A while back, I was interviewed for a little blurb in the Carleton Voice about the changing audience of games. I just stumbled across the e-mail in which I gave my rambling, incoherent answers to the writer’s straightforward questions:
> 1. It seems that gaming is gaining an increasingly wide audience,
> particularly in the past few years. Are there reasons that it’s attracting a
> wider audience, in terms of age/gender/socioeconomic status?
There have always been computer games that are aimed at a general audience: adaptations of traditional games like Hearts and Backgammon; interactive stories like Myst; simple distractions like Minesweeper and Tetris. Unfortunately, big, explosive blockbusters like Doom, Grand Theft Auto, and World of Warcraft make a lot more noise and a lot more money, and consequently grab a lot more attention, to the point where the popular image of what “video game” means has gotten narrower and narrower.
Gaming is a maturing industry, though, and realizes that it won’t continue to grow by selling to the same old group of adrenaline junkies. As the industry widens its view of what its audience is, it’s shifting its focus towards genres that previously only got a small amount of its attention.
As a result of increased attention from developers, games that are made for the general audience are becoming more creative and sophisticated. Of course, offering your audience better games to play only increases that audience, which encourages developers to raise the bar even more. What we’re seeing now is a feedback effect, where the successful games like The Sims and Diner Dash are not only selling well, but are drawing popular attention away from the Maddens and Gran Turismos of the world.
> 2. Games like The Sims and Spore — where it’s unclear exactly what it means to
> “win” — seem to be (or seem likely to be) pretty popular. Do these represent a
> new way of thinking about games? Are there other examples of games that
> break out of the mold of shooting/sword fighting/racing games that you think
> represent an alternative to what most people traditionally think of when
> they think of video games?
Virtual pets are very popular these days: Nintendogs on the Nintendo DS, Web-based games like Neopets and Webkinz, and the continued presense of Tamagotchi on children’s keychains. (The Sims can also be thought of as a virtual pet game in its own way.) These games aren’t about “winning” in the traditional sense of defeating an opponent. Instead, success in these games is achieved by keeping your pets healthy and happy, and the reward isn’t a high score, but the affections of a simulated animal. Games about nurturing, growth, and affection are a far cry from the fast cars, big guns, and growling
monsters that we usually associate with video games.
> 3. In your opinion, what’s the most interesting development in the video
> game industry that’s going on right now? Do you have any sense where it
> might lead?
Online gaming is becoming the rule rather than the exception: all three of the major consoles have significant online functionality, and gaming on the PC is dominated by Web-based casual games and massively multiplayer games. As this trend continues, the online experience will become about more than just competition or cooperation, but about building communities and personal expression.
There are already thriving creative scenes organized around games: marketplaces for custom-made Sims objects, strategy guides penned by expert players to help beginners out, parody videos that cut up recordings of gameplay and set them to music. Games are just starting to explore the ways in which they can harness this creative energy, help players to express themselves, and allow them to share their expressions with others. Massively multiplayer games and virtual worlds like Second Life are currently making the biggest steps in this direction, but as games like Spore and Little Big Planet come to market, we’ll begin to hear even more about the idea that games don’t have to provide a strictly defined play experience, but can be a platform for players to create new experiences for each other.
Why the hell am I not making games about “nurturing, growth, and affection,” or helping players “create new experiences for each other”? I need to put my money where my mouth is.