We've all heard the debate enough to make our ears bleed: "We need to make games more mature as a medium and make society take them seriously."
So I won't beat that dead horse again. Instead, I'll begin a discourse on a real solution that I feel would work best for that problem. If you want games to continue to be mostly juvenile, that's fine by me, and you will want to quit reading now.
If not, chances you are like me, a gamer that is aging (aren't we all) but also maturing and wanting to see your medium of choice tackle life issues and situations that are becoming or already are more relevant to you.
So how should we do it? With better design of course...or not? Better design is only half the battle here. The real answer is investing in education and academia.
I had the good fortune of sitting in on a graduate class taught by Dr. de Souza e Silva at North Carolina State University as an undergraduate. I was actually part of the class, which covered games, and game design with a focus on mobile and hybrid reality games, until I had to drop that semester for irrelevant personal reasons.
Not long after the class had begun I realized it wasn't what I had thought it was. I just wanted something that was getting me closer to my goal of making games for a living. Instead, Dr. de Souza e Silva had instilled in me something altogether different: an appreciation for games, and knowledge of how they are made. "What? you mean I didn't already like games and know how they were made?" I did, at least I thought so too.
But the class, along with my continued reading of some of the textbooks (Salen & Zimmerman's Rules of Play) is building a better understanding, vocabulary and history of games than I would get by simply playing all the games that intersted me or came my way. I'm old enough to rememberplaying Atari, but I missed out on some of the games like Adventure, which was ground breaking in many ways.
Instead of reminiscing the good ol' school days, let me tie this anecdote back to the original point: Education and academic research will push the medium towards maturity and credibility. Consider if you will the "music appreciation" course offered in many a school, and the "film theory" class you always wanted to take. People who don't have much of any formal education know "that song has a good fast beat."
Well where the heck did they find that jargon? Beat? This kid must be a music major at Julliard! Ok, that's an exageration, but when do you see a high school grad that has limited interaction with games throwing around techincal jargon like "that character's walk cycle is off by a few frames?" Perhaps that same person said, well maybe the coders should have spent longer debugging the game?
Chances are that most people don't understand the inner workings of games (especially video games) like they do film and music and writing. I think the reason is simple: higher education doesn't research games and all education doesn't teach about games.
Obviously there are some places that do teach already, so don't get me wrong (remember my story?). But by and large we are missing out on teaching this. It would fit right into a "media literacy" curriculum that people like Henry Jenkins of MIT have already highly recommended.
I'm just a game designer, what can I do? A lot.
- The first step is be aware. Awareness actually helps things, even though it seems intangible in its results.
- From there you can go in many directions. In the U.S. we have a representative republic which means that officials are elected by citizens to serve the citizens' will. (Or perhaps the lobbyists' wills if you want to be cynical like me). You elect people who do what you want, and anyone that gets elected is obligated to listen to your requests and consider them. So tell your politicians that you want to see local public grade schools and colleges offer course in game theory, game appreciation, game design, etc.
- Another idea if you are too afraid to approach the people that you voted on, or simply don't have time: Give money to current programs or to start new ones. It takes money, too.
- If you have time, consider teaching one of those classes.
- Formal education just really not your thing? Many people are educated by other venues that are as cut and dry as Public Service Announcements, or as exciting as "behind the scenes" looks at games. Include a commentary with your game. Do a making of documentary DVD/BluRay to accompany the game.
- You are creative: be creative! I don't have to tell you the right way to do this, you may know plenty of great ideas on your own.