The emotion of games

There was a lot of inspiration floating around at the Game Developer's Conference this year. It's always what you make of it, but a huge inspiration came from the design rant session this year about Making Games That Matter. I've been trying to find a good video / audio or transcript of it, but this is the best I've got - a chopped up video of it here, and some notes from it here. Here's one of the smaller transcripts of it:

The problem game designers face isn't creative stagnation. It's having the courage to create something that challenges people...that's f---ing hard. Yes, games are art. Yes, games can make you cry. Why don't we learn from the creativity of small games? Why doesn't that get plugged into our blockbuster games? Why can't Call of Duty be about DUTY? Why isn't Medal of Honor about HONOR? What if you could put HONOR in a box and SELL it? Package the experience of knowing what it is to be honorable? 90% of the people in this world have never felt honor, and probably would love to. Imagine if you could be awarded a medal of honor in a game where you had to be HONORABLE to do it. Instead, we spend millions on games, many of which are DOA. Meanwhile these great, meaningful indie games are unknown. I'm not saying we should all quit our jobs and making quirky small games. I'm talking about using proven techniques to make things that people CARE about. Even with 6 million Halo users, you've reached only 10% of the audience size of the LoTR movies. That movie is fundamentally about the mechanics of TRUST. Those should not harder to simulate than the mechanics of ROPE. Product fetishism keeps trumping everything else--is it any surprise that the game of the year is about a f---ing CUBE?! What we lack is not creativity, what we lack is the courage to show we care about real stuff. Every time we make a game that fails to be about what real people care about, we're letting ourselves down. We have the creativity, the money, the demand. "F-ck, it's code. We can do anything."

And really, it's so true - why can't we make games that really actually mean something? Games that are about using our medium to create a connection with the player that is deeper than other mediums can.

Passage is one of the independent games that really starts to do that, and in my opinion is one that succeeds amazingly at its goal. Initially a project in a competition about creating a game with a limited resolution, it's more of an art piece than anything else, but I appreciated it. I strongly encourage you to play it and develop your own opinion of it.

Marriage is another one of those games, again created by an independent developer. It's more of an art piece, and is all about the experience. It's one that you definitely have to play, really embracing and understanding the mechanics, and then read the author's intent of it. Again, I strongly encourage you to develop your own opinion of it.

But seriously - why the hell as an industry do we find it so hard to create games that actually have some meaning and emotion to them? I hope that we start to see more of these games that actually mean something - games that I can sit down in front of my friends that aren't gamers and give them that "holy crap" moment.

Is there a reason why only small, single person independent developers are the only people doing this? Or rather, the only people succeeding at this? I think a lot of it boils down to the simplicity of the experience that's trying to be delivered - you don't need next-gen graphics or a beautiful physics engine or a motion tracking device to evoke human emotion. Maybe it's even easier without those things clouding the path?

I want a game that can make me cry. I want a game that can make me really feel for the characters in it. I want a game that tests my own beliefs. Passage really delivered on that for me, and Marriage really got me thinking about relationships more than any other game has. I want to be able to create that, take it a step farther, and deliver that experience to people. One thing Clint mentioned in his talk was:

Two guys tinkering in their spare time have moved things forward more than the rest of the industry. I'm not saying we should all quit our jobs and making quirky small games.

But I almost want to do just that. Clearly that's an extreme, but I almost feel like the way to really push the industry forward in a revolutionary way might be in an independent way. After all, it's not like it takes a lot of smart people in a team with art, design or software experience is necessary to actually feel something human. Hell, most of the most compelling feelings I've experienced in my life were from people that weren't gamers. I really want to be able to push that part of our industry forward.

Being creative is easy, the courage to create something that challenges people ... that's hard.

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