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Video Games Are Boring

Maybe everything we know is wrong, says Brie Code

Video games are bigger than movies. Everyone's a gamer. I've devoted my life-no exaggeration-to video games for 14 years, working on titles such as Company of Heroes, a few Assassin's Creeds, and Child of Light. But everywhere I go, I meet people who don't like video games. Most of my friends don't like video games. And one of my favourite things when I'm meeting a new person is to watch them squirm, to struggle to relate, after I mention I work in the video game industry. They'll mention some old game they used to play, try to say something nice about it, and then confess that they don't play video games.

Meanwhile, our lives have changed radically compared to our parents' lives. As we adapt to new technologies, our lives are becoming increasingly fragmented, multifaceted, interactive. Linear novels and films are less relevant now for reflecting our realities. What forms of art and entertainment are most relevant now? Collage? Memoir? No, it should be video games. Interactive entertainment. Yet, many people don't like video games.

Why?

Groups of experts and groups of people who are similar to each other get stuck. People who are similar to each other think similarly, draw on the same knowledge base, and approach problems from the same angles. There's even a further psychological effect where an individual in a group of similar people will have fewer good ideas than the same individual in a diverse group.

If there is any workforce full of people who are similar to each other, it is the video game industry workforce. We are mostly men, mostly white, and even more importantly, we are mostly gamers. Could it possibly be that maybe, just maybe, we could be missing something?

Maybe everything we know is wrong.

Part 2: Everything I know is wrong

Three years ago, for the first time, my friends who don't like video games started to ask about video games. This was because they were starting to buy tablets. And some of them were getting castoff consoles from neighbours or family members who upgraded. This was very exciting for me - I thought maybe I would finally be able to share the thing I love with the people I love. Spoiler: I was wrong. They didn't become gamers after they played the games I recommended. But something interesting did happen.

My closest friend, my cousin Kristina, has been perhaps the most hostile towards my affection for video games. She's an art historian who loves contemporary feminist art and she sees me as a designer. But not a game designer. When I would message her stressed about work she wouldn't offer her support. Instead she would encourage me to quit and go back to school to study interior design or industrial design. She thought I was wasting my life in the video games industry.

"This was very exciting for me - I thought maybe I would finally be able to share the thing I love with the people I love. Spoiler: I was wrong"

And then one day she started to ask about video games. I was thrilled. Of course I recommended Journey. It seemed like the natural fit. To my surprise, she didn't finish it. She didn't like that there is a snake that can kill you. It's not that it is too hard, it's that she is deeply uninterested in being attacked in a game. But it did intrigue her enough that she asked for more recommendations.

So I started testing games on my friends who didn't like video games, to see what they would like and dislike. One night I decided I had built enough trust with Kristina to recommend my favourite game, Skyrim. She googled it and texted me back something like, "Uhhhhh I don't know why you think I would play this. I don't watch Game of Thrones. I don't like swords. I don't like fighting. I don't like dragons." I told her she would hate the first bit with the dragon but just to get through it and then give it a chance and get back to me with her thoughts. I never heard back.

Three weeks later my phone rang. No one ever calls me because they know I don't answer. But I glanced down and I saw Kristina's name on the screen. My stomach sank as it occurred to me that there must be some kind of family emergency. I answered, and Kristina was crying.

She said to me, "Lydia died".

1

We have no Lydia in our family. She was talking about the character in Skyrim. For three weeks she had been playing Skyrim obsessively. And now she'd accidentally killed Lydia and she didn't have a recent save game.

Kristina said to me through her tears that she didn't realize that you could develop an emotional attachment to a character in a video game. She didn't realize that you could create your character and exist as a version of yourself in a world full of characters whom you care about. I had never realized that she didn't know this, because I knew this so deeply. She said to me that for all these years, it wasn't that she didn't like video games, it was that she didn't know what they were.

" She didn't realize that you could create your character and exist as a version of yourself in a world full of characters whom you care about"

(When I tell this story at conferences people tell me their Lydia stories afterwards. We all have a Lydia story.)

So my cousin loved Skyrim. My friends who don't like video games might like video games. This changed my whole focus. I helped make Child of Light. I thought my friends would like it. But I never showed it to them while it was in development. And when it came out, to my surprise, my friends didn't like Child of Light either.

And the truth is that Kristina stopped playing Skyrim pretty soon after Lydia died, because she truly doesn't like swords nor fighting nor dragons. And three years have gone by and there is still no game that resonates with my friends. In Tim Gunn's words, "this is a design failure and not a customer issue".

I love video games and I work with people who love video games. But when I listen to Kristina describe the video games she says she wishes she could play, the video games she says she wishes existed-games that would sound extremely boring to most gamers but interesting to most of my friends-I realize that I too would love those games so much more.

Listening to Kristina made me realize that I hadn't been having good ideas. I realized that I had been working with people who think too similarly to myself, who draw on the same cultural references (geek culture), who use the same game design theory that was developed mainly by (white, male) gamers for (white, male) gamers. I realized that I was stuck. This is what happens when everyone is the same as each other. We make boring things.

"I realized that I was stuck. This is what happens when everyone is the same as each other. We make boring things"

And my friends are still asking about games. The interest is still there. And finally I came to the realization that it wasn't about convincing my friends to play games I liked elements of and hoping they would like elements of them too. It wasn't about answering them; it was about asking them. It was about really talking with them, and then making a game that they would like so ridiculously much that they couldn't help but play it.

Part 3: Life is really difficult

So why don't my friends like video games and what would they like?

