Fly ‘Till I Die

Posted on 13/08/2010

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The Harry Potter franchise with it’s continuous installments did a curious thing. It managed to grow up alongside it’s audience. Young teenagers who picked up the first book at the end of the 90s would be entering their mid-twenties by the time the last book was published.

This is something video games hardly ever do.

When Harry was introduced, his young age gave readers the chance to literally grow up with him.

It’s as if video games stubbornly resist to grow up. Something a lot of people who play games are accused of themselves. And with the main interaction the most AAA titles offer being killing things and / or people, it’s not too hard coming to the conclusion that gaming will always somehow be aimed at, well, young adults, aged 18-22 – or those in the perpetual mental state of people in that age range.

The statistics of course tell a different story, most of the target audience of game producers are somewhere between 25 and 30 something, but still most of the games that manage to capture the headlines, inside and outside of the gaming press, are mostly those titles that can best be described as being – some more, some less – horribly immature.

Nobody would argue that a game like Gears of War is aimed at children, no matter how much the protagonists look like plastic action figure toys. But Gears of War has been around for quite a while now, the first game hitting shelves in late 2006. Next year, when the original Gears of War has been out for four years, the third title of the series will see the light of the day. And it will offer basically the same level of maturity and sophistication the first entry to the series offered – at least that is what we can gauge from the trailers and information available at the moment.

There is of course no gaming franchise that’s intended to grab a certain age group to stay with them and ‘grow up’ with them trough the years. It’s even arguable whether or not and how much Harry Potter did that on purpose.

Truth be told, games are harder to pitch to certain age groups. Maybe even harder so than movies, and that’s mostly the fault of the paradigm still being that games equal toys, and toys are for kids, and therefore there can’t be a game for adults, since well, only the weird adults play with toys, and toys are for kids. There is just too many uninformed mums out there, readily willing to buy their sons (and yes, in this case it is in fact the sons and not the daughters we’re talking about) the latest iteration of GTA because, well, games are for kids, right?

And most of the supposedly ‘adult’ games easily lend themselves to that view. They may not be childish per se, but oftentimes they are horribly immature, adolescent male power fantasies.

In this it is not the violence that’s my biggest gripe. It is the conclusion that the market is mostly in a state of a Peter Pan like stagnation, perpetually refusing to grow up and thus ultimately – with time – alienating it’s audience. It’s okay having played Gears of War as an 19 year old. But is it still okay to engage in that blood and chainsaw filled power fantasy when you hit what, 25? 30? And what are the alternatives? So far there are few – at least in the AAA sector.

The Gears of War franchise never escapes the mean plastic action figure toy look. The He-Men of the 00's.

One alternative is tempting especially for the people that find themselves without huge amounts of time, due to work, family and other obligations that everyday life brings for those that leave college and university behind and dive headfirst into ‘real life’. It would be a lot to ask from someone with very little leisure time to dump whatever spare time he has into grinding his Final Fantasy characters, or even hone his pwning skillz in the average shooter. For these people it seems there is casual gaming. Games that can be picked up in a second, and be forgotten in another.

But casual gaming, while providing a somewhat satisfying gaming experience to a large amount of grown up people that don’t want to deal with gruff space marines and scantly clad elves in their pastimes, doesn’t really bring the medium of video games forward, on the contrary, casual games oftentimes seem to embrace the kind of video games that were around in the 1980s. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but gaming evolution is hardly found here, apart from generating huge amounts of revenue. Just ask Nintendo about printing money.

Indi games take the player places Big Budget can't - or plainly refuses to.

Another alternative for gamers wishing for a more mature set of topics and less samey-samey-shoot-them-in-the-heads is the indi game sector.

Those guys, free from AAA budget providers, big money and the huge responsibilities to produce gigantic turnovers and revenues with their work, those small developers can easily tackle mature themes and deliver game mechanisms that are not tailored for what seems like the lowest common denominator. Indi games, in a somewhat similar yet not same manner as indi films can go places the big productions can’t, and eventually some of that will bleed over into the AAA titles, which is a development that makes me less pessimistic about our medium’s future.

Close to the indi game sector, sometimes closely intertwined, are mods to AAA games.

Mods like Dear Esther and the likes that take the tools of a big budget game to make something out of it that’s going in directions big bugdet can’t.

And just as indi games bleed through, the fact that skilled modders tend to easily get jobs in the industry is another reason for casting aside the doubts whether or not the medium will ever grow up.

Fresh blood is infused all the time. It just might take some patience for it to take hold.

We just have to be a bit more patient. The medium is still young, and it’s okay if it takes it’s time to grow up.

Parts of it never will, and never should, if we don’t want to loose the magic. A little fairy dust is always welcome.

Screenshots taken from http://www.Limbogame.org, http://www.gearsofwar.com

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Posted in: gaming, Videogames