new challenger

I make games. I also play them. I talk about both activities here.

Friday, September 21, 2007

My work is a game, a very serious game

Hello. I'm back. Somewhat.

So far, the thing - and please note that I use this word very deliberately - that has piqued my interest the most coming out of this year's Tokyo Game Show is flOwer. I presented the aforelinked (yes, I'm coining a term, let's move on) trailer to a friend and colleague of mine; he was nonplussed. His main complaint stemmed from a fundamental inability to figure out just what the hell was going on in the trailer. Specifically, I intuited, to what extent his participation governed any action or result. He went so far (after alliterating that flOwer would flOp) as to assert a complete inability to form an opinion at all.

Another friend and colleague of mine, at some unrelated point, directed me to watch a trailer for Afrika. It too is a trailer from which very little is discernible with regard to participatory action and result, and within this context, said friend semi-jokingly referred to it as a pending Game of the Year. I, up until watching this most recent trailer, had been keeping an eye on Afrika with some optimism. But after seeing the human character models, my interested has dropped a bit. The representation of humans in this next generation of ours just bothers me.

There are a handful of other things that have piqued my interest lately: Patapon, Imabikisou, and Echochrome are at the top of the list. Some of them have more clearly obvious indicators of action and result - of participation and feedback, if you prefer - than others. They have all contributed in steering me to evaluate just what it is that defines a game for me personally, as well as in the minds of the audience. I have, with an admitted level of condescending bemusement, read flOwer described on various message boards as a "non-game," a term frequently declared but rarely defined. The term is recurrently used in the derogatory, in an apparent deviation from its original intent, to refer to a sort of underclass of gaming. While I understand that tastes differ, and that the tendency to classify and rigidly define is also pretty natural, I can't help but feel that this move to classify games as having clearly defined goals, objectives, and (for me the most contentious distinction) challenges, as being very dangerous, particularly in that it serves to classify anything that does not contain these elements as not games. All of a sudden, a psychological fence is erected around what is suitable for the traditional conceptualization of a game, excluding what is not. There is something ominous in this, I think.

For one, I believe it prematurely stifles creativity in our young industry. Despite how it appears myopically, I am reluctant to concede that any wildly divergent ground has been covered in terms of what characterizes a game as such. The styles of interaction and the classifications that encapsulate them have remained fairly consistent for quite a while now. Some of the earliest trends in gaming, like shooting and driving, remain shockingly unchanged. By immediately discounting new interpretations of the form as existing outside the realm of gaming, effectively banishing them to an ideological purgatory, it encourages the industry to simply recreate the same picture using only slightly varying shades. While I personally enjoy a great many established genres, conventions, and play styles, that doesn't mean I'm enjoying all there is to enjoy. Nor does it mean I couldn't enjoy something else even more. And more importantly, albeit perhaps to the current, voracious game consumer, most dangerous, a new type of game might attract a new type of gamer. I guess this is where the real resentment gestates - in that if there is a new, larger fan base to satisfy, the old fan base will cease to be fed.

This is a legitimate fear for the current fan base, I guess. Myself, I'm a big fan of fighting games. I've spent more time in the arcades than I ever have in front of a SNES. I got my start in the industry writing fighting game strategy guides. The first handful of games I worked on as a designer were all fighting games. But, as time has gone on, fighting games have fallen into a steady popularity decline, and we now sit in the twilight of a once great genre, with only a few old dinosaurs still holding vigil, with no real inheritors looking to continue the tradition. But, a sort of new fighting game has emerged. They don't appeal to the same type of player that plays the old games. Nevertheless, the efforts of EA Chicago have given rise to new fans and new opportunities that will keep fighting games alive in a new, and probably more sustainable, form. Sure, I love my games of yore, and I wish more people did. But if they were truly meant to be timeless, they never would have fallen out of favor in the first place. It's kind of Darwinian, isn't it?

So while I go along, playing the Bioshocks, and the Skates, and the Halos, I'll also wait on the FlOwers, and whatever else awaits us in the new future. Either that, or I'll play some VF by myself in my living room.

Thanks for reading.