"Games are far too obsessed with technical innovation, and we end up recycling the same ideas and the same uses in the same contexts every handful of years or so…..."
The question he is responding to was about where video games will be in 10 years and the broader application of games in society. He cites the Wii remote and Kinect peripherals and how the industry is moving towards VR as the obsession in technological innovation.
“.....the real work starts when the platforms and the technologies become boring and ordinary and everyday.”
The platforms and technology are boring and ordinary. They’re computers - the Xbox, the Playstation, and (obviously) gaming PCs - all of them share the same basic components, only varying in parts manufacturer and electrical engineering. Few things in this world have become more monotonous. The peripherals are “new” technical innovations, and that’s being generous since we’re now a decade since the Wii came out and VR has been around for even longer, just much worse.
“The smartphone is starting to do this, although we keep racing to keep up with it, too.”
Smartphones have technical innovations every 6 months - heartrate monitors, fingerprint scanners, accelerometers, all-the-megapixel cameras - they’re miles ahead of the home PC in terms of peripherals. The platforms are PHONES, so that’s not groundbreaking, and the “smart” part is a mini computer.
In broad applications beyond just entertainment, "games" are used as simulators in specialized training with pilots, race car drivers, and the military. Games have the unique ability to allow someone to experience something they can not or would not otherwise be able to due to danger, cost, or time constraints. What good does that do us at the grocery store or at the DMV? I guess it could help with boredom in the restroom?
On the other hand, the gaming systems themselves became rather uniform (being they're all basically PCs), so developers sought other ways to interact with the games - which, ironically, speaks directly to the "broader applications" you speak of. The Kinect has been hacked for use as a 3D scanner in 3D printing applications, helped the disabled communicate, and helped guard the Korean border. The Wii remote has been turned into a musical instrument and a low cost interactive white board.
If anything, these technological obsessions have more real world applications than the games they're meant to be played with.
This all begs the question (which I have phrased as nicely as I can):
What the F#@% are you talking about?
If I were to give him the benefit of the doubt: Let’s pretend that I’m your average, 46 year old dad whose son plays lots of “Nintendo.”
I know what an Xbox or Playstation is, I know he plays Halo and Madden. Then there’s some car racing stuff and some other shooty shooty stuff. Oh, then on his Wii we could bowl or my niece does the dancing game.
If I took that line of thinking, then yes, the video game industry does seem to have a lot of these hardware peripherals that you interact with.
But Professor, you don’t get that benefit of the doubt.
You write books about games; you research and critique games. How would you come to the conclusion that the game industry in general is obsessed with these add on peripherals? About 3% of a manufacturers attentions goes into those "technical innovations"; 99% of games don’t require those peripherals; 100% of good games don’t use them.
".....the real maturation of games comes not from the numbers of players or the quantity of dollars-worth of sales, but from the diversity of uses to which they are put. When games are as ordinary as photographs and writing and moving images, then they will have arrived. But the truth is, we're still nowhere near that inflection point."
According to the ESA (with whom you did this Q&A), 80% of U.S. households own a device used to play video games. 51% of U.S. households own a dedicated game console. 42% of Americans play video games regularly (3 hours or more per week). Less time is spent on understanding politics than video games.
If you want to set the bar at pictures and videos, well it’s not a medium that lends itself to passive consumption requiring inputs and all, so it’s not quite apples and oranges, is it? Hanging a video game on the wall doesn’t quite make……..sense. Watching a video game - that is happening now with streaming and has caused vast shifts in the halls of Youtube, who you might recognize as having something to do with videos.
All mediums have their technical innovations, just some have had their growth and are now established. Writing went from walls, to rocks, to paper. Then it was something that could be played with; poems, epics, novels. Only took a few thousand years to work that process out. Same with painting. They even went through entire periods; renaissance, classicism, modern art, contemporary art.
As for the game industry "recycling ideas:" How many paintings have I seen of old guys standing? Man, they really couldn’t come up with different ideas. They were too obsessed with their classical style to try and create new ideas of what to paint. Or, those artists painted what people paid for; why do you think it’s any different now? The painters who created innovative works of art have their modern video game counterparts in the form of Indie Developers. The emphasis is less on the medium, more on the story and experience.
This all reeks of someone decreeing from their ivory tower on high; or maybe some philosophical exercise about video games, rather than an actual understanding or personal experience of the video game industry as it exists. Either way, this point of view, if propagated, is doing a disservice to the gaming industry and to anyone who harbors this understanding. Video games are still a young, growing medium who will continue to explore the possibilities of human/software interaction, lean on commercial successes (and subsequent sequels) to sustain the industry, and provide a space for individuals to create unique and engaging stories in an interactive space in a way that was previously impossible.