May 3, 2013

Losing a Generation and an Industry in Transition

 

I must first and for most thank my mother. She helped fuel my passion for gaming and took an interest in my life from when I was young and still goes strong today. She came across an article on MSN that talked about where gamers have disappeared to and that this current college bound generation has greater interest in engaging in the outside world rather than being in another world. The argument has its good points and its list of misfires. The term “gamer” is a misconstrued title in a day’s where everyone has a smart phone or tablet that is a capable gaming machine. When people think of “gamers” the first thing that comes to mind is a 30 something- year-old, living in their parents basement, and drinks gallons of Mountain Dew. Yes, there are those that fit this persona, but not the vast majority. Take myself as an example, I am currently job searching after being with a company for more than 6 years, while I search I am working full time on bringing news, and other fun gaming related quid throughout the week. My girlfriend and I have lived with each other for just over three years, I have completely abandoned soda, I am not overweight, and despite having a huge game collection, enjoy culture, music, movies, comics, and other things outside gaming. Yet, I am one of those people that if I am on the bus or subway, you will see me with a portable gaming device not caring what you think of me. My friends and gamer circles all have full time jobs, most of them in relationships, and enjoy other things outside of gaming as well. Yet we are all passionate enough to make a site about gaming work within the constructs of our daily lives. The article went into detail about the coming console generation and the underperforming Wii U, as well as the downfall of Zynga, Facebook, and Apple products as gaming outlets. There is one thing in the article I must correct; Nintendo is not having an E3 press event because of the success of the Nintendo Directs. They feel they can reach more people through the live webcast that can be replayed via their website and on the Wii U and 3DS. Nintendo has already taken responsibility for the Wii U sales with lack of software and bad marketing; the 3DS on the other hand is having an already stellar year and is looking to finish strong for the remainder. There are several ways to get kids, adults, and current gamers excited about gaming and the prospects of storytelling, problem solving, teamwork, and social aspects that come along with gaming. The article gave a grave reminder that, with this generation of college bound students that doesn’t care much for gaming, they will be making the games of tomorrow; and that scares me.

 

Gaming, just like any type of media, social gathering, or sports can have huge benefits. They can lead to making someone feel socially excepted, help with problem solving, can lead to quicker reflexes; they can even help with vocabulary and reading comprehension. But just like everything in life, it must come with moderation. Technology is a wonderful thing and despite the author claiming this younger generation being fueled by the outside world instead of the digital one, they have always had it. I see 9 year-olds on an iPhone and they are connected to Facebook. How many of these people that are interacting with the outside world have their trendy phone on them ready to use that god awful vintage filter to take pictures and upload them to Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram? They have traded one game for another. Facebook likes, re-tweets, and the like have become the new points system. See how many of these college bound teenagers could live without their smart phone and social media for a week. Social media fuels our business, but if I didn’t have to be connected to it, I could do without it. Despite Facebook’s slumping stock, Facebook has a game built into it without anyone putting the word “ville” beside it. This is where some of the gamers of tomorrow have gone, and just like gaming needs moderation, less “vintage” looking photos shot on a bad phone camera the better. Does the integration of Twitter, Facebook, and other social media into gaming consoles solve the problem of the disappearing gamer? Not really and how do we get these social media moguls into gaming? By changing the game and driving excitement.

 

The current console generation has reached its peak, about a year ago. Despite gamers being content with the PS3 and 360, they need to go. They have terribly old tech, poor infrastructures, and there is no room to grow for game development; they are stuck. One thing that Nintendo did right, despite lack of horsepower in Wii and now Wii U, was they have brought new ways to play the game. Just like the media darling’s Google Glass and Oculus Rift, they are new ways to immerse ourselves in this media. Sony, with the Dualshock 4 is trying. They know the Move didn’t sell like it should have and it was time to move on from the motion gaming and try what is working with tech outside gaming with a touch pad. Now the DS4 still has all the normal controller bells and whistles, but the integration of a small touch pad to do simple things such as simple actions or using it to select things like a smart phone could be a key in the fight of keeping people interested. Nintendo did the same thing with the Wii U gamepad, and added much more function to the device. Most of this generation, gamers have known one controller and did not grow up in the times when each new console devised a new controller with new ways to interact. I am fortunate to grow up first holding an Atari 2600 joystick that had one button. Then with each successor, the controller evolved to add more buttons, analog sticks for better range of control and motion, to having force feedback, and to having pressure sensitive triggers for more ample control. This console cycle was an odd one. We started with the Wii Remote, Sixaxis, and 360 gamepad; and then mid way through got bored and added more in the way of Kinect, PS Move, Wii Motionplus, and the Balance Board, and lost what made gaming special. With all these accessories and new ways we had to have to play the excitement turned into groaning at the retail counter and then the console collecting dust. I was working gaming retail when Wii Sports Resort came out and people were upset over having to buy an additional Wii Motion Plus dongle for something they already spent money on. I know there has always been an accessory throughout the home console cycles, things such as the Super Scope, Sega Activator, the NES Power Pad, and Game Boy/ advanced players, but not something that renders a controller moot to play something that has the Wii Sports brand on it. I’ve never seen the general public clamber at a console the way they did at the Wii. Doing something as simple as having a two button remote so people could play Mario the way they did back in the 80’s was genius. Sadly because of this Super Mario Bros. Wii out sold both the better Mario Galaxy titles, but there was that excitement for parents to show their kids what opening a NES and playing Super Mario for the first time felt like, and that’s just it. There needs to be excitement once again. Yea anyone’s phone can run Angry Birds or Temple Run, but can your iPad or phone be capable of bringing you Mario, Halo, or Ratchet and Clank? I know a lot of parents that were PS3 owners that were excited for Ni No Kuni, the game by Namco, Level 5 and Studio Ghibli. It gave the parents the deep, rich RPG gameplay, but brought the great character design, and art of a Studio Ghibli film. It was something you could spend playing with your child that wasn’t tagged with anything from Nintendo. We need excitement in the industry, we need to celebrate the different, the family oriented, the indie, the PC, the Free to Play, the console exclusive, and the blockbuster AAA titles but without the hostility, without the fan boy schlock, and without stereotypes (including xeno and homophobia). If we share the excitement with our friends, colleges, passerby’s, consumers, and the people leaving gaming behind; we may be able to show them what it is about the hobby that keeps us enthralled with it.

