The games medium is on the treshold of maturity. Maturity, for me, is defined by variety: variety in experiences, variety in the audience. When there’s a game out there for every single person on the planet looking to be entertained, the medium will be mature. I believe that the major thing standing in the way of this happening is what many consider to be the core of the medium: the high priority put on gameplay and fun. And I think we are about to abandon it.
The reason why I think so is because of the growing discrepancy between the narratives that games deal with and the things that their gameplay expresses. In the past, stories in games were simplistic. There were only so many pixels to paint a picture and children were the prime target audience. The gameplay was equally simplistic, so the whole thing felt together. This is why Mario and Zelda continue to convince.
In the past years, however, we have seen an enormous growth in the kinds of stories games try to deal with. Gameplay, on the other hand, has not evolved (or it may have achieved its absolutely perfection and there is no room to evolve further). In fact, I would argue that in essence, the gameplay of virtually all AAA titles is the same, even though their stories are vastly diffferent. Tomb Raider plays the same as Bioshock plays the same as God of War plays the same as Gears of War plays the same as Assassin’s Creed. Gameplay has become a standardized formal layer on top of narrative worlds that vary greatly.
This is probably one of the reasons why the true hardcore gamers have turned away from commercial games in favour of independent games, where stories and gameplay often still form a consistent whole. One could definitely argue that, in terms of pure game design, independent games are often superior.
But pure gameplay holds very little appeal to the majority people. People don’t play Halo because it allows them to shoot things and score points. You can do this in any game. I believe that it is only a matter of time for game designers to understand that what their gameplay is expressing has nothing to do with what they are really trying to talk about. And then they will be forced to take the next logical step: to rid themselves from the archaic concept of gameplay and step into the broader realm of interactive entertainment. When this happens, the doors to the medium’s maturity will be wide open.