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Cryptoludology: Why not a successful FPS for little children?

Can you think of a first-person shooter game (FPS) that is developed for little kids to enjoy? FPS’s games developed for children never reach the popular appeal of their mature rated counterparts. I've wondered about this.

Cryptoludology:  Why not a successful FPS for little children?

Can you think of a first-person shooter game (FPS) that is developed for little kids to enjoy?  I often feel these types of games are like a blurry Sasquatch photograph. They may be spotted once or twice in a given year but none of them seem to assert their existence. FPS’s games developed for children never reach the popular appeal of their mature-rated counterparts. I often wondered why this was, and if it was not an opportunity not capitalized on.

Cryptoludology (from Greek, kryptos, “hidden” + from Latin, ludus, “game”; + from Greek, logos, “knowledge) is the funny term use when musing about these hidden or obscure games.

Cryptid game conepts are out there but are often overlooked by the scope of the industry. Every once in a while, however, a developer executes on an idea that shines on its originality and simplicity. Katamari Damacy, Sim City, Portal and Scribblenauts are good examples of this.

I don’t play FPS’s but many of the kid testers that test my games do and they are very good at them (by their account). Apparently they are also very good at Grand Theft Auto 4, God of War and Gears of War. Not surprisingly, most of these games are rated for much older demographics because of their content.

The FPS Stigma:

Is an FPS a genre not suitable for children?

By Wikipedia’s understanding, an FPS is a game genre that centers on gun/projectile based combat through a first-person camera view. Is that a bad thing?

I think as developers we’ve under appreciated how enticing the mechanics and dynamics of this genre are for kids.  While the FPS mechanics are often applied to mini-games or the localized interactions inside various kids games these mechanics are seldom used as the core game play.

To this I’ve concluded on three stigmas.

1)     First, that the genre mechanics are too complicated for little children

To this I say that in my experience, little children seem to be as capable of playing my Shrek game as they inform me they can play Halo. Even if I can’t attest to their skill, their consistence in listing this genre as a top favorite indicates that they have enough proficiency to enjoy some success during play.

2)     Second, that the FPS is a violent genre and thus not suitable for children

This we know to be incorrect since the violence is really dependent on the context. Shooting water to put out fires is not the same as shooting civilians in the head with a sniper gun.

I would even go as far to say that as a collective society we tend to categorize the genre as an exclusively adult subject much like any type of nudity is considered pornography. And yet naked people still find their place in the ceilings of churches and European beaches. The FPS is not an immoral genre.

3)    That FPS games marketed to children are not profitable

This is perhaps a big stigma to overcome. Games like Minecraft or the Double Fine's Kickstarter project show us that the profitability/marketability of a game is not restricted to traditional methods.

The FPS Appeal:

Every person is subject to their own bias and so it is hard to pinpoint the source of any one individuals appeal to a specific video game. In the matter of the FPS, as it regards to the children I’ve observed, I can devise various hypotheses.

1)     Pretending to be a grown up is both exiting and a point of pride – Growing up I do recall wanting to do things that my elders did for both it was empowering and exciting. Kids watch scary movies and stay up late because these are things inspire curiosity and act as a rite of passage. Playing Grand Theft Auto 4 may have the same appeal to a kid as sneaking into a PG-13 movie.

2)     Quality is a big draw in mature rated FPS– I believe the level of quality, realism, narrative and the serious approach to the subject in modern FPS’s is very appealing. Quality is important and Kids are drawn into these mature games if anything because they are held to a very high standard of quality.

3)     FPS mechanics have built in appeal – Some kids are just more engaged by FPS mechanics. They may find that moving in first person and aiming a reticule is more intuitive than driving a go-cart or plat-forming in third person. We should remember that the FPS mechanics give rise to various game-play modes (single player, versus and cooperative) and that these too are geared for very specific audiences.

Case Samples:

Exhibit A:

The recent Nerf-N-Strike game featured the collaboration between Electronic Arts and Hasbro to develop a game & toy gun bundle that featured shooting gallery style game play. This game is a prime example of how straightforward the contextual violence barriers can be overcome (you shooot robots with nerf darts). And yet some parents may find this to be too violent because it uses guns.

Nerf-N-Strike (Electronic Arts)

Exhibit B:

Do you remember Pokemon Snap? There was no projectile based game play (so to speak) but there was the mechanic of aiming, “shooting” pictures, throwing food or a Pester Ball at the elusive subjects. This game was also a rail shooter.

Pokemon Snap (Nintendo)

Exhibit C:

No humans were harmed during Portal 2 coop multiplayer mode (just their egos).  The game is another example reinforcing that aiming and traversing is not just for killing. Note that the puzzle nature of the game play may not appeal to fans of more action and reaction driven FPS games.

Portal 2 (Valve)

Exhibit D:

The very popular Skyrim game shows that fantasy and role playing are proven genres implemented using first person mechanics. FPS mechanics are very portable across themes.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Bethesta Softworks)

THE FUTURE:

We should not overlook the FPS genre and its mechanics when considering games for younger demographics. Even educational games should consider accessing the built in appeal and widespread understanding of the FPS. Publishers have often overlooked this approach when targeting the kids market. Developers should not overestimate the player’s ability to understand something that is closest to the way they experience the world.

I am sure in the future I will ask a kid(probably a boy) what they play at home they will tell me they just finished Halo 4. I will then proceed to boot up my game and see if any of those skills help them play through my cartoon licensed platformer.

Would your kid buy an FPS made for them? If you could make one what would you do?

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