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Legitimacy: Chicken, or Egg?
I have a good friend, a game designer of 20 years who often tells the anecdote, “I tell my mother I’m a crack dealer so she’ll understand because it seems so much more understandable and respectable than saying I make games for a living.” In a previous blog entry I stated the following: Computers have always been a part of my life. I've been working with gaming support sites for 7 years; I've been in the Games Press for five. My mom said to me, "now that you're into this, what will we have to talk about?" Apparently, I've mutated beyond human.
There’s a legitimacy issue in games.
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re aware of it even if you’ve never voiced it to yourself. More than once you’ll have had to justify to someone why it’s important to you that you play a video game for your fun; why you’d rather not go outside on a nice sunny day but sit inside and get to the next level; that really, you’ve learned something from playing games as opposed to killing multiple brain cells.
Movies are a legitimate form of entertainment media. Television is a legitimate form of entertainment media. Books have always been a legitimate form of entertainment media.
Comic books are more than 60 years old. They are not.
But wait?! You can make a movie based on a graphic novel (admit it, it’s a big comic book) and it’s a legitimate form of entertainment media. The original media? Still not legitimate.
In the last three weeks I’ve attended four press events/conferences/seminars or had the opportunity to talk to game developers. And something struck me as odd: more than once they were asking creators of other media to approve their game design.
I don’t remember the last original movie I watched – one that wasn’t based upon a book. And I’m starting to wonder when I’ll play a game that isn’t set in a pre-existing universe. When it comes to my children I’m all for movie tie-ins – they enjoy the familiarity of characters they love. (I just wish the same care put into the films was put into the games!) In case of point, this illustrates exactly what I’m getting at.
Take a movie-tie in video game, pick one, any one. Most aren’t particularly good – and yes, I’m generalizing. The setting is usually very accurate; the characters spot on; the voice acting superb; the game play – what game play? It’s not as if the developers making these games don’t know how to make games. Most, if not all, have a track record of making good games or they’d not have been hired in the first place. But, good setting, good story, this does not a game make.
Talking to game developers and designers is exciting. They have such passion! It doesn’t seem to matter if they’re creating the next mobile puzzle game or a multi-million dollar cross-platform MMOG - the excitement is palpable.
However, there’s two kinds of giddy – that for the property and that for the design. It’s the former that has me perplexed because even the most seasoned and proven game designer appears to look to industries outside their own for approval.
It strikes me like an architect asking a painter for help when making blueprints for a cathedral. The painter can give you great input on the style, colors and interiors of the building. But making the structure safe? The interior space efficient? Ensuring that it stands? That’s not what a painter does.
There are games in development based upon movies, toys, television shows, comic books, dolls, books and card games. Of these, movies, TV shows, comic books and books give the designer a universe and possibly a loose set of rules with which to design. Yet, repeatedly I’ve heard the words, “X writer/producer comes out to the studio and reviews our work and is happy!” I wonder if said producer knows what the word “scalability” means?
And when your game is based upon a toy, doll or card game how on earth can the designer look to the originator for anything other than a “wow, that’s cool!” effect? Seeing your creation brought to life al a Toy Story has got to be exciting. But when the game players tear it apart because the game isn’t fun, it will be heart wrenching.
What baffles me is why, other than contractual requirements, a game designer would want approval on the design in the first place? Is it idol worship? We all fall prey. Is it because it’s so easy to get caught up in the universe that the game gets lost?
Is it because games aren’t yet legitimate and we look to the legitimate forms of entertainment for validation?
Is it the chicken and the egg paradox: to be legitimate you must act so; or must you be treated so first?
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- Thinking is more interesting than knowing, but less interesting than looking. - Goethe
- He who can take no great interest in what is small will take false interest in what is great. - Ruskin
- We don't know who discovered water, but we know it wasn't the fish. - McLuhan