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IGDA Forum: Asking 'Why' Will Keep Games Out Of The Ghetto, Says Hecker
IGDA Forum: Asking 'Why' Will Keep Games Out Of The Ghetto, Says Hecker Exclusive
November 13, 2009 | By Chris Remo

November 13, 2009 | By Chris Remo
More: Console/PC, Exclusive

Chris Hecker, independent developer and until recently a designer at Maxis, used to give a lot of talks about the "how" of game development -- talks with names like "Game Object Systems" and "Five Physics Simulators for Articulated Bodies."

But now, as he reflected during a keynote address at the IGDA Leadership Forum in San Francisco, he spends a lot more time considering and discussing the "why," as in "Why do you make games?" It's a question he believes is crucial not just to individual developers, but to the cultural impact of the entire medium for decades to come.

Why Ask Why?

Those who work in certain popular forms like music, film, and literature often reflect on how a particular work was born out of a specific event. "I had to write this book when my girlfriend dumped me," a novelist might say.

"That doesn't show up often in game development bios," Hecker pointed out. Developers rarely discuss what they were trying to convey or express with a particular game, outside the confines of the game's own entertainment value.

"Should we care about 'why'? I think the answer is yes. We should care," said Hecker. But why care about 'why'? Hecker sees three main routes popular culture can travel, and games are in grave danger of ending up on the wrong one, the consequences of which could put the medium permanently in the cultural doghouse, rather than in the vaunted halls of cultural relevance.

"If we continue on our current path, we'll end up in the pop cultural ghetto where comics are," he said. "An alternative path is where film, books, and music ended up. There's even a low road, toys -- or, as you hear, 'just toys' -- where you cease to have any meaning beyond what you're playing with."

"I believe games will be the preeminent art and entertainment form of the 21st century -- if we don't screw it up," Hecker professed. He wants to make games, not music or books or films. He doesn't have a case of Hollywood envy -- except, perhaps, for the freedom film has built for itself on the back of its great work.

"Film," broadly speaking, is seen as artistically valid, despite the existence of countless forgettable films. Not every film is great -- most are not -- but as an overall medium, it is relatively bulletproof. "They can shovel out as much crap as they want, and it doesn't affect their ability to be considered an art," Hecker pointed out. "The New York Times isn't going to demote them out of the Arts section because of Saw IV."

By contrast, comics are roughly the same age as film, and both forms were initially culturally derided, seen as diversions for the uneducated. But after more than a century, even comics' most impressive works have been unable to remove its broadly negative stigma. Art Spiegelman's Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus, and the works of the cartoonist Chris Ware, for example, are individually respected, but have not dramatically raised their medium's profile.

"I want to be clear -- we can actually screw it up," Hecker warned. "You can screw it up to where you're not rescue-able, or you can succeed to the point where you can't mess up."

The Mass Market Myth

Hecker proposes four metrics on which to judge the success of popular entertainment forms. In approximate order of increasing importance, they are revenue, units sold, cultural impact, and diversity of content.

"We do great on the first one of these, which is the least important," he said, "but we fuck it up on the other three."

The game industry is bizarrely obsessed with revenue at the exclusion of nearly anything else, he argued: "You get the impression that the game industry wouldn't care if some prince in Dubai bought a single copy of a game that costs $24 billion dollars -- Call of Madden Duty Halo -- as long as we're the ones he's buying it from."

This week's release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 saw yet another of the industry's neverending claims about its biggest entertainment launches of all time, but that has much to do with a game's relatively exorbitant individual price tag compared to, say, a book or a movie ticket. On a unit basis, on the other hand, games aren't all that impressive.

Gone With the Wind, the most successful film by revenue after adjusting for inflation, sold 35 million "units" in the United Kingdom alone in 1940, at which point that country had a population of 43 million. Even more astonishingly, it sold 202 million tickets in the United States -- which had a population of only 130 million at the time. "Everyone went twice!" Hecker exclaimed. "This is mass market reach."

That extraordinary example aside, you have to go extremely far down the list of top-selling movies of all time before you find examples on equal footing with the game industry's best-selling non-console-bundled SKU, Wii Play, which across all worldwide territories has sold about 24 million units. (That's true outside film as well, of course: "Celine Dion is beating every game we've ever made.")

But even units don't paint the more telling picture. The true strength of film -- surely the dominant art form of the 20th century -- is its cultural, not just financial, impact and breadth. Games tend to resolutely and aggressively target the 18- to 34-year male. If you aren't trying to capture as much of that audience as you possibly can (or, increasingly, middle-aged housewives) you aren't in step with the industry.

That isn't the sign of a healthy, diverse medium. "All films are not Titanic and they're not trying to be," Hecker said. "Not all bands are trying to make Thriller. They're not all trying to hit every single person in their entire audience with a single work, which we try to do routinely. We have such incredibly narrow sets of users that we don't actually have a reasonable description of a mass market audience. Film can do both The Dark Knight and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and it makes the medium richer for it. You can rent one when you're in one mood, and the other when you're in another mood. We don't provide for that."

How Did We Get Here?

So why is this the case?

"We can't be totally blamed," Hecker acknowledged, introducing a simple set of comparisons illustrating what any game developer knows well: there are certain types of gameplay that are well understood and easily accomplished in games, and others that still largely elude us.

"What's the easiest film to make?" he asked. "I claim the easiest film to make is to put a camera in a room with some people, and they talk. You get a video camera, and you can do it for $500. What's the hardest film to make? It's got explosions and spaceships and lasers flying all over the place."

By contrast, "what's the easiest game to make? It's got explosions, and maybe elves or orcs, and whatever. What's the hardest game to make? Well, it's got some people in a room talking."

Hecker accompanied the last statement with a screenshot of the narrative experimental game Facade. Even with its impressive complexity and ambitious interactive scope within a constrained narrative setting, Facade's conversations still face difficulties.

"Mediums have a grain," argued Hecker, and the formal grain of video games runs in a very different direction to the formal grain of film and literature. "You have to work extra hard to work against the grain, and our grain tends to want to put spaceships with bullets coming out of them on the screen."

Or, paraphrasing Nietzsche, "the way your language works makes you think in certain ways, and you have to try really hard to think another way."

Are We Doomed?

"Are we doomed?" Hecker pondered. "Is the grain guiding everything we do? I don't think that's true, but it does make our job a lot harder, and we have to want to do it."

There are other factors to contend with if one wishes to work against the grain. For one thing, "we got a bit big and successful before we figured out what we're doing -- hence, the industry-wide risk aversion." Games may not have the reach of Gone With the Wind or Celine Dion, but there's undoubtedly money to be made, and that has to a large extent locked in many design ideas in the service of financial safety.

