What adults want from games

We’re all adults here, right? What? We’re not? Well the gamerlings amongst us will one day grow up to be adult gamers, and one day you snot-nosed brats will understand the pain of us geezers, so this will serve as a manifesto for all gamers everywhere, since we all eventually join the creak-kneed club, and dammit if we aren’t cranky as hell about the immaturity still festering in our favorite artistic/entertainment medium. And developers have no excuse, because they’re all adults. Well, in theory at least. So here are the things we adults want to see in our games, because we’re actually not the boob-ogling, guffawing at exploding heads man/woman-babies the industry seems to think we are.

That’s why we want to see…

An online experience free of children

Look, we have nothing against kids and teenagers in principle. We were teenagers about seventy years ago so we remember having an inflated sense of superiority (also, dinosaur saddles) so the young’uns are just dandy as members of society. However, the internet has created a wholly unprecedented and utterly unnatural social soup, and this shit frankly has to stop. Outside of the internet and birthday parties of our friends’ offspring, adults will never choose to hang out with children. We don’t go to the park and play ultimate Frisbee with random kids we don’t know. We don’t sit down to have intellectual discussions about science fiction novels with eight-year-olds.

Above: Online gaming sometimes feels like this

So why the hell do we have to do these things in online games and internet forums? We want servers in online games where only ages 18+ are allowed. We want the same for discussion boards. Yes, we realize this shit isn’t easy to implement, but we don’t care. It’s absurd that every other aspect of society has a way of maintaining the natural order of “kids should be seen and not heard” (and preferably not seen either) but in gaming we can have a screaming larval human butt its way into a sober, polite game of adult competition. Yes, we know that in the days of arcades there would be comingling of adults and children, but being in-person made a huge difference: you knew right away you were dealing with a child, and the threat of punching made children a lot less arrogant.

Above: Child discipline sure has declined in quality since the old days 

The same holds true for gaming discussions. We could save a shedload of our precious time if we knew we were having conversations with adults. In current forums, the moment we find out someone is under eighteen we ignore them because their opinions are stupid – sorry teenagers, but you have to know that everyone in their teens suffers from a condition where they think they know everything and think they’re smarter than they really are. We know this because we were once those people. Once you get a twinkle of maturity and a glimmer of world perspective suddenly you think you’re fricken’ Plato, and we hate to break it to you, but you don’t know shit. We’re not saying a teenager can’t contribute to an intellectual discussion, but the few of you with your anuses not wrapped around your necks would be minor collateral damage in our proposed 18+ only forums. Besides, then you could be the big fish amongst your peers and teach them a thing or two about critical thinking.

Again, we know it would not be easy to enforce 18+ servers and forums, but surely it can be done, because it damn well needs to be done.

Non-adolescent portrayals of sex and nudity

Nudity and sex are awesome. Getting these things in our entertainment makes up for the sad fact that we can’t play with toys anymore. Movies and books have provided a lot of immature portrayals of titillation, but these media have also figured out how to depict adults’ idea of fun in tasteful ways, and complex ways, and story-relevant ways. We’re not talking about prudish approaches to sex – hell, we don’t even require them to be tasteful, although we like that approach also. We’re talking about a perspective on sex that’s deeper than just “hurr hurr lookit the naked gurls.” Even supposing some games have managed to get past thinking that sexy = premature ejaculation, they still haven’t gotten past awkwardly shoehorning sex into stories where it feels totally unnatural and the kind of thing that would embarrass us if anyone walked in when it was happening.

Let’s take a look at two examples of the more “mature” portrayals of sex we have so far: Heavy Rain and Mass Effect. Potential spoilers ahead (although we’ll leave out as much plot detail as possible). In Heavy Rain, the actual sex scene, despite being kind of ridiculous looking, does a decent job of at least making the sex seem like something between two tender adults and not the typical porno-style bouncing and screaming. We have to give them credit for that. Yet the timing of the sex is beyond ridiculous: two characters decide to hump when there is a freaking clock ticking on the life of one of their children. Not only is this unbelievable and doesn’t fit with these characters’ established personalities, but it’s also a hoary storytelling cliché: two people in extreme circumstances are drawn together magnetically, releasing their pent up passions the only way they know how. To an adult whose idea of sex doesn’t just come from movies, this is not a mature portrayal.

