Obviously, last year was hard to top. But this year was good: there was crazy tension on stage, real emotion, some belly laughs, a good mix of folk: Chris Crawford, Seamus Blackley, Jane Pinkard, Frank Lantz and Jonathan Blow, joined by Robin Hunicke, Chris Hecker, Jason Della Rocca and the inimitable Eric Zimmerman rabble-rousing the panel and crowd.
Welcome! We’re gonna begin with a few words from Jason Della Rocca.
So this is a fun session. It’s really important to the IGDA. We deal with all sorts of issues to advance folk’ career, etc. Now, last year there was some disapproval with the rant approach, it seemed overly negative. Maybe we should not rant so much but maybe rave… [ ../..]
If you hear things you agree/disagree with, join IGDA. It’s the vehicle we have for voicing our concerns, desires, fears, hatreds and what we love about games. Why are we here? Because we love games. We like to play games, we like to talk, make write about, publish games.
On the other hand we don’t work in a perfect world. There are things wrong with the industry, with games, with who’s making ‘em, how they’re being made. There are some very very fucked up things about the game industry.
Every year at the GDC there are always rumblings in the corridors, dissatisfactions here, resentments there. I wanted a session where the angry subtexts are brought out on the surface so we can work thru them. You’re gonna hear some rants tonight but it’s in the productive service of trying to make things better. We have an incredible panel for you, of firecrackers, hotheads, curmudgeons, some young turks.
Without further ado, let’s rant!
Before I begin I am going to sublease one minute for my 5mins to a minirant from Robin Hunicke.
Ok so it’s very hard to make games. It’s easy to get depressed about this. I came here to see what was coming next. The name of this conference is “what’s next”. This year they’re gonna tell me, I’m going back to my desk, I’m going to know what to do, and it’s going to be easy! Right? Iwata-san. Totally inspiring. Can’t wait to see the Revolution happen. Went to see Will Wright. Love him! Love his process! So intimidated. But his stuff was so hard to think about. I lost some brain cells thinking about it, so I want to say thank you to ATI and the art institute for showing me what’s next in games: hawt chix! ?
You don’t get just one. You get sexy babes who can’t stop touching themselves. Coy babes! Lessssbian babes! Latexxxx babes. Studded babes. I wanna give you guys a huge shoutout because when I recruit the next generation of developers who are going to expand our market and reach out to women gamers, you showed me all I need is hawt chix. I can’t believe I never saw this already, it’s been right in front of me the whole time!!
Alright so I’m going to rant about the “immersive fallacy”. A bear is going to attack and almost kill someone in my rant, so you’ve been warned. I think there is a widespread and largely unexamined belief in this community that computer games are evolving towards an infinitely detailed and utterly seamless simulation. That this is their destiny. To evolve to a star trek holodeck, a seamless simulation indistinguishable from real experience.
So what’s wrong with this? Why does the phrase ‘the player will be able to go anywhere and do anything’ sound like nails on a chalkboard to me? It’s based on a very naïve and unsophisticated understanding of how simulation, how representation works. You have a thing, a part of the world, and you have a simulation of that. There’s a gap in between, the gap is made up by all the differences, the way that this is not this.. the immersive fallacy is this idea that computer simulation allows us to close this gap and makes these things identical. But this gap is an essential part of how this representation works, this gap is where the magic happens.
Let’s say a bear is attacking a friend of yours and is about to kill him. The word ‘bear’ will warn your friend. The word ‘bear’ would not be better if it had teeth and could kill you! The same thing is true of the bear mask that the tribal priest puts on, or the bears on the wall of the cave, and of the game ‘Bear’. Statues wouldn’t be better if they could move. Model airplanes would not be better if they were the same size as airplanes! By the same token, if you think about it, the incredible sense of freedom created by GTA is created by carefully limiting the actions of the player.
This is not to say that games that have detailed simulations in them can’t be great, but if you’re labouring under the illusion of the immersive fallacy, you’ll be layering simulation on top of simulation with the idea that a compelling experience will just emerge naturally out of this. Compelling experiences are carved out, made of gaps. We have bathrooms in our environments because it’s more realistic. One day someone will think eating and shitting should go into a game because there’s a bathroom to use. This is not a good idea.
Even if you could by some magic create this impossible perfect simulation world, where would you be? You’d need to stick a game in there. You’d need to make chess out of the simulation rocks in your world. It’s like going back to square one. I don’t wanna play chess again. I wanna play a game that has the dense simulation and chess combined. This requires a light touch. This requires respect for the gap. The gap is part of your toolset.
