Main Entry: welt·schmerz
Pronunciation: ˈvelt-ˌshmerts
Function: noun
Usage: often capitalized
Etymology: German, from Welt world + Schmerz pain
Date: 1864

1 : mental depression or apathy caused by comparison of the actual state of the world with an ideal state
2 : a mood of sentimental sadness

Weltschmerz (from the German, meaning world-pain or world-weariness) is a term coined by the German author Jean Paul and denotes the kind of feeling experienced by someone who understands that physical reality can never satisfy the demands of the mind.

The modern meaning of Weltschmerz in the German language is the psychological pain caused by sadness that can occur when realizing that someone’s own weaknesses are caused by the inappropriateness and cruelty of the world and (physical and social) circumstances. Weltschmerz in this meaning can cause depression, resignation and escapism,

the prevailing mood of melancholy and pessimism associated with the poets of the Romantic era that arose from their refusal or inability to adjust to those realities of the world that they saw as destructive of their right to subjectivity and personal freedom—a phenomenon thought to typify Romanticism

Weltschmerz was characterized by a nihilistic loathing for the world and a view that was skeptically blasé.

Main Entry: bla·sé
Pronunciation: blä-ˈzā
Variant(s): also bla·se
Function: adjective
Etymology: French
Date: 1819

1 : apathetic to pleasure or excitement as a result of excessive indulgence or enjoyment : world-weary
2 : sophisticated, worldly-wise
3 : unconcerned
synonyms see sophisticated

If Doom is Rock and Roll, then The Path is…

In the wake of The Art History of Games symposium, Tracy V. Wilson’s question as to whether art games are (still) games made me realize that Frank Lantz’s observation that Doom is like rock and roll may hold even more water than I originally assumed.

Maybe we can think of rock and roll as a kind of “hyper” version of traditional folk music that was made possible through technology (electronically amplified instruments and vinyl records). Much like videogames could be seen as a “hyper” version of traditional games enabled by the technology of computers (both as creative tool and distribution platform). Like videogames, rock and roll added a certain vitality and emotional depth to an ancient tradition that totally absorbed a new generation. *

This analogy gets really interesting for me when we start thinking of more extreme or experimental forms of rock music. In the beginning, rock and roll, like videogames, was relatively straightforward and all about fun. But then some people started experimenting and things like The Doors and Velvet Underground happened, followed soon by Sex Pistols, Crass and Dead Kennedys. **

One could argue that the music of Sonic Youth, Psychic TV or Einstürzende Neubauten is as much removed from the “fun” of rock and roll as the games by Jason Rohrer, Daniel Benmergui and yours truly are from the “fun” of videogames. Interestingly, it seems that it is exactly in the deviation that this type of rock (or videogames) starts claiming artistic value. Not only by virtue of not being fun, but also by introducing “alien” elements to the form like noise, unusual structures or narrative content previously deemed unsuitable.

Pollock, Rohrer, Rotten
The hairline may be only one of many things that Jason Rohrer shares more with Johny Rotten than with Jackson Pollock.

So rather than thinking of people who experiment with videogames as new Jackon Pollocks or Kiki Smiths, maybe we should think of them as new Nick Caves or Siouxsie Siouxs. They are taking a new technological incarnation of an old analog form and are introducing elements to it that seem to contradict the form’s original merits. And by doing so, they get closer to what is commonly perceived of as artistic.

Next to the more rock-oriented deviations, we may soon be seeing the videogames equivalents of Philip Glass and Michael Nyman and perhaps even Stockhausen or Górecki, as some developers may reject not only the “hyper” version of the form (rock and roll/videogame) but also its non-electronic predecessor (folk music/game).

All this time, of course, rock and roll, as videogames, continues to exist. Once in a while it is influenced by the more artistic experiments. But often it is not. And the two co-exist, appealing often to different audiences, but equally often not without significant overlaps. Sometimes we like playing Mario. Sometimes we immerse ourselves in The Void. Much like sometimes we dance to Abba while other times we need a dose of Cocteau Twins.

* Oddly, there’s a similarity between the two on a social level too. Both traditional games and folk music are often group activities that are mostly about interacting with other humans and having a fun time together. Rock and roll and videogames add a much more explicit notion of authorship to the form and introduce a more severe separation between author and audience, up to the point where enjoying the music or the game could become a solitary activity, thanks to reproduction and distribution technologies.

