During the commute this morning I did my usual blurry eyed state at all of the adverts on the Tube. After all, when you are standing up, squished in and sleep deprived, there isn't much else to do. It dawned in me that the entire block of 8 adverts in my vicinity were advertising the DS and Nintendo's Touch! Generations.
You can see why it took me a while to realise. They don't really look like video game ads - compare to this one for The Darkness:
Your average commuter isn't going to look twice at that, but the Nintendo ads - ignoring the fact they bought a third of the carriage, so it's hard not to - presents them with the image of a person who looks like them, playing something not too dissimilar to their daily crossword.
But wait - what's this? If you view the large photos at the end, you can just about make out Hotel Dusk nestled between Nintendogs and Picross. Now, I haven't actually played Hotel Dusk (not that I don't intend to!), but from what I've seen, it isn't just a new type of crossword or a workout for your noggin. There was actually a separate ad for each game, Hotel Dusk included, but I didn't manage to snap a picture of it. The text was something like "want to solve an LA mystery on your way to work?" and then a short description. The intention was clear. Our commuter sees an advert for Brain Training, which they are perhaps familiar with, and then right next door, a whole new type of game. They don't care or perhaps even understand that it is a different genre, but they think "hey, I read The Da Vinci Code, I like mysteries, maybe I should check out what this DS thing can do..."
Suddenly, our casual gamer is not so casual. They are using their DS for actual gaming, not just a substitute for the back of a newspaper. OK, Hotel Dusk isn't the most hardcore game ever, but it is a gateway to the whole adventure genre. Perhaps from there, they might try an RPG. Nintendo isn't just pushing casual gaming, it's pushing adult gaming. Adult games aren't Manhunt. They don't have to be rated 18 or AO. What they do need is a compelling story filled with relevant themes and interesting characters - like Hotel Dusk.
Time for a detour into the minefield that is analogy. I've always enjoyed reading fantasy and sci-fi novels, and as I've grown older, I still do. However, your average swords & sorcery romp is no longer enough. The other day, I was reading one of the Shannara series by Terry Brooks. Whilst it had a few unique touches, it is basically just a Tolkien clone, complete with names you can't pronounce and swords as big as the people wielding them. As I was slogging through it, I thought to myself "what am I reading this for?" Not to knock Terry Brooks, who has written some excellent stories, but this particular book was basically every other fantasy novel you've ever read - in the same way that the majority of fantasy RPGs are just rehashes of old classics.
On the other hand when I read A Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, in which a man's genetic disorder causes him to time-travel at random, I was engrossed. Here was a sci-fi book set in the real world (or close enough), an adult world of complex relationships and difficult choices, and I couldn't put it down. And you know what? I lent it to my mum, who can't stand sci-fi, and she couldn't put it down either. Sound familiar?
Gaming needs a Time Traveller's Wife of its own if we are ever to grow as an industry. Nintendo have realised this - but I'm not saying that they have achieved it. What they've done is capture people's attention, draw them to the DS, and soon a game will come out that tells a story so engrossing that the rest of the world won't be able to ignore it.