I have always been much more excited to see in game footage with UI elements and in game camera used than promotional screenshots or videos that show me little of real relevance, rather preferring to pretend that the game is a movie. This may not seem so terrible but importantly this form of promotion gives me no idea what the game will actually be like to play.
They show no gameplay, you see nothing that has bearing on the single most important aspect to us when we decide to play a game or not.
So why are games promoted on all their qualities other than gameplay?
First and foremost games get treated as much like movies or music as possible when they are publicised, PR encourage articles to be written about the games, they have trailers with little to no gameplay made to not the content of the game but the concept.
These practises make sense with products like music that cannot given wholly away freely to listen to as a promotion because that is the whole product, and so one must sell the consumer on the value of the music in more creative ways.
In the case of movies or television a trailer works rather well considering hearing and seeing clips of these media cut together to a snappy sound track can be exciting and give a representative impression of what to expect from the product in a very short period of time (however I will say that I believe that showing a short scene in it’s whole would in many ways be much more effective promotion, and would be selling the content not the concept).
Instead I propose that games be shown to be played as soon as possible, show the audience what they are actually buying and you will find much more confident consumer loyalty, selling games as we do today does nothing but plant the seeds of mistrust in consumers.
I know that I myself rarely pay any attention to the trailers and screenshot sent out by PR anymore and instead wait until someone uploads themselves playing the game onto Youtube or watch a Quick Look to give me an idea of what the game really is.
The developers and publishers themselves should be the ones to tell people what they have and take the opportunity to spread knowledge that is important for consumers to know, stemming the tide of misinformation that will always inevitably spawn online.
We need to see the day when TV ads for games can be short 20s in game clips with UIs visible and true gameplay on display. Games are not movies, and they are not albums, and they should be sold for what they are.
I love video games and I’m proud of my passion for gaming, bit I also like to look at everything I do will a certain degree of fairness and truthfulness.
Bearing that in mind I feel the need to consider the problems that video games can cause for people.
Now while I don’t think I’ve ever had any kind of addiction to a game, I do notice that certainly I have used games as a way of distracting myself from important tasks that I do not want to have to deal with. Mostly these have been small things, but recently I have found myself unemployed and having to claim benefit, and I was finding job searching very hard and discouraging.
So I fell back into old comfortable habits and played World of Warcraft (and other games) instead of thinking about about my situation and confronting the challenges ahead of me.
I certainly could have made worse mistakes, for example falling back on drugs or alcohol could have left me in a much worse situation, but the fact remains that I used games as a way to essentially set myself in stasis as far as my career and social networks are concerned.
So with perspective I think we can see that there are truly many much worse ways to spend your time than in a video game, but in their own right games can be used in destructive ways.
Secondly to distracting yourself from your problems games can be very difficult socially, I don’t so much mean because you sit at home all day you don’t meet anyone, but more that playing games around others trying to get on with something else can be very difficult. I think we have all had times when we’ve bitten the head off a friend or family member due to being so focused on a game and unable to engage outside. Or felt bad not being able to mix the social commitments in online games while with guests at home for example, where in both cases you will be letting someone down no matter what you do.
So while I am very excited for the future of games in general and have no intention of quitting at all, I think the industry must look at how best to create games that promote and support healthy and balanced life styles from their players. Features like the function to be able to pause at any time without losing anything, and have little to no music playing when the game is paused so you can actually listen to whoever might be talking to you.
As a final note I think social problems with games will become less and less of an issue as a larger and larger proportion of the population have been around video games for their whole lives.
Difficulty can be an excellent conduit to instilling long term memories in players, the feeling of perseverance against challenges that you did not immediately understand or could not execute properly can feel very empowering.
This ‘stickiness’ I think is an interesting property that games are masters of and other media would love to share in. You see social media really tapping into similar areas of the mind in the pursuit of followers, friends or subscribers for example.
Games, however are the real masters of human engagement, first and most traditionally they engaged by blocking your path with difficult challenges that would take time to master, in the pursuit of the high score. However this progress was based almost entirely on skill and execution, therefore if you were good enough you could see the whole game through in almost no time at all.
As time passes though we see a new trend in games towards progression based not so much on raw game playing ability but more on the investment of time from the player.
This trend certainly came first from the RPG with it’s experience point based power system, a system that allows you to always be able to win as long as you are willing to spend the time.
