Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Whither Gaming?

I play a one-note trumpet when it comes to video games, but since no-one's listening, I'll put it to my lips yet again. I love playing video games, especially "shooters". I enjoy the sense of discovery that comes with rounding a corner, and the thrill of teasing out reaction patterns. But I believe the gaming industry reached critical mass with Half-Life and The Sims. The real-dollar decline in gaming began with Halo and the XBox required to play it. With The Godfather and Sony's Playstation 3 it's sinking fast, and I don't think it's likely to recover anytime soon.

If you look at the game templates coming out for XBox 360 and Sony Playstation 3, you'll find little of substance to differentiate them from Berzerk, the quarter-gobbling monster of the 80s. The Berzerk template was two-dimensional; you steered a stick-man through corridors and shot robots before they shot you. Someone -- probably not the programmer -- made an awful lot of money with that game (garnering a small fortune from yours truly, for starters). It worked, in other words, so that's the template -- second-person shooter -- the game industry has run with.

Flash forward 26 years. The new "bots" are more sophisticated in their behavior, and the overall playing landscape is more or less three-dimensional. But that's it. Same basic template. The end.

There are a few other templates, to be sure -- the virtual pilot, team sports, hand-to-hand fighting, etc. -- but they've all been around for 25 years or longer. We are talking about an industry that has delivered increasingly more spectacular bells and whistles, while keeping the baseline product unchanged for over a quarter century. The automobile industry might be able to coast on its laurels for that length of time, but anyone trying to pull the same stunt with computers is begging for a spectacular fall.

If you eavesdrop on industry conversations, you'll overhear a fair bit of chatter over how to make games that appeal to women. This is a good start, but the pitches are telling: a popular scenario with the suits is a Tomb Raider-type game with a Brad Pitt look-alike.

Wrong, all wrong.

If you want to know what the most addictive video game for women is, I'll tell you for free: Tetris. I don't know a single woman with the capacity to resist. I've played Tetris; I've enjoyed Tetris; I've even been a Tetris freak. But women put me to shame. They'll play it for hours. Then, when they finally pull themselves away, they'll stare at you with an unusual intensity. You might flatter yourself into thinking it's your Axe bodyspray, but the fact is they're staring at the gaps between your ears and your shirt collar and deciding what algorhithmic shape best fits that space.

I have got absolutely no theory as to why Tetris is so huge with women; I'm just here to pound the pulpit and say, if a programmer or developer is truly interested in keeping the gaming industry an economic engine that fires on all cylinders, they'll leave the shooter freaks to figure it out for themselves, and concentrate on producing the next Tetris.

And good luck to 'em.


Rob in Victoria said...

The successor to Tetris? Zuma.

Just as compulsive, just as simple, just as obsessive with the ladies, if my wife and mother-in-law -- both of them old school Tetris addicts -- are any indication.

dan h. said...

Yeah, what is it with Tetris? My mom and my wife are both freaks. I've never even played it (I'm old, old-school: solitaire).

F.C. Bearded said...


Kept me enthralled for months - way longer than most games; and extraordinarily well executed.

ジョエル said...

I agree with you that Tetris is definately popular among woman for whatever reason. I've known several woman Tetris addicts myself, all of whom were not normally gamers...Here's what I don't get, hasn't the video game industry already cranked out several Tetris clones? Remember all those Dr. Mario, box puzzle, etc stuff that came out in the wake of Tetris. Why didn't any of that catch on with Women.
PS--You don't know me, but I'm a friend of Phil's and occasionally wander over to your site

Cowtown Pattie said...

I like to play Mah Jongg on the computer. Tetris just drives me nuts.

Or, if in the mood, I love to tackle the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle.

F.C. Bearded said...

Mah Jongg, Tetris, all those really difficult solitaire games - my wife loves all those things; kicks ass, too, as she does pretty much any board game except chess.

The only "real" game she ever got into was Sims2, which allowed her to recreate our kids, and our families, and kill them all off in terrible trailer-park ways.

Whisky Prajer said...

Looks like a few of us might qualify as "Tetris Widowers", although CP and fcb's experience is quite common, too: my mother-in-law can burn away an evening just playing free-cell, and I have at least one aunt who, late in life, picked up Texas Hold 'Em and generally cleans up. rob, I'll have to float Zuma into the mix, just to see if your experience is normative. As for you, ジョエル (Joel, is it?) your comments are more than welcome. When you've hit the "five" mark, you become an honorable member of the Peanut Gallery.

Whisky Prajer said...

fcb - "Oblivion" looks like one freaky game. I think I'll keep my eyes peeled for it, next time I hit the shops.

Trent Reimer said...

Oh man, you're bang on. I would argue that online play is the notable addition to gaming of recent days, especially with the massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPG) which are consuming so many people's lives.

Regarding Tomb Raider; it had traction with a significant segment of female players who specifically enjoyed having a heroine as the primary character. Indiana Jones didn't succeed it and Pitt won't either.