So, in other November 2016 news…
A recent piece by a gaming developer argues forcefully for the potential market for games not focused on killing and mayhem — “murder simulators,” as she calls them — and more on games focused on interactions and nurturing. Brie Code (how about that for a programmer’s last name; reminds me of the surgical resident I once knew with the last name Blades) boasts a resume that includes work on such slaughterfests as Company of Heroes and the Assassin’s Creed series, so she’s hardly coming at this as an outsider.
“Three years ago, for the first time, my friends who don’t like video games started to ask about video games,” Code says. “This was very exciting for me – I thought maybe I would finally be able to share the thing I love with the people I love. Spoiler: I was wrong. They didn’t become gamers after they played the games I recommended.”
She goes on to recount how the gun- or sword-play of all the usual big titles like Skyrim turned them off. Even Journey, a seemingly innocent game with nary a dragon or assault rifle in sight, got the thumbs-down due to the presence of a snake out to get the heroine. But Code did notice something — one of her friends had had a major emotional investment in her relationship with an NPC in Skyrim, having to quit the game after that character got killed, as tends to happen in the land of the Seven Holds.
“Kristina said to me through her tears that she didn’t realize that you could develop an emotional attachment to a character in a video game. She didn’t realize that you could create your character and exist as a version of yourself in a world full of characters whom you care about. I had never realized that she didn’t know this, because I knew this so deeply.”
The problem is that there are so few gaming franchises where you can explore this without somebody trying to shoot you or a monster trying to eat your face. A retort to Code’s article soon showed us why.
“The walking simulator side believes games should focus on storytelling and have social justice messages, while the murder simulator group thinks games should be enjoyable to play,” sneers Kyle Foley for the conservative Heat Street site. “What Code is arguing is that games need to be more “compassionate” in order to be less boring, but she could not be more wrong.”
He goes on to talk about the mayhem he dials up in Grand Theft Auto V as an example of fun. And I personally agree! GTA, and other slaughterhouse franchises like Elder Scrolls, Gears of War, and Warframe sure are fun to us guys. So are strategy games, the vast majority of which boil down to some version of playing war like young boys do with toy soldiers.
What do most young girls play?
Yes, many girls do enjoy the online killfests despite the rampant “tits or gtfo” sexism of your typical gaming chat lobby. But plenty more don’t, as Code was writing about. Is there a potential market for such consumers? Game development is a capitalist enterprise — wouldn’t a studio seek to expand its customer base by going after Code’s blood-adverse friends?
Foley argues no, that only boy games are fun and no girl games could succeed, which is an argument instantly refuted by just four letters: S I M S.
You see, while stereotypical boys play War, what many young girls play is House, and Electronic Arts owes much of its revenue to a breakout home simulator currently on its fourth iteration. No other major (what the industry calls “AAA”) franchise comes close to attracting Sims gamers, instead throwing everything they’ve got at boy-tastic interests: either killing or sports.
And considering how EA is, as usual, mismanaging its star franchise into the ground, couldn’t a competitor step up? I’m not talking about some indie Steam Greenlight thing. I’m talking about UbiSoft putting together the resources to launch a AAA competitor to bring in female gamers who are about as interested in Assassin’s Creed as I am in crocheting.
“Video games are not boring, they just aren’t for everyone,” Foley concludes. If you were an UbiSoft executive, would you be content with that? Movie studio execs sure aren’t!
And besides, some male gamers would probably enjoy taking a break from exploding skulls to play something a bit more constructive. There really is more potential to gaming than coming up with new techniques to bring someone’s HP bar to zero. But too many developers, and male writers, cannot even comprehend it.