Has Gaming Grown Up?

1st September 2005

Ever since the release of the PS2, Sony and Microsoft have been pushing for computer games (and to a lesser extent the industry) to become grown up. From the sleek, highly stylised look that screamed multimedia device, to the much taunted emotion engine, Sony pushed hard for this goal. Shortly after, Microsoft joined in the fun, releasing a console that was too big for kids to carry, with controllers too big for kids to handle. The message seemed clear, gaming was no longer just for kids. Meanwhile, Nintendo released a console that was designed to look like a toy (in fact it was widely described as Fischer Price toy), fully equipped with a handle. As the current generation begins to wind down it seems appropriate to ask whether gaming is grown up?

On the surface, Microsoft and Sony certainly appear to have achieved grown up gaming. Where Nintendo provided the bright, colorful worlds of Mario, Zelda and Donkey Kong, Sony offered mass murder and pimping in GTA:III (only if you are 18), ditching their attempts to promote Crash Bandicoot as a viable mascot (which was a laughable attempt during the PS1 era), and espionage with Snake. Meanwhile, Microsoft were offering us the opportunity to save the world with Master Chief. For Sony and Microsoft, soft, cuddly and cute mascots were gone. In their place were hard, gritty and ‘realistic’ looking games.

Going beyond appearances (which we all know are deceiving), have the gameplay mechanics altered significantly to suggest grown up gaming? No, of course not. Platform games, first-person shooters and driving games all follow the same footprint as before this generation. Sure, so now we get to ‘pimp’ our ride in many driving games, and the last Burnout gave us the opportunity to cause mass destruction, but these are merely more ways of playing, nothing about them is grown up. Even the ‘grown up’ worlds of GTA offer a mix of the above mechanics, and with added violence. We still play the same types of games we did when we were kids.

Then it must be the content, surely the content of gaming has grown up? Superficially it has. We now have more violence, prostitutes and swear words; worlds only meant for adults. However, is this really grown up gaming? Or is it merely dressing up gaming to entice adults? Certainly, the worlds of GTA are complex, but are we really meant to think about the implications of our actions? Or do we just follow a wanton path of destruction until we reach the end? For most of us, it would be the later I would imagine. Even in those games that do offer us the chance to think about our actions, does it really matter? Does turning to the dark side in Knights Of The Old Republic cause you to question yourself, or is it just more fun getting dark powers? Would a kid and grown up derive different experiences? I believe no, it is just more fun to turn to the dark side. Does gaming ever challenge you to think differently about the world we live in like a movie or a book can?

Gaming has not grown up. Of course, it all depends on the definition of grown up gaming. Does the addition of gritty worlds, with violence and excessive swearing constitute grown up gaming, or just accessibility for adults? I still play the same games as I did when I was a kid. The most recent adult game I played was Killer7. Whilst I knew the Heaven Smiles were meant to represent suicide bombers, and whilst it was not a game for kids, at times it felt nothing more than one long shooting gallery. The Heaven Smiles could have been cute, exploding bunnies, and the same satisfaction would have been gained. The next question of course is whether we want or need gaming to grow up?