And, as Heather Chaplin put it, we are "a bunch of stunted adolescents. And I include myself in that," Hecker added. He recounted a recent experience playing Valve's Left 4 Dead, a game he greatly enjoys. "But it's vacuous," he said. "It's cool, but there's not really any 'there' there."

In a 2003 critique of the film Seabiscuit for The New Yorker, David Denby wrote, "When a director exploits our hard-wired responses to pathos, he fails, so to speak, a test of honor."

Video game designers are extremely skilled at exploiting a different hard-wired response, the enjoyment of the power fantasy. "It's not hard to put a gun in someone's hand and make them feel great about themselves," Hecker said of those exciting, if often relatively empty, experiences. "But it's having cotton candy every day for dinner."

That isn't to say video games should abandon the power fantasy; instead, they might rely on it less, or couple it with more interesting themes. "You still want your Pirates of the Caribbean. You want to have those summer blockbusters," Hecker said. "But you want something else, too. And even something like Pirates of the Caribbean has more of the human condition in it than most games do."

What Next?

Like literature, music, film, and other forms, games offer their own intrinsic element to add to culture. For games, it's interactivity. That uniqueness is necessary for a form to carve out its own cultural space, and it's what will allow games to occupy such a space if the gaming community doesn't wall it off.

But that means designers must strive to convey some kind of "why," and when they do, it will ideally be conveyed through interactivity, not just cutscenes. Linear "theme park ride" games, as Hecker calls them -- recently, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, et al. -- can be great fun, and we have become quite skilled at making them, but they also represent something of a creative red herring: "The part that speaks to the human condition is in the cutscenes, not in the interactivity."

Furthermore, while gamers are highly resistant to decreases in graphical fidelity, they seem on the whole unbothered by regressions in interactivity, hence the flourishing of the theme park ride approach. And since, for technical reasons, it's safer and cheaper to decrease interactivity as you increase realism, the latter may well continue to suffer.

The booming market of casual and social games, Hecker points out, has a different problem. "It's great to have a game to play while you're waiting for a bus," he said, "but they're not trying to say anything at all."

That leaves the broad category of "systems games," which are more intrinsically predicated on interactivity and player-driven choice. They contain the best candidates for creating unique, meaningful works in games, Hecker believes, but at the present moment, "these games aren't really saying anything either, because we don't know how to say things through interactivity, how an authorial voice works through a system."

There's no easy way out of this arguably slippery slope except for the dedication and intent of the people making the games. "I believe this is the big question for the next ten years of game design," Hecker said. "We have so many opportunities."

Mechanics and systems can be continually evolved, but designers would do well to keep the following questions in mind, he said: "What are you trying to say, and why?" and "And are you trying to say it with interactivity?"

"If you can answer those," Hecker concluded, "you're on the right track."

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Chris Remo
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On a personal note I fully agree with Chris and have felt this way for a while, so I was pleased to cover this talk. It's also worth noting that my buddy Steve Gaynor addressed this topic in his excellent blog post "Wager" last year:

Tim Carter
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Me agrees. Like Socrates said, the unexamined life is not worth living. (Can you get more pretentious than quoting Socrates?)

Anyway, for gawd's sake, if you are this self-aware and think about games this way, please write your freakin' design down in a quality way - or prototype that bitch - and send it to us, Core Talent Games Ltd. We are driving this shit and we are looking for designs for games the world needs.

Alan Rimkeit
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I agree with Hecker overall. Games do have the potential to have a deeper meaning as film and books do. The only thing that makes me worry is the loss of the "fun" factor. Sure a game can have a great story and be deep to make me think about something culturally relevant. I just want those kinds of games to be fun on top of all the "deepness" and "cultural relevance". If a game is all of those things but is not fun then I don't really want to play it when it really comes down to it. Don't lose the fun at the expense of being artistic is what I am trying to say.

Chris Remo
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Even if that were a concern (surely, other forms seem to have no problem being simultaneously meaningful and entertaining), what makes you worry people would ever stop making games that are nothing but pure entertainment? There's no evidence to suggest that happens in any medium, regardless of what the artistic high points are.

Adam Flutie
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Interesting read. The games that try to answer why though usually get heckled by the userbase though. Despite how much Braid made me think about a game, or Eternal Sonata tried to throw around symbolism the games get labeled as 'overrated' or 'confusing' in a lot of circles. Is this something developers can fix? Can the producers in the industry fix it? Or do the players have to decide they want more out of it? I think it is a combination of both, but mostly the purchasers of the content are dictating what happens in the long term.

Christopher Enderle
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For some reason my mind went to pornography at the mention of the cultural doghouse. I think we could do worse than comic books, and I think that should encourage us even more to try to imbue our work with meaning, even if all wbe have is licensed shovelware to work with.

But ya, when you start making games that try to answer "why" you risk challenging the audience to ask "why" in regards to why they play games. There's a certain audience that just wants to retreat into mindless escapism, and while they may complain about games trying to be meaningful and worthwhile the hope is that the audience will expand and the deriders will be marginalized into a niche market.

Greg Costikyan
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Actually, doing a game of "a bunch of people in a room talking" isn't that hard. It's called tabletop roleplaying.

Dustin Chertoff
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I think we should look to the type of interactivity seen in games where decisions have positive/negative effects later on. In other words, an enhanced cause-and-effect model, where the effects are an accumulation of the various changes you have sprinkled throughout the world. This would impact the decisions you can make later in the game, the ways other characters interact with you, and even the methods by which you have to complete a level (i.e. forced to take the super hard or time consuming path for players that pissed off everyone trying to help them along the way.) In this manner, you let the player explore decision making and can view first hand how various decisions have affected the path of the game.

Now, you can build on that and tack on other cultural or social relevant topics - trust, betrayal, honor, justifiable homicide, revenge, etc. But you tie those elements to a core component of the player really becoming the character on the screen. That is the direction the medium needs to take to be considered culturally relevant.

If I play a game and feel pain for betraying another game character, then the game will have succeeded in being relevant beyond a simple entertainment value. While some games do explore stories and themes a kin to books and movies, they don't do it any better. But what games can do that those other mediums cannot is let the consumer of the medium truly become the main character.

To become truly relevant as an artistic form, the player needs to wholly become the main character and to feel happy and disgusted at the actions he might have taken.

Stevan Zivadinovic
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I hope this is a more fruitful way of framing this discussion than the more sensationalist and polarizing "Are game art?!" articles.

Jacque Choi
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Another issue to note is that games are not really protected by the first ammendment the same way film and novels are.

We can't parody a living person, the same way South Park does, nor can we create powerful social commentary on anyone that hasn't been dead for over 100 years.

