One of the things I can’t help notice, playing the latest and greatest video games, is how this generation of consoles and PCs have the ability to provide the most realistic worlds I have ever seen with the most intense level of detail and real-world physics models. It makes sense: games are, at their heart, simulations and thanks to Moore’s Law the processing power of today’s devices mean that I can model the world in ever more detail and sophistication.
To me, however, that’s not necessarily a good thing. The problem is that there’s a danger of real becoming a little too real, at least for me. I won’t get into the issues of video game violence (for me it’s simple: parents that are worried about video game violence should watch what their kids play) but watching the latest boxing titles and seeing someone get hit in the face really hard is a little disturbing to me. Sure, I love titles like COD, but as we get to the point of creating really convincing simulations we also begin to face the danger of losing the most important aspect of game play. Fun.
Let’s face it, if you could do a really great simulation of D-Day with all the detail of “Saving Private Ryan” would it really be fun? Is that a situation I’d like to be in if I could avoid it? I think not. Not to mention, it’s hard work. To be a soldier, a race car driver or facing down a dragon requires a set of skills and training I’d just as soon not bother with. As a gamer, I want to experience these things the way I perceive they should work not necessarily the way they actually work in real life. I want to fly the way the Mav and Goose did in Top Gun, I don’t want to have to learn to fly a plane the way a real F-16 would work.
Flight sims, in fact, are a great example. PC Flight sims reached such a degree of realism and complexity most people stopped buying them (except for a small handful still arguing over the exact placement of the controls of an F-16 cockpit and how realistic the flight physics really are). Now, I’m not saying every game needs to dumb itself down to totally arcade physics but find the balance for the mass market. Wii Sports works so well not because it plays like tennis does in real life, rather it plays tennis the way I think tennis would play if I picked up a racket and walked on to the court.
Games are simply getting too complex. In the past, I’ve asked audiences how many folks actually finish the games they play. I’m talking audiences at events like E3. The hardcore folks. Almost always, there’s only a few hands that get raised. That doesn’t bode well for mainstream adoption of gaming going forward.
Games don’t need to be overly complex or realistic to be fun. Pole Position and Daytona hold really well over the years. In fact, if you look at a lot of classic titles such as Galaga, Tetris or Pac-Man they’re as much fun today as they were when they came to market. The reason? There were no graphics or sound effects to hide behind. There was no complex physics possible. When you boil it down, all that was left was one thing. Fun. Plain and simple. Fun.
The hardcore stuff is fine, keep cranking it out. Indeed, there’s a market for it. If, however, game creators and publishers don’t start thinking a little differently about their stuff, they may discover that while they please the most hardcore of audiences, everyone else might decide it’s time to find some other type of activity to keep them busy.