Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

19 April, 2006

Making games for grown-ups
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 9:20 PM

I’ve been playing the Lego Star Wars console game a bit recently. I’ve been having quite a bit of fun with it. As I’ve been playing through, I realize that the game contains all the aspects that are supposed to be in a game: it’s easy to play, you don’t have to read any complex instructions, it doesn’t punish the player for failure, and so on and so forth. It seems to have all the things that designers claim are important to having a successful, mass-market game.

Then I realized something: this game is intended for kids.

Not to say that it isn’t fun, but it made me ask the question: Why can’t we make games for grown-ups, too?

Now, I picked up this game because I’m a huge fan of the Star Wars Lego sets. I buy the sets whenever I can, and my collection is hardly complete. I particularly like the little mini sets. Legos are a favorite geek toy, even if the Star Wars sets are the ones that have the most “specialized” pieces. (Some of the more hard-core geeks think that anything besides the traditional square pieces are a heresy that destroy imagination. Bah, I say!) But, the game was on sale for cheap, and I picked it up with a few other good games like God of War and Shadow of the Colossus.

But, the game was a bit easy. I had fun, but I pounded through the game. I went back through to collect all the goodies just to get a bit more value out of the game. As I was playing, I realized what I mentioned above: the game had everything that many designers espouse as being ideal for the game in order to find mass-market appeal. But, this is a kid’s game. If every game had similar features, then every game would be just like this kid’s game. This is very bad for the industry.

This is related to a post I’ve made on here before that interactivity is unfair to some. I argue that games are hard, and trying to boil everything down to the most brain-dead form really detracts from the experience. I think the example of a game made for kids really makes the point: if game designers “dumb” everything down to the lowest common denominator, then we aren’t really building true entertainment for adults. We’re merely giving people something simple to do to pass the time.

To be fair, sometimes all you want is to pass some time. Playing a quick game of solitaire keeps your mind active during a few minutes while you’re waiting. But, some people seem to think that every game must be simplified, every game must be “accessible”, every game must be mass market, every game must be a kid’s game!

Why is this issue important to designers? Shouldn’t we just make games that sell in order to keep making more games? I have two words for you: Hot Coffee. Let me quote Scott McCloud’s book Reinventing Comics (p. 89):

Public perception MATTERS. As long as the broader community assumes that comics, by their nature, are without social value and, by their nature, are suitable only for kids — then charges of obscenity will always hit their mark.

Just replace the word “comics” with “video games” in that quote and you start to understand why this is so vital. If we intentionally design our games to be just like kids’ games, we’re only giving ammunition to the people that want to censor games, to keep it under lock and key, under government scrutiny and restriction. This is the best way to make sure that games fall by the wayside, unable to be taken seriously as the words of art they are until far into the future.

So, let’s continue to make games for grown-ups. Let’s continue to make games that challenge people, and realize that not every game has to be simple. That way when we do include the occasional bit of sexuality we don’t get U.S. politicians pointing to the game as an easy way to score some political points. After all, games are just for children, right? Won’t someone think of the children?!?


  1. Now, I’m not saying that kids’ games can’t be good. One of my favorite books could be considered for children, The Last Unicorn. This is a quality book for people of all ages to enjoy.

    On the other hand, you can take a look at some of the best literature out there. Sometimes the topics don’t have to involve sex or copious amounts of bloody violence to be mature. Books talking about facing death, finding and/or losing love, and other such stories aren’t necessarily intended for children; in fact, it takes adult sensibilities to really understand what’s going on. Yes, these types of stories are in short supply in computer games, but I think that part of this is because the industry as a whole isn’t really making games for adults.

    Part of the solution that Damion has talked about is double-coding. Invoking two different types of reactions from two different audience. Most typically you see these in cartoons, where the characters say or something that can be taken one way by kids, but has a more “adult” meaning if the words or actions are taken in another way. This is one way to start introducing more adult topics into games. On the other hand, if game developers go the usual route and focus on sex or violence as “adult” topics in this context, it could give even more fuel to the people saying that video games corrupt children.

    It’s not an easy issue.

    Comment by Psychochild — 19 April, 2006 @ 11:06 PM

  2. IMO, the single industry that is the most guilty of double targetting in their art would have to be children’s cartoons.

    Seriously, when was the last time you actually sat down and watched some cartoons with a 6 year old? Disney movies are great about including content for both the kids and their parents. And if you want to see some amazing examples go back to some of the golden age Looney Tunes and watch them with a young child. Both of you will be loling, frequently at the same times, and about completely different jokes.

    If the industry wants to get some really good game stories that specifically target audiences from a wide variety of ages, then we just need to steal some writers from the cartoon industry (or maybe just Terry Pratchett).

    I also agree that sex and gore are about as overused in Games for Adults as Synthesizers were for music in the early 80s. How do huge fountains of blood enhance my game play experience again? How does the jiggle factor help me play DOA4?

    Comment by Warr — 20 April, 2006 @ 12:17 PM

  3. I always thought of it the other way around: REALLY FREAKING HARD games are for kids. In order for grown-ups to play ‘em, they gotta be easier. It’s the opposite of books, where vocabulary level determines whether it’s a kids book or an adults book – I mean, before you even get to the consideration of content.

    Why can’t we make adult games that are also easy enough for the average adult to play ‘em?

    Comment by Jeff Freeman — 20 April, 2006 @ 12:44 PM

  4. I just have to comment on what a huge ‘Nintendo’ fan I am. I play ‘kids’ games on my free time, because they are more fun. Paper Mario and Mario Kart beat out Dragon Warrior and Grand Tourismo any day of the week for my book.

    Adult games tend to be more about being ‘complex’ and ‘shiny’ than being fun. Look at the graphics on the latest Call of Duty, or Ghost Recon shooters, Wow! (or X-Box 360′s Fight Night).

    Kids games, on the other hand, have the luxury of being stylized, so they can focus thier time on making sure that the game is actually fun.

    Comment by Yaxamie — 21 April, 2006 @ 4:50 PM

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