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March 12, 2013

The Worst Thing

I just wanted to take a moment to address the worst thing that could possibly result from those Feminist Frequency videos:

Yes, that. Nothing.

Let me say that again. The worst thing that could possibly happen... is that nothing happens.

Like it or not, games are an art form, and the worst possible step forward for an art form is no step at all, no self-reflection, simple stagnation. An art form dies when it ceases to examine itself, to find things it's not saying or not able to say and ask why it isn't and how it might. If game developers aren't interested in examining what we do, and if our audience is actively uninterested in us doing so, well, we might as well pack up and go home. The unexamined game isn't worth playing; the unexamined game industry simply won't last.

You've seen this in action, no doubt. Failing to examine what a game or genre is capable of causes sequels to fail to interest you on their next go-round. You lose interest when it feels like developers are phoning it in¹, or when a new game in a genre simply repeats what you've seen before in other games. These "new" games don't capture the lightning-in-a-bottle feeling that a great game does, and the reason is that they simply copy what has gone before.

Much of the explosive growth of the games industry in the past half-dozen years or so has come from exactly this sort of reflection, where individuals are looking around at the games available and asking "Where's this game that I'd like to play? Where is the game for me?" or "What can I do that no one else has done?" The degree to which individual efforts are successful or not isn't terribly relevant; what matters is that people are out there exploring this immense space of what games can mean, what they can express, and what they can do better.

Self-analysis at a creative level is what stimulates growth in this art form just as any other. The lack of it just means getting the same thing year in and year out; it means that it dies altogether. Nearly everything you've loved about new games has likely come from someone asking a question, about taking a moment to examine what is and what could be.

Take that away and, well, you'll be left with nothing before long. I love games and want them to continue to grow, evolve, and challenge. Examination of the choices they make again and again is healthy and welcome.

So I say to Anita Sarkeesian and anyone else who wants to look at what we're doing: keep it coming.

I'll be back to examine some more games here in this space probably over the weekend.

¹This is also, I submit, what is fundamentally wrong with the crassest forms of gamification²; there's no examination of how game mechanics might actively support a particular goal, merely the addition of points, badges, ladders, leaderboards, and other "game-like" features to tasks that don't fundamentally work together.
²One could reasonably argue that it's also the reason behind Zynga's current woes, though I'm far from expert in those titles.

Posted by Brett Douville at March 12, 2013 03:45 PM



It's already making a difference! Who says our industry isn't growing up?

Posted by: Kyle Wilson at March 12, 2013 04:50 PM