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"Games are far too obsessed with technical innovation" - Bogost

Designer and professor says that games are also "too cloistered, too internally-directed"

The medium of video games has come a long way in its (relatively) short history, and there are more people playing games in various forms than ever before, but if you ask Ian Bogost, game designer and professor of interactive computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology, the industry has yet to truly reach an inflection point where it's accepted without question across the globe in the way that film is.

Part of the problem is that developers get too caught up in leveraging the newest technology of the day, Bogost pointed out in an interview published on the Entertainment Software Association website. "When games are as ordinary as photographs and writing and moving images, then they will have arrived. But the truth is, we're still nowhere near that inflection point. Games are far too obsessed with technical innovation, and we end up recycling the same ideas and the same uses in the same contexts every handful of years or so," he said. "Ten years ago it was physical interfaces like the Wii and Kinect. Now we've forgotten about all that, and virtual reality is the next novelty.

"So we tend to jump from trend to trend as if they were Super Mario platforms, except we don't realize that they're the kind that vanish underfoot. We have to keep running just to keep up with ourselves. But the real work starts when the platforms and the technologies become boring and ordinary and everyday. The smartphone is starting to do this, although we keep racing to keep up with it, too. I don't see this changing too much in the next 10 years."

Bogost believes that games truly need to be leveraged in broader applications across society. Once the industry can look more fully beyond itself, things should improve.

"The most important thing that creators, players, and critics of games can do is to care deeply about many other things that have nothing to do with games. It doesn't even matter what it is. Knitting or car racing or woodworking or small-batch spirits or historical preservation or soccer or German Enlightenment philosophy or cinema or gardening or anything else. And ideally many things. And not just your own, either. The gravest worry I have about games writ large is that we are too cloistered, too internally-directed, interested mostly in ourselves and not enough in other things," he said. "And there are enough of us now who are interested in games that it feels like we are 'winning,' whatever that would mean. But really we're not.

"Games used to be a niche, and now they're a bigger niche. Nothing against niches, mind you! But we need to connect more with the world in all its nooks and crannies, to make games a part of more conversations with a greater number of domains. These are some of the themes I've tried to address in 'How to Talk About Videogames'. Pay attention to anything but games, and then connect those interests to games, and vice versa."

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Latest comments (9)

Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development3 years ago
I'm just not seeing this. Games have reached into every walk of life now and the demographic for "game player" includes just about everyone, if you get over the idea that call of duty is a game whilst bingo bonanza isn't.

But there's really not that much to talk about? Board games are totally ubiquitous but they don't hold much of a conversation either. Probably everyone on Earth knows what Monopoly or Snakes and Ladders is, but how exciting is a conversation about your last game of it? Down the pub, it's just not the same as talking about how you favourite sports team did over the weekend.
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Farhang Namdar Lead Game Designer Larian Studios 3 years ago
I know people that can talk hours about their Axis and Allies game and it truly is exciting, if you also play the game :p

I rejoiced the day they made War Hammer games, all those hours in the dank cellars of the Games Workshop in Amsterdam with sweaty teenagers. THE HORROR!
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development3 years ago
I can't get past the sketch of Rimmer regaling the rest of the crew with how his opponent rolled a five and four and he rolled a six and a five tbh. :)

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Paul Johnson on 5th November 2015 5:26pm

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Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 3 years ago
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Casey Anderson Game Data Analyst, Big Fish Games3 years ago
He isn't wrong that games are very focused on technical innovation, but that is exactly how creative disciplines are developed. Movies, Television, Painting, etc, all went through periods very similar to the one game design is in now, and I suspect it is quite healthy, and while rushing this phase might have positive short term effects, I would be worried that limitations of today's technical abilities might become more permanent than they would otherwise be in the long term.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Casey Anderson on 5th November 2015 9:15pm

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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 3 years ago
Can't wait to to have a PSVR on my head, two move controllers in my hand and start playing Friedrich Nietzsche's Nihilistic Knitting Simulator 2016. The actual gimmick is talking to your friends about the experience afterwards.
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Shane Sweeney Academic 3 years ago
There was a point when DVD first came out (and again when Blue Ray came out) that film critics started talking about interpolation and digital signal conversion when reviewing films. Technical innovation over shadowed the Hobbit films with its 24fps/48fps screening and basically was the running narrative of Star Wars Ep 1-3. Film criticism was worse for it and was a chore to read.

I can't imagine much worse than conversations about film being dominated by such technical perspectives. Video games my medium of choice is often exclusively dominated by such technical conversation and our medium is much worse for it. It's okay that sometimes when we discuss a film like Gravity we go into the technical innovations in it, but by and large the films content is always the main focus.
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Al Nelson Producer, Tripwire Interactive3 years ago
This guy should contact me. I want him to understand what happens when GIT grads repeat this kind of thing to their bosses on their first industry jobs. I am totally serious.
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I am pretty surprised by his views considering he is paid to teach the next wave of industry people, if a guy interviewing for a job said this to me he would be an automatic pass.
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