Well, I didn't realize we’d get an education in theoretical game design here! Here’s Seamus, who works at CAA, although no one actually knows what he actually does.
This is Seamus, and he has no fucking job, you understand. I used to think I was pretty smart and could talk about abstract concepts. This is not going to be like that. One of my favourite comedians, Janene Garofolo, once said, “have you ever had sex and you just look up at the guy and you say, stop fucking me!” Well the title of my talk is “stop fucking us”.
You go to the Fairmont. You hang out, have a coupla 9 dollar beers. Pretend that you like the guys who screwed you 6 years ago at some other company. And you hear a whole bunch of people bitching and moaning about how their awesome games aren’t getting published by those jackass publishers who wouldn’t know a good game if it smacked them in the head. I used to really be into this.
Now all I can say is let’s just stop fucking ourselves and realise what’s happening here. We don’t HAVE a good business around most of the ideas we wanna make. We can’t go to guys like EA who, incidentally, are really smart - and present them a business case for some of these ideas. I made a decision about 2 years ago to wear a suit and tie every day. I guarantee you that you can feel the IQ flowing from your body down the tie. It’s all down to sacrifice. But I went there because I thought we might be able to hack into Hollywood a bit, help the game biz. In fact, Ted Price can give a talk at DiCE about finance, and I’m talking about off balancesheet financing. That was a great moment in my career but I’m not bitter about it.
But I’m trying to figure out how to make a biz out of this stuff. Look at Brokeback Mountain. It’s killing everything. Hollywood will just piss out money on these wonderful ideas… what they have figured out is how to build a business around the great ideas that make movies like westerns with gay cowboys. We can’t do this – why not? We don’t have an Oscars. We don’t have an academy. We haven’t created a business reason to make a fucked up indie film that makes everyone really uncomfortable yet. We need to figure out a way for there to be a business justification for everything we hear about in the Fairmont lobby, if we did that we’d triple the biz overnight.
Think about the sum: consider how you approach things. How your ideas relate to selling shit to people who will pay back the guys financing your game. How we’re going to make award shows and how we’ll support those shows and get People magazine to come along. You guys are the future, and it’s a beautiful future if you open your mind and actually think about business a bit more. Maybe even fucking read something about business a bit more, hey? Those poor fuckers giving you millions of bucks for an idea they’re not really sure about, their jobs are on the line. Think about that.
I'm not as angry as Seamus and I don’t have that many expletives, so I’ll pause and you guys can dub in some applause and stuff. This is not the real title in my talk: There’s Not Enough Innovation In Games! This is: “There’s Not Enough Innovation In Games!”
No really.. I’m going to talk about how people TALK about how there’s not enough innovation in games. By innovation I don’t mean story innovation. I mean game play innovation. So here’s a thought for you. What if innovation is like a fossil fuel in the sense that it’s a finite expendable resource? How many times can you think up wacky stuff that no one else has thought about? It can’t be infinite right?
Are we going to run out of innovation? So .. why do we.. feel like games need game play innovation in order to be good? Innovation acts like a shiny thing that distracts us from the fact that most games at the core .. just.. aren’t very good. If you’re old and you’ve played lots of games, every game is the same thing and just not very interesting. How important is it that you kill the Nazis and get the blue card key? It’s not.
As with exploiting the oil sands, there’ll be technical achievement that’ll open up things we can exploit. Holo displays, NPCs that can pathfind and not get stuck in your way. But before we run out of stuff, we need to create a sustainable model of gameplay. Stories don’t need wacky innovation. Nor do paintings, nor songs. We need to speak to the human condition. We need to make games that people care about so much that people can’t not play them.
One other thing about innovation is that it’s really hard and risky and sometimes your innovation sucks. But we can make important games even by copying existing games. Here’s one. Ultima IV. I played tons of it. It had all the trappings of usual RPGs. But you couldn’t win the game just by raising those stats. It had other stats that .. this affected me so much that I can quote them. Honor. Sacrifice. Spirituality. Humility. .. those stats.
At the end of the game you meet the boss who asks you questions about these coded morals. I played this on a Commodore 64.
[…] Despite ultima iv being immensely popular, no one has done this since. Peter Molyneux tried with Fable and Black & White for moral games. The problem with Black & White is that you only have one parameter. A sliding scale between good and evil. That’s not an improvement. I’m not saying all games should be able morality I’m just saying it’s a good example of making games more meaningful to people. Maybe we need to become fossil fuel for the next generation to come along and show us how it’s done.