For example World of Warcraft (WoW), one of the most popular games played around the world for the last 6 years displays a slow shift from pure skill based progression into time based advancement. In WoW the play experience from level 1 at the start of the game all the way through to level 85 requires no great skill on the part of the player today, most challenges put in the path of the player during that progression will very easy for those that know how to play the game skilfully to finish but are also achievable by even the some of the least dexterous players.
All that matters is that you have 20-50 hours to spare, and you can have a maximum level character. However once you reach that maximum level if you want to see all of the content available you will still need to gain at least a good understanding of your character’s abilities and how best to perform your chosen role within a raid group. The game suddenly switches from a purely time based progression into a system that demands vastly more understanding of the game mechanics while still requiring arguably a larger portion of time (however with the right schedule time spent can be minimised).
It should be mentioned that more and more Blizzard the developer of WoW try to open up all of their content to those not skillful enough to complete the hardest and most flashy content currently.
So what do you guys think, are you ok with games just asking you to stick around, and let them sprinkle you with praise or do you want to be shamed into either knocking down the difficulty or just trying and trying until you get there, are games about the challenge or the experience for you, or a bit of both?
Imagination, sparked by any source creates probably the most vivid fantasies possible for anyone to experience.
Video Games that spark the imagination of players, are often remembered more for our imagined experience than the actual content of the game.
This phenomena manifests it's self in many classic Japanese games series like Zelda and Dragon Quest.
The most simple example is the absence of any dialogue written for a main character. People have one sided conversations with the hero, while the player fills the blanks with their imagination. Link from the Zelda series to me has an English accent and has in all intents and purposes the same personality as me. I see myself in the green tunic riding though Hyrule Field. When Zelda asks for help, she needs me to save her and I am the one to confirm that I will indeed save her and her kingdom from Gannondorf.
Now there is another way to spark the imagination than giving the player a blank canvas, and it is to paint a picture rich enough that the viewer can relate to and become attached to.
An example of this done extremely well is Uncharted where Nathan Drake is acted and written with such verve that players are drawn towards the character. So the hero is not doing and thinking as I do. I am now a guest in the exciting life of a treasure hunter, one who's a hit with the ladies to boot. This can be very effective in creating a greater sense of immersion, because it places the character I play within the context of the game's setting. My own personality would not fit into the world as well as the character I play does.
The Dead Space series has tried both methods of characterisation. In the debut title Issac was left silent, and the second give him a voice no doubt inspired by Nathan and friends. This may indicate a trend towards more vocal avatars in the future, especially considering many considered the addition a positive for the game.
Following Naughty Dog's lead is easy to tout as the 'right' way to manage characters in modern games, however I wonder if there isn't still room for both approaches in games.
Because while a movie with a silent star would nearly always be inferior to one featuring a verbose lead, games are not solely a narratively dependant medium.
So I propose that there is room for Link and co today, as long as the designers remember to use the silent hero not as a crutch but as a lever to open the player's imagination.
I love video games, and I know many of you do too. We know they are great because they offer a form of entertainment that goes beyond any other media.
Games are different, different enough to be remembered, to be cherished.
From day one some of us just knew that games were special, more than a simple novelty, not a passing attraction, but a new expressive medium.
Many of us dedicated to games today were there at the the birth of something eternal, our depth of knowledge of these last few decades may compare to those that remember the birth of cinema at the dawn of the 20th century. We are here today at the dawn of the 21st, not marvelling at moving images expecting them to touch us. No we are learning that we can touch, we can impress ourselves into games, we can interact in exciting and new ways.
If cinema was the dominant art form of the 20th century, video games will be dominant for the 21st.
However days are still early. The games we make and play today are but babies, too often concerned more with emulating the past rather than blazing the path into the inevitable future.
In some ways the Uncharted and Grand Theft Auto series' can be considered the most evolved, most advanced games made today. However the actual interactions these games offer are very traditional, traditional in the sense of game mechanics many of us know well, and expect, packaged better than ever.
So while it would be foolish to undermine the achievements of Naughty Dog and Rockstar, I ask how much do games gain from managing to seem more and more cinematic, while at the same time, playing largely the same? So while no one knows where games will be in 10, 20, 30 years. One question I feel inclined to ask is where is the line between inspiration and imitation. Are the blockbuster games of today pushing the boundaries of interactive entertainment, or are they simply learning to regurgitate the techniques defined and mastered by movie makers decades ago?