Above: The only word that comes into our mind is "Ew"

Mass Effect falls into a similar trap. Again we have people under extreme circumstances, under a ticking clock, deciding “Hey, might as well bang even though the entire universe is waiting for us to save its ass.” Then the characters have sex in the engine room (or whatever that room is called). We can see two major problems with this: anyone could just walk in and catch them (or are they hoping for that?), and that floor is not going to be comfortable – yeah sex on a hard kitchen table might be sexy but we’re talking about steel grating, which would surely remove the skin from your ass/knees. Then there’s the other silly thing: they have sex with their clothes on. This annoys us because despite the reality that people do sometimes have sex with clothes on, it’s highly unlikely they would do that the first time they had sex. Come on – they’re going to want to see the goods. And you know what? So do we. Show us some freakin’ nudity during the sex, and not just of the women.

Does our asking to see nudity make us sound immature? Sorry, but there’s a reason why the word “adult” when added to “entertainment” translates to “porn.” We’re not saying we need hardcore pornography in our games, but we also don’t like that the industry keeps things wimpy and safe because we’re sharing this medium with children, and we’re sharing it in a way that other media don’t have to. A goddamn PG-13 movie can show nudity but if a game does the same, it won’t get anything less than an M rating and even then it has to be displayed in a carefully constructed context so as not to freak anyone out. A sign of a medium growing up is when it stops worrying about freaking people out.

Philosophical/political/satirical stories (that aren't amateurishly pretentious)

We love that games have finally started to tackle this stuff. We’re sure you can find some obscure game from thirty years ago that was super clever satire, but attempts at intellectual themes in games didn’t really hit the mainstream until recently. We’d say that BioShock did a decent job at tackling multiple heady ideas, even if a lot of it wasn’t ultra-subtle. Yet the way the game subverted entrenched tropes of videogame empowerment fantasies revolving around choice and control was pretty damn clever. It unfortunately lost its way toward the end and, possibly afraid of delivering a “disappointing” climax, wussed out and provided a bog-standard videogamey boss battle, when instead it could have done something really mind-blowing (like find a way to toy with the player’s sense of agency even more).

Braid built itself on a clever premise: construct gameplay around the idea of rewinding time and then make a story about how [spoilerish] we can never go back and undo our worst mistakes. If it had left things at that simple level it probably would have been hailed as a brilliant allegory game. Instead, it piled on staggeringly pretentious text in an attempt to be “complex” or “artsy.” It’s a common mistake for artists – have a big idea, but then instead of allowing the idea to shine on its own, try to dress it up because you’re worried no one will notice your amazing idea if you keep it simple.

We love both of these games because not only are they great purely as games, but they are stepping stones to something bigger. Developers can study these games and learn what to do and what not to do when attempting serious discourse in a game. Portal 2 is a fantastic example of how to add a layer of depth and symbolism to a game without beating it over the player’s head – if a game can spawn this type of analysis then we’re headed in the right direction. But developers: please study the work of others so we can move forward and not tread water in the mire of obviousness and pretentiousness.

More games that don’t assume violence = gameplay

We don’t have any problem with violence in entertainment. We’re adults, not pussies. What we do have a problem with is how developers, either through a lack of creativity or a fear of risking their jobs on breaking out of the mold, almost always rely on the act of killing things to make up the main component of gameplay. Games are inherently about overcoming obstacles, and enemies with independent AI serve as interesting obstacles. It’s also just fun to make heads explode. We understand (and don’t bemoan) the reality that combat satisfies the caveman impulses in many gamers to hunt and conquer our enemies. Aside from the issue of this being an extremely male-centric mentality to what constitutes fun (although we’re not saying women can’t also enjoy a good headshot), the saturation of the industry of this ruling type of gameplay means that killing shit gets monotonous after a while.