When my friends talk about why they don't like video games, they are talking about three things. The most important thing is that they think video games lack depth. They say things like, "Unlike books/films/podcasts, with video games I don't learn anything or change as a person". Secondly, on a surface level, they are also often just flat out repulsed by video games. Few women, for example, are going to play a video game with terrible portrayals of women. They say things like "they insult me/my demographic." And thirdly, they don't find their own cultural references or interests in video games. They say things like "they ignore me", and "I'm failing at things I didn't care about in the first place."

Other things they just really don't care about: Realistic graphics. Action.

"So my friends want not to be repulsed, to recognize their own tastes, and to find depth. Because we as an industry fail at the first two"

So my friends want not to be repulsed, to recognize their own tastes, and to find depth. Because we as an industry fail at the first two, my friends don't get to experience that gaming is perhaps the most powerful medium for learning and for growing and changing as a person. As gamers, we know that a well-designed game mechanic can convey meaning more efficiently than a novel or film. Papers, Please taught us that. Train taught us that. This War of Mine. Etc.

Identifying these criteria helped me understand why neither Skyrim nor Child of Light worked for my friends. Skyrim has the depth, but not the taste. Kristina enjoyed playing with her identity and connecting with characters, but she doesn't like swords nor fighting nor dragons. Child of Light has the taste but not the depth. The linear story and turn-based combat didn't provide space for her to play around with the kind of questions she cares about in life. (Plus the controls were not accessible, which we would have known if we had play-tested with people who weren't gamers.)

It's not enough to remove the things that my friends don't like and think they will like video games. The experience must be based in things that they care about, in problems they have in life. It must help them understand their lives more. Life is really difficult.

So asking my friends what they don't like about video games is half the question.

2

Asking my friends what they don't like about life, and how a video game could help them with that, is the second and more important half.

Like many women, Kristina's life is very different from her parents' lives. She is the first woman in her family to earn a university degree and build a big career, but school didn't prepare her for office politics or many of the other aspects of her career-oriented life. She is tiny and so even though she is also very smart and very strong, people often don't take her seriously. When she walks to work she is cat-called and when she works late and walks home she fears for her safety. The cost of living in Vancouver is very high and she has student loans. She doesn't know how she is going to balance career and family. Her friends are all as busy as she is. She has no obvious role models. She is figuring everything out herself.

When Kristina gets home from a long day, she doesn't want to battle it out in a game or get frustrated in a game. She wants to experiment with who she is in a social context of characters whom she cares about and who care about her. This is how she felt about Lydia in Skyrim and this is how I feel about the characters in Skyrim too.

"The degree of interactivity in our lives is amazing and wonderful and I wouldn't exchange it for anything, but it is also shocking and overwhelming"

The artist Harry Giles recently put into words everything I was feeling about art and therefore about games. They talk about how artists have often used shock to get through to audiences, but how that technique has been absorbed into our culture and now we exist in "a state of constant shock, of constant stimulation". At the same time, we are experiencing a "dramatic erosion of structures of care". I really feel this. We're throwing out resources of care our parents had such as religion and housewives (which is fine with me), and not replacing them with much (which is not fine with me). Giles says: "Is providing care thus a valuable avenue of artistic exploration? Is the art of care a form of radical political art? Is care, in a society which devalues care, itself shocking?"

I'm not remotely interested in shockingly good graphics, in murder simulators, in guns and knives and swords. I'm not that interested in adrenaline. My own life is thrilling enough. There is enough fear and hatred in the world to get my heart pounding. My Facebook feed and Twitter feed are enough for that. Walking outside in summer clothing is enough for that. I'm interested in care, in characters, in creation, in finding a path forward inside games that helps me find my path forward in life. I am interested in compassion and understanding. I'm interested in connecting. As Miranda July said, "all I ever wanted to know is how other people are making it through life." I want to make games that help other people understand life.

We are all overwhelmed with shock, with information, with change. The degree of interactivity in our lives is amazing and wonderful and I wouldn't exchange it for anything, but it is also shocking and overwhelming and it's causing us to dig in and try to find some peace by shutting each other out. On all sides of the political spectrum we've stopped listening to each other and I fear we are all leaning toward fascist thinking. We should be using this medium to help us adapt to our new, interactive lives. This is how we become relevant.

Part 4: Interesting video games

So caring about your audience is good, relevant, and necessary art. But it is also good business. You can read any book about how to run a start-up and run into ideas about customer development and value proposition. Read a few more and you run into ideas about co-design to take the risk out of creating for new markets. This is care.

Tim Gunn says, "today's designers operate within paradigms that were established decades ago...but this is now the shape of women in this nation, and designers need to wrap their minds about it." In my last days before quitting my corporate job I couldn't get John Baldessari's 1971 piece I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art out of my head. He burned all his paintings because he was also questioning the paradigms. When I talk with my friends about what they would like in an interactive experience, it doesn't fit conventional games industry wisdom about what makes a good game. When I think what I would like in a game, it doesn't fit conventional games industry wisdom.

And I'm surprised at how slowly the conversation is evolving. It's been three years since my friends and I bought tablets and have been looking for games. For years I've been bored of trying to prove to my colleagues that women are human, that women aren't too unpredictable to study, that what women like is not less worthy nor boring nor wrong nor hard to understand. That it's garbage to say that women don't need deep, rich experiences. I know that we never needed to sneer when the words Kim Kardashian: Hollywood were mentioned. I know that the success of a game about collecting cats is not a mystery.

I started my little studio because I care about games, I care about my friends and people like them, I want my friends to care about games, and I want to make games that care about my friends. At my studio we are making games with people who don't like video games because we want to break out of established paradigms. We want to think about ideas from different angles and draw on different references. We want games that aren't gritty, toxic pseudo-realistic pseudo-masculine nonsense nor frustrating time wasters that leave you feeling dead inside. We want games about how each of us could be in the future, how the world could be in the future. We want games built on compassion and respect and fearlessness. This is so much more interesting.