This hinders our ability to create anything with any kind of social impact. It's a catch 22.

How are we supposed to make a politically or culturally relevant statement with a game, when the laws in place prohibit such a thing?

We're trying to make art without the ability to mimick reality.

Glenn Storm
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Chris Hecker always poses intriguing questions and exposes interesting things about this industry. This is a role he fills rather well. From the report on this talk, it appears this is no exception. Thanks, Chris and Chris.

I'd like to point out a comparison I see as slightly unfair: film to comics (graphic novels). There is a very crucial part of the movie-going experience that easily facilitates the kind of broad social buy-in that Chris is talking about: you can go the movies with people and experience the same thing, a very closely shared experience. Comics offer that to a lesser extent, much less. With this dynamic, one can remember the first date they took to a movie, one can recall going to drive-ins (I'm old) and being out late when you were young, one can go with a large group to a movie event, you can take your kids to see a film (remake) that you saw when you were a kid, we have favorite movies we'd be willing to revisit, half-way through, on a whim, etc. Comics have a harder time at that kind of shared experience and so I think that comparison is a bit slanted. I think some games approach this experiential social dynamic to the extent film does; in some ways, there's more of a social connection; in others, we don't offer enough relevant connections to things that mean much outside the Magic Circle, let alone to each other.

To his main point, I'd say this is why we need to explore and define the elements of our craft, particularly those of designers. The last line leaves us with being "on the right track". That's just not enough for me personally. I want us to be able to go into a project with the knowledge we need to get the job done; not just the feeling of confidence, but knowledge that stands to reason. At the moment, designers looking to explore beyond the round of games released last year are by in large working off too much mystic voodoo and shorthand technical/marketing jargon, mixed with a lot of "let me see how that feels" along with a heaping dollop of "(shrug) I dunno". I'm very much down with what Chris is saying, but answering the 'why' is less than half the battle.

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Highly inspiring. This is the best article I've come across on Gamasutra in a long long time. I am totally on the same page with Mr. Hecker.

The fact is that the industry is finding it hard to leave where it presently is and take the giant and bold step into the next where it will be totally unmatched by any other medium.

If only we understood the power of INTERACTIVITY. Interactivity is the industry's secret weapon. Its magic sword which it just needs to learn how to wield. And advice on how to wield magic swords to bring out their full potentials will always most times come from the most unexpected and unusual advisers.

When Luke Skywalker was sent to planet Degobah to meet the all powerful Jedi master that would help him uncover all his hidden potentials and accelerate him into the next level of a Jedi master, he was likely expecting some gigantic guy with gleaming eyes and biceps the size of three trunks. but whom did he meet?

Master Yoda. The tiny little green frail looking creature. Luke would have shrugged and said "No you can't be Master Yoda?" and proudly walked away seeking another Master Yoda. But Luke was a wise Jedi who chose to look at the ability, knowledge and wisdom of this small creature, rather than it's appearance and the fact that it lived in a swamp. With time, he saw just how powerful the small creature was.

And I love one of Yoda's statements during Luke's training: "Try judging me by my size."

In the Holy Bible, the Jews were expecting a messiah. someone that would come and free them from all their sufferings, and when Jesus Christ was sent they didn't even have any idea.

A carpenter? No, can't be him.

They expected a king riding down from heaven on a golden chariot and horses made of fire.

One of the greatest strongholds that needs to be completely shattered in the industry for it to attain its next level is the TEAM WORK ideology. The visionary leads the team and is never ever ever and should never ever be JUST an irrelevant team member.

Notice how Mr. Hecker kept mentioning Designers. Why wasn't he saying "The Team." The fact is that all those other mediums of entertainment he mentioned recognized their visionaries and allowed them work independently. The Director in movies, the writer in books, the Musician in music.

I don't want to keep going over such things anyway. The game industry still sees itself as the baby it used to be in the days when a bunch of guys worked from a garage. Nothing was defined, anything goes. Until there's authorship in the video game industry it will never have true meaning.

Its like saying that the refinery is as important as the crude oil. Crude oil is hard to come by but anyone can set up a bleeding refinery. Any company can print books but not every writer writes like Stephen King.

Why can we not see this? And when I'm talking Designers I'm talking about the pen and paper guy, the guy that originates what the entire studio will work with.

I've probably made my point. Nice article by Mr. Hecker.

Simon Ludgate
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I think a large problem is that Chris Heckler compares games to movies, which are 100% story but 100% non-interactive, rather than some other human activity, such as sport, which is 100% interactive but 100% non-story. Games fall somewhere in-between. Some games, like Left 4 Dead, feature a lot more sport-like interactivity, at the cost of story. Other games, like Dragon Age Origins, feature a lot more story, at the cost of interactivity.

The big problem is that "storytelling" is an extremely human endeavor and difficult to "program" into a computer. Since you cannot program your computer game to tell a story, you have to write your story and program your game around it. In the case of a "story-driven" game, eg: Dragon Age Origins, your interactivity is greatly limited.

Consider, for example, the subset of books called "Choose your own adventure" books. These books have never gained cultural relevance the way "normal" books have, yet they add an element of interactivity to books. Games with story are, by and large, "choose your own adventure" movies. Sure, you can play out some of the action scenes with a great depth of interaction, but these scenes generally don't tell any story, and what parts of story are told in these scenes are non-interactive scripted events that always play out the same way (or one of a few same ways) every time.

But turn this entire comparison around in the other direction: consider the cultural relevance of games based not on their story-telling but on their interactivity. Compare games to sports. Sports are extremely culturally relevant throughout the world. Why can't gamers hope to reach a cultural relevance similar to organized sports? Games are already played like sports in many ways. In Asia, games ARE played like sports.

In the West, many gamers who play games competitively play them in a sport-like manner: a World of Warcraft guild that meets 4 nights a week for 3 hours of raid time follows a schedule and a hierarchy of positions and roles much like a sporting team that gathers for practices and matches. The game becomes a culturally relevant basis for socializing among players of that game. Unfortunately, these games are not, by and large, relevant to outside observers. TSN doesn't cover the latest and greatest Kel'Thuzad kill in Naxx 25. It'd be boring.

The challenge games face in cultural relevance is the barrier to be observed, not the barrier to be played. A key element to cultural relevance, be it in sports, movies, books, or music is that you can share the experience with another. You can play a song to your friend and then talk about how it sounded. But when you both play the game on your own, you might have a different experience. On the other hand, if games were easily observed, if you and your friend both watched the same game played, you would have a common ground.

How can games be made more interesting to watch? Why is it that people can sit through hours of tennis - watching two people knock a ball back and forth - but don't watch hours of pong? This, I think, is the key to making games culturally relevant, not the scope of stories told through a string of cutscenes.