** Punk is an interesting case because it started as anti-rock and roll but was quickly reintroduced into the mainstream via bands like The Ramones and The Clash who made it fun again.

Art History of Games presentation online

We have posted the text and slides of our presentation at the Art History of Games symposium last Saturday in Atlanta.

Over Games

Videogames are stuck. Despite of the ongoing technical evolution and the continuous calls for a new medium, videogames have stopped evolving. They have found their comfort zone. Videogames are happy. Happy being exactly what they are. Fun activities that nurture our inner child.

While our inner grown-up is starving!

We need a new medium that can help us cope with the complexity of our post-historic universe. The interactive, non-linear and generative capacity of computer technology offers such a medium. There is no need however to limit what we create with this technology to the format of games. The possibilities are endless.

There’s a lot of work to do.

Videogames have taken computer technology hostage. It is time to liberate the medium and start feeding our starving hearts and minds. We need to stop making games and look further, go farther, step into a new world. Create interactive entertainment for all instead of squeezing people into oppressive sets of rules and goals. We have the technology. We have the desire. So let’s get to work!


Frictional: “How gameplay and narrative kill meaning”

We’re not alone! :)

Frictional Games is one of the most ambitious and at the same time under-appreciated independent developers. They are one of very few forward looking companies in the independent scene and don’t nearly get enough credit for it (this year’s IGF proved no exception with its jury ignorantly rejecting Frictional’s new project “Amnesia“).

Anyway, Frictional’s Thomas Grip has written a very clear analysis of how the “focus on narrative and gameplay is holding back interactive media’s potential”. The little essay echoes our own thoughts on the subject but Mr Grip suggests a certain terminology that is very helpful (if not entirely intuitive), opposing meaning to narrative and interaction to gameplay. With us, he is “quite convinced (…) that there is a vast new world to explore if the interaction is in focus, instead of gameplay and narrative”.

While gameplay at the core of game making, it comes with a lot of baggage and makes certain meanings harder to realize in the medium. The most striking issue is the entire failure mechanism that is used in just about any game. You try a certain task, you fail and then have to repeat it. As described in other posts, this can be especially damaging in horror games, where repeating scenes seriously lessens the experience. This mechanism also imposes limits on the player’s rate of progress and effectively tells the player: “Either you complete this or you will not proceed!”. Other baggage include the notion that gameplay must be fun and the need to constantly pose challenges. What I mean with the last point is that players assume that a game will always keep them occupied with some kind of obstacle to overcome. This leads to very little interactive content that is added for its intrinsic sake alone. Instead a game’s interactive content almost always have some connection to the goals of the gameplay.

Read the entire post here.

My New Year’s Resolutions

1. More Independence
2. Less games

The start of a new decade feels like an appropriate time to get ambitious. Out with the old, in with the new! Not that there’s going to be any extreme changes around here. My resolutions mostly concern a change in attitude, in philosophy. But, with any luck, they will take us further. And in the right direction.

While these resolutions have been bubbling up for a while, two things were direct triggers: Auriea’s realisation that her favourite games of the decade are all over 5 years old and our recent visit to the Belgian incarnation of the historical Game On exhibition where it became very clear how much more fun the old arcade games are than the new pseudo-narrative shiny next gen titles upon which I had based a lot of my hopes.


We don’t want to make obscure art. This is a big part of the reason why we choose to work with digital media. We don’t even want to make art per se. We just want to share beautiful moments and elegant thoughts with people who are open to them. And perhaps, in our most audacious daydreams, we’d hope to make a small contribution to a more harmonious world.

Accessibility is one of the reasons why we don’t shy away from commerce. Commerce is an efficient way to distribute things in a capitalist system. And thanks to the abundance of the digital, we can sell our work very cheaply. But commerce also has a way of confusing an artist, of holding you back. Commerce forces you to think about seduction -even when it’s not appropriate- and to favour projects with commercial potential over others that might be more relevant artistically. We like our work to be accessible. But we want that to be an artistic choice and not an economic requirement.

We’re not very good at commerce anyway. We don’t have clever business minds. And our work is just a bit too far away from the ordinary to appeal to people who do. But above all, thinking about commerce -however exciting it may sometimes be- always ends in bogging us down, to slowing us down, to depressing us.

