Video Games Are Alive and Well, Thanks

Video Games Are Alive and Well, Thanks

Regarding David Thomas’ earlier piece Video Games Are Dead: The End is Here, it surprises me that someone who is completing a PhD in architecture would write such a focused piece on the potential death of video games by lamenting the lack of new building blocks in design. After all, aren’t architects building new structures and monuments from the same materials humans have been using for centuries?

Does that mean architecture is dead?

I remember enough about driving pageviews in editorial to know that the headline/thesis of the article is probably a ploy to grab our attentions (which, quite obviously, it did), but I feel as if the writer (a game critic, researcher and teacher) should’ve been able to come up with a more optimistic — or let’s say, more open-minded — conclusion than “Let’s hope this isn’t really the end.”

Who said it was the end?

‘Core’ gamers (I don’t like the term — I use it in reference to the perceived gaming demographic before mobile, casual and social usage numbers shot through the roof) seem to lament the rise of iPhone and Facebook games because they represent a drastic shift in the way games are both delivered and consumed — this is how I’ve heard the phrase “video games are dead” used before.

But Thomas doesn’t even tackle this angle. He argues that actually, games are dead because we re-use mechanics.

We are faced with the reality that games have fallen into a glorious echo chamber of repetition. Every year, we see titles super-sized, cranked up to 11 and going for broke. But it’s the same old stuff.

Some titles – yes. Especially sequels. Annual Madden NFL and Call of Duty installments don’t change much from year to year, I agree here. But you can’t say that Flower doesn’t deliver a substantially different experience than Pilotwings just because they both involve using the wind to explore a 3D environment.

Mechanics like flying, platforming, shooting (and on) are tools to build great games, just as wood, concrete, marble are tools to build great architecture.

I’m stunned that someone well-versed and educated doesn’t see games as progressing beyond “a bigger, more realistic World of Warcraft… A more exciting Call of Duty… A more accurately simulating Gran Turismo…” if for no other reason than that I am personally so excited to see the next wave of video gaming emerge. Maybe that’s why the article upset me so, with its’ dire attitude towards the discipline when I actually think that we’re on the precipice of the most interesting games we’ve seen yet.

Think of how the DS (and iPhone/iPod following, and possibly the PSP 2) revolutionized the kind of tactile manipulation we had over playthings in a digital landscape. Think of how Facebook and other social networks enable a kind of long-distance meaningful (we’re getting there, little by little, no matter how much FarmVille naysayers protest otherwise) interaction with friends and family by connecting them through a simple interface. Think of how Kinect (through the path blazed by Wii and PlayStation Move) is completely changing how we orient our physical selves with a virtual world.

Technology will continue to evolve to support designers’ growing imaginations of what games are, what they can create and what gamers can experience — we as game consumers are lucky that unlike more static forms of creation like traditional books, films and music (immutable once delivered into consumers’ hands) we are able to not only have unique experiences of each product from person to person, but also have the possibility of sending/receiving direct communication with the content system (AI or otherwise) to further change the experience. That’s the beauty of games — when we’re able to input something and get a different output, we become content creators as well.

Chin up, gamers. We’re only just beginning to see what can happen in this medium.

About Robin Yang
Robin Yang is a producer at Funtank, creating casual and social games for the Candystand.com brand. She has also covered the games industry for the Aol Media network at Games.com and GameDaily.com, and can be found at @robinyang on Twitter.

1 Comments

  1. I suppose I could have been more clear in the original story.

    But the underlying theme is this:

    The death of the author didn’t stop authoring. It just stimulated a discussion that reinvigorated the novel. The death of the university is instantly followed by a new big bang. And so on.

    I just feel, as a guy who has written about games for the past 15 years, that we are in a bit of a low spot. Nothing is particularly bad. But nothing is particularly exciting.

    So, I was just musing on this and suggesting, admittedly a little obliquely, that the game industry should stop patting itself on the back and spend some time inventing the future. Or not. I suppose games don’t have a mandate to grow. But for me, I’m getting a little bored. So I am looking forward to the next big thing!

    — David

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