[discussion example of IGF entry "everyday shooter"’s sources]
This guy was so sincere. He put together feelings from other games. If you’re straightforwardly copying someone else’s mechanics, you can at least do this. If we’re going to try to be relevant and speak to the human condition and the world at large, we could do worse than to start right there.
Chris Crawford is a curmudgeon. Fasten your seatbelts.
I’m a bit nervous here. I don’t have a rant to give you here. A rant presumes that there’s something to rant about, that’s there’s something wrong that needs to be righted. I have to tell ya, there’s nothing better that can be done because the games industry is d.e.a.d.
Now when I say dead, I don’t mean totally dead, I mean brain dead. The product is going out the door, money is coming in. But what’s up here? Nothing. There’s no creativity. There’s no creative life in this industry at all. It’s just a dead creature. We put food in, shit comes out.
So it’s kinda like… EA really isn’t very diff from Proctor and Gamble. Put something in a box, sell the box. Write new and improved on it. Sell the box. That’s all they ever do. This panel is like a group of doctors standing around the bed of a brain-dead patient all talking about what we can do to restore her to life and vivacity, and I’m here to say there’s just green goo inside the skull.
So I can only offer two thoughts. The most charitable thing is.. rest in peace. The second I’ll just mention that I’m going down the corridor to the maternity room where there’s an infant that has a better future than the games business and it’s called interactive storytelling.
[audience: collective intake of breath]
Ok. What impressed me is that I thought I was gonna do the subversive rant, but everyone’s had the same idea. Maybe after all we are all on the same wavelength. There’s a lot of things that are wrong. Why do we still have sessions in 2006 about attracting women to game development?? Why is that still an issue?
Why don’t we have a Sundance? What is it about game journalism’s state today? But ultimately I really love games and I know you all do to. Every rant should have an action. What’s the point of us sitting around and talking about what’s wrong if we don’t’ go do it?
So on journalism, it bothers me that PR is in control of everything. I don’t wanna talk to someone’s public face. We get this single, monolithic view about what the game’s about. When’s the last time you saw an interview with an artist? David Jaffe is the face of GoW but he knows he’s not the face. He said, look there are all these other people? But Sony decided he was the Face. That’s limiting. We need more permeable membranes between gamers and game dev, more access.
No more ranting! Let’s go do stuff. For every problem that you see go out there and do something about it. The internet is full of rants, don’t just write about it! Who cares! Read any games forum and you see the same things year after year after year. No innovation. We need this, we need that. It's about what you DO that counts.
So I have a project for all of you. You think about your number one bitch. Your number one beef with the industry or your job. And tomorrow.. no,, Saturday.. hahah.. do something about it! Do something positive, make something produce something, create something, otherwise we’re sitting around talking about this forever. It’s about pushing things out to everyone else. That’s what counts.
Also.. Eric says we have a bit of time left over. I wanna see if Chris Hecker.. ?
You guys couldn’t fill up the time? Now you want me to do something about it??
Heckler: how often do developers get MORE TIME!
Let’s take Jane’s comment seriously. If we’re gonna do something, and not just talk about it, even though talking is a good first step – can you guys offer advice out there?
Go off into the mountains for 14 years and develop interactive storytelling.
A lot of people brought up the action in their rants. Seamus said, think about the money aspect. Maybe don’t think too hard..
It’s ok, I can’t think too hard anyway.
Heckler: why is interactive storytelling different? Why are games dead?
Games are about things, Interactive Storytelling is about people.
Heckler: we’re things!!
Yes. YOU ARE.
So. Basically the way the award ceremony from last night works is: they tell you you won, then they ask for a whole bunch of personal photos for a crap ass video montage. So I made this instead. I’m fairly well known for my community contribution stuff, but I’m really famous for my non ability to shut up. So I was going to rant. I was trying to fig out what I was going to rant about. One of the first things was patents. I was gonna say, well.. if we’re not careful they’ll be the end of the industry – but I realise that the people in the audience are actually very intelligent here and only stupid people think that patents is a good idea, so that’d be a waste of time.
So then I thought I’d rant about innovation, so I thought I’d take comic books,.. how doing things over and over and over and over again puts you into a rut. Like comic books. So comic books are really interesting to talk about: and film: there are two interesting things about comics and films…
This is like an example of nested loops
omg Seamus remembers how to pro-gram!