I want us to become less dependent. Less dependent on money, less dependent on success, less dependent on quantity. And focus exclusively on quality. This includes improving the accessibility of our work! While commercial pressure may motivate one to lower the threshold of their productions, it only does so towards a specific target audience, effectively locking everyone else out. It would be possible to optimize our work to be very accessible for hardcore gamers. But at the expensive of other people we might also want to communicate with. We want our work to be more widely accessible. We don’t want to depend on any specific niche.

None of this leads to any radical decisions. This is just a resolution that can guide us when making future decisions. As of now, I want to focus on self-sufficiency. And favour non-profit or break-even operations over commercial ones. Or even figure out ways to make losing money bearable. It’s ok if that means working on smaller projects. As long as they are “big on the inside”.

Games over

This year, I’m going to care less about games. And as a result, I will probably enjoy them more.

I give up.
I give up on my hopes for videogames to become a valid cultural medium.
I’ve been fighting very hard. I’ve been putting my money where my mouth is. For several years already. Almost a decade.

But the games industry is merrily traveling in the opposite direction. Videogames are not changing anymore. They seem to have lost that capacity. Sure, the technology still evolves, so everything gets more shiny. But this is not leading to any sort of evolution, let alone the required revolution. The desire is simply not there.

Because videogames are happy just as they are. The videogame culture is extremely pleased with itself. A few years ago, people were still complaining about “sequelitis”. No everybody merrily plays Hip Shootgame #13 and Cool Jumpgame #26, with no objections. On the contrary! Everybody gets very solemn and deep when yet another war simulator hits the shelves. Only to forget it within the first week of release.

Gamers, publishers, journalists are all very happy! Who am I to spoil their fun? If they feel comfortable in a juvenile ghetto that is irrelevant to culture, good for them. I’m out of here.

Maybe this is another incarnation of my desire for independence: I want to be independent from the games industry. And from the games format.

Games are fun. Let them be fun. And let’s do something else, when we want to be serious. Let’s focus on interactive entertainment that is not games (let’s call them “notgames” for now :) ). With a technology that is so versatile and powerful, why should we limit our productions and enjoyment to the single format of games, a format that has been around for centuries and doesn’t even need computers to exist?

I realize that it has always been our mission at Tale of Tales to explore the potential of the interactive medium. But so far, this has happened in some form of conflict with videogames, based on our misguided belief that videogames had potential to grow, to grow into a medium (which, believe it our not, still seemed possible only 5 years ago). Simply letting go of the connection, will make our job a lot easier as it will help us explore with far less constraints. Leaving behind the idea that we’re making a game, opens up a world of creative possibilities!


But more than that, I want to stimulate research and development of notgames. Instead of continuously having senseless arguments with game fans, developers and theorists, I want to gather together the brightest ideas concerning non-game interactive entertainment. Without the noise and the distractions. Maybe we’ll start a blog about the subject, with news, essays, opinion pieces, debates. A place where ideas can be explored and shared and discussed. I would also like to commission designers and artists to make new non-game interactive projects. Maybe there can be a competition like those ubiquitous game making competitions, but about making interactive entertainment that is not games -far more exciting and certainly a much larger area to explore. And finally, I’m looking into the possibility of starting a sort of label -like a record label- to publish and distribute notgames.

If you would like to contribute to any of this, please post a comment or send email.

Happy New Year! :)

Auriea’s Top 9 Games of the Decade

Decided to take the difficult step of listing what I feel were my most worthwhile gaming experiences of the past 10 years. (Inspired by the top 12 list compiled by Gamasutra)
All the games on this list had to fit several criteria: a) I had to have played it all the way through. Indeed, most of these I’ve played multiple times. b) They had to have changed my life in some way. Either in the “ah, I wish I could make that” inspirational kind of way. Or by virtue of having added some meaning to my existence and stuck with me even though I played them long ago… (games can do that.) So…

10. Neverwinter Nights (played 2002-2004)
The only RPG in 10 years that I’ve played all the way through, multiple times, obsessively. (And all the official expansion packs, plus many adventures that were created in the player community.) I got very involved with this game. I became fascinated by how it was made, the character design, how the authoring tools worked, how its multiplayer worked. I guess this was the first game-with-an-editor I really looked to for insight of how big games are put together. The minimal GUI, that right click radial menu, sweet design decisions. NWN and A Tale in The Desert were big for me in imagining how navigation could work for The Endless Forest.

