Games for grown-ups

There’s an interesting contrast between the age of gamers and the mental age of games. The average gamer is 33 (the average buyer is 40, but that average includes parents buying games for their kids) but in many cases the mental age of games seems to be around 14. It’s an endless procession of pumped-up, vaguely homoerotic muscly, monosyllabic men who, like, totally go and kick alien ass!

Don’t get me wrong, there’s always room for daft, childish fun – Earth Defense Force 2017 has a mental age of about three, and it’s a hoot – but the word I’m seeing more and more in interviews with developers is “morality”. In the forthcoming Bioshock, the relationships between non-player characters are crucial and you’ll have to make some difficult moral choices; in Haze, your super-soldier discovers that things are considerably less black and white in war than they might first seem, and so on. I’ve just picked two games off the top of my head but there are plenty more.

Stories in games are nothing new, of course, but what’s significant now is that the technology has grown up, the gamers have grown up (your 33-year-old average gamer has been playing games for 12 years) and our expectations have grown up too. Creating realistic, immersive worlds is routine, and at least some developers seem to have the attitude that pretty isn’t enough.

Of course, not all developers (or perhaps their publishers) have that attitude. Building grown-up games is harder than bashing off yet another Spider-Man tie-in, and desperately bad games such as Sonic 3D still rocket to the top of the charts and stay there. But the same dull cash-chasing applies to other forms of entertainment, so for every American Pie rip-off there’s an American Beauty. As for games, as long as you have developers like Warren “Deus Ex” Spector, who says things like this:

To grow our audience to match our ballooning next-gen development and marketing costs, we have to broaden the range and increase the quality of stories we tell. We need to lure people in with things that are familiar and comforting, and we must take interaction out of the realm of the abstract and into an area they already understand – emotionally satisfying stories about recognizable people, stories that illuminate and enrich their lives.

…I’m optimistic.