Nicholas McKay
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This was an excellent article. A couple points to consider: I think as the cost of access decreases we'll see more experimentation with design. With film all anyone needs is a camera; stripping down everything else that goes into a film, the core essential components needed are a camera and the storage medium. It has a wonderfully low cost of entry. It allows for greater experimentation by filmmakers, and allows future filmmakers to start experimentation and learning early.

Traditionally the cost of entry for creating games is higher. You have to have a computer, but you also had to have either a premade engine at your disposal (which is expensive) or the knowledge of how to program. These are significant barriers. If anything, this is the reason I applaud those companies that have begun releasing their engines for free to anyone -- like the Unity and Unreal engines -- because you start lowering the cost of entry for those first starting and/or for those who will experiment with the medium. In a similar vein, the rise of digital distribution channels and indie exposure has helped break down the publishing barriers for those who want to try something that doesn't fit into the space that marketing departments and producers feel will sell.

We also have to be careful making too direct a comparison between film and games. While we consider film to have achieved cultural relevance so quickly, film could be called the next step in evolution of theater which has been around for thousands of years. The average spectator probably watches a film in much the same way people have watched theater since the days of Rome (that might not be *totally* accurate, but you get the idea). Gaming requires such interactivity, where there aren't traditional spectators but only participants (in theory anyway), that we can't expect it to blaze as easy a trail simply because the heritage is so different. I don't see games as necessarily the next evolution from film because of this.

That said, I do think where music and film has the leg up is in the wealth of theory out there for the mediums, and I agree that we have to be better at exploring and defining the craft. And I apologize if this comes across as ranty or disjointed... I'm just kind of thinking out loud and onto text. :P

Michiel Hendriks
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Video games are not books, they're not movies. As long as you keep comparing video games to these other formats you will never recognize the true art in video games.

You could might as well turn the things around, why are books or movies not like games. Books and movies are seriously linear, the experience stays mostly the same. You have no influence, it's all set in stone.

Games are more than story and pretty pictures.

Chris Remo
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I think you're misinterpreting Chris' point. He is not saying games should "be like movies." He is saying they have the potential to be a major entertainment form in the sense that books, films, and music are, but that they do not currently occupy such a position, and may not do so if developers don't figure out a way to broaden their offerings.

Luis Guimaraes
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I'm with simon an Nicholas, games are activities, not just entertainment.

Dana Fortier
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@Simon Ludgate

"I think a large problem is that Chris Heckler compares games to movies, which are 100% story but 100% non-interactive, rather than some other human activity, such as sport, which is 100% interactive but 100% non-story."

I actually believe that sports generates a lot of story content, it's just contextualized to the experience and the viewer in a more specific manner than most traditional narrative media. For example: I can play a game of hockey with some friends and we'll spend 20 minutes in the locker room with beers laughing (or grumbling) about the moments that occurred. Or, bigger scale - a sports team's unexpected rise to the championship enthralls the hometown with tales of the heroic players' achievements.

I think what makes most video games boring to spectate is that most of the excitement is inside the players' minds and the minds' of those who really understand the game.

A person who doesn't understand the rules of NFL football probably won't get excited about a 4th down punt fake to touchdown pass. But an NFL fan would be blown away because he understands the framework and context that makes such a feat an amazing achievement.

Conversely, traditional media is more accessible because it deals with a framework and context we are all (in theory) familiar with and participate in on a daily basis. We can pretty much all buy into a rags-to-riches story. Non-interactive stories are usually generated by the cultural context it reflects, rather than the other way around.


"The fact is that the industry is finding it hard to leave where it presently is and take the giant and bold step into the next where it will be totally unmatched by any other medium."

Since when is there a competition between media? (ok maybe at a commercial level - but games have already surpassed film in revenue) Each satisfies a unique list of criteria by the individuals who appreciate them. How can you even truly compare a film to a novel? Talk about subjective.

At any rate this question is yet another tired attempt by game 'academia' to justify its own existence.

So go make fun games. Have fun playing them. What more does one need?

Nicholas McKay
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What books and movies may lack in a nonlinear experience they make up for in a much greater breadth of topics and themes tackled. The article isn't attacking games for not being movies or books, it's saying games need to explore more and provide a greater range of experiences lest the medium be forever judged as novelties with little to no cultural value. If for anything, because when the censors come calling with their banhammers, we need to have something to hold up as a reason against it. And we don't have enough reasons right now, not yet.

Nicholas McKay
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"At any rate this question is yet another tired attempt by game 'academia' to justify its own existence.

So go make fun games. Have fun playing them. What more does one need?"

Imagine what the world would have missed out on if the people in every medium just decided it should be that way. "So go make good-looking paintings. Paintings people will enjoy looking at. What more does one need?"

Chris Remo
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It doesn't even seem like you read the article. Your dismissive comment "games have already surpassed film in revenue" falls prey to one of the exact pitfalls discussed in the piece (if you disagree with it, that's another matter, but you raise the point as if it hadn't already been explicitly addressed), and your reference to "academia" is baffling considering how long Chris Hecker has been a professional game developer.

Michiel Hendriks
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@Chris Remo

"they have the potential to be a major entertainment form in the sense that books, films, and music are"

How is that not saying that games should be more like books or films?

Anyway, considering video games are barely 50 years old. Movies are at least twice as old. And books over 20 times as old. We'll get there. 10 years ago there was barely an indie scene, and these days it's quite normal (and everywhere).

Anyway, I'm looking forward to what will come.

Chris Remo
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How is it like saying that? Are you claiming that music is "more like films" because it's already in that category? It refers to the relevance and cultural position of those mediums, not their formal structure. I think it's fairly clear.

And what do you mean by "we'll get there"? Do you mean we'll get to a position of increased cultural relevance? Because if so, you clearly understand what was being said, and that it wasn't "be more like films."

Kumar Daryanani
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Videogames need to be more like books, movies and music in that they need to have the same type of wide appeal, not be seen as 'merely a distraction', or 'just for kids'. Videogames have the potential to be THE form of entertainment of the future, more than movies or books. To do so, though, we need to avoid the pitfalls that befell comics, which relegated them to being categorised as a niche product, a subculture, and not fit for adult consumption - even though in the last 50 years the medium has advanced and in cases surpassed the maturity of videogames.


It's not just about revenue numbers, especially when you consider the examples in the keynote. It's not the same for a game to sell $100,000,000 as it is for a movie, especially since games tend to cost a lot more than movie tickets, rentals, and store-bought DVDs. Cultural relevance means reaching a wide variety and large number of people, being referenced in other works, getting talked about by people who don't usually partake of the medium, or being able to convert non-users into users.