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Latest comments (39)

Jessica Hyland Artist, Turbulenz Limited2 months ago
I love this piece! I've felt for a long while that there's so much unexplored territory in games for experiences that don't just focus on fight-kill-win. Would absolutely love to see(and make!) more games "built on compassion and respect and fearlessness."
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Roberto Dillon Associate Professor, James Cook University2 months ago
What about games like Dear Esther, Gone Home, Everybody's gone to the rapture, Proteus and the likes? While these may be very introspective experiences lacking meaningful interactions with other characters, there are also games like Animal Crossing that focus on virtual communities instead.
I think there's already a lot more besides fight-kill-win or pointless mobile time wasters and, while we do need even more varied and deeper experiences, we are definitely moving towards the right direction. To me, the main practical issue seems more about awareness and discoverability: how can we bring such games to the attention of those who still have a stereotyped and old fashioned perception of what videogames are?

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Roberto Dillon on 8th November 2016 12:59am

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Laura Bularca Project Coordinator, Sweden Game Arena; Production Coach, Gothia innovation AB2 months ago
Hi Brie! This is an incredible piece, than you so very much for writing it! I relate a lot with everything you wrote, and I have had the same career path, the same kind of friends and and the same friend conversations. And started to make my own games for exactly the same reasons you did. And I crave more meaning from games, especially because we can do so, so, so much more!
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Show all comments (39)
Todd Weidner Founder, Big Daddy Game Studio2 months ago
but lets face it, there are people who dont like chocolate ice cream... moral of the story.. you cant please everyone, so stop worrying about it.

but if you were to try to get more people to game, one of the best way to do that is to simplify the controls/UI. I know lots of guys who would love to play some Madden again for example, but say they just dont have the time or desire to figure out and get good at all the buttons. I do hear that over and over.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Todd Weidner on 7th November 2016 3:02pm

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Chris Payne Managing Director & Founder, Quantum Soup Studios2 months ago
I love this essay - thanks Brie.

Todd: "moral of the story.. you cant please everyone, so stop worrying about it."
I guess you don't mean it this way, but it certainly seems like the implicit corollory to this comment is "...and stick to making games that appeal ONLY to the existing market."

Personally I applaud any attempt to deliberately broaden the market. That's how Nintendo sold 100 million consoles with a feeble GPU and no HD support.
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Renaud Charpentier Game Director, The Creative Assembly2 months ago
Well, your endeavour seems noble but you focus on the message to change the effect of the medium when it works the other way around. "The medium is the message" as Mc Luhan summed up in his seminal book title. By message he precisely mean the effects a given technology, or media, has on humans and the society they operate. Mc Luhan died before video games became a dominant medium but his analysis of the switch from a 19th society of printed book to the 20th century of radio then TV is already very convincing. In short (and simplistic) it doesn't matter much what you put in the media, its form is the dominant force at work. In that sense the evolution of the form of the medium, arrival of 3D, online, VR... has more impact than the evolution of the game contend presented with it.

This is exactly what was demonstrated by Pokemon GO. It is the same message, almost the exact same game, art, "story"... BUT with a change in the medium, the addition of geolocation. And changing the medium changed the "message" in the sense of the effect on players. They started to go out, meet in the real world. For better or worse, that's not my point, their social behaviours were altered by the medium, not the message.

So in theory (that stuff practice laugh at all the time), you would have more success changing the social impact and reach of VGs by working on their form rather than contend within the same form.
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John Karageorgiou consultant 2 months ago
Great article Brie, thanks for sharing your experiences. Please tell your friends to try "Life is Strange" or "Beyond 2 Souls" - both explore existential themes that transcend a single genre or the very word "game"
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Jason Schroder Senior Programmer, Io Interactive2 months ago
"but lets face it, there are people who dont like chocolate ice cream... moral of the story.. you cant please everyone, so stop worrying about it."

Turns out chocolate is pretty awesome and a lot of people like chocolate, but that doesn't mean we should stop exploring other flavours of ice cream. We'd deprive the world of vanilla, strawberry, mint, etc.

I think the same is true for games. We focus too much on violence in games, everything pretty much has chocolate in it, and like you said, there are people that don't like chocolate, so why deprive the world of new flavours?

There is a case to be made that the industry does already provide other flavours, some examples are mentioned above. Along with non-violent sports games, puzzle games, music games, etc. There are some genres and topics though that we haven't found ways of converting into compelling game/interactive experiences, which other forms of media are currently better at delivering.

I think a massive roadblock is that from a business perspective it's risky. It's risky to attempt something new which the market has not embraced, and the industry hasn't established a profitable path for. There have been some small attempts at this, but not many highly successful ones, and they often take alternative forms of publishing as their revenue source (eg. crowd funding). I think if you can afford to take risks then you're in a better position to tread a new path instead of following the well trodden ones. Otherwise, there's always chocolate..
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Chris Payne Managing Director & Founder, Quantum Soup Studios2 months ago
Renaud: "This is exactly what was demonstrated by Pokemon GO. It is the same message, almost the exact same game, art, "story"... BUT with a change in the medium, the addition of geolocation."

Why then did Ingress, whose form is almost identical to Pokemon GO, not achieve mainstream saturation until rebranded with a popular IP? It's almost as if content that appeals to a larger audience made the same underlying game spread further and faster...
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Todd Weidner Founder, Big Daddy Game Studio2 months ago
Turns out chocolate is pretty awesome and a lot of people like chocolate, but that doesn't mean we should stop exploring other flavours of ice cream. We'd deprive the world of vanilla, strawberry, mint, etc.
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The analogy is that like ice cream ( ie forms of entertainment) some people simply dont care for chocolate (video games) . We all know chocolate is awesome, but that doesnt change the fact some people will never like it, so they either like vanilla( movies ) or strawberry (books) etc as their entertainment choice. Some people like all flavors, some like none, point is as a chocolate ice cream maker you can only do so much to lure people to buy your flavor.

