Nordic 2012: Curran tells gamers to look beyond genres and play everything
Drawing comparisons between the decline of punk rock and video games, former Zoë Mode creative director Ste Curran delivered a Nordic Game Conference talk calling on people to stop dismissing Justin Bieber and to play Draw Something.
Curran is probably best known for his work with Edge magazine, video game radio show One Life Left, and for fabricating a forum populated by fictional users that eventually drew media attention.
After opening his talk with personal anecdotes about an encounter with an old friend and his experiences at a Britney Spears concert, Curran went on to state that nothing is objectively credible. "It has something to do with authorship, about the number of people who like it, the time you discover it, the emotional palette, the color and texture of that thing in comparison to other similar things."
Curran then made an example of '90s punk-rock group Green Day and how there were people who may state that Green Day is derivative, that they are not as genuine or as pure as the things that these people liked. He noted, however, that personal perception did not change the fact that such things, derivative or not, can appear "new and cool and sharp and interesting" to those who had only newly arrived on the scene.
"Games are like punk rock." Curran stressed. "That's the path that we've been traveling."
In the talk, which was entitled "The Slow Death of Punk Rock," Curran observed that both video games and the punk rock movement really began thirty or forty years ago and how, in the beginning, the term "punk" or "gamer" was often viewed with contempt by society.
However, as both markets grew more refined and more profitable, that perception changed. "While the snobbery persisted, punk rock and video games were slowly becoming accepted. They were just containers; they could sell. They were turning commercial. As the industry got better and better, it began to feel as though things were losing their edge to those who were there from the start."
"We grew older," Curran said. "The thing that we loved changed under our feet. We fell in love with the Ramones, we rolled our eyes at Blink 182. We fell in love with Doom, we rolled our eyes at Modern Warfare 3."
Introducing more people to games, not driving them away
According to Curran, passion is finite. "You can only spend that much time in a timeline as your attention commands, regardless of whether we're talking about music or video games." However, while it is easy to be enticed to a new music genre, Curran noted that it can be more complicated with video games.
"We're surrounded by all kinds of music everywhere, snippets of music that can lure us to different things," said Curran. "Each of them have a different texture. With games, this emotional palette seems so much thinner. There are a few obvious exits from Doom to things that felt different, things that were different."
He added, "However, I feel like we're starting to fill all that empty space in with new games, social games, music games and so on -- all these things offer completely different emotional experiences from each other and provide our medium with the texture to keep people in our industry longer."
Curran enthused about the highly-regarded music game Chime, a game that he had participated in the development of. "Chime is a synergy between music and games, somewhere between a sequencer and Tetris. It's a cross-pollination of ideas. We want to bring new people to games and, maybe, take people from games to new music too."
"The more people we bring into the industry from outside, the better. We get new starting points, new ways of working, new ideas."
He observed that many of those who think about games have a tendency to focus on what is "cool and credible." He said, "I hear so much snobbery from those who refer to themselves as gamers. They talk about how mainstream is dead, done, boring, and it reminds me more and more of those bores who claim they only like a certain type of music.
"I realize I've been doing the same thing with games. When Andy [the friend in his story] mentioned Modern Warfare 3, I cringed. It's the sort of things that I don't want to be associated with. But, just because I've seen this thing before, it doesn't mean other people have."
Curran continued, "I think indie aggressiveness puts off as many people as it wins them over; the more you dismiss people, the harder it is to get them to come over to your side."
Looking beyond genres
In what may have been the most impassioned moment of the talk, Curran stated that people who only play indie games were, to him, as bad as those who only read divisive music review site Pitchfork. "The people who only play retro games are the people who play Beatles exclusively and ignore everything else.
"The people who only listen to Justin Bieber are awful, but the people who dismiss him just because he's Justin Bieber are awful as well. Much of his music is terrible, but it's manufactured by humans. You might think it's terrible, but it has nothing to do with Justin Bieber. We have to stop seeing this all as genres, and start seeing it as music and songs. We have to do the same with games."
Curran implored the crowd to extricate themselves from their respective niches. "Play Dance Central. Screw Zynga, play Draw Something. Play Solitaire. Play the Gossip Girl Boardgame. Learn to understand why people play. Play the stuff you ignore because it's manufactured. Play Batman because it's awesome."
"Fuck genres. Fuck reviews. Fuck what you should do. Play everything and apply that to every part of your lives."
He concluded the talk by reiterating the similarities between punk rock and video games. "As with punk, fans like me do get bored and drift away. It's easy to find a new love in music but not in video games.
"The conversation in games is wider now, and we can make it even wider by bringing in new creatives," Curran said. "We have to put away our preconceptions and realize that there is no one true way to make or play games. There are hundreds, millions of things to play and we're discovering new ones all the time."
"Media is subjective. Sometimes, we forget a piece of media is subjective. What we get from it is dependent on our history and on the thing itself. What is boring and derivative for some can be the entry point for someone else. Sometimes, the thing you love is not better. You're just old."