Games are stuck on the same old material, Warren Spector has argued, and the industry needs individual role models to break free of action’s stranglehold on art.
In the first column of a monthly series on GamesIndustry, Spector said that the mainstream film world has produced a large number of role models – actors who have transitioned from lighter fare to work with a social conscience, examining big issues and furthering the medium. Mainstream gaming, admittedly a much younger medium, doesn’t yet have these kinds of figures.
“I look around and, outside of a very few indie games and, of course, the self-styled and largely unheralded ‘serious games’ movement, I don’t see any mainstream developers or publishers offering this kind of serious fare. Ever,” he said.
“As a medium we remain mired in action and genre conventions. Even what passes for seriousness in mainstream gaming seems to require zombies, serial killers, aliens or demons to attract an audience. If I were to say I wanted to make a game about rescuing hostages in Iran – without guns! – assuming I could figure out how to make such a game, I’d get laughed out of the pitch meeting.”
Spector gave a few more examples of idea that simply wouldn’t be funded in today’s business environment, noting that core ideas are always made to serve war games of one kind or another.
“The breadth of content game developers are allowed to explore is stultifyingly narrow,” he said.
The designer gave a number of possible explanations for his observations, some of which he feels are either blatantly false or pretty poor excuses – that he’s overlooking something; that games can’t do anything but violent action; that gaming is too young to have moved beyond spectacle; that games and gamers are inherently adolescent; that the business interests behind gaming are not keen on anything outside traditional action fare.
“Where, I wonder, are gaming’s grown-ups?” he concluded.
Spector is well known as one of the key members of Origin Systems, Looking Glass Studios and Ion Storm, playing an important role in the development of the Thief and especially Deus Ex properties. He later founded Junction Point, which produced two Epic Mickey games before closing last year. He is an outspoken opponent to the disproportionate representation of violence in games.
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