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Persuasive Games: Why We Need More Boring Games

May 21, 2007 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

Fashion mogul Marc Ecko’s eponymous clothing company now brings in $1 billion a year in revenue.1 Recently, Ecko has branched out from rhino-emblazoned t-shirts, shoes, and underpants to popular media, including the consumer culture rag Complex Magazine, the extreme lifestyle YouTube knock-off, and the 2006 video game Mark Ecko’s Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure.

Recently, a canned interview with Ecko ran in popular magazines like Wired, paid for by financial consultants CIT Group.2 It’s one of those “Special Advertising Sections” designed to integrate so seamlessly into the magazine that it’s easy to mistake it for editorial content. In the interview, Ecko explains “What’s next” for his growing media conglomerate:

I want to keep growing in the video-gaming space. I believe it’s the Wild West of media culture. There’s something magical and abstract about gaming. Games aren’t yet demystified — versus movies, for example; there are TV shows about the making of movies.

Ecko’s point is both insightful and ironic. It contains a rather complex observation about the current state of video games as a medium: television is so familiar, it’s not even startling to think about television programming produced solely to discuss other media forms.

The same could not even be imagined of video games. The form of the insight reiterates Ecko’s point: his comments appear as a paid advertisement simulating a magazine interview, an absurd situation that is nevertheless completely legible to the millions of magazine readers whose eyes will pass over it. Magazines and television are just too mundane, too boring for these things to be very surprising.

Marc Ecko is not interested in the mundane; his sights are firmly set on the flashier side of the medium he already began to explore in Getting Up, itself a critically underappreciated game that hides a critique of an autocratic police state in a game about graffiti.3 But we can turn his observation on its head and use it to find an omission in the industry’s vision for the future of video games: demystification is a possible design goal for game developers.

The commercial game industry largely strives for Hollywood blockbuster-style spectacles. The fledgling indie game scene often privileges new gameplay mechanics or subjects for games, but just as frequently it showcases the hopeful yet derivative swing of so many minor-leaguers trying to break into the majors. Despite major differences, both efforts trace the earnest hope that video games are an expressive medium as important as film or literature, but different in form.

Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

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