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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.

111 comments

  • ColonelKc - May 28, 2011 12:19 a.m.

    Agreed, these are things games should have regardless of age...
  • TriforcePlayer - May 28, 2011 12:20 a.m.

    What Matthew Keast wants from games.
  • p0wnd - May 28, 2011 12:23 a.m.

    I hardly see Portal 2 as a good example of as it was mainly played by children and could be comprehended by a frog thats been hit with a sack of batteries. And hav u seen dem virtual boobs? Only reason I buy games now.
  • dphoenix192 - May 28, 2011 12:28 a.m.

    Although I agree with you on most/all of these things, the last one would be quite weird to implement for most games you are probably thinking about. Most of these games are rated mature so in theory the people playing them should be over 17, but thats not going to be true, and it would be weird if the game is for people over 17, yet they have a separate online system for people under 17. The press would have a field day with that. I could see the headlines "Game Developers promoting adult games to children"
  • hellodesdemona - May 28, 2011 12:29 a.m.

    Great article. Mandatory reading for developers out there.
  • Moondoggie1157 - May 28, 2011 12:32 a.m.

    In a perfect world... *Sigh*
  • R_U_Guys_From_British - May 28, 2011 12:45 a.m.

    Damnnn I love features Matt writes, so long, thoughtful and above all good reads.
  • RedHarlow - May 28, 2011 12:47 a.m.

    Hear, Hear! Great article. Send multiple copies to every game dev!
  • EwoksTasteLikeChicken - May 28, 2011 12:53 a.m.

    I would just like to say that even though I'm 16, I don't feel like I know everything. Also, my gamer friends and I have intelligent conversations about games and other things (mostly games). All I'm trying to say is, not all the people under 18 are stupid dumbass pricks. Great article though, I agree with pretty much everthing.
  • FauxFurry - May 28, 2011 1:07 a.m.

    This article makes me think of some of the forum topics that have been popping up at The Escapist, particularly one asking adult gamers if they would be willing to pay extra to ensure a child-free atmosphere, at least for M-rated games. I'm guessing that Keast here would vote Yes. Most of this article I agree with, more or less. A few of these, I want something slightly different from but not by much. On the topic of violence, what I want is Specific Violence rather than the generalized violence against faceless masses which is really just killing time (which is supposed to be on our side. This ally killing will not stand!), somthing adult gamers don't have a lot of in the first place. Two of these items, namely the Nudity related one and the non-sexist portrayals of women are very much interconnected. If women's bodies were viewed as nothing any more offensive or sacred than a man's body, you wouldn't have artists in various media constantly obsessing on designing costumes that get as close to showing body parts that are regularly shown on their male counterparts without getting around to showing it, no matter how badly that makes their costumes clash with everyone else's costumes. That 'carrot on a stick' (or should that be melons in a sack?)/imminent wardrobe malfunction-tease approach to female character designs is played out. The idea that having more fat and glandular activity in one part of the body make it off-limits is a profoundly immature idea in and of itself. Once the female body is demystified enough, you'll likely see a lot more diversity in female character models, at least as much as there usually is in male models in any given genre. If a game could turn out to be as mature about 'nudity' as Kirikou and the Sorceress (and have the same diversity of character body types), I would be pleasantly surprised. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Me8O56MqjR8&playnext=1&list=PL92818F103CBC7B85 Hand-holding is necessary to an extent when things such as context sensitive button presses, sensitive movements on the analog stick (what new gamer knows to lightly press the analog stick rather than push it all of the way? Every other button or lever in their levers either works or it doesn't save a gear shifter. Who expects a game control stick to be the same as a gear stick without being told about it?!) and analog sticks being used as buttons. I recall being somewhat confused for a bit when the R3 button was mentioned in Grand Theft Auto 3. If games don't have a new player friendly tutorial, then game systems should have a built-in tech demo (or free down loadable game) game that goes over every possible control method for a game on that system. After that, they will know enough to be able to guess which control scheme the game is going with.
  • juicenpancakes - May 28, 2011 1:30 a.m.

    I'm actually optimistic that these things will all slowly creep their way into games. As far as being a form of media, games are still in its relative adolescence and are consistently growing. I do not have a doom-and-gloom outlook regarding the future of games (as many do), but a genuinely bright future. And it all begins with the guidance of Keast.
  • NEVEC12 - May 28, 2011 1:35 a.m.

    Oh look a grown man complaining about everything. Deal with it
  • TheHungryLemur - May 28, 2011 1:41 a.m.

    The funny thing is, I'm 13, and I can agree with pretty much all of these points!
  • Markoose16 - May 28, 2011 1:43 a.m.

    I agree with a lot of this. The game that showed me how bad developers can be at misjudging their audience is Fable 3 (and 2 as well). The game is rated M or 16+ but the developers seem to think we're brain dead. If your game is rated 16+ why on earth are they making it playable for 5 year olds? I know how a map works so give me a map not a 'golden bread crumb trail' or a 3D representation of the area which actually makes the game harder to navigate. The humour is good and one of the few games that can make me laugh (those damn gnomes every time) but when I played it I felt I should be sat there with drool falling from my mouth whilst someone mopped this piss from the floor around me.
  • Daruniah - May 28, 2011 1:52 a.m.

    Weird, I justed started playing Psychonauts yesterday. Also, these points seem to be less geared toward adults than to all gamers. At least the last half of the points do.
  • mackshizzle - May 28, 2011 1:54 a.m.

    I always viewed video games as a child's medium, kinda like toys. When you got older and realized your action figure was childish, did you send a letter to the company and complain to make it more suitable for an adult? If you still play them and collect them, fine. But don't expect things to change just because you do. I honestly don't think the industry was meant to support 30 something year old guys who couldn't put down the Super Nintendo controller back in the day.
  • Genericide - May 28, 2011 2:16 a.m.

    @ mackshizzle: I would argue that the metaphor is not at all comparable, considering that actions figures are pieces of plastic and 'video games' covers an entire medium of expression, same as movies or books. Of course, video games as toys for children are certainly not something that has to go away, but I see no reason why we cannot also have more mature games as well. I don't agree wholeheartedly with all of the points on this list, but they all have a least a hint of truth to them. Well said.
  • JohnnyBullet - May 28, 2011 2:26 a.m.

    What a great article. Developers everywhere PLEASE TAKE NOTE!!
  • AirickG - May 28, 2011 2:27 a.m.

    So I understand that because I'm 17 my words don't mean jack shit for another month, but I would like to say that this is an amazing article! Good Job PS: Why the HELL hasn't there been parental control options in games? Is it really that difficult?
  • Mfchimichanga - May 28, 2011 2:40 a.m.

    Cmon Im 15 and I don't laugh at boobs or gauff at exploding heads, given that I do enjoy a boob here and there and exploding heads, I do so in a mature matter. Not digging the generalizations here ):< but I agree that violence doesn't equal gameplay however violence does come with the territory of certain games and violence does wonders for gameplay..

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