While the article is interesting and well written, a follow up story could be "adults are boring" simply due the fact that adults are in fact pretty damn boring and how do you market to a boring demographic locked in their boring life.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Todd Weidner on 7th November 2016 4:51pm

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Renaud Charpentier Game Director, The Creative Assembly2 months ago
@Chris: you are right, the change of contend made the game relevant so it touched a larger audience. But the reason this audience changed its behaviours (influenced be the medium's message in McLuhan terminology) is because of the geolocation, so the medium evolution, not because of Pokemon. The "medium" influence was probably the same with the previous game, but as it was not popular it was not noticed. It's the bit the same as his analysis with book, or moving from the aural ancient world to the written "modern" world: you have books before print through hand copies (Ingress) but this medium doesn't produces its effect yet as it is not socially wide spread. Then comes Gutenberg printing press (Pokemon) and suddenly the book medium is widely spread and so changes society.
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Bryan Robertson Gameplay Programmer, Ubisoft Toronto2 months ago
"The analogy is that like ice cream ( ie forms of entertainment) some people simply dont care for chocolate (video games) . We all know chocolate is awesome, but that doesnt change the fact some people will never like it"

I don't buy the idea that because people don't like videogames as they are now, they'll never like videogames. We've come a long way, but the medium is still in its infancy, we've only just scratched the surface of the types of experiences we can provide. To me, saying that "oh well those people just don't like videogames then", is like saying that people who don't like silent movies "just don't like movies then, they should read a book instead".

My personal gaming tastes are more traditional (the vast, vast majority of my gaming time over the past year has been spent playing Halo 5), but I still agree that games can be so much more than they are now, and appeal to people that they currently don't. Those new experiences may or may not appeal to me personally, but that's OK, they're not going to stop making Shootmans McSpacePunch games just because there are other games that appeal to a wider audience. :)

A wider variety of game genres and experiences can only be a good thing. We've seen some of that in the past decade with the resurgence of indie games, and I look forward to seeing how games evolve in future
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Mario Tommadich Software QA Analyst, Indie Game Developer 2 months ago
I have to agree with the author, hacking/slashing/shooting at things while stumbling from jump scare to jump scare and then hiding under a desk until the health bar refills gets somewhat old after game #3675. There is still not much choice out there for people who just want to relax and explore a story in their own time and pace. The deep games tend to be to complicated from a game mechanics perspective and the easy to play games are often times too short or shallow. Having 18 years in the games industry under my belt, living a frugal, but hectic life with little to no time for myself, i have come to the realization, that i can still enjoy just standing at a beach, staring at the clouds in far cry listening to the waves but can no longer endure actually playing the game.

This article gives me hope that I'm not alone with my increasing disinterest for what used to be my favourite pastime.
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Chris Payne Managing Director & Founder, Quantum Soup Studios2 months ago
@Renaud: I'm afraid I disagree. It wasn't some revolution in printing technology that drove millions of non-readers into bookstores looking for the next Harry Potter volume, changing their behaviour... just content that spoke to them. That's what Brie is talking about - content that non-gamers care about enough to take a chance on an unfamiliar medium.
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Hugo Trepanier Senior UI Designer, Hibernum2 months ago
This is by far one of the best or most interesting articles I've read here recently, albeit with a very misleading title, I found. Meant to be shocking...?

Saying that "games are boring" does not take into consideration the fact that they currently do appeal to a certain audience, limited compared against the global population but not negligible.

This particular audience must certainly find something they like in games on the market today, or they would not be buying/playing. To reuse the analogy above, obviously not everyone likes chocolate ice cream, but those who do are perfectly fine with it and its variations.

That is not to say we shouldn't explore other flavors, and in fact, we certainly should. There's a whole world waiting to be discovered. I never knew I loved pear and pineapple frozen yogurt until I tried one (and I absolutely love it).

For instance, I still love good movies but I really can't be bothered to watch another superhero movie. I've avoided them all for at least a decade now, except for the last Batman trilogy (which I only partially enjoyed). They just don't appeal to me anymore but I recognize there is still an audience for that.

I have a lot of respect for people who are bold enough to chase after an all-new, unproven market. This sounds like a terribly exciting thing to do, yet also reeks of potential commercial suicide. I guess it's all a balancing act. I'd love to do crazy original stuff but in the end I choose to have stability and security over unrestricted artistic expression. There are so many forces at work here, I don't think a single choice is the good answer to how you chose to live your life.

That said, I strongly believe we should strive to develop different games for a wider or diverse audiences. Just not sure we have to force those not interested into it. I still won't watch your next superhero movie, even if you add pears, pineapples or chocolate to it.
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This is where virtual reality could play a role. Personally I am really looking forward to Star Trek. Apart from being a huge Trekkie I think it's going to be really cool to collectively play with others in a virtual world where cooperation is key and hopefully the focus isn't on fighting.

If Star Trek is done well and is commercially successful I suspect we could see more "situation VR games" follow a similar pattern.

Of course the problem is going to be money. At the moment creating these experiences costs a lot of money and the market for them is unproven but I wish everyone willing to give it a try all the best of luck. Sadly it's always going to be easier to just blow stuff up.
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Emmanuel Dorée Studying Software Engineering, Open University2 months ago
We can only encourage people who want to bring diversity, changes, novelty. We don't need to encourage more of the same because we already have it and more is coming that we want it or not. This is why Indies are important and also why I am happy Nintendo is still around trying to do its own thing and aiming for a different audience.

