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The Big Problem

The biggie.

I’ve spent the last one year and a bit trying so desperately hard to convince as many people as possible that games have so much potential. But alike the human mind, we are barely scratching the surface of the power. The volume of magnitude we have is something even I don’t fully comprehend. Thanks to folks such as Anthony Burch, Daniel Floyd, James Portnow and even the ye olde Ben ‘Yahtzee’ Croshaw, we are getting somewhere. All the fine folks at Platform Nation want the same thing from their videogames, an entertaining experience. We can all agree on that, can’t we? We’re an entertainment industry, we make entertainment. We’ve come from a little humble medium and flourished into something powerful. By powerful I mean we have the power to influence the next few generations of mankinds. We will make their memories, we will make them smile, we will make them cry and shiver and do all that good stuff that mediums have shaped us into.

It isn’t all double rainbows.

We are standing on the precipice, a fine moment between when we realize who we are and what we’re capable of. We might fall off our feet and wake up minutes later to find that we have amounted to nothing. Absolutely nothing. We haven’t changed lives, we have not proven to extend the facet of the human experience. We have not delved into the human mind with all the powers of video-games. What will that be like? I made a statement a while ago that while I want video-games to offer more entertainment that any other medium, I want to see the choices. I want to make difficult decisions between who lives and dies. Who I sacrifice to save an entire planet of orphans, or whether I choose between a puppy or a thousand people in comas. I want to learn lessons on life, through myself, and only video-games can allow that.

As some of you may know, two important things are happening in the next few weeks. First off, I’m leaving today. This is my final essay and final day working here at Platform Nation, I’ll put a brief statement at the end and bid farewell, but bigger than me and bigger than Platform Nation is November 2nd. You all know what’s happening right? You can learn about it here in video form, but to sum it up for those without time, it’s the moment in which we decide our fate as a medium. As a people, we can choose whether to rally ourselves up and shed our gamerkind-skin. We are a tribe of people, like no other, but it’s time we started merging with society. For games to become experiences with wider integrity and breadth, for them to develop compelling experiences; they must become mainstream. This means embracing casual gaming, this means never looking down upon a Farmville player and this also means we must fully embrace what we are capable of. As Warren Spector said in his PAX 2010 Keynote, for us to actually survive, we need to realize that these things we see as barriers are simply our strengths.

I grew up in a difficult background, full of bullying and lies and seeing the worst that the working class of England go through. I have been places and experienced the highs and lows of humanity, I wish I could take you there, but you’ve already been. Through video-games you’ve been to places with little understanding, seen the worst of the worst. You’ve seen things that maybe even I haven’t seen, or experienced. We have gone so far and we have done so much. Embracing our popularity is what is keeping us from becoming the forefront of entertainment. I’m telling all of you, right now, you are not a ‘gamer’. You are not special. Your speciality and individualism are there for you to keep, but every single person on this planet is a ‘gamer’. Every single person on this planet is a person. Capable of experiencing what you and I hold so very dear to our souls. Games are art, end of story, it’s time to show the world what we’re made of and scare them shirtless. Yes, shirtless. Take our shirts off, show them our big fat underbellies of storytelling and all that good gooey stuff.

That’s all the celebrating done, but I’ve barely scratched the surface of what I’ve wanted to talk about, we’re near 1000 words and I haven’t really said anything. Basically, I’m doing what I do best and I’m rambling. But that’s it, that’s the conclusion of my learning here at Platform Nation…

But what about this big giant itch.

What about the big thing that’s bearing down on us.

What about when EA changes ‘Taliban’ to ‘Opposing Force’ in their multiplayer, to please people who have never played or understood video-games.

What about when we don’t have the balls to stand up for who we are.

What about who we actually are.

What about the big one issue that’s keeping us all behind.

What about the big problem.

Have you noticed it yet?

I want you to do something kinetic, something that’ll probably change your perception a little. You’ll know where I’m going with this in a while. I want you to take out your video-game collection and lay it all on the floor. If it’s too massive a collection (you rich bastard) then maybe just take out half or what you can find. I want you to make two piles, the first pile built of games with weapons in them and the second pile built of games with no guns in them. Come back when you’re done.

Okay now I want you to add all the games from the second pile, that have violence or stuff you really wouldn’t show your kid, and add it into the first pile.

Unless you’re a family orientated person, poor, you love Viva Pinata, largely a casual gamer or allergic to violence then quite clearly pile A is bigger than pile B. Looking at mine, pile A is three times the size of pile B.

Doesn’t that seem slightly terrifying to you?

