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You Didn't Fail Games. Games Are Failing You

In response to Leigh Alexander's Kotaku article last week. I partially agree and raise a counterpoint that maybe games the variety of games are failing us and non-gamers as well as our limited lexicon.

Isaiah Taylor, Blogger

May 30, 2010

6 Min Read

Go Ahead, Try And Explain This HUD To A Non-Gamer. Try And Explain This Hud To A Non-RPG Player. I'll Pray For You.

By now, many of you have already read Leigh Alexander's article on that other site. Within the article, she goes into great detail as to how difficult it was to translate her excitement for Fallout 3 to her parents. Aside from the fact that Fallout 3 isn't the most accessible game for -- well, gamers -- its slightly perturbing to see the conclusion Alexander comes to. Because of the lack of a developed language or lexicon in describing games in simplified terms [no matter the complexities that currently exist], Alexander feels that she has in some way failed games, by not being able to at least convey how a post-apocalyptic world from a first person perspective rpg could be appealing. 

At this point, us twenty-somethings and younger would be hard pressed to find a parent who hasn't at least played computer Solitaire. It may not even be that big of a stretch to assume that a fair amount of 40-to-50 somethings have touched a joystick at some point in their lives. There is something to be said about how fair games have come when we can finally acknowledge that, yes, there is a generation gap. Explaining how a game filled with desolate grays and browns could be appealing to a group of people who played in a generation where putting as many limited colors on screen may be a difficult task.

I Have To Be The Only Kid Who Had Nightmares About Playing Double Dribble With My Mom.
Alexander's parents are versed in very specific genres of games. Which, i believe, makes the task more difficult. This past weekend I went home and seen my mom rifle through her cabinets in order to show me how much fun she and my sister were having playing Wii Sports Resort. Considering my mom forced an old, battered NES controller in my hand as punishment when I didn't do so well on a test as a youth -- only to then be dominated in a twenty-minute game of Double Dribble or Ms. Pac Man.
I can safely assume my mom's taste in games now have not changed since her gaming addiction then. Though I am sure I could show my mother the 'technical' advancements and achievements games have made in the past twenty years -- her question, though simple, can be applied to any child explaining any media to their parents. "Why would I want to play this?" 

But maybe Alexander has a point. Maybe it "isn't a generation gap either." I would partially agree and add, it isn't just a generation gap. Non-gamers are usually non-gamers for a reason, much like non-classical music listeners may not want to hear piano keys being pounced upon for minutes on end. Trying to explain the core concept of BioShock to a non-gamer could be just as difficult as explaining Chopin's relevance to classical music. It has taken years and plenty of hard working pianists to convince me that classical music isn't just a bunch of hoity-toity douche bags punching a keyboard and calling it beautiful. It will take years of refinement of the media and subsequent years of writing about said media, for a game of any genre to attract the average non-gamer's eye.
Here We See Leigh Alexander Playing Games. Adorable, But I'm Not Seeing Her Hand Being Held.
Then Alexander travels down a road set with pitfalls and traps buy exclaiming,

So why is it so much easier to "get" a game like GTA or by extension, Red Dead Redemption, than other titles, even those with far fewer elements going on? It's because GTA is universal: everyone's wished they could just act out against their environment without real-world consequences, just for fun, from time to time. Not all games are built on such accessible ideas – nor should they be. We could explain to our friends why we relate to them anyway, if only we had the right words.

The crux of Alexander's argument is something I can only partially agree with, because I strongly believe that we can have as many words in as many different languages -- there will always be a barrier of entry when it comes to games [much like any media]. The concept of GTA isn't actually accessible. Its design is. And I'm willing to argue to the death that this cultural phenomena of GTA didn't occur, wholly, until GTA III. The game had the same concept, the same personality, but once the design of this game was shown in a more presentable manner [a little controversy doesn't hurt either], more eyes were intrigued. GTA wasn't always universal, but hats off to the Rockstar guys for working hard in making the series as universal as it is now. Look at Super Mario Brothers for the NES. Look at Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Games that are quite ridiculous when explaining to anyone -- gamer or non -- words of any kind will only get you so far. Sometimes it is best to just be as vague as possible or in most cases, pass the controller.
Super Mario: Modern Warfare -- Maybe It's Time Mario Got A Unnecessary Reboot.
The language does need to improve. Not just for the sake of attracting outsiders, but to make sharing within our fragmented community more popular. I am sure there were a lot of women [and some men] who got into gaming because of their significant others. As much as it takes words and sharing we have to give more credit to peoples' capacity to be generally inquisitive. The concept of a plumber jumping down a sewer to save a princess by butt-stomping mushrooms and defeating a reptilian overlord takes more of an adventurous personality than a shmuck like me writing about the fun factor of the game. 

To the more complex stories and concepts of gaming there is indeed a failing of language. This failing isn't applicable to just non-gamers. There are several gamers that I know who have no interest in playing BioShock simply because it doesn't look like something familiar. It is good that our crowd of nerds and geeks are getting more diverse. It is also good to hear that more and more gamers are sharing with others our hobby [or obsession] and subsequently running out of words to paint the picture of our very intricate pixallated experiences. Though our language in describing games could stand for a tune-up it is my firm belief that explaining any media with words pales in comparison to a one-on-one experience with it.

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