That being said, and as Jason rightly mentioned, the biggest limiting factor for video games compared with other art media is the business question: production cost and revenue. Cinema has the same problem along with the distribution issue. Other art forms are cheaper to produce so the revenue factor is also less of a problem.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Emmanuel Dorée on 7th November 2016 9:57pm

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Gary Jesch Executive Producer & Founder, CHOPS & Assoc. Live Animation2 months ago
I liked this assessment by Brie, as a man who doesn't play video games, and one who has come up with a pretty amazing technology that uses similar computing power and devices - 3D Digital Puppeteer. In our version, one can select one of our avatars and control everything it says and does quite easily, like a puppet. One can connect two systems together via a LAN and have two characters on a screen that can interact with each other and an audience, all in real time. These sessions can easily be recorded and/or streamed to the web as full-screens in real time, just like video games can.

Yet, it is ridiculously difficult to find a market or sell this in familiar channels, even though it is very close to being "consumer-ready." The next step for us is Windows UWA and the Windows Store. Microsoft Xbox has rejected our first proposal and now we are looking for ideas on how to get our program (non-game) considered again. It is actually virtual reality in its infancy, from the 90s, when virtual characters could only be performed on very big and expensive computer systems. We've solved so many problems that have prevented it from going mainstream, and there are still many ahead, because people just don't have any reference for it in real life, other than "Turtle Talk with Crush."

The way you said that video gamers are stuck in their worlds seems very true - considering how hard it is to even present something this different, that people MIGHT like. A YouTube video of it can't tell the whole story, transmit the emotional experience.

You are welcome to take a look at http://www.chops.com - where we offer this for entertainment experiences at corporate events. I'd be happy to respond and show you a live streaming experience you've probably never had before - interacting with a game-quality avatar in a real-time conversation online.
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Petter Solberg Freelance Writer & Artist, 2 months ago
"As gamers, we know that a well-designed game mechanic can convey meaning more efficiently than a novel or film."

- I think part of the problem lies in this way of thinking. There seem to be some popular notion that the different art forms are in a direct competition with each other. Although this might be true from a commercial/ industry standpoint (every art project needs to be funded somehow), I don't really see how this applies to the actual artistic process. Different art forms exist for different reasons, and I am confident that video games won't change that anytime soon. I might be wrong, of course, but if I am right, it should only mean that video games won't need to waste time trying to 'be better' than books and film and paintings. I don't think game writers are a threat to novelists or poets, simply because their work are inspired by different backgrounds and depend on different ways of thinking. Video games, at least to me, don't make novels less interesting or impressive. There is still something incredibly fascinating about the way words on a page can create all kinds of emotions and imagery in one's mind. Calling an adventure game 'an interactive novel' is an oversimplification, though I do understand the temptation to use such a term for the lack of a better alternative.

If video game designers are going to borrow elements from other art forms, I think it is important to understand what makes these elements successful to begin with. I think the decision to become a writer for video games, it should be motivated by more than some misguided ambition to 'improve on the novel'. I've read a lot of articles that seem to be inspired by a notion that books and novels are somehow limited in their presentation, because they are not interactive the way video games are. They argue that linearity is a problem in and of itself. Is this a constructive way of looking at things? What if what many people would call 'limitations' are actually strengths? That they are somehow essential to the success of the work, and to the illusion of depth? The fact that most novels don't have pictures, but only consist of words on the page, with only one possible outcome - isn't this part of what makes literature so effective? Why are Renaissance paintings or modernist paintings so fascinating? Is it not in part because of the way they manage to create an illusion of depth on a flat surface? And does not this illusion depend on the surface being relatively flat? In front of the viewer the painting becomes a window (not a doorway) into a world no quite within reach, and it creates a sense of mystery and tension that might easily evaporate if you were suddenly presented with the possibility to step into that world and walk around in it. The same goes for film. You can choose to see the boundaries of the medium as a limitation or as an essential to creating the illusion of depth that makes the work real to the audience. One of the reasons why I still go to literature and film for inspiration is that I already know that I will not be able to impact the story, because it has already happened before I even get to the cinema. In many cases, this is comforting.

I love stepping into a game and exploring its game world from corner to corner. I love it because it's what a game does best, not because I don't also enjoy reading novels or because it makes me feel like I'm stepping into a painting.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Petter Solberg on 7th November 2016 9:58pm

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Gary Jesch Executive Producer & Founder, CHOPS & Assoc. Live Animation2 months ago
"Video games" is then just one type of content that can be "played" on a computer, just like classical music is one type of content that can be "played" on a violin. The "playing" and associated skill shows up in the form of the player, the software, the additional hardware used, as well as the intent or desire of the content creator. The experience can be taken away from the composer, just as a violinist can mash-up a musical piece. What I think that some people want is a computer experience that offers much more flexibility and creativity, to actually make art while interacting with it, and more than paintings and still images. That's one reason why I turned to live animation, to develop the computer for actual performances, with all their nuances and uses. I can say that "boring" has never been one of the words I've used to describe those experiences. One can even experience stage fright! But it's clearly a much different kind of rush than video games provide. And that is a good thing. If the rush is based on simulated violence, as so many are, it's not suitable for me or my kids.
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Tudor Nita Lead Programmer, Gameloft Romania2 months ago
I hope I can be excused if I propose different reasons for why a vast majority of the adult population does not understand games/ think they are boring/ can not be bothered to try them.

Games, like many other entertainment mediums are best introduced at an earlier age. Shooty McShoot Face is a fine gateway game for angsty teens, like most of us were. It's easy to get into and will probably mean the user will expand into other genres as well. It will also make it easier for them to find the few alternative ( aka not teenage power fantasy ) experiences out there.

