No future for games?

I very much enjoyed reading Steve Gaynor’s insightful article about the future of games. There’s a lot of good points in the article, so I recommend reading the whole bit as any kind of summary would not do it credit. His main point is that

video games will never become a significant form of cultural discourse the way that novels and film have

I find it interesting that he isn’t talking about the medium as an art form but simply as something with cultural relevance, be it good or bad quality, high or low brow. The main obstacles for games, according the Mr. Gaynor, are high barriers to access and a certain attitude within the industry to continuously cater to the same incrowd. He likens this situation with that of comic strips which, despite of having produced several master pieces, are still by and large regarded as juvenile.

The one thing that I think Mr. Gaynor is overlooking is that the new medium that he is talking about, is not “games” as such but a much wider field of interactive entertainment. Games are a subset of the interactive medium. Almost as much a genre as action movies are a genre of cinema (and perhaps even comic strips a genre of literature).

Games have been around for millenia. They are neither new nor are they a medium. They have their place in society but they have never had a cultural impact like architecture, painting, music, literature or movies. The mere fact that games are made with and enjoyed through computers will not change this.
Games are not what is interesting and new about this medium! What it is exactly, we haven’t quite figured out yet. But we’re working on it. Some of this work is done within the games industry. Some of it outside of the games industry.

Ico: early steps towards excellence in a new medium?

I share Mr. Gaynor’s pessimism about games ever becoming widely culturally relevant. In fact, I don’t find this pessimistic at all. It would worry me to no end if the human race would suddenly start playing games en masse. But I don’t believe his pessimism applies to the entire interactive medium. The small group of games that do reach further, may very well be the first steps into a much more accessible and widely relevant interactive medium. But that medium will probably not be called “games”.

Unless, perhaps, some smart business people in the games industry follow Mr Gaynor’s advice:

Who do you want to be backing further down the line: an insular, stunted medium like comics, or a full-grown, culturally-relevant, and hey, PROFITABLE, medium like film? We aren’t going to reach that point by catering to the current hardcore. And we’re not doing ourselves any good by assaulting the casual gamer with the deluge of crap that’s been thrown at the Wii audience so far. We’re going to expand our customer base by trying to give them new, subtle, interesting approaches to interactive experiences that are universal and human.

6 thoughts on “No future for games?”

  1. I think a gamey structure can be used for expression. It is the first structure in our medium, as there is the Sonata and so on in music (of course, the Sonata isn’t the first structure in music, but I’m not going to ramble on about music history)
    But notice I say “gamey”, not “game”.
    The inherent idea in a game is that of challenge. Is this no different to what many artists have done, and will do, and are doing?
    Of course it isn’t. But the challenge is at a more meaningful (mostly) level in a good painting, piece of fashion, or whatever.

    I haven’t read the article yet, so more thoughts tomorrow (yay!) , but I think games have still matured somewhat.
    How people think about them has even more.

    We use games as a mirror into ourselves. A large part of the meaning we give a painting is what we make up- ie. “interpret”.
    There’s a say “read a book with your ass and you expect an apostle?”- or something like that.

  2. While art may be challenging, it seldom is about this challenge. At least not the art that I appreciate. Games are about challenge. And even about overcoming challenge, which is even further removed from art.

    But anyway, the article isn’t about art at all. Which is part of why I liked it so much. The article is about the cultural impact of games. Or lack thereof.

  3. “They simply want to sit back and enjoy. They want media that will go on without them. They want received experience. Passiveness. They want to relax in front of the television set, doing not much of anything.”- quote from article.
    Disagree strongly. There’s still a “game” being played in one’s mind when one watched TV. The mind is not passive, the body may well be.
    I know nobody who wants a “passive” experience from TV.

  4. Thanks for the thoughts, Michael. You articulate the point about games being held back by their “game-ish” nature better than I could have– that video games aren’t unique for their rules and failure states, but for leveraging a uniquely interactive media experience, regardless of “winning” or “losing.” That’s a very clear distinction that I will keep in my head going forward.

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