An unfortunate, but serious question needs to be asked. Are videogames for adults, or for kids? Before being completely dismissive, think about the last couple of games that piqued interest amongst the masses. Before mentioning “adult” titles, or “adult” themes, think about the actual level of maturity in those versus popular books or art or movies. Think about the questions these ask to their audiences. Stimulation needs to occur on a variety of vectors, and videogames are much the same. The amount of potential in the interactive environment is seemingly infinite, yet games and their respective genres have remained relatively static.
In relation to a game’s power to change the experiential landscape, games have not actually grown up. So to speak, they have remained true to their roots at a base level, and have never had the chance to flourish in terms of presentation, instead co-opting old media forms into their form, which takes place with techniques such as cutscenes and quick-time events. All of these are not new, and in fact they limit the way in which a genre can advance, due to opting for a solution that exists outside of their functional discipline. That is to say, advancing the genre must be uniquely internal, and hoping to use other media will only be useful for the sake of representational rather than experiential value, where a game’s strength lies. The result of linking the representational media form to an experiential media form is that the pieces seem separate and artificial, because they are breaking the experience into segments that are wholly disconnected and the player cannot actively finish an experience that is constantly broken down into separate patterns for separate sequences.
Experiences must flow. They must be whole. A problem and trap is that videogames are masterful at pattern interruption (as are all games, as all games are about optimization), where logical inconsistencies, such as a sword not being fatal (until it is) create an inconsistent experience. Similarly, a world with presumably real characters must have them act in presumably real ways; without something to anchor to, people will not bat an eyelash at hundreds of virtual bodies being blown up every few minutes. In other words, the experience here is real, but a wholly imagined experience. Feeling does not process, because optimization has taken over, and the importance of the experience is lost in a different search pattern. That’s something developed by humans to solve problems, and while it’s great at solving problems, the optimizing brain doesn’t look for value in optimization. Furthermore, there’s no value in virtual optimization.
Optimization is problematic when it comes to games. Optimizing in the real world can be a useful thing because it enriches our lives, or makes them easier. Optimizing in a virtual world does nothing, excepting that the virtual world is now more accessible. But that’s what the majority of games are still about. Optimizing. Even the best games, games many people love, like Shadow of the Colossus or Super Metroid, are about optimizing. They’re about getting to the end of the game as fast as possible to “experience” everything. Some people can escape the process of optimizing, but the brain is naturally programmed to see an interactive experience as an exercise in optimization.
When there’s enough complication, when the brain simply cannot optimize anymore, is when analysis can really take place. When there aren’t two options, but seemingly infinite options, the brain begins to take on questions, questions as to where to go, what do, what to examine, or what seems interesting. The brain is actually much like a computer in this regard, as it absolutely loves binary. But the brain also needs to be presented with dynamism in order to function well in an infinitely complex world. That’s the danger, and the childishness of games. Games present worlds and experiences in ways that the player easily comprehends, and to that degree, all games are simple.
Because all games are simple, typically, players must strive constantly to examine the game world for anything more than a series of situations built for optimizing. The player has to actively work to appreciate the game world, and in some ways that’s an amazing thing and in others, that’s depressingly disappointing. Amazing because the player can find joy in refusing to optimize, and challenge, but depressing because it means that developers aren’t challenging the player.
Which is the root of the problem. Players are actually quite willing to challenge themselves, and thoroughly enjoy something that is genuinely difficult. Demon’s Souls is an excellent example, but such a rare game cannot account for the far more common ones, that are often little more than drudging through a marsh of interactive optimization questions. Games should be about inception, because they are ultimately a creative space, and asking players the same childish questions will only result in the same childish answers. Adulthood is mostly defined by the questions asked, and games are mostly at an elementary level.