The fact that games already have a bad reputation, and the possibility that they will get legislated into a hole, and are never able to come back out, is precisely the reason why we can't just 'keep making fun games'. Yes, fun games are and should be the focus, much like entertaining movies and books, but that is not exclusive of other properties, much like a Pixar movie can have a message for kids, and deeper undertones for the adults that accompany those kids to the theater. A game can be fun, and at the same time serve a higher purpose, much like a book can be captivating, and also explore aspects of the human condition, for example.

I also think your comment about academia justifying its own existence is way of the mark. It is a legitimate question, and the reason why the videogame industry at present is most like the music industry at present: the main reason 'Why' right now is 'Money', instead of money being a side-effect of delivering great product, growing the market, and acquring cultural relevance.

For example: Learning games, while perhaps having 'Money' as a 'Why?', also have 'To help learning' as a 'Why?'. Perhaps a better example are Serious games, which have a wide variety of reasons 'Why?'. Unfortunately, they don't get as much circulation/attention/coverage, because usually they don't tend to be very good 'games'.

'Why' is an important question, just like striving for cultural relevance is more than academic navel-gazing.

Kevin Wei
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Developers, be brave.

Listen to Chris Hecker.

There's plenty of room in this industry for all sorts of games differing in gameplay to aesthetics to cultural impact to intent to whatever. Nobody is replacing anybody!

Dana Fortier
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@Chris Remo: My comment about commercial success was not dismissive. It was simply to put the idea of competing mediums into perspective. Hecker's question and comments aren't exactly what I personally qualify as Practical, so to me, they become Academia.

Do games really have a bad reputation? Are we in danger of being legislated into a hole? Aren't we pretty much in the exact same position of every other commercial media? Most of film/novels/comics/games/whatever are 'popcorn' and a few rare gems present themselves and are enjoyable at more levels than just the 'popcorn' level. We wouldn't even have the PRIVILEGE of this dialog if it weren't for the first games that were simply FUN.

This all smacks of 'Hiphop is dead'.

Stevan Zivadinovic
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What is wrong with you people? Why do you always react to these kinds of ruminations with all this vitriol? If you don't want to participate, go somewhere else, for the love of fuck. It is as if you are personally invested in games being as vapid as possible at all costs, as if letting others think about doing something more with games is some sort of an affront to all you hold dear.


Randall Theil
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Pop cultural ghetto is a terrible, terrible metaphor.

Kumar Daryanani
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I do actually watch TV, and yes, games might be more prominent on TV and the like, but they are nowhere near as culturally relevant as any other media, don't fool yourself. For every time videogames appear as a category on Jeopardy, for example, everything else appears a good few times over, be it sports, movies, literature, art, or music. As for TV shows and movies, of course games are more prominent. Kids play videogames, so having them not playing games on TV would break suspension of disbelief.

As for videogames getting legislated into oblivion, the fact that politicians think of using precisely that as a point in their campaigns should tell you that there is a significant portion of the populace that is scared enough or doesn't understand games enough that it is a danger. It's precisely what happened to comics back in the day, and the reason why they are still considered a niche market by many, despite the fact that they do, in fact, deal with more mature themes than videogames do. And don't forget that there are a good few countries out there that are considering bans on violent videogames, like Germany, or where games can be refused a rating by the local ratings boards, like Australia, which essentially force those games into oblivion. In the same way that any game with an AO rating in this country doesn't see the shelves of major retailers like Wal-mart, which is essentially the same.

You're right in saying there is no crisis, not right now, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't be looking to the future and seeing what we can do to make better, more relevant games, rather than keep making the usual stuff. The reason why movies and books are a part of most people's everyday lives is because there is something for everyone. Videogames can't say the same. Even some segments of the gaming population feel that developers and publishers purposefully sideline them in favor of appealing to the usual crowd. Go read any female gamer's blog or gaming news site, and see for yourself. Or go see what gets passed off as games for girls, it's equally depressing.

It's not about making games something they are not. It's about pushing the medium, and the content, in the same way we've been pushing the graphics and the hardware. It's about shaping the future in such a way that games like flower can be mainstream, instead of a rare occurrence, and where the big blockbusters aren't about human behemoths ripping people limb from limb in the name of justice, vengeance, or simple pwnage.

James Hofmann
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I think the difference between games and other media - *as an industry* - comes from the rise of video games as an early-adopter geek toy. Comics were based on existing printing technology and therefore could go straight to the newsstand. Likewise, movies were mass marketable the moment the projection technology was adequate. But games started in the computer lab and were confined to a few limited environments - arcades, consoles, and personal computers - where in all cases, the cost to get into the experience was high: arcade games opt for player punishment and high turnover, taking many plays to attain adequate skill, and games for home play started at stratospheric prices and have only gradually lowered. All of these factors act as the catalyst for having a "hardcore" market of people who are intensely passionate about the kind of games that they're *already playing.* Nobody else could afford to bother!

As a result we have a lot of baggage about "what the interactive medium does" from the early years that, now that our hardcore market has become so solidly entrenched, we can't wholly divest ourselves of; an era where the majority of creative influences were the geeky pastimes of wars, Tolkien fantasy, and space opera. Guess what kinds of game settings we tend to have here in 2009: wars, Tolkien fantasy, and space opera. We've branched out a considerable amount, but it's still really, really hard to get away from those origins. We have plenty of evidence that the market will respond positively to alternative uses of interactivity, but finding those alternatives is still a work-in-progress.

If linear storytelling mediums feel more free, it's because they can transfer elements from the stories that have come before, regardless of the medium, so that all at once, every genre known in the previous medium is possible in the new one. In games, we still haven't really explored beyond a small fraction of the possible genres, the variations on them, and the ways to polish and improve them.

Frank Lantz
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Costik said: "Actually, doing a game of "a bunch of people in a room talking" isn't that hard. It's called tabletop roleplaying."

Or Bridge, or Werewolf, or Charades, or Poker. But whatever, Chris obviously isn't that interested in games per se, he's interested in single-player, story-based video games. Which is odd, considering that he doesn't seem to like them all that much.

Alexander Bruce
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I think it's pretty clear that when someone from the Video Games Industry is talking about Games, they're referring to Video Games, not Tabletop Games or Board Games, unless they explicitly state that.

Frank Lantz
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Yes, you can usually also assume they're talking about single-player, story-based games, despite the fact that these constitute the minority of video games, and despite the fact that we all seem to agree they pretty much suck.

Alexander Bruce
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I'm pretty sure that what I stated has nothing to do with single player games, nor did I put any emphasis whatsoever on story based games. I believe I referred to Video Games as a whole, in contrast to Board Games or Tabletop Games, which are different. Much like how a Novel is different to a Comic Book, despite the fact that they're both "books". I'm really not sure how you can't see that.

