It was bound to happen. After years of more or less blissful innocence, artful drive, and altruistic passion, corporate America has found, captured, dissected, and degraded the Computer Game. It was a noble thing once: half way between Art and Science, it amused and challenged like no other pasttime. It brought people away from boredom or frustration to alternate worlds, vivid and alive. It was programmed with love, diligence, and a vision for excellence. The Game was meant to be enjoyed. It was crafted to stand alone and independent from its creator, to be sent out into the world with a value all its own. It was forward-looking, progressive, and challenging.
But now, all that has changed. The Game has been broken. It was pressed into a mold of verifiable and uninteresting funness, marked with a price and passed to the masses. They gave willingly to have it, because it was now a drug to them; a lifeless, empty drug. It helped them to escape for a while, but its mediocrity left them wanting more, though they did not even know how mediocre it was, since they had nothing with which to compare. What would become of it?
If you enjoy this vein of ranting, by all means read on.
I must say, though, that I don’t feel quite the same sense of disgruntlement today as I felt then, in 1993.
A lot of the bile of that old post came from fear/loathing of companies like Electronic Arts who were making a pretty penny off of more and more cheaply-made, lackluster, copycat titles. I thought they were killing once beautiful and creative companies like Origin Systems.
EA bought Origin in 1992. The creativity and quality of Origin’s games immediately declined. I saw a trend, feared it, and ranted. Since Origin made many of my favorite games—Ultima, Wing Commander—I was afraid my darlings would die.
Well a couple of years after I wrote that post, I ended up working for Origin, helping build Ultima Online and Ultima IX: Ascension. And indeed, what I feared did verily come to pass. I had a front-row seat—or rather, an on-stage seat—when Electronic Arts killed Origin through death by a thousand budget cuts.
Very sad. And I still believe what I learned then, that public companies are generally evil and ineffective because their fundamental incentives are incredibly short-sighted. Like, I’ve met dogs with longer-term goals.
But you know, as for the games industry in general, things eventually got better. The 2000s have been good to us. Today the industry is far more creatively rich and ludologically diverse than it was in 1993. Sure, there are still lots of copycat games, but there are a lot of innovative ones too. Casual games have helped; indie games are wonderful; and mobile platforms have incubated a lot of creativity. Girls are more involved in games—both in playing and making them—than they were even ten years ago. That’s good for the industry, and I think it’s good for girls. So between the games themselves and the people making them, games are more diverse, more daring, and more human than ever before.
So thank you, Daniel Rehn, for sending me on a trip down memory lane. It has made me feel thankful. Thankful to have had my ancient, buried words remembered. And thankful, too, that 20-odd years later, the industry has not collapsed into oppressive, braindead, 1984-style mediocrity as I feared, but rather has flourished, and thrives both economically and creatively. I couldn’t ask for better.
But maybe I’m living in a bubble. What do you think? Are games today generally creative and rich or do they need a punch in the arm?