Does gaming need to grow up?

19th October 2005

Last issue I rambled on about how gaming had not grown up. I argued that the complex worlds of GTA, the moral grounding of Knights of the Old Republic, and increased violence and gore do not constitute ‘grown up’ gaming, merely superficial window dressing to entice adults and teenagers. Of course, it would be wrong of me to ignore the few examples of grown up gaming that do exist. The Myst series (which comes to an end once Myst V: End of Ages is released) offers a high difficulty level that few kids would be able to complete them. Morrowind left a world so open that few kids would have had the patience or ability to fully appreciate its marvel. This month has seen the release of one of the most mature games of recent years, Fahrenheit. However, a more searching looking for truly adult and mature games (which are key features of ‘grown up’ gaming) leaves a short and pathetic list of games. However, is this a bad thing? Do we need gaming to ‘grow up’?

The most obvious answer would be yes, gaming does need to grow up. Developers need to realise that the inclusion of gore, swear-words and freedom does not automatically mean a grown-up and mature game. In fact, it smacks more of a desperate attempt to seem grown-up rather than being grown-up (much like every adolescent in the world). The obvious parallel is with movies. Whilst horror movies like House of Wax and even the Resident Evil movies may contain enough adult elements to exclude kids, to call it grown up in the same way Night of the Dead or The Descent would be absurd. Look at the decline of recent Bond movies, whilst superficially they possess the perfect look (fast cars, smooth one-liners and beautiful women), the films have been finally appealed more to an adolescent audience, lacking the smarts of the recent Jason Bourne outings. So, whilst the likes of GTA: San Andreas and, dare I say it, EA's Fifa series may offer a wealth of gameplay options, it is all a bit shallow. However, to lay the blame of this surge of adolscent gaming at the door step of the publishers and developers would be wrong. After all, we, the game buying public shoulder part of the responsibility.

The sad fact is that a majority of gamers are duped all too easily into the growing trend at great looking games. One just has to look at the excitement of a few Sony's and Microsoft's demos for their upcoming consoles to see how easily the gaming public buy into it. There has been no suggestion of any real changes to the content of games, or to gameplay mechanics themselves. Sure, the cars look shinier, the violence looks grittier and no doubt the highly stereotypical girls will look, well, sluttier, but surely we can’t disillusion ourselves into believing this is mature gaming or even a real step in gaming history. This, all without mentioning the most sacred of gaming grounds, sexual intercourse. The mere hint of a cheat to allow viewing of sexual content in GTA: San Andreas sent many gamers into frenzy. Why, though, would you want to view it? Surely it is nothing more that poorly acted, poorly animated, awkward looking sexual intercourse? Compare that to the inclusion of sexual content in Farhenheit. Whilst it was awkward looking, it did not come across as a need to indulge adolescent voyeurism. Instead, the context it was set (and whether you wanted to indulge in it or not) meant the issue was handled with as much maturity as has yet been seen in a computer game. Hopefully this will signal a way forward for future games.

Only once us gamers and the industry acknowledge that the current stereotypical views of men (no, we don’t all like cars, women and violence) and women (no, they don’t all like pink), and that current characters and moral ambiguities presented are no more than the views many adolescents hold of the world, can gaming start to grow up. Whilst we should never fully ditch these stereotypical views we have to acknowledge them for what they are. Surely we can not be happy with wallowing in these views? Once we recognise these views then not only will we help ourselves and the past-time we love but we will also help rid the views of many in society about adult gamers. Gaming itself will become more respected.

However, we must also be careful, we must be careful of remembering why we play games, not only as kids but also as teenagers and adults. Adults and teenagers must not be afraid of playing ‘kids’ games (after all, football is a game you play as a kid and football yet professional football players are not mocked for playing a kids game), nor must we not be afraid of playing like a kid. After all, being a kid is fun and exciting so why should we lose that when gaming grows up?