We love Tomb Raider and Uncharted. Both series offer a mix of combat, exploration and puzzles. Tomb Raider’s combat has always been terrible, but it’s clearly in the games because the developers are afraid exploring a bunch of empty tombs would get boring. Notice that we said we love the games, but that the combat is terrible. The obvious conclusion is that we love exploring things and solving puzzles, and begrudgingly accept the combat. We also love encountering a T-rex because that shit is scary, but who says we have to kill it? Why can’t we just run from it, or maybe solve a puzzle that traps it? Tomb Raider does exploration and puzzle solving better than almost any game out there, so why not just toss out the combat altogether so we can get more exploration and puzzles, and with the resources saved on not programming and designing enemies and weapons, the exploration and puzzles could be even better.

Above: It's okay if this is the most fun part of your game

Uncharted does combat much more deftly than Tomb Raider, but it has too damn much of it. Both Uncharted games throw so many enemies at you that it becomes a boring slog at times (and also makes Nathan Drake seem like a genocidal maniac). Again, Uncharted is great, but after playing years of Tomb Raider our first impression of Uncharted was “Tomb Raider Light” – this was because everything other than the combat (climbing, puzzles) felt dumbed down. We actually think Uncharted 2 is better than any Tomb Raider game, but it still features slightly weaker non-combat elements. We argue that if the combat wasn’t such a focus (or was thrown out), Uncharted’s climbing and puzzling could potentially surpass anything these types of games have achieved. We know that suggesting Uncharted have no combat is absurd to many fans, so take this as merely an example of how combat can affect other game elements and not a demand to have a pacifist Nathan Drake.

Games are special to adults because they touch on activities we loved as children: climbing things, jumping over things, role-playing, exploring, puzzle-solving, and yes, pretending to fight things. We spent hours climbing trees without needing to also pretend we were shooting bad guys. There’s no reason we would be bored doing the same thing in games. Shadow of the Colossus was ultimately about killing things, but 98% of the game was riding a horse and climbing on things. ICO was at its least fun when those goddamn shadow monsters showed up. We know there are some games out there that don’t center on violence, but we want more of them. There are only so many ways you can punch, shoot, or eviscerate something.

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  • Flakeman - April 5, 2012 3:14 p.m.

    You also play FIFA 12 for cash? You want to win as much as the best? Learn everything here
  • Ghiby - July 2, 2011 1:28 a.m.

    Great article... I fully agree with all the key points and I hope the game developers will pay attention to this constructive feedback... fact, we the "M" ones have the purchasing power to keep buying - or not - those "M" rated games...
  • fortheroflz - June 2, 2011 4:12 a.m.

    I'm 15 and i agree with this article, even though it says stuff about people my age, i really never talk with people that aren't from my school, but the retarded 12 year old gamers that constantly cuss and through insults for no reason piss me off. besides that, when i play a rated m game and it has the an awkward sex thing like in heavy rain, just creepy looking. if i want to see stuff like that i use google. and i also hate games like mgs or borderlands were the tutorial guy pops up out of nowhere and gives you advice that you already knew 23 levels ago.
  • Shforteenteen14 - May 31, 2011 11:10 p.m.

    I find it odd that you complain about video games not having proffesional writers and then put in a picture of GoW 3 as an example...
  • cptnoremac - October 1, 2014 7:41 a.m.