Frank Lantz
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Yes, we are all well aware that Chris is talking about video games. Greg was pointing out that the supposedly intractable problem of a game in which people sit around in a room talking was only difficult if your goal was to *simulate* that situation as opposed to producing it. I was just amplifying his point. Since the *whole point* of our comments was to highlight the fact that Chris was talking about video games, I'm not sure where you got the idea that there was any confusion about that. Also, your weird slow-talking pedantic tone is unnecessary.

Josh Bycer
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Interesting article and I agree about trying to take games in a new direction but I do want to play devil's advocate for a minute. The fact that our industry is based on interactivity is our biggest strength but it is also our weakness. If a designer somehow creates an emotional experience as disturbing as Clockwork Orange, with the romance of Casablanca but the game is horribly buggy and plays terrible then all that is for naught. There is another side to creating a game that no other industry has to deal with and that is the production of the game. A typo in a book is an easy fix caught at proofreading, a bug in the game code could ruin the entire game depending on the magnitude of it and that is a constant threat until the game is shipped.

My point and one that was brought up earlier is the importance of having a creative vision by the lead designer or whatever the title is by the person in charge from day one. You can't add emotional context in during the beta, it has to be in the design document and in the designer's head at the start. That I believe is a problem and one that I even have trouble with, I can come up with game mechanics and systems easily, ask me to create a well thought out experience that will pull the player's heartstrings and I'm going to stumble.

Hecker is 100% right, it is easier to create a game about blowing stuff up compared to a game where people just sit and talk in a room. I also agree that the goal of making mass appeal games is also the wrong direction for this topic. I had a blog entry a few months ago where I talked about that issue and the importance of a creative vision:

In my opinion the industry right now is in the awkward teen phase with publishers still striving for having the best graphics, art and effects above all else. However I think people are seeing that the best games come from people who don't think in that same manner and hopefully we'll reach a point when gameplay and the experience are considered the most important factors in creating a game.

Mickey Mullasan
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I think it's unfair to relegate comics to a "cultural ghetto" because they lack market viability. There are plenty of very artful comics more so than games, that sell just as poorly as the superhero comics. Also when we're throwing around the term "cultural ghetto" we really mean "western cultural ghetto" because our elitist bent on class stratification is much different in non-western cultures. A ghetto is usually referring to poor areas or areas subsidized by the government in which a racial minority is forced to live, which really doesn't describe comics well, and is unfair to those who have to live in government subsidized housing by using it as a term of destitution.

Print media is being slowly killed by the internet and web comics are extremely relevant in today's society. What will be tossed in the "unused bin" of society, see much better than ghetto ihmo, is pirate-able goods. So kiss your single-player games goodbye, because they will be made irrelevant or maybe the government will subsidize them?

Frank Lantz
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Since my earlier comments might be seen as a bit flippant, I should point out that I am in full support of Chris' main message, which is that more game developers should consider *why* they make the games they do.

While I do think that some of the problems Chris is wrestling with are related to unresolved conceptual issues related to the difference between actions (like people talking) and *representations* of actions (like a simulation of people talking), that doesn't diminish my agreement that we should take more responsibilty for the larger meanings and values of the games we create. He's certainly right about that.

Kaveh Hadjari
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A movie is a final product that doesn't need anymore activity to be enjoyed except watching. A game on the other hand must be played to be enjoyed and that varies greatly depending on player and skill. I would say that games as an interactive medium are more related to music instruments than to arts.

Vlado Jokic
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I like the point Hecker makes about comics showing idealized human form.

One thing that turns me off any game or media is when it tries to idealize everything about itself and is in fact one of the reasons why I stay away from Japanese games, majority comic books, and a whole slew of movies. Japanese games in my experience show characters who always look perfectly groomed and for me kill all sense of desire to experience their characters as they feel childish and hollow. The first impression destroys all sense of depth which may otherwise be there. This could be why the western market is hard to penetrate for the eastern game makers.

Now, on the contrary, these idealized forms surely appeals to younger gamers who in their stage of life seek to find their own ideal form, since few kids nowadays have good role models to look up to. These forms may appeal to them, but not the to the rest of the adult gaming demographic.

That's just me though, although I'm sure some gamers out there feel the same.

I believe that games should show more vulnerability in their characters, stories, and how they make the player feel. If the player always feel empowered, they will get bored. We need to make the player feel real through a wide range of emotions, and with that we can stimulate internal personal growth. I think that's what ultimately Hecker's argument boils down to, the fact that we're stuck in the same emotion and our audience is becoming numb to it.

It's when we can show the player how they may feel in a particular situation then we are succeeding as designers. It's when we can pass on our own life experience through an interactive medium that we truly capitalize on gaming as a medium for transmission of knowledge, and that's ultimately where the strength in games lies.

I believe the next wave of successful games will appeal to the adult demographic, one that that seeks to get to know themselves better by experiencing a wide range of emotions that come with choices, mistakes, and real consequences. This is what will give our games the edge that adults crave. This is the kind of reward we should give to the player, and it will not come through idealizing the characters, environments, or experiences in the games that we make because then we are simply slapping our audience in the face and not taking them seriously at all.

Luis Guimaraes
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I think what makes me not like such claims when I hear them is the sensation that people are just wanting games to be alternative realities, escapist drugs, dreams or whatever.

Everytime I hear "games must make the player feel empowered", "you should reward the player"...

Lately easy games playing for you, stupid achievements, overpowered player characters, mmo's and so on...

I don't need The Matrix.

It's just being more and more escapism, that's what I see, and it's sad.

Or maybe it's wrong from my side to not agree when I read "players wanna feel empowered, that's why they play", that's far away from why I play any game...

jaime kuroiwa
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I'm glad that this topic generated such a passionate discussion, but Mr. Hecker's point (to me) becomes muddled in his examples.

Comics are a "pop cultural ghetto?"

You don't have to look further than Comicon to see comics' influence on culture worldwide. I don't see how heading towards the comic book industry practices is in any way a negative direction.

Toys are the "low road?"

Seriously? Toys have no "meaning?" As an avid toy collector, I won't begin to explain how offensive I find that statement.

The AI director and co-op multiplayer in L4D is "vacuous?"

Valve are masters of the genre, and the innovations in L4D are just as powerful as those in Portal. Just because it uses the FPS as its foundation, they seem to be the only ones pushing the genre forward.

Facade is the hardest game to make?

The only reason making a game about people in a room is difficult is because it needs to be interesting; That goes for any medium. It has little to do with complexity. Also, while I'm impressed by Facade, Starship Titanic's Spookitalk preceded Facade's conversation gameplay by almost a decade, so it's not as if the approach hasn't been tried before.

