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My "Next" Games: Families, Psychology, and Murder

August 8, 2001 Article Start Page 1 of 2 Next
 

"What's your ideal game? If you could work on any kind of game you wanted to, what would your next game be?"

They're classic interview questions, of course, and in my role as a columnist I also hear them fairly frequently from readers and the press. I don't have an ideal game; that's a little like asking, "What is your ideal movie?" or "What is your ideal piece of music?" The interactive medium is capable of an infinity of games, and no one of them can possibly be ideal. The most elegant action game I've ever seen is Tetris, but that doesn't make it my ideal game or even my ideal action game. The action game I've most enjoyed playing is Tempest, the old Atari coin-op, but I wouldn't say that it was "ideal" either.

The second question, however, is more interesting. If I could work on any kind of game I wanted to and time, money, and resources were no object, I would design a sweeping fantasy epic of ancient India, filled with gods and demons, battles, intrigue, and high adventure. It would be a combination of RPG and wargame, and you could play it from several different perspectives: as the wise old general, the naïve young king, the evil vizier, the king's tyrannical mother, his brave older sister, his bitter younger brother, and so on. It would have many opportunities for great daring, noble sacrifice, evil plotting and grand strategy. There would be courage and compassion, treachery and terror, heartwrenching moral dilemmas and moments of high exhilaration. Its aim would be to touch your heart and to bring the magical world of Indian folklore to life in your mind. It would also cost at least five million dollars to do properly, and take two to four years to build. It's unlikely that any but an Indian company would take the risk to fund it, and I would certainly have to do a lot of research. Educating myself about the subject would be one of the chief joys of designing the game.

Dream game: An epic of ancient India, filled with gods and demons, battles, intrigue, and high adventure.

However, that's just the game I would build if I had all the money in the world. Even then it would be fairly traditional, and would break new ground chiefly in the area of its setting and subject matter, not in its overall goals. The average gamer would understand what it was about and how to play it pretty quickly.

If I were to design a truly new game, I would try to make it something never before seen at all. You'll notice that in the game I described above, the player would be given the opportunity to play one of several different members of a family or their close confidants. The family is a central structure in all our lives, dominating our emotions and profoundly influencing the way we live. It's a human universal: although the family has many, many different structures around the world, every single human being on the planet was cared for (with greater or lesser amounts of attention, skill and love) as a young child by someone. During that period we each formed deeply-held expectations about familial roles and obligations, both for ourselves and those around us.

I think there's a good reason that the gods of ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, and many other places were all related to one another. The gods could all have been independent, self-created beings, each living alone and supervising his own areas of responsibility. But polytheistic gods are humans by another name, and to appeal to the human soul they need human relationships. And our ongoing fascination with the British royal family is due as much to the fact that they are a family as to the fact that they are royal. Quiet, untroubled royal families like those of Sweden or the Netherlands don't interest us much; it's those tempestuous British royals with their pomp and ceremony, their petty infighting and their sex scandals that grab our attention. Democracy undoubtedly makes for better, fairer governments than monarchy, but as entertainment, democracy is as dull as ditchwater. In America we have two cable TV channels devoted to the government, but I would bet cash money that if America had a channel devoted to the British royal family it would get more viewers than both C-SPAN channels put together - even though the British royal family has nothing to do with America.


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