    Stop ending your comments with ellipses like you just silenced the room with your wit, asshole.
  • ThePgtipsmonkey - May 31, 2011 10:47 p.m.

    i agree with most of this apart from children being the problem as i normally get called a wide variety names all because i cant quick scope by alot of people over the age of 18. the best point to prove this is when a 37 year old man shouted at my 9 year old brother who only wanted to play 1 online game of COD to see what it was like. my brother didnt use a headset and i sat with him as he play, unfortunately for him he was called a " immature , f..king adopted piece of s..t" because he was the last death and my brothers recations werent as good as the other not saying that i dont get sworn at by children because lets face it there is always the childish 14 year old who just discovered swear words for the first time. the attitude that it is just children/teenager fault is almost as immature as some of the children you are against especially when adults are also to blame for an aggressive and immature online community.
  • mattschroeder - May 31, 2011 10:17 p.m.

    I have to agree with tutorials in games. There should at the very least be an option to turn off tutorials, let me figure it out or read the instruction manual that comes with the game. Why else is it there? I like and agree with most of these points, but 18+ servers and forums don't stop adults from acting younger and just as dumb. I switched off my XBL chat from hearing anyone that isn't on my friends list. Just as quick, and easier to implement.
  • CitizenThom - May 31, 2011 5:08 p.m.

    Red Dead Redemption was great, most of the people you ran into had multiple motivations, some good some bad... and you're right the humor was great too. The game really is in just about every way what I as an adult would like out of the games I play, I encountered no bugs, I got pulled into the story, I cared about the main character and his friends and family, and I hated hated hated the people who were complicating the main character's life. That being said, the one thing I'd change is the single instance of the nudity in the game was kind of random. It had already been implied that that character was a sleazy pig, so the extra measure of it imo wasn't needed. Nudity's fine, but in my opinion, if it's only occuring once in a game, it shouldn't be occuring in a throw away scene in my opinion.
  • Matt785LuvsG4 - May 31, 2011 5:01 p.m.

    I hate when little kids get on Xbox Live and play GTA IV because they are NOT Mature Enough! the parents I wish I could slap for letting their 5 year old play these games! THE SCREAMING! THE SINGING! AND GOD FORBID THEY JOIN YOUR XBOX LIVE PARTY CHAT!! The ones who do that are the worst cause they will follow you from game chat to your party unless you set it to invite only! it sucks so bad! and then you'll occasionally get the "stuck up little spoiled brat" who got this game cause "daddy buys me everything" or the "I Just learned a swear word" kid, or "mommy's little racist" or even the "Cool kid" who has numerous friends playing in the same game with him and they all suck but they win cause they gang up on ya. but I used to be "The Whiny Kid" But I grew out of it.
  • bamit11 - May 31, 2011 4:32 p.m.

    I think RDR worked for multi-dimensioned characters and wit. I was Legitamately sad when John got shot to death and it did have some funny jokes that weren't toilet humor.
  • crumbdunky - May 31, 2011 2:54 p.m.

    The Other M point ,makes me think of about a billion(possibly more!) arguments I've had abut the portrayal of Samus in the game. started off with a lot of fans of the games(and only the Samus from the games) being very upset that the badass of Prime and 2D Metroid had turned into this uncharismatic whine factory with daddy issues who needed to ask a man if she could even pee. Then came the massive fans who devoured the comics and manga adaptations and their idea of this portrayal being more CANON than the usual in game Samus. Be that as it may-and I bow toptheir greater knowledge for sure- it still doesn't FIT with the game Samus in any real way. this Samus seems incapable of the acts of the other games as she'd have no man to as for guidance or approval. I agree entirely with GR that Other M was ruined entirely by this version of Samus infecting games as it watered down everything strong and feminine about her and left her seeming a mere shadow of her former self with more daddy issues than anyone else in history. It was a bleak day for women in games when they went for this Samus. So, sure, say it's accurate to the manga if you must, I don't doubt that but would then say that Samus in the Manga SEX compared to the bitchin', silent badass we all got used to and admired for so long. Even those who, rightly, point out the zero suit and bikini blackspots of titillation can sod off as I'd cut most of that out of the games myself too-even if she does look good in the zero suit it's unneeded and detracts from the focus of Samus as an attractive, self confident woman in charge of hers and everyone else's destinies! Yes, there needs to be a glimpse of vulnerability about all our characters but Other M took entirely the wrong and ott approach to doing so and left one of gaming's best females characters a laughing stock from a feminist perspective and, again, if that's the manga Samus the Manga Samus can stay in the effin Manga and out of my favourite series. I don't see why people defend it on the basis that it's the way she is in some comics when it plainly doesn't work based on the canon as per the games. Best left there where i'm guessing people are more pleased with subordinate women without self worth.
  • celticsfan645 - May 31, 2011 1:33 a.m.