9. Shadow of Memories (played 2001)
A “choose your own adventure” type story with the character going backwards and forwards through time to figure out his own murder. One of the more complex plots of any game I played the last 10 years, actually. One of the only games I’ve ever played multiple times just to find out what all the alternate endings were. I wish there were more games like THIS… now, today, with contemporary graphics and less cut scenes. sigh.

8. Kessen II (played 2002)
At the time I was totally blown away by the aesthetics of this one. Kind of a cheesy plot (even if it is _based on Romance of the Three Kingdoms) but still, very engaging. I remember that I loved the over the top character design and the magic effects when spellcasting. I wanted to think up a game that needed such elaborate stuff as that! And while it is an RTS, it wasn’t so very much of an RTS to turn me off. I enjoyed winning the game and then starting it over playing from the “bad guy” point of view. But yeah, for me it was all about the particle effects!

7. there is no number 7. I WOULD put The Path here… but that would just be weird 😉 … Gotta admit though, I love it best and the game changed my life more than any other…

6. Silent Hill 3 (played 2003)
SH3 was one of those games I anticipated for months, scouring game sites for screenshots and shaky conference videos. Every time I found something new, it showed me how beautiful game graphics could be. Amazing character design and even the plot worked… maybe a bit too much. The main character of Heather was truly unique. A teenage girl. The soundtrack was absolutely perfect blend of mall pop and creepy Yamaoka standards. I credit this game with, what is for me, the scariest and eeriest put-down-the-controller-and-back-away moment in gaming. (I’m not gonna spoil it for you… have a “Making of” video instead.)

5. Black & White (played 2001-2002)
Peter Molyneux is an idiot for having listened to critics of this game. It is the most amazing game he has ever made. He had such an awe-inspiring team of programers and the freedom to execute some unique ideas! For all the flaws, it’s a work of genius. I lost entire days! Lost in being a god over those little worlds. The zooming in to see the tiny details and then backing out and being the master of all I surveyed! Training my animal to mimic me. Miracles! No other game swept me away like that. And you bet it influenced us a wee bit when making the ABIOGENESIS feature in The Endless Forest. Biggest disappointment of the decade was when Black & White 2 turned out to be completely different and more of an RTS than a god game.

4. Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly (played 2004)
ah man… I just love love lovelove love this game <3 <3 <3

3. Animal Crossing (played 2004-ongoing)
The whole family played this game for a solid year on Gamecube. It was the must-have reason I bought a Nintendo DS. We got it for the Wii and it is STILL the only game we play with any regularity. Relaxing, bonding, creative. I admire it for actually trying to trigger nostalgia, and succeeding! Memories of my AC town on a sunny fall afternoon with the cicadas chirping and I, at the waterfall, fishing for Coelacanth… If we ever make a simulation game, this will be the reason why.

2. Silent Hill 2 (played 2001)
I can credit this game as the reason why when Michael suggested we should try our hand at making video games, I said YES absolutely. Before playing SH2 I had no idea a game could get to me like that. SH2 didn’t seem to make any concessions; confusing, ruthless, imperfect. I wanted to make something like that. YES.
This, is my #1 favorite cutscene in any game, ever.

1. Ico (played 2002)
We were working on the scenario of 8 and making the first demos. Michael found a news item on some game site about Ico. We were astounded at the description, in that it had a lot in common with our designs for 8. We kept the game on our radar and bought it the day it came out. Like no other game played this decade, with Ico I was moved, I was inspired to tears of joy and sorrow. If you ask me, THIS is Fumito Ueda’s masterpiece. When seeing a character’s idle motion carries with it so much meaning. When I long to go back to the sundrenched grassy knoll just to chase the birds. To hold Yorda’s hand, listen to the waterfall and stare at the view. When I cannot wait to meet the “boss” because I know it is the coolest moment in the game. It has to be my favorite game of the decade.

Now look at this list.
Isn’t it odd that the games I loved most were all in the years 2001-2004. And nothing after 2004.
I guess the “Next Gen” has been a total disaster for the gamer in me. There has not been one game that’s really done it for me since 2004! A few have tried to worm their way under my skin. I could list the short stint I did in Guild Wars or the myriad DS games I played (like the Phoenix Wright series or Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan!) that I thoroughly enjoyed. I regret that I couldn’t play Portal… I bet I would have liked that one. I’ve played some great indie games lately too. And on PS3 there’s been smaller games like flOw and Flower, and my Game of The Year is Noby Noby Boy. That one, yes, I found it refreshing!