OK so.. why are games and films . I mean comics and films interesting to talk about with respect to games, they’re the art forms that have come around in the recent history.. we know what they did. Film was the most important medium of the 20th century. Comics started to be important and then failed. Why? They just did the same thing. They found something easy: superheroes in bright costumes and they just did it. More and over and over and all of a sudden they weren’t stocked anywhere. In the 50s they were in any store you walked into. Now they’re in stores with men in the back playing games involving dice.
You really wanna be happy at an award ceremony, so I realised I didn’t wanna rant, I wanted to rave. Games are really totally amazing. How often do you get to be there at the start of an art form? Once every 100 years?
Games are different from other art forms: they’re interactive! There is feedback! No other art has this. I don’t care whether you call it games or storytelling, it’s all the same in my mind. Games will allow us to be affected emotionally unlike any other medium in the history of mankind. Power Fantasy is not the only tool in our toolbox! You can play some games right now that show hope. Interactivity is important and can be more so if we do the right thing. Games are really cool, and that’s my rant.
Justin Hall: Chris Crawford: what happened to so embitter you?
When you guys can do people stuff, do it. You can’t do it.
Q: yeah I wanna address that point. I’m trying to be an early adopter and that. Why do we have to split hairs about terminologies? I think you just alienated a bunch of people here?
WHO CARES? Let’s not talk about who’s arguing about semantics.
Interactivity is not all the same thing. Games are not computer media. Video games and computer games are not…
Comic books, cartoons, games, that appeals to one market. Interactive storytelling, movies, appeals to a different market. A graphic novel is a comic book trying to get some respect.
Q: Cheesy award ceremonies. That important? Why?
Heckler: it’s just masturbation!
And that’s bad for you? Well that’s fine. Hehe. No. The ceremonies.. that “Hollywood horseshit” is critical to a business system. It gets the word out. It builds a biz around things you’d never otherwise try. You get celebs going to see Brokeback Mountain, a film that OTHERWISE would have totally offended a bunch of red states.. but now they go see it.
It’s chicken and egg. If the games don’t exist to give awards to…
The other part is educating our users. We talk about educating them with glamour and stars, but also we need the educational system. We need art expression and appreciation .. let’s educate the people who are buying our games about the process we go through.
Q: You’re talking about videogames.. and computer games. Now we have games occurring between people in the real world. Why don’t we just call it..
Oh god, no more semantics!
Yeah. We’ll look back at this and see it as an artifact. Computer games being locked into a screen that you huddle in front of is going to change.
I believe that if you’re a member of our industry you should stand up and take it and say you make games. You shouldn’t wuss out and say you make interactive entertainment.
I’m going to observe and send it to this panel. Last year’s folk were angrier. This year.. we’ve got a spirited setup, but it seems we’re angry at apathy more than external conditions?
This is true in the real world too. Liberal people who spend time making fun of how George Bush gets words wrong diffuse their energy to accomplish anything.
Is there change going on?
I had a really hard time trying to figure out how to rant about this cheesecake bullshit out on the hallway. […] We have to push forward.
Q: I’d like to quickly ask.. what is this penis envy that we have with every other popular form of media. I’ve heard a lot of folk talk about emotional content. Bleh. What happened to challenge in games? This brain age game has taken over Japan. What is wrong with making games like this? Why can’t we just have fun instead of talking about emotion all the time?
Vince (running past and shouting): We’re defined by our tools! We’re people too!
Do the calculation. the $ that goes towards social human entertainment and asocial human entertainment. The vast majority of Hollywood’s output is about interpersonal relationships, as are novels, magazines.. we got $100bn spent on social entertainment, and $10bn spent on asocial entertainment.
I agree with Vince who’s rude and funny and I don’t really know him, but yes we are partially defined by our tools. What we do right now.. games are big. A huge possibility space. At one end, brain age. At the other end, super emotional stuff. Are we going to encapsulate that whole space or not? The future of humanity depends on what we do!
Q: someone said why can’t we just focus on fun. But isn’t there more than Just Fun?
Yeah. There is.
Q: When are we going to start advertising to folk who read Vanity Fair or The Economist?
They’d put them in in a second if those ads paid back…
Yeah I’m down with Vince too. The apathy that we’re not legit yet, or penis envy about other mediums… if we can get that emotional response out of Bejeweled or Tetris .. we own the future and it’s ours not to fuck up.