Uncharted Waters: Where’s the Ship Heading?

August 23, 2008 § Leave a comment

As much as we may harp on about gaming’s identity as an art form it’s sometimes hard to shake the feeling that it’s not as diverse an art form as others. Delving into the virtual realm we frequently engage in war and combat, in motor racing, or in sports, and whilst these may have any number of permutations in gameplay, taken as subjects in a much broader sense interactive entertainment starts to seem narrow minded.

When looking at the medium’s progression it’s often useful to chart the progress of cinematography, as this is similar to games in many ways (though still a way off). Such a comparison works well in terms of social acceptance – actors in films were at first scorned because they were believed to be failed stage actors – as well as diversity of genres. In it’s early years films were essentially recorded stage plays, often a romance or other such character driven story. Before the days of special effects, or even of stunts, cinema had to rely on characters and dialog to tell it’s stories, and action arose only in dramatic set pieces of which there were few. In this respect gaming has essentially worked backwards.

When games started to be hesitantly constructed the Atari’s and Mattel’s developers were working with an environment of pixels, where any movement made had to be exaggerated in order for the audience to understand. Character’s legs flailed comically front side to side, and spoken dialog was simply out of the question. Given time though, like CG making its way into film, speech slowly made its way into gaming via the written word. It took many years for something as simple as spoken dialog to make an appearance, something which has been a staple of cinema for over eighty years.

It’s perhaps for this reason that many high-brow art critics can look down their noses at interactive entertainment. Films, books, paintings, music, all were made with the desire to tell a story and illicit an emotional response. Games however were created for fun, to allow for children, and later adults, to assume a role and exist in a virtual world. Not surprisingly it has taken time for technology to progress to a stage whereby a digital representation of a person can display emotion.

My point behind all of this is that it took time for cinema to diversify into what it is today, and we’d be naive to see gaming any differently. But at least now we’re at a point where technology can no longer be seen as a burden. No longer must gamers play alone through the virtual world sculpted out for them. No longer must gamers be forced to listen to tinny MIDI soundtrack’s, and of course, no longer must gamers imagine the facial expression of Mario as he saves Princess Peach for the first time.

So where will gaming head in the coming century? Well it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that more and more diverse puzzle games will be developed with the massive popularity of casual gaming systems. Nor would it be wrong to say that more traditional genres will continue to be popular over the years. Rest assured there will almost certainly be Master Chief way into the future. But where will developers stray from the beaten path and take advantage of the technology they now have at their disposal?

How about a complex simulation of a relationship within a game. Each choice you make regarding a virtual partner has a consequence. For example, arriving late for a date or driving off without offering a ride home could result in a subtly colder conversation the next time you meet. Meanwhile kind and thoughtful actions could have equally positive consequences, and I’m sure you’re all aware of what those could be. Whilst we’re on this subject is it really too much to ask for tasteful sex in games? Is the deepest expression of love and affection between human beings not suitable for a medium where the average age of participation is now 35?

What about a survival game? Not surviving a zombie apocalypse or ghost infested village but just surviving in nature, a man lost on a desert island (see a previous post) or leaving home for the first time. The connections people would foster with their characters would be immense, a shared will to survive allowing the player to empathize with the protagonist on an entirely new level unrivaled in any other medium.

Developers need to take risks and not just create games for the mass market. Halo’s already been made, and so’s World of Warcraft and you’re wrong if you think they need to be made again. The industry needs to multiply and evolve, and maybe capital shouldn’t be at the top of every publishers wish list.

Peace out

Jon

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