Cross Well you are just a ray of sunshine? I don't think video games need to "grow up". Video games need to just be video games. How video games approach serious subjects are different than movies. Now I do believe video games should have more freedom exploring certain issues like sexual relationships and such, but I don't feel comfortable with this grown up narrative. Video games are a unique medium that does things a certain way.

Rerun

#88

Rerun said:

Games to me are like a vacation. It's a form of escape from the daily grind of life. You go out to relax and enjoy.
You won't go on vacation and do the same things that you do at work, right?

ramstrong

#89

ramstrong said:

@GreenDream

um, yeah. That's Erazzmatazz project. Last sales figure I heard was that he sold 3 copies. But I'm sure he's doing better, now. :)

ThreadShadow

#90

ThreadShadow said:

Nintendo needs to hire this guy, give him his own studio, and let him create whatever he wants for various Nintendo consoles.

Araknie

#91

Araknie said:

Seriously i like the genres we have but it's really time for something new. But not in a movie way.

I'm sorry but when i pay at least 50€ for something i need to have the same amount of hours or near that or much more.

I need gameplay, gimmie gameplay with many different options that will have me say "i can't decide what to do" and that would be the perfect game.

For how odd it may seem LEGO City Undercover is providing me that experience, that because the company does LEGO games has not to be put with pressure from gamers and publishers about releasing it fast and furiosly powered.

I don't care i a game, even today, is in 8-bit. It must offer many option of gameplay that required thinking. Thanks to power and powerful consoles we have developers that strive for the last engine and for the last lens flare effect.

PS: Lens flares happens only when using a lens, in a third person game you see a lens flare...well that's just useless. (just to give an example at what importance developers give to the engine before thinking gameplay) Sometimes we get a really long game with awesome graphics but it's not common at all.

ompgsag

#92

ompgsag said:

"Can you imagine a game about a guy on a spiritual quest in a boat with a tiger?"
How about a boy on a spiritual quest with his horse? Shadow of the Colossus

"How about two old people struggling with the pain of love and aging?"
Metal Gear Solid 4

"Or the story behind a raid to kill the world's most notorious terrorist?"
Almost every MGS.

"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."
Just like modern television, film, and literature! Exactly like them, in fact. In fact one could argue that they're the worse offenders.

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