Perhaps I’ve gotten harder to please as I get more analytical about what goes on in the industry or maybe it’s, as Michael believes, that creativity has lost ground to technology and pandering for cash. I have gotten older, my interests have changed, I am busier maybe. Loads of reasons why I have not found the joy in many games lately…. still its too bad. I miss the good old days.

Six of these years we’ve been making games, hardly a surprise that I had more fun with games before it became my “job” so to speak. I guess because I could take things more for granted, and everything seemed so much more like magic. I’m of course hoping that in this shiny new decade I will find games that have that certain something, and I can game, once again, like its 2002.

A bad year for dreams

2009 Was another triumphant year for the Wii and DS. Nintendo has successfully introduced the general public to playing games on computer hardware. But this is far from a triumph for the medium of videogames.

Refusing to grow up keeps you small
Source: VGChartz

People like playing games

Nintendo didn’t do much. But they were smart about it. Rather than trying to start a revolution with a brand new medium, they had a good look at the way people play today and made digital versions of those activities. They basically made it possible for people to play the kinds of games they were already enjoying, on their television sets.

Some may celebrate this as the breakthrough of videogames into the mainstream. I don’t. I hope this is just a temporary setback in the evolution of the medium. I’m not a big fan of huge corporations, but I do share, to some extent, the dreams that Sony and Microsoft have about the interactive medium. With them, I see videogames as the great new art form of the new century. Videogames as the cinema, television and pop music of the young millennium.

It’s not about getting as many people as possible to play games (they were already playing games, have been doing that since the dawn of time, there’s nothing new here). It’s about giving our times, our cultures a medium that we can find ourselves in, that we can express ourselves in. A medium that can help us understand our world, and that can help define it. Just as literature and cinema have done in the past.

Nintendo does not share this dream. They never have. Mario and Zelda and Pokemon are nothing like Scarlett O’Hara, Jean-Luc Picard or Romeo and Juliet. Nintendo makes games. It’s what they do. And they’re successful at it.

But the dream of Sony and Microsoft reaches a lot further. They want to be part of your life style, part of your culture, embedded in your society. They want the experiences you have on their systems to be meaningful and dramatic. They’re not selling fun. They’re selling mystery and wonder, spectacle and discovery, experiences you have never had before.

And they failed. Massively. So much so that they are hurrying to try and pick some crumbs left behind by Nintendo by quickly introducing some motion sensing hardware to their systems. The irony of the cats following the mouse would be amusing if it weren’t so sad.

The failure of the nerds

Nintendo got one thing right. It’s an extremely obvious thing. But Sony and Microsoft continuously fail at recognizing it. Nintendo realized that the mainstream audience does not consist of nerds -in fact, one could argue that that is the very definition of a mainstream audience. As soon as they did, they were instantly successful.

There’s a lesson to be learned here. The “hardcore industry” has always insisted that games were great just as they were, that it was just a matter of time before the masses would start playing them. They were basically expecting that everyone would become a nerd. Obviously this did not happen. And it never will. If only because language doesn’t allow it. Nerd and mainstream are polar opposites.

The games themselves were not the problem. Any expert will point out that there is not a lot of difference between Tic Tac Toe and Gears of War, or between Super Mario and Devil May Cry. But Nintendo -finally- realized that people don’t play games for the pretty characters or the great stories but for the systems of interaction that they allow us to engage in. And those systems are far better served by simple graphics and sounds than by elaborate theatrical displays.

The games that Sony and Microsoft have been promoting were basically the digital equivalent of chess sets with pieces made to look like characters from Star Wars or Lord of the Rings. Only 1337 H4x0rz would actually believe they were attacking the Death Star while playing a match with such a set. Most people simply prefer to play a straight-up game with traditional pieces.

Games and… something else?

So now we’re at a crossroads. Do we give up the dream of a new medium for a new century and follow Nintendo’s example of simply giving people what they expect? Or do we strive for greatness and realize the potential of this marvellous new technology?

Nintendo has made one thing clear: people want to play games. But only if the games are simple and straightforward. They don’t want pretty pictures on their games or sweeping stories. They just want to have fun. However, the same people who are having fun with the Wii, also enjoy a visit to the cinema. They also love reading books. Their eyes fill with tears when listening to their favourite pop tune. And they’re hooked on several television shows. These people are not insensitive to narrative, emotion or meaning. They just don’t want to mix those experiences with playing games.

