But few developers set their sights on a lower-hanging, if more bitter fruit: games that would demystify the medium, to use Ecko’s words. Literature and film are indeed media in the service of art, but they are also media in the service of much more mundane goals. Consider everything that is possible to do with film.
For one part, we can use moving images to discover the nature of human experience, like the exploration of bitterness and compassion in Casablanca. For another part, we can use moving images to document our ordinary lives, as in a home movie of a child’s birthday party to be shared with (or more likely archived for) one’s extended family. For yet another part, we can use moving images to explain ordinary phenomena, like the operation of the seat belt in an airplane safety video. As expressive artifacts, Casablanca, the home movie, and the airplane safety video have very little in common. But as media artifacts, they have many things in common, in terms of the filmic techniques used to capture and project moving images.
In fact, the birthday party and airplane safety videos would both be impossible without the long history of film as a medium of documentation and expression that preceded them. But the banality of these later examples also increases the total attention we pay as a culture to moving images in the first place. We see films all around us, in many different contexts, and this makes film in general more comprehensible as a medium.
Very few video games set out to tackle mundane applications akin to the home movie or the airplane safety video. And really, is it very surprising? Who would set their sights on these mundane aspects of human experience, things that recede into the background, given the glitzy alternative of commercial games?
Serious games offer one example. These are games whose mission includes applications of video games outside the sphere of entertainment. These are games that train soliders and corporate employees, educate middle-schoolers and technology certification hopefuls, help diabetics manage their blood sugar, try to persuade consumers to purchase products and services.
Certainly many of these activities seem to be just as banal as pointing out the exits on a Boeing 767. Serious games thus have an important role to serve in video games’ attempts to mature as a medium—not because they train or educate or inform, but because they help make games more boring.
Then consider Nintendo’s popular Brain Age for the Nintendo DS, along with all of its sequels and knock-offs. Brain Age has been celebrated not only as a tremendous commercial success, but also a contributor toward making games more appealing to a broader audience. In his keynote at the 2007 Game Developers Conference, Shigeru Miyamoto even suggested that Brain Age was largely responsible for drawing his wife into games.