Games need to include the human condition to have a cultural impact?

I've heard this argument used in regards to action movies -- see Daniel Craig's Bond -- but I've come to see this as more of a fad than an innovation. The appeal of this feature is because of its in a minority. Once every game includes the human condition, people will eventually call for a power fantasy.

The "grain" is much stronger in games than it is in any other medium. I would associate the industry's process is more of an assembly-line than artistic endeavor; that's where the problem lies. Asking, "why" at this point would be immediately answered with, "because."

Andrew Dobbs
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People often proclaim whatever gameplay or gamestyle they are interested in as the best way to make a game. It's the same for books, movies, comics, and music.

There isn't a specific theme, or content, or any rule for how to make something culturally significant. Just make a great game that appeals to you and someone else will like it and get something from it.

I hate to break it to all the idealists, but playing a game isn't going to change someone's life. Most media doesn't. Even if it does "change" someone, it's only going to last for a couple days at best. Things don't change people. AI doesn't change people. People change people.

Regarding Facade, and creating a message through mechanics...that can all be viewed as just a slightly more clever way to deliver a traditional linear narrative. To say someone can escape from a cultural ghetto through a game mechanic is to suggest there is ontological meaning behind the height of Mario's jump or the rate at which a civ accrues resources.

The only why game makers need to worry about is why their game isn't fun. Our biggest concern is the gameplay ghetto not the cultural ghetto. Get over yourself.

John Petersen
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I don't think "Why?" is really the answer.

Movies, comic books, trading cards, etc are easy inexpensive entertainment. Video games are not.

While the system specs for each game gets jacked up, the price goes up. Only a small relative percent of the population will ever try to keep up with that as far as entertainment goes. Then on top of that video games aren't reliable. The machines break, a couple of hundred dollars there, the disk gets scratched another trip to the store there, wrong display equipment, to much to figure out, to much money to invest.

Video games aren't driven by simplicity, nothing about them is simple nor affordable, and specially not reliable.

I think sometimes, that the industry forgets that gamers do grow up, and just because the gamers grow up doesn't mean their pockets get fuller.

Another problem I see is that videogames do things halfassed. For example:

I was really looking forward to playing this great hunting game while waiting on hunting season, it turns out to be a great game, but, the system specs are off the charts. That's a halfassed attempt at reaching a broader audience.

Then you got a hunting game that has fishing in it, but the fishing part of the game is all wanky to play.

Then you got the best fishing game ever created, at the end is says "To be continued" it never was continued.

Then there's this great MMO, huge spaces, cool world. But there's nothing to do. A total money dump if you really want to play it to any degree.

I think the real question is "When?"... When is the industry gonna stop halfassing things and give the people what they really want, a full version of entertainment that's easily accessible at and affordable price?

If making money isn't the problem, then when will the industry deliver?

Dana Fortier
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At any rate, I have proof that games are culturally relevant - making this whole dialog moot.

From wikipedia :

On March 13, 2006, the French ministry of culture held a ceremony to elevate three famous video game designers to the dignity of Knight in the Order of Arts and Letters. Rayman's designer Michel Ancel, Alone in the Dark's creator Frédérick Raynal as well as legendary game designer Shigeru Miyamoto received their medal from the hands of minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres. The Minister said: "Because they are a cultural entertainment medium, video games are more than welcome rue de Valois [note: where the ministry sits in Paris]. 'Art is a game between all men from all times' said Marcel Duchamp. I am convinced that our country's vitality in the video game creation field is a guaranty of its capacity to innovate, to evolve and to create."

Great success! ...So now what? :)

Luis Guimaraes
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Isn't Sam&Max from Telltale games about "people" talking in a room?

Reid Kimball
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We can debate forever whether games are culturally relevant. Perhaps we ought to ask ourselves (us game designers) why we create games and I think, unfortunately, the answers will not be as varied as they ought to be for a dynamic and healthy games industry.

Arelius Areliusarson
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The higher idealism in games should stem from making games better not trying to elevate the artform to a higher social status. When you strive for that, you fail at game design.

You can make a play about sports, but you can't play sports as a thespian piece. It will cease to be a sport.

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This is the whole games as stories and stories are compelling augment isn't it? Why are some in the industry so compelled to tell a story in a game that moves people? I see a lot of movies, doesn't make them all good movies or moving ones. Some of them are down right ridiculous in the story telling department that it makes me wonder what all the hullabaloo is about concerning games as stories. Was Modern Warfare 2's 7 hour story compelling enough to make you think about the possibility of war between Russia and the United States? My military friend didn't think so much so as he was more concern about the patch on General Shepard's sleeve being wrong than about the story itself. My point is that if you want games to be moving pieces of media, the stop doing things half the way and start making games that will keep interest rather than show realism all the time. Even the earliest forms of theater strayed away for total realism.

Meredith Katz
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I don't understand why so often the game community doesn't *want* to try to create those artistic moments. Yes, not every game is art -- and not every game has to be -- but they can all be significant. If not life-changing, the sort of thing that still has significance.

They can take from other mediums to do this, or from their own -- interactivity.

From film, visual elements such as the expression on a character's face can have huge significance if the effort is put into animating it (I remember when I was much younger, and playing FF9, I'd spent... many many hours laughing at how overdone and flamboyant was, and then during one FMV, when he went into Trance form and turned with a look of anguish on his face, the expression was so well done that despite the fact I thought he was a ludicrous, ridiculous character, I ended up sympathizing for him despite myself).

From novels, the screenplay can use all sorts of technique to build significance -- think of Vagrant Story, how Sydney never finished his last line but Ashley said he understood. And we the player had to go back over it, think about it more and more, to really start to piece together what Sydney was trying to say and Ashley understood. Also from novels, and also using Vagrant story as an example, using the setting to build knowledge. Nobody SAYS exactly what happened 25 years ago, what the Duke's involvement was, etc, but the information was all there to be pieced together in the significance of location, in characters' motivations, and in what little exposition we were directly given.

And interactivity -- some of the most powerful moments in playing games has come from when the player is put directly in the character's shoes. On one side, having to do something to continue -- Metal Gear Solid, when you have to shoot Gray Fox yourself. The game is brilliantly built so that you don't want to, but you have to pull the trigger. It's a technique that builds empathy and understanding for the pain the character is in, and it's very effective when well done. (I believe God of War does this as well?) Or, on the opposite side, FFVII, when you approach the praying Aeris, and any button you push results in Cloud almost attacking her, despite the fact it shouldn't, from the logic of the controls, and you understand, as the player, so intuitively that Cloud is being controlled and fighting it, because you're trying so hard to find some button to press that won't make you hurt her. Game mechanics themselves can build that empathy -- look at Ico, where you spend so much of the game required by the game mechanics to hold the girl's hand, and even if this is sometimes frustrating, when she's taken away from you and you have to climb up by yourself, you the player feel *bereft*, feel that constant need which was carefully built up through the game to keep her in sight and know you *can't*.