So the solution seems clear. If we want to realize the dream, if we want to give the new century the medium it deserves, the medium it needs, the medium it is sorely lacking, we need to stop wasting this technology on games!

It’s a difficult step to take. Because we love our games. We love battling our giant demons and riding our fire breathing dragons. We love planning our global wars and feeling the rush of victory against improbable odds. But let’s face it: we’re nerds. And only nerds like this kind of stuff. In the clear light of day, a sober eye quickly recognizes these videogames as the superb kitsch they are. Such videogames appeal exclusively to an educated elite and/or marginal ghetto.

This doesn’t mean that it is impossible to create interactive entertainment for people outside of the core niche. People still love their stories, and they still need fiction to help them deal with reality. And people also love to interact with their machines. That has ceased to be a geek exclusive a long time ago -if it ever was one. We just need to work a bit harder.

Instead of simply skinning ancient game routines with high tech spectacle, we need to sit down and have a good look at our medium-to-be and understand what is so uniquely interesting about it. Instead of trying to use new technology to do old tricks, we need to figure out what it is exactly that we find so fascinating about playing on a computer. And translate this to new audiences. This is not an easy thing to do, and it will take a lot of trial and error. But the rewards are great and the accomplishment will completely overshadow any of Nintendo’s current successes.

Down or up?

Will Sony and Microsoft realize this any time soon? I doubt it. The fight seems to have moved from the living room to the play room, from the media store to the toy store. And they will battle it out right there, on the brightly coloured carpet, in between the Barbie dolls and plastic machine guns, while the rest of the world is aching for a new medium, a medium that can deal with the complexities of today’s society, a fiction that can help us cope with our confusing realities.

I feel we have a responsibility here. A duty, even. We have a choice. We can continue to make geek kitsch for the niche audience of hardcore gamers. We can follow Nintendo and make simple games with pixels and code instead of cardboard and plastic. Or we can do something important, something meaningful, something that actually makes a difference.

Let’s end with a long picture:
Sources: VGChartz, Worldmapper, Wikipedia

Immersion on the iPhone impossible?

I have never cared much for mobile gaming platforms. Or mobile anything, for that matter. I come from a time when moving around meant being separated from information technology. And I guess I’m comfortable with that feeling now. Perhaps I even cherish being disconnected.

As a designer for interactive media, I was also never attracted to mobile devices. Mostly because of their small screens. One of the most important things about interactive experiences for me is immersion, immersion in a virtual world. And, partly because of their size, computer monitors and televisions screens seem to dissolve when I’m playing a game. They become invisible frames of the windows through which I experience virtual worlds.

But small devices are always there. You’re holding them in your hands, you constantly feel their material, their weight, and worst of all, you have to focus your vision to a very small physical area, the area of the small screen. As a result, I think, the best experiences I’ve had on my iPod Touch have been simple puzzle games, games that don’t necessarily look like representations of something large but that “fit” in the small format. Oddly, this seems to apply to both size and content. Superficial and abstract games thrive on small devices.

But that doesn’t stop me from wanting more.
Now that we’re trying to make a game for the iPhone ourselves, I’m trying to play the ones that are out there. I’m naturally inclined to look for things that have a bit of “meat around their bones”, experiences that can draw me in, make me believe in their fiction, make me want to spend time in their worlds.

But I haven’t found a lot that even comes close to this on the App Store.
Maybe the device is just not suitable for this kind of thing. Or maybe I’m looking in the wrong places. So this is a call for tips: can anyone recommend any immersive experiences on the iPhone? They don’t need to be games, they don’t need to be big. Just something that makes me feel something. That I can step into.

GDC Europe -impressions

We left Cologne just when the Gamescom spectacle was getting started. We were there for the Game Developers Conference. We did take a stroll through the fair but were not impressed. It was just a lot of big, fancy and loud booths advertising videogames that are half-broken, outdated and badly designed. Last year’s Independent Games Festival winner Petri Purho made the depressing observation that you could fund development of 20 indy games for the price of one of those booths. Indeed. For the price of one booth at Gamescom, you could revolutionize the entire games industry! But who cares?

While there were not many independent developers presenting at the conference, the few that were there quickly found each other. It’s nice to know that there is a little underground group of people who all resist the big games machine. Together we can look down on the suits with a big grin while they are desperately trying to keep their multi-million Dollar enterprises afloat.