A majority of our experiences have stemmed from one gigantic core of repetitive gameplay. The big giant hallmark of videogames, the flag we bear is one painted with bullet casings. We are addicted to guns and violence and yes you may argue there’s nothing wrong with that. Just think about this for a moment, something which Anthony Burch brought up in the Rev Rant I linked above (check it out), what if every film you saw was a romantic comedy. Revolting. What if every comic book you read was strictly about superheroes saving the day. What if… every compelling video-game you’ve ever played had guns in it.

When was the last time you played a video-game where you didn’t shoot anybody? Months?

When was the last time you watched a horror movie? When was the last time you watched a romantic comedy?

We are at war with ourselves, we are having a conflict of identity. What we perceive ourselves to be, what we’ve grown up with, is merely a medium capable of repeating the same mistake and repeating the same gameplay. Shoot to kill. There is nothing wrong with violence in video-games, it’s proven to let people release stress, but is that it? Is that all we are? Compelling experiences, in which we discover something about ourselves, can involve violence. It’s a common exploration of cinema and we shouldn’t feel limited by it, but it’s violence with meaning. It’s not the same jarring shot to the skull multiple times, or even hundreds of times, I feel myself losing grip on the controller at times.

What’s the point of shooting in a game structured around political commentary and exploration of mature thematics (Bioshock). What’s the point of stabbing a guy in the face and then running away, only to come back to a motivation that asks me to care about characters I’ve never met (Red Dead Redemption). What is the point of juxtaposing, over and over again, mature themes against a common mis-step in video-game history.

The gun is meant to be a symbol or a device used to kill a character. It was never invented to kill thousands of AI. Just how many people have you killed. Just think about that. Do you remember any of their names? You are a killer. What does it say about our medium when a game alike Bioshock delves deep into personal identity and rewrites what game storytelling is capable of. What does it say when Bioshock is still, at the end of the day, a first-person shooter. We do not know what do with ourselves, but we are repeating it in line with innovation. These are not mad ramblings, this is the truth. This is the hard-hitting problem that we will have to face up to, we need to diversify and embrace who we are and what we are capable of.

I do not want to be playing shooters in ten years time. I want to be taking my virtual daughter to school, or choosing between saving a thousand comatose patients and one little puppy. I want the tough decisions. To die for my best friend and my save file to be completely wiped. I want to kill myself out of losing everything that I’ve wanted to do, not what the game has decided I should do. With the powers of non-linearity, immersion, player identity and a variety of other virtues that are strictly exclusive to videogames; we can accomplish anything.

November 2nd could mean the difference between life and death. It could be the day when this big problem is finally realized by every publisher and developer in the world. Bringing games forward into a mature interactive medium would be the greatest thing that ever happened. Our shooters would be compelling and largely developed. Our genres would be wider than film, the experiences would touch people in ways that no-one can possibly imagine.

I am not a games journalist, I know that, and I am not a dictator. I don’t want games to start becoming less fun, I just don’t want to ‘play’ with them anymore. I want to see them differently more than a few times. I want this whole article to become irrelevant in ten or so years, I want every single guy who’s chasing ‘the big dream’ to be chasing something unique. I want to be able to read a guy’s blog after he’s worked on a game for years, and for it all to disappear under his nose. I want to see effort go to waste and for something else to come out of it, hope. Without the effort and the drive, there is no inevitable conclusion. Without past mistakes, we cannot write the future.

The big problem of video-games and violence, that common relationship, should stay. It should stand testament and challenge the ideology of future developers. Vote with your dollars people, embrace new genres and wake up. Don’t stand for games that lazily tell stories, don’t stand for the mediocrity, don’t stand for publishers that chicken out of bringing an authentic war experience, do not stand when the true titles come out.

Buy those indie titles and punish them as equally as you would do with developers. Ignore what people say, decide for yourself. Donate to Jason Rohrer, buy Minecraft, get Super Meat Boy when it comes out. Support the little guy and bring to that part of the industry a large voice. I am not putting the indie market above the mainstream, but I am going to say this, they certainly innovate a lot more than the mainstream devs. Due to publisher pressure and all that multi-million bullshit, developers are less likely to succeed in getting a new strain of games through to the market.

One of the biggest surprises of this year is that this ‘Big Problem’ might be erased. The countless shooters may all soon become counted and limited, as we’ve already shown November 2nd what we’re made of. I laugh in the face of anyone who considers Heavy Rain to be an amazing game and game of the year ect. What I cringe at, however, is when people disregard everything that it did. Yes, it failed, it fell flat on its promises and in a way David Cage pulled a Molyneux. What it did, more than anything else, is create life.