Not being exposed to it at the right age/ mental bracket will make entrance much harder as an adult, same as with books. I'm guessing most of your friends that "don't get games" did not have a gateway interaction with the medium, at the right age.

Otherwise, this article resonates with me. As a, mostly ex, "gamer" I can barely find anything that isn't a rehash of something I've been consuming for 20years already. Not to mention the very-involved play styles that no longer fit an adult-lifestyle or the prevalence of overly-angsty themes.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 2 months ago
I now direct non-gamers to gamejolt, itch.io and a few other indie sites so they have more choices outside of the usual suspects, with many games made to be short, fun experiments or quirkier titles that manage to capture their attention. For a few, AAA titles aren't at all interesting because they tend to focus of shooteminnaface stuff first and foremost, which doesn't go over well in convincing a few that games aren't focused on killing.

Amusingly enough, I've also had people who don't mind a bit of gunplay totally freak out over the Earth Defense Force games because the giant spiders in some levels make them way too jumpy to complete a mission.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 2 months ago
Okay. Interesting article. Couple of things:
Linear novels and films are less relevant now for reflecting our realities.
is like saying that all games are FPSs. It misstates what makes literature (and poetry) and films so interesting to so many. It's because, now more than ever, there is something that will reflect our realities. A recent biography of Hitler drew implicit parallels to Trump, for instance. The Bell Jar still offers itself to readers. Finding Dory is a universal story, and it goes on...

If we're to understand why so few people (relatively speaking) like what gaming has to offer, then we have to acknowledge not only that competing mediums speak to some audiences better, but how they speak to them better. Narrative, editing, grammar (both visual and literary), subtext, contemporary real-world situations. And that last is oh so important, especially considering the push-back from some sections of the gaming community.

To quote Petter
They argue that linearity is a problem in and of itself. Is this a constructive way of looking at things? What if what many people would call 'limitations' are actually strengths? That they are somehow essential to the success of the work, and to the illusion of depth?
Absolutely this. Brie says
What forms of art and entertainment are most relevant now? Collage? Memoir? No, it should be video games. Interactive entertainment.
But who is to say what is most relevant to another person? The non-interactivity of The Great Gatsby, The Time-Traveler's Wife, or The Night Circus makes them relevant, drenched in melancholy, joy, love, fear. You could not write these stories as games, because they are fated, and our helplessness as we read the events unfold creates the relevancy, creates the emotion.

Games can create these emotions too, yes. But let's not think interactivity is the only way in which other people's lives can be enriched, or opened-up. Finally
She wants to experiment with who she is in a social context of characters whom she cares about and who care about her.
To create more of this type of experience should be encouraged, but there are loud obnoxious sections of the community who do not want this, which has led to a certain stagnation in some areas of the industry.

Edited 5 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 8th November 2016 9:12am

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Great article! Loved the example of Kristina playing Skyrim. The sense of loss when a NPC that interacts with the player in an interesting way dies can be very powerful, even with seasoned players.

I would recommend watching the "Elders play..." series on youtube to see how elderly people react to modern games. They don't dislike violent games by default (mostly) but it is very interesting to see them struggling with camera controls or quicktime events in order to enjoy what the game is telling them. Also, they react in varied and interesting ways to the content being shown to them. It was fascinating to see them play a game like Last of Us; They were horrified by the violence shown on the introduction, but engaged and thrilled by the destiny of Joel and his daughter. While these videos are done with the shock factor in mind (violent games vs old people) I find there are a lot of things we can learn from the reactions of the players

Good content will resonate on all kind of people if they get access to it (they are aware of its existence) and are able to enjoy it (they can use the controls in a reasonable way). A book only needs a reader to be able to read to enjoy its content. A movie only needs a watcher to be able to see (not even hear) to enjoy the content. Games? There is still a lot of work to do for us developers if we want all kind of people to be able to enjoy our games, no matter the subject.
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L. Xof Studying English MA, University of Missouri2 months ago
This is a great article with many valid points.

Unfortunately, your fundamental premise is flawed. The vast majority of the problems you point out have no relation (explicit or implicit in the text) to racial or gender diversity. A more applicable thesis might be that the problem is that game-makers are failing to try and reach out to non-gamers--whether those nongamers are men or women, children or adults, Western Europeans and Americans or anyone else... Is ultimately immaterial. The fundamental problem here is that the big publishers are focusing on retaining and renewing their existing demographic and failing to reach out to new ones.

I also kind of resent the condemnation of linear storytelling--thats just ridiculous. More people are reading more books now than ever before, and the ubiquity of tablets and mobile phones have birthed entirely new literary genres. Now is a VERY exciting time to be a writer, and yes interactive storytelling is a big part of that... But it's existence does not invalidate other formats. There's a reason why television, radio, theater, and even puppets still exist. New media adds itself to the spectrum... It does not replace old media.

---

On a more personal note, the bit about games failing to explore social interaction and personal storytelling in lieu of much easier to design combat systems really resonated with me. I grew up playing games and loving them... But the medium just hasn't changed enough over the years to maintain my interest as much more than an idle hobby. When I think about the kind of media I want to create, yes, in an ideal world they'd be games... But in this world, what really sets my imagination free are other interactive formats. I'm currently working on a pointlessly complex piece of interactive nonfiction styled after a "choose your own adventure" book... Who would have thought that in 2016 I'd find the CYOA format more open to creativity and more I tellectually stimulating than games?
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 2 months ago
The linear nature of the story is not to blame when the product is rejected based on its topic as was the case in Kristina's example. If everybody rejected entire games for having one element they do not like, the sales would not be what they are. Furthermore, it is impossible to expand something into a market made up from people who will reject something with their first snap decision about some minor detail. It is not the game's fault, when people are just looking for a single reason against to outweigh all the reasons in favor of..
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Bavo Debraekeleer 3d Artist 2 months ago
@Roberto Dillon: Those are some good examples that avoid the violence and action stuff, but they all still rely heavily on established "rules" in videogames. I do agree awareness is probably the biggest issue. As long as it doesn't get picked up by non-gaming media, how can non-gamers know about it.
I also think the term "gamers" doesn't help. Guess that's the stereotype thing you're talking about. People see another trailer of Call of Bros on tv and think "I don't like that, so I'm not a gamer, so I don't like any videogame, because I'm not a gamer". Mobile gaming was a big oppertunity, but that didn't turn out very well.
To add something else. I think the failing in games is also a big issue. Dying and having to start over, your experience being halted and progress reset. The game saying "fuck you, do it again". That might be one of the biggest strengths of games like Gone Home, next to the more obvious like theme.

