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An Ode To A Jaded Gamer

An analysis of the power of narrative compared to realistic graphics.

After fifteen years in the game industry one starts reflecting on change and the reasons for that change. Essentially I feel the need to ask "what the hell happened to games and why do I not enjoy them as much as I did?"

Many I'm sure ask this question but there are simple answers and more complex answers. The simple are:

  • Your lifestyle changes. I have a family now, and family takes up a good bulk of home life.
  • Repetition. When you play games enough you begin to look for more than you're used to, and that is difficult to come by after having played at least a thousand titles.

Here are more complex answers:

  • Depending on what you like, there are varying kinds of motivations to play. Time is one factor. The less time you have, the more you will want to play games that have quicker (not necessarily easier) goals.
  • I am a confessed solitaire player on my Blackberry. On my ex-Treo I used to have NESEm for playing NES games and at least a couple of other titles of varying complexity, but I have fallen into the habit that makes Solitaire perhaps the most played video game in history. Time is the key motivating factor: I can win (or lose) a game within one minute or so.
  • Social gaming is definitely on the move, and is a transformation of the arcade. The transformation is that you get 5 minute experiences online that progress, and you don't start from square one. Genius.
  • Goal achievement is important as well. In most games there are multi-tiered goals (and this has probably been written about a hundred times already), from blasting a single alien to achieving a high score. In recent games, goal achievement is far less obvious, and the more obscure the goal, the less accessible the game is to more people.
  • Suspension of disbelief and immersion are important roles for people willing to invest more than ten to twenty minutes in a single session. For example, in Elite, a PC game of great repute, reading the manual is extremely important, and with many older titles, a manual provides far more realism and imaginative interpretation than even modern games can. This two level experience is mostly gone nowadays and dramatic presentation is at rock bottom for most titles, which gives licensed film games such as Harry Potter an edge in the market because people already are immersed in that universe.

Ultima42 Elderscrollsiiimorrowind2









Compare a game like Ultima 4 with its primitive graphics to a title like Morrowind. There is far less narrative and more graphic display. While this leaves less to the imagination, the lack of dramatic impact and presentation of behavior that can be at least minimally associated with reality provides a setting that the user will find more difficult to find novel.

The power of symbolism in old game storytelling is not to be underestimated, as new graphic power only serves to have games compared to cinema, where admittedly not that many strides are being taken towards original content.

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