    Well, it appears i am just "Minor colatteral damage"
  • Uberjuju - May 31, 2011 12:50 a.m.

    >>> " Comedy, despite what some hacks might tell you, can’t be taught. You either are naturally funny, or you will never be funny." Great article except for that one bit. When I was in high school, I wanted to be the funny guy that made everyone laugh, but I had no knack for humor. In my senior year, I began to deconstruct any comedy that I encountered to figure out what makes it tick. In college, I watched humorous people carefully. If I became friends, I'd flat out ask them how they do it. A few were able to describe fairly well how they look at things in a different but deliberate manner to arrive at their humor. Eventually, I became the guy who can make most people laugh. Humor can be an innate talent much like music or art, but also like those latter two it can be a *learned* skill. I'll never be good enough to become known for comedy, but I can scribble out a funny story or get a few improvised laughs at a gathering. That's all I was after.
  • Eyeofthestorm - May 30, 2011 11:54 p.m.

    Being 14,I know that I may be "Immature"(yes I admit it,don't pretend to even believe you are mature fellow teens.)But,I do not want to be chained to a server with 10-15 year olds cussing and spewing nonsensical racial and derogatory terms.
  • gilgamesh310 - May 30, 2011 11:33 p.m.

    Aletheon, yeah I agree. The grizzled nature of the characters suits the mood of a game like Gears of War. It wouldn't make sense if they were given deaper personalities. I thought the Dom/wife thing in GeoW 2 was fairly tacked on and unnecessary. I agree on the sexism thing too. Faith in Mirror's Edge may be realistically proportioned but hardly anything that she does in the game is anyway realistic and she still has a generic tough girl attitude.
  • Darkwun - May 30, 2011 10:40 p.m.

    screw u bitch! i dont wanna be your friend! nah im kidding... PLEASE LIKE ME!
  • JakeyBaby - May 30, 2011 10:26 p.m.

    Great article. I actually thought Sam Gideon from Vanquish one of the more 3 dimensional characters in recent games too. He appears as the tough guy, when actually he's seeking friendship and approval... Like the rest of us :P
  • QWERTYCommander - May 30, 2011 8:44 p.m.

    "Look, we have nothing against kids and teenagers in principle." "'kids should be seen and not heard' (and preferably not seen either)" "In current forums, the moment we find out someone is under eighteen we ignore them because their opinions are stupid" Contradiction much? Also, you do know that old people have the same condition, right? Where they have an inflated sense of superiority that makes them think they're better than teenagers and young adults? Which is exactly what you're showing here? I'm not saying that I don't sometimes act like a little shit in online games. Because I do. But that's why I'm never going to buy a headset, so no one will hear me rage over how some stupid cunt stole my kill in an FPS and that he should burn in hell. Also, how do these sentences look? They're the same as your sentence above, but with some key differences: "The moment we find out someone is black we ignore them because their opinions are stupid" "The moment we find out someone is religious we ignore them because their opinions are stupid" "The moment we find out someone is female we ignore them because their opinions are stupid" How do those sentences sound to you? Do you think that's discriminatory? If so, then so is discrediting someone's opinion because they're under 18. Also, I'm 15. Oh crap, now you're going to completely ignore me because apparently, "my opinions are stupid".
  • FamousMortimer - May 30, 2011 8:05 p.m.

    F'n A.
  • Aletheon - May 30, 2011 6:10 p.m.

    Thanks iPad. To OVERCOME not commit.