@Todd Weidner: You're absoluteley right about the UI stuff, but I think this is more about widening the scope of games. Everything that there is today obviously has an audience, so keep all those games. They don't necessarily have to change to speak to a larger audience. There are loads of people who like super complicated games like Civilization for example. But we can do so much more than make another FPS. We have to keep expanding in types of experiences, experiment more and look beyond the established norms.

@Renaud Charpentier: I have to disagree with you. My Pokémon game is Gold, so that's my point of reference, but Pokémon GO is far from the same game and almost the opposite message for me.
It's already been said, but it's actually the perfect example that the IP is mainly why it was so popular and why it reached so many people. It's exactly what it did the first time it came around. As I remember. In Belgium the Pokémon hype was mainly around collecting cards. The videogame an tv series where far less popular.
The point is, what it's about is far more important than the medium. Harry Potter is going to be popular with those it connected with no matter what medium as long as the medium and version of it still resembles the same connection it originaly did. I don't like Pokémon GO for example, because for me it resembles everything the tv series and Gold game told me (it's message) is what made a bad trainer. For me it was about an emotional connection to those few Pokémon you trained up to be champions. So that's an interesting thing as well. Though it was the same IP, I didn't like it beceasue it didn't have the same message. Or atleast what I think is the message.
To end with, I think new media/new ways of bringing art (let's just call it that), can open up new people to it who didn't know it or connected with it before, because of the medium. Like making a movie from a book. Or to keep the same example. A lot of people who hadn't played Pokémon before got into it with the change of medium with Pokémon GO, just like the card game did back in the day. But it was still the art that made people connect with it.
And then we haven't even had it about the social aspect and where the stereotype of a gamer comes into play.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Bavo Debraekeleer on 8th November 2016 3:44pm

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Eyal Teler Programmer 2 months ago
An interesting read, but, as L. Xof said, somewhat misguided. I feel, especially based on the last paragraphs, that the end result would not do much to advance the field.

Woman are a majority of gamers, last I've read (though not by much). There are entire genres aimed mainly at women, such as hidden object adventure games (and they have existed for many years). You may be looking at the issue from an AAA perspective, but that's like saying that movies don't address women because summer blockbusters are for men. In this sense, yes, what *you* know is probably wrong, but that's just because you have a very limited perspective.

I'd really suggest getting that out of your system and focusing on the real issue of what games could be created which are deep and appeal to non-gamers. Caring for virtual creatures / people isn't deep. That mention made me feel you were heading in a wrong direction. In your studio, please try to create games that really break new ground, not something that tries to go against the limited world your limited perspective shows you.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 2 months ago
To add something else. I think the failing in games is also a big issue. Dying and having to start over, your experience being halted and progress reset. The game saying "fuck you, do it again".
Indeed. Games are not very considerate of your time. Imagine how annoying it is when you're constantly interrupted reading a sentence of a book, and have to re-read it 4, 5, 6 times just to understand it... Yet games do that constantly. Someone said that Telltale games are a good example of what the author is aiming for, yet I cannot express how angry the QTE sections of The Walking Dead made me when I simply wanted to enjoy the story & characters. Fear of failure should not put people off enjoying something, yet a good number of the current style of game are all about the consequences of failure as defined by death. A more nuanced creative approach might be beneficial, for both non-gamers interested, and as an experiment in what games can do.
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William D. Volk CCO, PlayScreen2 months ago
Well, I did design a game my non-gaming wife loved.

A word finding game where the board changes (letters are balloons and pop when you find a word).

But it didn't do that well in the market.

But seriously, we need games that evoke emotion and have narrative depth.

We had these in the past. They were known as adventure games.
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Hugo Trepanier Senior UI Designer, Hibernum2 months ago
"We had these in the past. They were known as adventure games."

You know, it's kind of funny how people seem to think that adventure games have disappeared. Traditional point and click adventures are still very much here, they're just not mainstream anymore. Most of them are not violent and some of them are actually quite good (and some shallow ones too, of course).

I'm actually surprised the writer of this article hasn't tried showing those to her friends, seems the logical thing to do for people who are more interested in characters and stories than action or fighting.
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Shehzaan Abdulla Translator/QA 2 months ago
@Morville O'Driscoll: No a book doesn't ask you to read it 4, 5 or 6 times just to understand it, but likewise it does nothing to ensure you do understand it before moving on and inevitably getting confused. Is that better?

Well, some people may feel so simply because being stumped into being unable to progress is borderline impossible for anyone but those with extreme mental difficulties, children or those reading in a language they are not fluent in.

I think there's also this suggestion many of these posts that not progressing in a game is the same thing as being stuck, or that learning how to play a game is prerequisite to enjoying it when neither of these things are true: you can not progress in a game and still find it very rewarding to learn the nuances of it (i.e still get the tangible sense of getting better... because you are), likewise (and a related point) you can move forward in a game WHILST learning to play it and appreciate being able to see the improvements in your skill level as you progress.

