Maybe it’s not all doom and gloom. Maybe there’s a chance for us all yet, and maybe our earlier suggestion that videogames are destined for oblivion were a little premature. Here are some reasons why that may be the case…
Almost every person you walk past on the street has upon their person a device that is capable of playing video games. Be it a simple Snake clone or the Unreal Engine powered Infinity Blade on iPhone, the world and its dog has access to a world of interactive entertainment.
Humankind may not have realised it yet, but the advancement of mobile phone technology is turning all of us into gamers. And it’s not just the phones. Facebook apps and flash games are indoctrinating thousands into the simple pleasures of videogaming, and that can only be a good thing.
The wider the audience, the wider the spectrum of entertainment we can all enjoy.
If there’s one thing the last decade has taught us, it’s that simplicity and addiction make easy bedfellows. Sure, you might lose hours of a night playing COD online with your friends, but that’s nothing in comparison to the decades you’ve put into Angry Birds. A game that is, to all intents and purposes, a simplified Breakout.
The “small bites” approach to gaming allows you to fill those once dull and lifeless minutes in your life with the joy of having a quick go. The casual gaming label is often used as an excuse for shoddy games, but enough is enough. A bad game is a bad game, but the best casual game can occupy anyone for hours.
For those of you who bemoan the lack of innovation in videogames, I say this – you’re looking in the wrong place. You don’t go see a Michael Bay movie for intricate plots, character development or subtlety. By the same token, you don’t buy a blockbuster game and expect it to be particularly different from last year’s effort.
If it’s new ideas you’re after, you’ll find them in the independently developed titles that don’t rely on huge budgets or massive teams, but on the dedication of a small group of people with a vision. Titles like Minecraft, an MMO which lets you build whatever you can imagine, are where the innovation lies, away from the hum of machine guns and musculature.
The reason Minecraft and others like it are able to experiment with form, genre and style, is because they’re sold direct to the consumer, cutting out the less creatively-minded middlemen that so often fund and sculpt larger titles. A game without a physical release can take far more risks, simply because there’s less money involved.
Titles like Braid and Limbo would never have seen the light of day if it wasn’t for places like Xbox Live Arcade, where exciting and interesting software can find its way to a much larger audience. Downloadable titles give developers the chance to play with their ideas in a less risk-averse playground, paving the way for a generation of programmers, artists and designers blooded in a far more interesting environment.
The Internet is a funny old not-really-a-place, just as likely to be a hotbed of insane, rambling lunacy as it is to be a charming tea party of witty banter and pleasant debate. What the Internet is best at, though, is acting as a forum for the free and frank exchange of ideas and opinions – it’s the perfect wheat/chaff separation mechanism when it comes to weeding out the titles and consoles you want to play on.
It’s sort of like having a billion friends who can play stuff first, then let you know, for free, what they thought about it. Of course, you might disagree, but then you can add your voice to the throng and maybe help someone else out.
Alternatively you could, via the medium of incoherent grammar, inaccurate spelling and racism, act like a total bell end. Your choice.
Killing people is fun, as long as it’s in a safe, digital environment. Killing people you know is also fun, but nothing beats the delicious joy of killing people you don’t know with the help of a friend. This is by no means an invitation to engage in a tag-team killing spree, but merely a statement of fact.
Games are quite often better when you’re playing them with someone, not against them. Developers are starting to realise this, and the co-op mode is becoming the norm rather than the exception. Designing for two players opens up a whole raft of challenges, as well as innovative approaches to solving them.
It only does quite a lot
In the olden timey days, you turned on your console, and it didn’t do much unless there was a cartridge rammed in it. In the newy timey days though, you turn on your console and you’re greeted by a maze of options, things and doo-dahs the likes of which our younger selves could only have dreamed of. Or cried about.
Consoles are the all-singing, all-dancing multimedia hubs of our entertainment universe. Even the Wii has iPlayer on it. The ever-swelling sphere of stuff our consoles can do is emblematic of the change in attitude towards videogames.
No longer the preserve of children or grumpy teens, games are now the playthings of grown ups. Once the mainstream media catches up with that fact, the future’s looking bright.
One of the best ways to make people like you is to be nice to them, show them your big smiling face and don’t hide behind terrifying corporate suits. Videogame companies have realised this, and so they talk to us, the consumer, directly. Xbox Live has the delightful Inside Xbox team and it only takes a cursory look through Twitter to find piles and piles of companies actually interacting with their fan base.
Treating customers like human beings is marketing 101, engaging them in conversation and actually listening to what they have to say is a masterstroke.
The next generation of mainstream games may well not be for us, or for our younger, less bitter siblings. In all likelihood they’ll be made for middle-aged women with a few minutes to spare between engaging in middle-aged women style activities.
They’ll be for our mothers – that’s where the money will be in the coming years, so that’s where the mainstream will go, leaving an enormous gap to be filled by measured, well thought out, quality entertainment of the sort some of us are longing for. Or I could be completely wrong.
Either way, the market is swinging in strange and unheard of directions, and that should foster some much-needed creativity.
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