At the recent D.I.C.E. Summit, David Cage, the founder of Quantic Dream, gave a talk entitled “The Peter Pan Syndrome: The Industry That Refused to Grow Up.” In this presentation, Cage painted the video game industry as an industry that lacks innovation and is quickly becoming stale and redundant. The crux of Cage’s speech is a nine-point list he created that details solutions to the problems he outlined. While I appreciate his passion for storytelling and injecting the industry with original, thought-provoking titles, I feel that some of his arguments are a bit off-base and a tad hypocritical.
Cage’s first solution is to make games for everyone, and not just kids. He feels that publishers and developers are focusing too much attention on teenagers, and not enough time on adults. More specifically, he feels that older gamers want and need more sophisticated offerings from the industry. While I’m all for thoughtful games and games that can effectively tell a story without resorting to repetitive violence, Cage seems to be forgetting that the average gamer is over 30 and that almost 70% of all gamers are adults.
The next point Cage makes is that we should change the paradigms found within the industry. “We need to decide as an industry that violence and platforms are not the only way. We are in an industry where, if the main character doesn’t hold a gun, designers don’t know what do,” Cage said. He continued by posing the questions as to whether or not the industry can make games without guns, or make games that don’t require mastering a complex system in order to beat the computer. Again, there are some problems with Cage’s arguments. Violence is indeed not the only way to create a game, and the plethora of casual games, mobile games, puzzle games and sports games that are sold every year prove it. However, I will concede that complex game mechanics don’t need to be the focus of every game, and I think Cage is correct that more major developers should seek out new ways people can experience games without relying on tired game design.
The next two arguments Cage presents follow up his thoughts on paradigms by taking a look at meaningful storytelling and accessibility. “Can we create games that have something to say, that carry an idea … that you can resonate with?” He goes on to say that more games should focus on real-world issues like politics and homosexuality, and focus more on thoughts. “Become accessible: Let’s focus on minds, not on thumbs!” Cage is beginning to repeat himself, but he’s using an argumentative tactic to hammer his point home. He continues by claiming that video games that deal with social issues can have a bigger impact on someone than a film tackling the same subject matter because of the interactive experience. I agree with this point, but I don’t believe that the video game industry should strive to become like Hollywood or even compare themselves to Hollywood.
Speaking of movies, David Cage brings up another solution that would involve video game developers forming a close relationship with the film industry. Cage is of the opinion that screenwriters are some of the best creators of linear stories, and that these writers along with top Hollywood acting and directing talent should team up with video game designers to create new cinematic video games. The way I read this is that Cage somehow feels that video games need to be more like films in order to either be more successful, more innovative or more artistic. This is complete nonsense. More and more developers every year are proving that games can be just as effective at storytelling and artistry as film. I don’t have a problem with game designers attempting to be an auteur, or drawing inspiration from films to make their games (I’m a Hideo Kojima fanboy, after all), but they don’t need to merge with the film industry. Video games are their own separate entity and don’t need to be validated by Hollywood.
Cage’s seventh point is where he becomes kind of a hypocrite. He starts by discussing the fact that censorship hurts game design as numerous games that are pitched that deal with sensitive topics often get rejected, which is truly a problem in the industry. However, Cage then starts to describe the horror he experienced at E3 last year with all of the violent games on display that, to him, went too far. He said that, “Sometimes we go too far and behave like stupid teenagers ourselves. We should stop doing this.” Agreed, Mr. Cage. However, there’s a slight a problem. I seem to remember that Heavy Rain, a game created by Cage himself, features a completely pointless scene where the player has to undress a woman so she can take a shower, and then later in the game that same woman experiences some nasty torture at the hands of a rapist. Obviously Cage should probably heed his own advice since he seems to enjoy walking the thin line between compelling and tasteless.
Finally, David Cage calls upon game journalists and gamers themselves to help him with his cause. He said, “Buy crap and you get more crap. Buy exciting and ambitious games and you will get more of them.” This is pointing out the obvious, but it’s a good point regardless. In regards to game journalists, however, he wants them to be more analytical. The way he sees it, the vast majority of game reviews are just nitpicking flaws in the AI and then giving the game some arbitrary score. “I don’t think this is press. Where is the analysis?” he said. While I would also like to see more provocative reviews from game critics, I don’t think all reviews should be written like something one would find in a scholarly journal. Essentially, game reviews are a form of consumer reporting. It’s up to the reviewer to write clear, concise thoughts about games in order to inform readers about what they should expect if they purchase the game. I can see his point, though, that if more analytical critiques start emerging from the video game press that developers will possibly pay more attention and video games will be taken more seriously by the mainstream press and academia. I’m just not sure how much of an impact this would have, though.
While I don’t agree with every argument Cage made, he did make some valid points about the funk the industry has been living in for the past 30 years. There is good reason to be cynical, but with the rise of indie games and more developers making honest attempts at creating engaging and topical stories for their games, things might just get better. Cage is definitely correct that big changes need to be made in terms of innovation and storytelling, he just needs to come up with some better solutions.
(David Cage quotes courtesy of Kotaku.com)