A whole new, successful (Heavy Rain at over 1.8 million sold) genre/gameplay innovation has been made. It’s mainstream, supported by a major publisher (Sony) and it will definitely be repeated. It was an experiment, like Mirror’s Edge was, and it made similar mistakes. It made the mistake of having pre-determined relationships with characters, it had a horrible story and it was all structured rather clumsily. Mirror’s Edge should have been an exercise in dis-empowerment, and for a few moments, it’s absolutely what it says on the tin. A parkour escapist first-person game, not a parkour escapist game with first-person shooter elements (which it did).

Speaking of what Mirror’s Edge didn’t succeed in, go try out Amnesia: The Dark Descent. It’s a horrifying exercise in combining dis-empowerment with strong horror elements. Buy it, cheaply too, on Steam afterwards and support a little dev with big ideas.

We’ve made a statement then, voting with our monies, that Heavy Rain is a good example of things to come. We’ve told Sony that we want more, that David Cage’s mumbled construction of great ideas is still a indicator of things to come. I want this to carry on. You, sitting there right now, maybe you thinks ‘games iz art!’ or maybe you don’t. I don’t want to sound paranoid or like a crazy guy who just figured out that Ekans is Snake backwards. I don’t want to dictate and cry out that games are an artistic medium blah blah blah.

I don’t want to ‘play’ games anymore, I want to experience who I am and delve into my own psyche. I want to be having the most entertaining night of multiplayer, and then on the weekend go on to endure a compelling experience that’ll haunt me for years. If all we have to show, as a medium, is our ‘big problem’ then we are seriously in trouble. There is more to ourselves than just shooters, there is more to ourselves than just violence.

If you want to be a game designer when you grow up and want to make the next Call of Duty or Halo. I want you to do something for me, change it. Or at least for a little while just do something completely different that keeps it all so fresh. A punch to the gut, a player/designer relationship device, is handy. Take away their weaponry, slice off our arms and then dump us in a military complex with no HUD or objective. Make us run, and if we die, for it to mean we have to make a choice over who lives and dies. This article was full of a little of ‘I wants’, but I want to make you think of something.

What do you want?

That’s a wrap.

Thanks to every single one of you, I love you all. I want to stay up all night eating sandwiches and telling you about how gorgeous and amazing you all are. ‘We’ are games, we are experiences and we are amazing. I want to cuddle up to every one of you for reading this and perhaps even just considering for a brief moment that games shouldn’t just be ‘played with’.

Go to http://www.videogamevoters.org/ to see how you can help on November 2nd. There’s smashing letters by the likes of Stan Lee and if you, like me, really like video-games then go and check out how you can help and all that jazz.

To everyone at Platform Nation, thank you.

Scott DiMonda, for having the best beard in the world and for being a great all around guy.

Steven Artlip, for offering me the chance to come into this wonderful community.

Andrew Hunt, for being a true lad.

Mark Withers, for being another true lad.

Patrick Talbert, for being a good buddy.

Ben Lehman, for being a little lad.

Rane Pollock, for loving me and loving youuuuuu.

Sarah Brannan, for putting up with all the lads.

Chris Forbis, for being the best damn proofreader of all time.

Adam Jagger, for being kind-of-lad-but-more lass.

To all the new folks, get out while you still can.

To everyone I’ve missed, I love you.

But more importantly, you. You, reading this right now, I love you. It’s corny, cheesy and sarcasm to the max but I mean it in some ways. You’ve helped change my life for the better and given me a experience like no other. I have made friends, connections and this whole place has been the kickstarter to my future career as a writer-guy. Not strictly in games either, this place has introduced me to the absolute brilliance that people can exhibit. For that, I owe you everything.

You can email me at [email protected], follow me on Twitter (@Nathsies) and even text me… nope.

Thank you.

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  • Amazing article Nathan. Thank you for being a part of the P*N family! You’ll be missed! Never stop writing!!!!

  • I won’t lie, I don’t agree with every point that you make in this article, however you are clearly a passionate writer and I respect that, you will be missed here

  • Wow… amazing article. Talking about going out with a bang! Good luck with your future endeavours and whatnot — I know you will be teh best god damn video-gamez riter evar!!1

    Finally, my life is complete, I am a true lad. Farewell buddy!

  • TheProblem

    I barely agree with anything that you’ve said there. You – and The Escapist – clearly don’t understand the Supreme Court case, at ALL.

  • Bravo Nathan! Good luck and keep in touch. You will be missed as you touched a lot of readers with your words. Keep writing and never fear the bearded ninja will be keeping an eye on you….

  • Julian Montoya (DarthJuLiOh)

    wait, you’re leaving?? you’re my favorite P*N writer!! 🙁 …

    as usual, great job on your article.