"These are exciting times for the gaming industry," game designer David Cage of Quantic Dream (Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls) said as he began a talk here in Las Vegas that seemed set to criticize the modern state of gaming. After all, the talk was called: "The Peter Pan Syndrome: The Industry That Refused to Grow Up."
For the next half hour he argued that video games were, more or less, juvenile and bizarrely disconnected from the real world. This distresses him, but he thinks gaming can do much better.
He first looked back, charting at the 30 best-selling console games of all time. They were mostly from Nintendo or were a Grand Theft Auto. The games fit into three groups: "Kids games, casual games and violent action games."
The themes in gaming have barely changed in 40 years, he said. Compare 1992's Wolfenstein and 2012's Call of Duty, he said. "They have not changed much. You still have this objective. You still have a gun. You still have to run and shoot and kill people before they kill you."
Most games are still about mastering patterns the computer throws at you, he lamented.
Games live in "wonderland," he said. They talk about things that aren't related to the real world or to the kinds of people we know.
"We make the same games over and over," he said. "This is also an issue for our industry." It's fine for kids, but for older gamers? "Many times starting a new game I feel like I've already played it a thousand times." A lack of innovation plagues all industries. Gaming hasn't escaped it.
"My gut feeling is that we need to find a way to reach a wider audience," he said. The market is mostly kids and teenagers.
So, to solve this stuff, he suggests nine things:
- Make games for all: Time to invent interactive experiences for adults.
- Change our paradigms. "We need to decide as an industry that violence and platforms are not the only way. We are in an industry where, if the main character doesn't hold a gun, designers don't know what to do." How interactive is the game, they'd wonder, he said. What do they do if they can't shoot?
- He recalled pitching Indigo Prophecy, one of his earlier adventure games to an American games industry person. When he said the character didn't have a gun, they assumed the character drove a car or jumped on platforms.
- ALSO: "Can we make games that are not based on systems?" As we get older, he said, adults don't have the time or interest in beating a computer, of mastering a system."
- AND: Can the industry make games without guns?
- 'Buy crap and you will get more crap,' Cage says. 'Buy exciting and ambitious games and you will get more of them.'
- The importance of meaning: What do we have to say? Most games, he said, have nothing to say. "That's a toy," he remarked. "Can we create games that have something to say, that carry an idea … that you can resonate with?" Authors are the kinds of people who come up with this stuff, he said. Let them in!
- Games should use "real world themes." Let games talk about politics, about homosexuality, about anything from real world. "They should talk about people. They should talk about our world. They should talk about society." Films may try to do this, but games can put people in worlds that involve these issues. That's potent. Games that could do this would leave an imprint on you.
- "Become accessible: Let's focus on minds, not on thumbs!" He wants games to focus on the thoughts and decisions of players, not on how fast or skilled they are at manipulating a controller.
- Bring other talents on board.
- Establish new relationships with Hollywood. Related to the idea above, he wants to see actors, smart creative people bringing their talents to games. And he thinks that the filmmaking masters of linear storytelling could collaborate with game designers to make a new kind of medium.
- Changing our relationship with censorship. Cage said he has a censor looking over his shoulder when he makes games. The sense is that he can't do in games what people do in movies, that people believe that the interactivity of games makes them more problematic, that what he can do with sex and violence is curtailed. But he believes that interactivity doesn't make games more dangerous or in need of censorship. He believes games are as constrained in content now as films were in the 50s, though he also said that content he saw at the last E3 shocked him in actually going really far to the extreme. "Sometimes we go too far and behave like stupid teenagers ourselves. We should stop doing this."
- The role of press, from reviewers to critics. On one side there are clever people who analyze the industry, he said. On the other side of the spectrum are people giving scores or giving a 5/10 because of a camera bug or bad AI. "I don't think this is press," he said. "Where is the analysis?." He wants better criticism. He yearns for a gaming equivalent of the Cahiers du Cinéma.
- The importance of gamers. He considers buying a game to be a vote. "Buy crap and you will get more crap. Buy exciting and ambitious games and you will get more of them."
- Cage thinks the future will see a rise of a better digital entertainment. He hopes it will be accessible to all and will be open to themes and genres relevant to society. It will be based on a journey, not a challenge and will be cross-platform so people can play at home, on the go … anywhere. "This is my hope for the industry," he said. "This is a medium I love."