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Some thoughts on "When Will Mature, Mature?"

Leigh Alexander's recent Kotaku feature talks about maturity (as in "Saving Private Ryan") in games:

A few thoughts...

Reading this article reminded me of the discussion on the latest Podtoid (Aaron Linde Fan Art) concerning the Citizen Kane of games. I generally agreed with Aaron and Jim's opinion that you can't force these things. And likewise, you can't force thematic maturity in games either. It just doesn't work because it isn't honest. You might sell more copies due to short-term publicity, but at the end of the day, society and culture will remember that your emperor has no clothes. Nor can we judge maturity by counting how many sex/rape/child-abuse allusions/scenes a work contains. It's pointless and pretty immature in itself. So I hope developers don't read her article and think, "Hmm good point. We need more sex/rape scenes in our game to make it more mature! That'll really push the industry forward!" I'm not sure if that's what she is suggesting, but I can certainly see people taking it that way.

As Aaron said, the industry needs to just focus on doing a good job, and maturity and impact will come naturally. I completely agree, and there are many good reasons for this. First off, as Jim observed, the creative people working in the industry tend to be young, and thus don't have much experience to share. Why is this? Part of the reason is that the industry has been notorious for poor management and production scheduling, resulting in crunch times that kill any hopes of a work-life balance (ea_spouse, etc.) - not to mention poor quality games. For many older employees with families and children, they've had enough of this and gladly quit the industry. Having said this, the general feeling I get from talking to friends in the industry is that things are getting better. Crunch times are less intense thanks to improved pipelines and alternative business models, so let's hope this trend continues. Happier employees will lead to better games and better employee retention, which will result in more old farts staying in the industry. With all due, very much due, respect.

Another result of perfecting the craft will be more room and time for experimentation. There are many alternative game formats/structures that rarely get attention in the mainstream industry because they are risky. For example, how about short 15-minute narrative-driven games that are meant to be played over and over, offering a different, interesting experience each time? I don't know of any mainstream games like this, and this is for good reason. It's unclear how to go about making such a game in a way that will actually interest people, or be worth anyone's time. But nonetheless, there is the possibility that it could work out very well. If we mastered the art of traditional format games (2 hr+ experiences), then we would have time to explore other formats that are perhaps more suitable for "mature" games.

People like Leigh Alexander, Jonathan Blow, and other members of the gaming community (e.g. Rev Ant) are justified in wanting more from games. And I think generally, developers themselves share that sentiment as well. But it's important to be patient with this young industry - give it time, don't rush it. Let developers perfect the craft of creating immature, B-rate action games that offer little depth and sophistication beyond some lines about how war's bad (mmkay?). Let them perfect those bouncy breast physics so they can earn a little extra cash from teenage boys with disposable allowances. Sophistication, maturity, depth, artistic integrity, and all that overrated nonsense will come in due time.

We need to walk before we can run.
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About stevesanone of us since 11:25 PM on 02.22.2008