High Horse is a rotating opinion column in which
GamesRadar editors and guest writers are invited to express their personal
thoughts on games, the people who play them and the industry at large.
There's a persistent argument constantly being thrown around in debates
concerning the video game medium, and it's one that I find particularly vexing.
"Gaming is an adolescent medium," they cry, "give it time to
The argument is difficult to understand, and I suspect that it's often used
when a gamer finds themselves backed into a rhetorical corner by a
non-believer. Rather than stick up for what games are and what makes them
great, they shift the argument to say the true
form of video gaming has yet to be realized. That like an adolescent child,
gaming hasn't yet figured out what kind of adult it will be.
Above: The Edison Kinetoscope was the start of film's "arcade" phase
This is an outmoded saying, and it’s lost its use in the modern day. It may
have been true in the dark days of the turn of the millennium, when babes and
power fantasies still ruled the sales charts. However, gaming has demonstrated
that its adolescent period is over.
Commercial games have been around for about 41 years. Our earliest
experiments with commercial games, like Galaxy Game and Computer Space, started
out much the same way film did with Edison Kinetoscopes. They were displayed in
public spaces like fairs, colleges, and bars, and cost a small price for a
small game/film. Since then, games have advanced rapidly.
Since those early experiments, the fundamental form of video games has
changed. From a starting point of basic dexterity challenges, games have found
their footing as a form that excels with narrative (sometimes) and blockbuster
What baffles me is that many people seem to think that video games are on
the cusp of a revolution. Were you asleep? I think you missed it. It happened
in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Game developers started broadly experimenting with
narrative in the ‘80s, and truly figured it out in the ‘90s with games like
Final Fantasy VI and Metal Gear Solid, proving that gameplay can be an
incredible force for serving narrative. Since then, narrative games have mostly
been refining that formula. We also underwent a much quieter revolution in the
2000s, when games like Far Cry 2 and Bioshock raised gameplay itself into
Above: Far Cry 2, like Bioshock, did its best to weave gameplay and story together seamlessly rather than interrupting one for the other
Comparisons between gaming and film are overused, and usually illogical. But
indulge me for a moment, because in this case I think it's useful for
comparison. By the time film had reached its 41st birthday (using the first public
appearance in 1894 as its date of birth), creatives had already produced some
of the American Film Institute's greatest films of all time, establishing the
form of the medium in the process. In many ways, the following 77 years have
been spent refining (or toying with) the formula of films like Battleship
Potemkin, City Lights, and King Kong. (Not shot-for-shot, but the basic formula
of visual storytelling.)
Wonderful additions like color, sound, and computer graphics have kept film
relevant in the modern era, but none have fundamentally altered the structure
of visual narrative. And none have changed what people enjoy in a movie. What
I'm suggesting – brace yourself – is that games may already be what they're
destined to be, and that any further changes will be minor tweaks to an already
Ask yourself if you're comfortable with gaming as a hobby and art form if
the next hundred years of our history will essentially be more of the same.
Slow evolution, with no more revolution. After less than 50 years, film had
Casablanca and Citizen Kane on its resume. I'm not suggesting that the creative
timelines of games and film will line up, I’m suggesting that industrious
creative geniuses work quickly. It’s unlikely that all of the geniuses in
gaming history have missed something fundamental to gaming over decades of
arduous study that a Digipen graduate will discover in five years.
Above: Super Meat Boy was a reminder that sometimes, the simplest games are the best
New genres will doubtless be discovered, but they'll be built upon the
foundation of player engagement that already exists, which is the central core
of gaming. We should consider the possibility that many of the greatest games
that will ever be made are already behind us. And that our greatest visionaries
(Miyamoto, Meier, Wright, Molyneux and Kojima spring to mind) have already done
most of the heavy lifting in probing the potential of games.
Today we find games returning to their roots, and the popularity of the
medium has exploded as a result. We've spent the last 30 years trying to make
games more and more complex, but the truth is that simplicity has always been
gaming's most potent ally. Facebook, Flash games, Nintendo and iOS are testament
to that. It's important to always remember that the people who frequent sites
like this one are gaming’s “artsy” crowd – the tiny two percent of enthusiasts
who care about trying new things and pushing the envelope in bigger, flashier
experiences. This is the avant-garde, but the enormous majority of gamers are
satisfied with gaming as-is.
By a wide margin, the most popular games of the modern day are centered
around the beauty and purity of play and competition. Which, I can't help but
note, is right where we started from in the arcades of the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Above: Computer Space was the first real attempt to commercialize video games (ironic, considering it was an adaptation of Spacewar!, the first real open-source video game)
I fibbed a little bit earlier in this article. While games aren't poised
for a revolution, they've just had one. But it's a backward revolution. After
decades of seeking to justify their existence by mimicking every other medium,
a new generation of game designers has risen to prominence by going back to
gaming's roots. The focus has returned to finding fun in a set of basic rules.
Don't let Meat Boy touch the saws. Anything can be mined; stay alive; dark is
dangerous. Shoot the other team. Birds can't fly; gravity pulls down; kill the
Games were in their adolescence when they were hopelessly holding onto
the leg of their older brother, film. They wore his clothes. They acted like
him. They used all the cool words they heard him say, then tried to impress their
friends with what they’d learned. They tried to emulate others, rather than
focusing on themselves and what makes their form unique. Amusingly, they often
even acted like teenagers, simultaneously angry that the
mainstream media wouldn't pay attention to them, and also begging said media to
leave them alone.
In this sense, gaming's adolescence has ended. We've grown out of our
little-brother complex, the pimples are gone, and we've become comfortable in
our own skin.