When I think about the games I love most, the thing that jumps out is not graphics or story or control mechanism, but emotion. Because that’s what it all adds up to when it’s done right. And that’s what I think a recent Atlantic article that focuses largely on Façade is getting at, too. It suggests the way forward for games lies in finding ways to connect with players on a more deeply emotional level, the claim being that this is when games will approach art. (I’d argue that a few games have already archived the status of art, but let’s not go there just now.)
It’s a beautiful notion and certainly, in the abstract, the sort of connection that all games should shoot for in their unique ways. The article discusses two approaches to eliciting emotion that show promise: making characters more emotionally intelligent (Façade) and creating an environment where players can experience the “magical delight of creation” (Spore).
But there’s more. What we are really talking about is no longer letting players take the easy way out. There’s no “You Win! Thanks for playing!” but rather lots of hard questions and no easy answers.
November’s Edge captures it well:
Like books and movies before them, games are losing their fear of leaving players in conflict, their feelings unresolved. Moreover, they’re willing to toughen progress on ever more personal levels. Those who were shellshocked by Call of Duty 2, suffocated by San Andreas’ Los Santos, frozen by Zettai Zetsumei Toshi 2 or shamed by Shadow Of The Colossus will attest to that, and vouch for it. In gaming’s great quest for maturity, this is the all-important step.
So where can others go that wish to follow? What can other games do to make players almost not want to play them? As ever, the answers are all around, in the stories we hear and the world in which they’re told.
“Almost not want to play them.” What we seem to be hearing here is that the future of traditional games is starting to have more and more in common with serious games. We’re heading for a place where traditional games are no longer simple escapism but complex, even uncomfortable, experiences that give us insight into the real world and ourselves. In doing so, they put us in situations designed to foster that endlessly terrifying outcome: learning. Serious games do the same.
The problem, of course, is that traditional gaming is supposed to be escapism. Serious games are anti-escapism, that is, they don’t take you out of yourself but into yourself and, in some way, into the real world. So, the question then becomes: how will these future games be fun? Certainly, that is the challenge for serous games. And, from the sound of things, it’s becoming the challenge for the rest of gaming, too.
We last wrote about serious games in Serious.