We had a little booth at the GDC, thanks to the efforts of Elfya van Muylem at IBBT, where we were showing The Path (on the iMac, by the way, that also stored all of the production files of our upcoming project Fatale -but nobody saw it). Lots of people came up to us. Players of the game, people who had read about it, students, journalists, game developers, business people. It was fun to talk to them. Made us feel our work really means something to some. So thanks to all of you, in case you’re reading this (leave a comment here! :) ).

As a result, we didn’t see a lot of lectures. But of the few we saw, David Cage’s sermon about the future of videogames probably made the biggest impression. If only because he was almost saying word for word, the kind of things we have been talking about on this blog for years. But in a “for dummies” kind of style, which wasn’t to the liking of all attendees, but still managed to irritate a few sufficiently to make them leave the room.

Basically, Mr Cage was pointing out that the games industry is on a crossroads. Depending on the choices we make now, it will continue to be a successful children’s toy production industry or it could become a mature medium on the level and with the diversity of cinema. His references to cinema were perhaps a bit excessive (personally, I think, we can surpass cinema with a medium that is much more adequate to talk about complex contemporary issues). But in the light of his own work, this is understandable. And his continuous praise of thatgamecompany‘s Flower made it clear that he is broad-minded enough to recognize applications of the theory that are very different of his own.

Speaking of Flower, we also attended Kellee Santiago’s post-mortem presentation of the PSN game, which had drawn quite a decent crowd. She showed several prototypes of the game, made in Processing, Flash, XNA and on the Playstation 3 itself. And she finally explained why Flower changes so drastically half way through -something that had always mystified me.

We had a hell of time hanging out with her in a typical German brewery/restaurant with fellow indies (where the Koelsch beer eternally flows) and on the roof of Microsoft’s fancy new building (witnessing the joint attempts of suits and nerds to combine coolness with opportunism) where we met Steven -Slow Gaming- Poole too. That was nice! :)

The next day, Miss Santiago reappeared in a panel awkwardly called “Designing Women”, also featuring Tracy Fullerton and Sheri Graner Ray. It’s quite sad that women in games (both as players and as creators) continues to be an issue, even if most of the women on the panel do see it in a broader context of lack of diversity, both in development teams as in the games being produced. Which connects the issue quite neatly with David Cage’s plea for greater variety as a requirement for maturity. Ergo: more femininity in games equals more maturity.

It remain a question if anyone in the games industry even listens to these voices. We have heard the same comments and ideas for years now, and if there has been any evolution, it seems to be an evolution further away from diversification, and deeper into the niche of games for 16 year old boys (or grown men pretending to be). The few exceptions that exist (Wii & DS, independent games, casual games, iPhone games) always clearly manifest themselves as different, as a break with the industry to some extent, as an alternative, while the “mainstream” continues to dig a deeper and deeper hole. Perhaps GDC-founder Chris Crawford will finally be proven right. He has always maintained that the realisation of the potential of the interactive medium will happen outside of the games industry.

The last session we attended was Peter Molyneux’s presentation about choice in (Lionhead’s) games. The thing that bothered me about his otherwise amusing presentation, was that he focussed so much on the formal aspects of game design. Which was confirmed by him calling choice a mechanic. He doesn’t seem to be interested in the meaning and content of the particular choices presented in his games, but only in their emotional effect. Seeing choice as a mechanic does nothing to change one of the major flaws of videogames (and one of the major elements that reduces the target audience to teenage boys): the fact that games are power fantasies where apparently insecure humans can get the illusion of control. I can’t help but find that a sad situation.

Which reminds me of the pathetic display that is grown-ups pretending to play music to the antique tunes of the Beatles on plastic toy guitars. Instead of learning an actual instrument and experiencing the pure joy of interpretation, we can now happily be reduced to sacks of skin and bones that can pretend to be a star with no need to learn any useful skill whatsoever.

This is what the games industry seems to have become: a pacifier for the powerless. No inspiration is required, no imagination is desired. You don’t need to be able to do anything, be anyone. Just connect to the machine and it will make you feel like you are a hero, in control of an empire, on top of the world. You and the legions of pathetic nerds, too lazy or timid to actually do something with their lives, content to just sit there and pretend it all away, proud of the billions upon billions that the industry spends on keeping them sedated.