The Risk Adverse Medium
Joystiq’s Jason Lomberg wrote a nice editorial piece concerning video gaming’s shallowness, entitled, I’m Tired of Saving the World. In the piece he goes on about how in creating only the most surface of stories, and always avoiding the more interpersonal type of stories that directly connect with the human condition, gaming as a whole has sold itself short as a medium. In the piece he gives several examples of where gaming has gone wrong, and several more examples of some promising work done in recent years, that while their merits may be debatable depending on who you are, tend to attempt to push games into becoming a more versatile medium; and hopefully, into the true potential inherently in the medium.
Anyone who has known me for more than a few years, across almost any forum I have frequented, knows this issue, and it really is an issue with the medium, is one of those I have written about passionately over the past decade. It used to seem that I was alone in my feelings toward how far the true potential of the medium could stretch, but lately it seems that slowly, more, and more people (at least in the gaming press), are beginning to wake up to this potential. If you have not already read Jason Lomberg’s editorial (linked above), then do so, it is a really good read. And pretty much every thing that follows in the rest of this post, serves kind of as an addendum to what he wrote. I have a future post planned to expound far more into the subject matter than this post is today. I’ve been writing about this for ten years, so you can bet I have more than a few observations, and things to share on the issue.
Addendum to what Jason Lomberg is writing about.
You know what is truly ironic. As many so-called hardcore gamers were quick to slag off against Peter Molyneux’s Milo & Kate, this is just the kind of game Lionhead was creating – not saving the world, but the personal story of a boy dealing with big changes in his world; anyone who at a young age who has ever been through divorce, lost someone, or had to up and move cross country (which is quite a few million people, when you think about it), certainly can identify with a young person trying to cope with having the entire world turned upside down.
In general, I think Microsoft has squandered the true potential of Kinect. After seeing the Milo demo, I was thinking to myself, that here was an opportunity for gaming to get truly personal. For story-based genres like RPGs and adventure games, to complete reinvent themselves as the future of the industry’s more artistic, and human side. And when you think about it, once you have crunched through the underlying technology to get it to work, it really would not be that difficult, or unnatural of a transition for RPGs or adventure games.
All one has to do is read Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, or Diamond Age, and you really begin to get some feel for where adventure gaming and RPGs could have gone with Kinect. Instead, Milo & Kate gets put on indefinite hold, and we get more shitty ports of already shitty games like, The Michael Jackson Experience, than even Ubisoft knows what to do with.
Milo & Kate should have been this blueprint for how games can be different, and more personal, and effect the gamer on ultimately a more emotional level. Then if developers like Tim Shafer, or Bethesda, or BioWare, or Square Enix wish to take that, and infuse it with games about saving the world/universe/existence, where stories and subplots can be told and experienced on a much more human level, then fine. Even cinema and books do that regularly enough. Imagine a film like 12 Monkeys, without the deep, human layer to it? Or even something more explosion-y, like District 9, or Bladerunner. Once you take the deeper human story out of even something like that, it doesn’t quite work, does it? And we know it does not work, as we have likely all seen most of the shitty clones of films like that, that have sprung up over the past two or three decades – clones without any of the humanity that made the source material worth cloning in the first place.
There is no reason that even with a saving the world plot, games can be so much more – human. Especially in a day and age, when we have technology that allows us to interact with those games in the most human of manners.
I think the biggest problem the game industry faces now, is the fact that it is an industry. Corporations, by the very rules of being publicly traded as those rules have existed since changes went into place back in the 1980s, are so risk adverse, they never take any risks any longer. And and unlike books, and film, and comics, and television, and even stage, video gaming as a medium has grown up exclusively in a world were the rules of business (the people who control the money that goes into game production), is to avoid any, and all risk. I imagine if Hollywood were so risk averse at such a young age as gaming has been since the beginning, that films like Star Wars, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, or even Bladerunner, would never have been made. Or even going further back, if you wish to discuss risk and film. Classics like To Kill a Mockingbird (risky film for dealing with social issues society was trying to hide from), or Gone with the Wind (fiscally risky, one of the most expensive films made in it’s time), would never have gotten made either. And that is kind of what gaming is now, and has always been. We are afraid to make our To Kill a Mockingbird . . . we are afraid to make our Gone With the Wind. There is just simply too much risk involved to make either.