 

There may be other ways to keep people and children interested with gaming by incorporating it in different ways. There are art exhibits, concerts, books, comics, soundtracks, and other media that the stories games convey have bled into. Want to still get in your morning run but what to be excited about the next Halo, listen to the soundtrack on your workout. Love Mass Effect and want the stories to continue outside of the game, visit your local comic or book store. Comics and books can be read in parks, the beach, on the train, in a plane, on your phone, on your tablet, or at home. I know reading game related material or listing to soundtracks as I write or during my walks brings me to the console space with excitement. Listening to soundtracks of games I have played years ago, triggers memories making my brain more active, while I am actively doing something else. When my friends and I were younger, going outside to play Laser Tag, play in the snow, play wiffle ball or even climbing a tree became something different because we include gaming into those activities. During snow days my back yard and drive way became the Battle of Hoth, Laser Tag was a mixture of Resident Evil and Jurassic Park, and playing sports games gave us better understandings of those sports and we would mimic batting stances, or moves we saw in the games. It wasn’t about the violence or gun play or any of that, it was about creating new, fun, and exciting experiences from what we had played. We incorporated games and story lines into our childhood play, something I see absolutely none of today. There is just no imagination in today’s youth. Maybe gaming is being passed up, because it is a creative industry that sometimes requires a creative input from the player, and that creativity is just lost. I mean look at the styles of clothes now, none of it is creative, it is all regurgitated from the 70-80’s and I hate it. Maybe this generation has become creatively sterile and the only way they can express it is through the new game of social media.

 

There are several things I have gone over to try and resolve this issue that is apparent. There is one way I haven’t yet addressed. In a recent interview with Peter Molyneux (formerly of Lionhead Studios and now at 22 Cans), how the Xbox can be successful, trim the media fat, and make it about games. With this generation we have seen the simple starts as being a DVD/Blu- Ray player to an entire media hub where it forgets about being a game console. The Xbox 360 dashboard is so bogged down with media apps, advertisements and other schlock that it makes finding games and game related material a chore. I don’t care that I can tweet, add Facebook friends, order a pizza, or have military propaganda flooding the advert space; I want it to play games, connect me to people to play games with, and to let me lose myself in story and HD visuals. Anyone can buy an iPad, Roku Box, or surf the web on their phone. Console makers need to make the consoles focus and regain what we buy them for in the first place, to play games. I can buy a PC and do everything at once. But people by consoles because of the different gameplay experiences, ease of use, there is no updating hardware and they can spend the money and be happy for years with what is in the box. I buy Nintendo consoles for the interesting ways to play and their core franchises. I buy Sony products to play original titles like ICO, Shadow of the Colossus, and titles that feel at home on their products like Final Fantasy and Metal Gear. I buy Microsoft products for universal connectivity across all products (from my W7 phone, to my Zune, to my Xbox, and my email), for the comfortable controller, their exclusives, and I am a bit of an achievement junkie. Out of all three have I mentioned that I can watch Netflix, or get on Twitter, or because I like advertisement shoved into my eyeballs at every turn? No, and that is the way it should be. Each has their strengths and they need to feed off of those and focus on games.

 

With all of these thoughts I hope this lost generation can take note, game companies do a better job of showing that their consoles are about games, and that games can make more of a social impact. The gaming industry is making more money than ever, but with so many techs out there, they are starting to not seem viable any more, but that can change and could bring new audiences with that change. The industry isn’t just loosing gamers, but creativity and desire. The “lost” generation has had so much technology available from the start that they have become creatively numb, and socially inept, to where the only way to get them into gaming is to maybe making it simple again. This generation is not only ignoring gaming but other outlets such as comics, and books as well. I had teen tell me that one Iron Man figure was wrong because he didn’t look like he did in the movie. If he had picked up a comic first instead of inserting his foot, he would have realized he was wrong. The gaming industry has to change and we have taken fact to that issue, but maybe it’s also about time this generation put down the iPhone, crappy vintage camera filter, jackets with shoulder pads, and social media to find out there is more out there. Maybe there is a middle ground we are missing here, there has to be a compromise. If I can get my mom to sit down and play Carcassonne on the 360 with me, help her download Star Wars Pinball on her Kindle Fire HD, or have my future sister-in-law be amazed that Gears of War 3 looked more like a movie than a game; then there is hope. If I ever have kids, I would want them to be gamers, readers, and media enthusiasts as well as active in the real world. I want creativity to flow in every aspect. I have talked about moderation, the gamer’s social convention, the industry it’s self, and a generation that is need of creative guidance. I want the games of the future to be a proud, creative expression. I want them to push boundaries both in social, graphical, and gameplay relevance. I have always hated the term “Video game” because it always implied something that should be used by a child, or that had no artistic relevance, and was mostly looked down upon by the main stream. This interactive media is suited for a better title. So, “lost generation”, let’s work together to bring that audience back, make consoles about games, bring excitement in the field, and find a term more suited for this new creative empire.

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