All of the above example games are fun, they're all entertainment, they all sold between "fairly well" and "amazingly well". And all utilize artistic techniques to create moments of significance. I don't think it should be written off as unimportant or "academic". When you're engaging the player, any tool to make them feel or to make them understand should be examined and used.

Vlado Jokic
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@Meredith: Thank you for bringing up these examples in a manner that illustrates artistic and emotional significance across film, novels, and games. I think the reason why many game designers don't want to even try to create these artistic moments is because they themselves feel they can't, or they feel their character threatened by some internal emotional trigger. We've all been in moments where someone does something we do best even better than we can, and seemingly without effort. Makes us feel pretty small in that moment, right? Perhaps the media praising such necessary and significant artistic achievements is making some designers feel small and thus threatened, thus lashing back in a hostile manner towards change.

In the end, all forms of gaming have their place and audience, but the whole grain argument still holds no matter what we throw at it: while we keep making the same type of game that only caters to one type of audience, they will get numb to it and will grow out of it, leaving us without jobs. We need to adapt with the changing demographic and look at what our audience craves for because our audience grows and changes. Assuming that the demands of the marketplace are static is like signing a suicide note. Taking creative risk, and trying to innovate within a medium is a necessity for every single industry, not just our own.

Let's all explore and see what the gaming medium is capable of because we all know deep down inside that we've barely scratched the surface.

David Boudreau
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".. You're tuned into that easy listening sound

with a cap and gown, not a CROWN

No glitter, no makeup

Just smashin lyrics, that make up

the B, D, and the P

You pay for the hits, the advice is free

In this industry, we gotta grow

Commercial some go, but, y'know

just as important as they are

so is the underground superstar (like me)

You gotta ask yourself one question

Do I speak facts, or do I start guessin?

Learn the lesson, before you plan your career

Commercial or underground, where

do you fit, cause BOTH sides write hits

And all is rap, I'll admit

But what I've come to EXPLAIN

is that these people LOVE to play a game

They wanna make it seem like YOU'RE WRONG

for writin the reality song

(Don't touch those issues, don't talk about dat

We don't acknowledge rap)

What? They want you on their basis

Cause if you bring out the brown, you're racist

But if you bring out the pink, well wait, it's OK

Yeah, they won't stop it

I guess it's alright to act demonic

I guess it's alright to act demonic

But that's another chapter, in another book

I've come to show a different look

And that look is the WHOLE of rap

Not just the commercial pap

but the UNDERGROUND, that RAW ghetto sound

from which rap music was found

So you can't deny it, you cannot refuse it

I'll be rockin that GHETTO MUSIC

People keep tellin me, 'Kris!

You need more radio

Yeah man, that's the way to go!

You gotta be like so-and-so to go platinum,'

then I attack em

I rhyme for the ghetto, I teach the ghetto

I cannot let go, change up? Heck no

In the ghetto, I stay mellow

We're in effect yo, ready, set, go

FRESH, for [two thousand]-nine, you suckers

Peace to P.E., and the Jungle Brothers

Others, have come, to master the art

They start, with heart, then fall apart

Like a dart I shoot for one target (BO BO)

Ghetto music, yeah they'll never chart it

Cause now in eighty-nine, the purpose of a rhyme

is to strengthen and uplift the mind

Although I'll achieve and achieve and achieve

it's simple, I'll never leave

Cause every time you front for

respect you LOSE it


We're supposed to be worried about the perception of our medium as "fine art"? Do we _have_ to be snobs? Give me a good comic over some stuffy museum. Otherwise good points.

John Connors
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I've felt much the way Hecker has for some time. It's a problem with multiple prongs, partly economic partly technological. Films and books generally have one person with complete creative control, which allows something to spring from an individuals artistic vision. It's not a coincidence that the games most recongnisably congruent with art come from the practitioneers of Interactive Fiction such as Emily Short: the medium allows an individual to create and craft a game in their own time for a very low cost. Until we see a production technology that allows this for conventional graphical games, and a commnity emerges its very unlikely that we will see progress. Either that or the whole professional production model changes..

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Chris Crowell
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Chris has certainly thrown down the latest gauntlet on this topic. The comparison with other artistic media is valid regarding their success at being recognized channels for artistic expression.

I think we need to begin the next stage of discussion on what those other mediums DO that makes them culturally relevant? What does Meaningful Expression mean?

To me (opinion disclaimer, other views may be valid) the way Meaningful Expression [ME] is achieved is by evoking in the consumer some contemplation on the real world [IRL]. This can be any of a variety of topics such as The Human Condition, Our Place in the Universe, Why are We Here, etc. The point is that the experience triggers, in at least some people, this reflection and possible re-evaluation of the topic.

Clearly this is a step beyond merely proving a level of excitement or setting a daunting challenge, tasks at which we now excel.

This is the WHY that Chris has thrown at us all. The power of games is that it puts the consumer INSIDE the experience as a driver, not a passenger. WTF? How does one deal with that when delivering profound experiences? Actually, thats how virtually ALL profound experiences have happened prior to the last few decades of film and wide spread reading, and still is the big dog. But it happens via real world interactions, not video games. Our challenge is specifically to combine accessible engaging activity with thought provoking content. Summed up like that, it doesnt sound so hard. But it IS harder than our norm. The good news for many is that this additional task falls mostly on the shoulders of the Creative Directors and Lead Designers, not the rest of the dev team. The Sistine Chapel is not famous for the amount of paint used or for some revolutionary technological breakthrough, but for the moving resonance of the content presented. Luckily for everyone, the GOAL of the painting project was to make something sublime, not create a sweet return on investment (with incentives to cutting corners). Maybe we should get grants from museums or foundations to make Arty Games? For myself, I try to slip a little thoughtful content into my games in ways that do not distract from their commercial main goal.

Exciting games that provide thrills are awesome, they are just not ALL we can create. Games wrap us up in their own unique kind of magical glamours, and thats really effing cool. We wield that magic.

Jesse Fuchs
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Thanks to David Bourdreau, my new life goal is to create a game as artistically, narratively, and ethically successful as "Love's Gonna Getcha (Material Love)". Given that no such game exists as yet, I imagine it would do quite well.

Jesse Fuchs
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P.S. I'd like to take this moment to officially call "dibs" on actually entitling a game "Now Tell Me What The Fuck I'm Supposed To Do". In retrospect, I'm amazed that Roberta Williams didn't get there first.