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What adults want from games

Actually witty humor

While games have made some significant, admirable forays into adult themes and writing, the medium is still in its infancy when it comes to comedy. Games are rarely funny – partly because very few developers even try comedy, and partly because when they do they are severely lacking in wit. The vast majority of “comedy” games focus almost entirely on these low-hanging fruit: obvious pop culture references, painfully non-clever parody, stereotypes, pratfalls, or the old-timey fallback for those without a funny bone in their bodies, bathroom humor. Comedy, despite what some hacks might tell you, can’t be taught. You either are naturally funny, or you will never be funny.


Above: Not clever, not witty, not funny

It’s the same problem games have always had with writing in general: game designers and programmers aren’t necessarily the best people to do the writing, and they also aren’t necessarily the funniest people at a company. Devs: please make more comedy games, but before you do, take a walk around the office – if you see some guy in accounting who always cracks everyone up, hire that dude as your writer. Or take the professional route and hire a comedian to make your game funny. You know how many comedians out there are desperate for work and exposure? And every great comedian started off in that position, so there are more great ones out there waiting to be discovered.


Above: Tim Schafer is the rare designer who is also funny. Psychonauts is the rare game that is actually witty


Three-dimensional characters

This ties directly into the previous entry. The era of unprofessional writing in videogames is dead. Some developers haven’t gotten the memo yet, so here it is: unless you’ve published fiction or written a game that got glowing feedback from critics and fans about the writing, put the damn keyboard down. We all know that game developers secretly desire to be movie directors or writers (ever see Wing Commander? Get ready for lulz), but enough is enough. Leave the writing to the writers, but even then, hire writers who understand the fundamental rule for establishing tension in a story: create characters the audience cares about. Many writers, and successful ones at that, either don’t understand this rule or have so little personality of their own that they don’t know how to create characters that aren’t cardboard cutouts. Conflict is exciting when characters have depth and therefore seem human, because then we don’t want bad things to happen to them.

We had an extremely difficult time thinking of game characters that aren’t personality-free or who exhibit more than a single personality trait. We’re sure there are others out there, but the best we could come up with was Monkey and Trip from Enslaved. These characters start as one note – Monkey is angry, Trip is scared and desperate – but they evolve, showing vulnerability, unexpected strength, rash decisions, and even changing attitudes. We’re not saying they are super-deep characters, but they’re a step up from the non-entities that populate nearly every corner of gaming. It’s not easy making three-dimensional characters, but then anything that makes a medium grow up is never easy. Note that Enslaved was written by Alex Garland, a successful novelist and screenwriter (hint, hint, devs).


Above: Grizzled, grizzled, grizzled, female and grizzled, bearded and grizzled, bald and grizzled


Non-sexist portrayals of women

This shit is seriously starting to get on our nerves, and it seems like it’s actually getting worse in the industry. Man, if we ever want games to be taken seriously, this embarrassing trend needs to get reigned in. But let’s assume we don’t care if outsiders take games seriously (because mostly we don’t care). This crap is embarrassing and insulting to us, as adults. At this point in our lives, we’ve seen naked women (in person!), so scantily-clad virtual women aren’t fascinating to us. Worse, for the female gamers among us this tired-ass bullshit presents a whole other host of annoyances that should be obvious to anyone who isn’t sexist, so we don’t need to insult you by outlining them here. Instead let’s talk about why adult men are sick of this crap.


Above: Sigh...

The most obvious problem is that is makes us look like infantile pigs by proxy. You can’t play Bayonetta in front of a grown woman and not look like an asshole. A less obvious reason is variety: assuming we still want attractive women in our games, we’d like to see body types other than “huge chest, tiny waist, baby face.” But let’s step back from the trap of assuming the male heterosexual gaze is so important – we still have the problem of wholly unrealistic universes populated by one type of woman. It breaks our immersion when every damn woman we meet has massive cleavage hanging out. Not only do all their bodies look the same, but they also all dress provocatively? Even if you try to justify it by saying it’s a sci-fi universe where everyone is genetically perfect or whatever, we don’t give a damn – it’s boring when everyone looks the same.


Above: Now we're talkin'

Let’s take another step back and shift focus away from the physical. How about those female characters? Although many games have moved away from the helpless princess needing to be saved, the only other option is still embarrassingly and obviously the product of a limited immature male mind. Almost without fail the “empowered” female character is just a man with tits. We’re talking about giving the girl a huge gun and having her callously murder bad guys with a smirk. That’s videogames’ idea of a strong woman? Guys, the opposite of helpless is not steroids.


Above: And then there's Metroid: Other M, which is flat-out offensive in its notion that even a female warrior is a quivering, subordinate ninny utterly dependent on the leadership and reassurance of a man. We're frankly disturbed that there are men who exist in the 21st century who actually see women like this

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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