Posted: July 24, 2013 by Twitchdoctor in game design, Game Research
Tags: casual games, game design, hardcore games, ipad, iPhone, Jesper Juul, Quark Games, research, Shawn Foust, smart phones, Video game industry
Apple Announces New Tablet Designed to Improve Paperweight Functionality (Image by Ilovebutter, CC license)
It has become increasingly obvious over the last couple of years that some gamers are convinced that after Obama satisfies his deep-seated yearning to take away our guns he is going to send in the UN black helicopters and take away our hardcore videogames. In the past I’ve written about how the irrational fear that casual games are “taking over” has produced pathological troglodyte behavior directed against women who have dared simply to voice an opinion about games. Recently I came across an instance that has at its root the same pathology (oh no! Games are being played by everyone!) but adopted a refreshingly different approach: denial.
Throw an Apple hard enough and it can really sting
In a recent opinion piece for Polygon, Shawn Foust, currently VP of Design at Quark Games argued that “In two years mobile and tablet games will be predominantly hardcore.” Admittedly this pronouncement could be seen as a little self-serving given that Foust’s company is dedicated to producing hardcore games for mobile platforms. But let’s give Foust the benefit of the doubt and assume that his work has followed his passions and beliefs. What justifies the confidence behind his statement? Simple. “Every media platform optimized for games eventually ends up going hardcore. Mobile will not be different.” The PC, the Internet, consoles, all started out as oriented toward casual games and moved inevitably toward hardcore. The reason, he argues, lies in the desires of gamers themselves: “For all of our faults as customers (we’re very torch- and pitchfork-oriented), we gamers — and I’m speaking of the hardcore variety — are loyal and dedicated. . . .For us, games aren’t an idle pastime. They are a commitment. We can’t be distracted.” Casual games, he makes clear, are all about simple distraction, passing the time.
Sadly, this piece simply confirms why people should not be in a rush to invest in Foust’s company. In the first place he’s exhibiting the classic circular reasoning evident among so many game developers. Notice the nifty little rhetorical sidestep? I’m going to talk about all gamers. . .by which I mean hardcore gamers. But this is typical of the industry more broadly (indeed, in a former age it virtually defined the industry): all we make are hardcore games which people are buying therefore all gamers are hardcore gamers which means that we need to keep making nothing but hardcore games. It is a completely fallacious argument to believe that your intended audience thinks exactly like you do and in the game industry it has led to some of the most problematic industry practices: the widespread hypersexualism (we like big boobs so of course everyone does) and racism (we like plucky black sidekicks, doesn’t everyone?).
Yet that all pales before the major problem here which is simply that Foust is wrong. He’s wrong about the past and he’s wrong about the future. But it is the reason why he is wrong that interests me.
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We Are What We Buy
(Original photo by Dj ph. Used in accordance with Creative Commons License)
The answer to this question seems blindingly obvious. A gamer is a person who plays videogames. But with any activity it is important to circle back to first principles occasionally. In this case, the common sense answer to this fundamental question is arguably not helping the cause of providing all of us with better games. In fact, this answer may be a fundamental part of the reason why every year the gaming industry seems desperate to emulate Hollywood: scattering a handful of diamonds throughout a giant shit pile. If the diamonds land on top, all well and good, we recognize them and celebrate them. Most of us, however, are left having to do a lot of unpleasant digging and spend time cleaning residue off objects that may or may not prove to be the gems we seek. All too often the resultant gem proves simply to be a particularly well fossilized turd.
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This is just a quick announcement to let everyone know that you can now follow the Intelligently Artificial blog via Twitter. Our Twitter handle, in a tip of the hat to McKenzie Wark’s influential book Gamer Theory, is @LucidlyLudic. There may be some hiccuping and farting while we iron out any wrinkles with the WordPress posting mechanism but that probably won’t end up looking much different than most of the content on Twitter!
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