3 June, 2010
A post over at the Rampant Coyote sparked a discussion where Jay Barnson (the blog author) posted the following in a comment:
We talk about “Show, don’t tell.” An important principle in linear entertainment. But could “invite” be a more critical principle still for interactive media? Are modern games so focused on “showing” that they fail to “invite” the player to engage their imagination and contribute to the story? Are the games, effectively, treating the player like a passive audience and saying, “Sit down, shut up, watch this cool presentation and I’ll tell you when to press the buttons to make it do nifty stuff.”
A startling amount of insight about some of the problems I see in modern design. Read on for a few more thoughts.
The post was about how game design might be seen as not progressing in the last 30 years. I suggested that perhaps it’s a problem with not enough imagination in a mainstream audience. I posted:
The problem is that imagination is a scarce resource. In the good ol’ days of gaming, it was mostly the domain of geeks who had a surplus of imagination. We could easily take a look at a 16×16 2-frame animated icon and see a brave sword-swinging Paladin instead. Unfortunately, not everyone has such a vivid imagination.
My theory is that gaming has gotten wider acceptance and as the gaming population has gotten older, we’ve started to lose some of that imagination. The focus on graphics has been because a lot more people see that simple icon as simply an ugly icon, not what it tries to represent; good graphics makes it easier for people with less imagination to get engrossed in a game.
Jay’s point above is related, I think. “Inviting” the player to participate in a game requires them to have enough imagination to participate. It’s kind of like when kids ask an adult to play cops and robbers. The kids run around joyfully while a typical adult will play half-heartedly and maybe say “bang” a few times. The kid can enjoy the game for a long time, while the adult gets bored easily. But, that same adult might sit down for a few hours and watch a cops and robbers style movie.
So, perhaps this is why a sense of adventure has been missing from our games. Perhaps what’s really missing is that games cater to people who don’t have enough imagination to maintain that sense of adventure? The tightly regimented theme park mentality works well for most people because then they don’t have to think or fill in the gaps. But, those of us who don’t mind going off the rails feel constrained and limited.
What do you think? Does having a good imagination help make games better? Do games that don’t allow for much imagination hold the players, and perhaps the industry as a whole, back? Or, does appealing to the lowest common denominator just make too much business sense to ignore?