So my question after all of that is this: have the people who find games boring actually attempting to change their mindset and still found them boring? Or did they never bother?

And no, they probably don't bother with other mediums either, but the interactivity aspect of videogames makes them in ways more like athletics or sports where the gratification and depth of understanding comes through self-improvement and challenge. So when I hear people complaining that games are boring it sounds to me like someone moaning about marathons being unrewarding because they can't sprint past 100m. Yeah, if you can't do that, of course you aren't going to 'get' it.

Now, should we have some other activity for those people that they should enjoy. sure. But we shouldn't be so quick to downplay the significance of marathons.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Shehzaan Abdulla on 8th November 2016 9:01pm

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Shehzaan Abdulla Translator/QA 2 months ago
@Hugo Trepanier: To add to that, what of the entire visual novel sub-medium/genre (many of the more interactive of which overlap with point and click/adventure games)? Heck, there's an entire sub-genre dedicated to women specifically. Does that not count because it's relatively niche?

To be honest I'm not worried about the issue of games that are complex in an emotional/human sense because shifting in that direction is a bit of a trend, that will only get stronger. One only need look at the change of tone, for example, between Uncharted 3 and 4: and where a game like Uncharted sets sail, others follow (the newest God of War following in a similar vein right on its heels).

It's not much of a stone throw to go from games that have characters and stories that deal with the complexities of being a person, to having games built around those themes.

But what is also worrying is we are seeing another trend towards chasing that kind of experience by simply stripping back everything else that makes games interesting and leaving those human elements and the developer hoping (often pretentiously) that the end result will speak for itself.

Look at almost every David Cage game and he gives the exact same speech this article does every. single. time. And almost every single time he delivers a game that is... sort of okay, but hardly the revolutionary shift he hopes (thinks?) they'll be.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Shehzaan Abdulla on 8th November 2016 11:57pm

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Bob Johnson Studying graphics design, Northern Arizona University2 months ago
Good read. And way to start your own studio in order to make games for an audience which you believe is underserved by the industry. That's the way to do it.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Bob Johnson on 9th November 2016 11:00pm

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Zafar Qamar Senior Programmer, FreeStyleGames2 months ago
I've been in the games industry a long time, and now I teach video-games coding at University.

I'm also a hardcore gamer and I pretty much love all the things you don't - I love high-quality graphics etc, and I love a good ole' deathmatch with blood, guts and guns. And a lot of the time I like to switch my brain off whilst playing, and just "go into a trance" of psychadelic pixelness.

However, I find your article a fantastic and refreshing read and I believe you make a lot of strong and relevant points. I relate to so many of your conversations. You have genuinely helped me understand people that never play games, and refuse to do so. Thank you, sincerely
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Charles Herold Wii Games Guide, about.com2 months ago
Some of the naysayers seem to be suggesting that pretty much every sort of gaming experience is out there and if people don't enjoy any of what's out there then they just don't enjoy games. But what if everything is actually not out there?

Imagine a world in which there are only two video games genes: racing games and sports games. Now some people would love that world and they would play games obsessively. Other people like me would not be gamers in that world because those sorts of games don't speak to us.

Now imagine an article where someone said we should have other types of games besides sporting and racing games and people came out and said that's crazy, because if people don't enjoy driving a car around a track why would they enjoy some other sort of electronic interactive entertainment?

Remember, there is always something else to try even if you personally cannot imagine what that thing could be.
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Bonnie Patterson Narrative Designer, Writer 2 months ago
Beautiful, beautiful article. I've been pondering a lot recently about concepts that might bridge from the traditional gamer to the untapped potential audience, and a few things crossed my mind:

There are a few tabletop RPGs now that use the same style of mechanics for all challenges. For example, in combat you normally have a number of "rounds" in which characters take actions designed to damage each other, with skills and traits modifying a random roll of some sort. These systems now apply the same concepts to, for example, conversation, so two characters have a round of chatting, it's determined which one is most influencing the other and they make progress towards their goal.

I particularly recommend "Apocalypse World" for a novel rules system that treats all forms of challenge as equally important, rather than leaping out in Hammer Pants and shouting "STOP! Combat time!"

The other thing that struck me was that we have a lot of games with soldiers playing a central role, but there's very little about espionage or - and I think this could make an absolute hit idea - resistance. (There are games that purport to be about spies or resistance agents but they still all come down to shooting a lot of people and nothing else that isn't just an automatic action in the narrative.)

A resistance op would be different to the standard soldier game in that it's centered in a local community - it lends itself naturally to a variant of survival resource-gathering and base-building - is more defensive in nature because your character's loved ones aren't somewhere else, they're right here and under threat if you screw up, and has a very different roster of characters.

All the guys (and gals, in a modern or sci fi setting) whose pectorals have biceps would be off at the front, doing the soldier bit, so you have more of a leftovers and oddments team - more Rip Van Winkle and Lady Sutton Finchworthy than Doom Platypus and Blasphemous Hedgehog.

Think "'Allo 'Allo" but more gritty and maybe more than two jokes.

But then I got distracted and designed three games about cats. Two of them are actually pretty good, but the third one is pretty much just a series of jokes about catbutt.

Wait wait WAAAAIT...

Your cousin was a first time gamer and she managed to keep Lydia alive for THREE WEEKS?
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Emily Rose Freelance Artist 2 months ago
This is probably why minecraft is so popular. You can do what you want and you never have to fight anything if you don't want to.
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Emily Rose Freelance Artist 2 months ago
Very good article, I'm glad I don't have to worry about those things, I'm ok making games for me and hoping people like them, though I guess being a black woman I'm just used to not having any representation haha. I only played games where I could create my own character(or with no character), I guess this explains why.
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