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Shampoo, Insurance, Heavy Rain

Susan Arendt | 14 Jan 2010 17:00
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What got me started on this particular line of thinking was the dismal box art for Heavy Rain, a complex, mature, psychologically intriguing game about tracking down a serial killer. I'm very much looking forward to playing it, but only because I have the benefit of already knowing a lot about it. The gaming dabbler - the type of person who might enjoy Heavy Rain if they knew enough to give it a chance - would probably have little more to go on than the box art and the game's title, assuming they even saw the game in a store.

Now think about what might happen if an ad for Heavy Rain highlighting the game's Origami Killer ran during a prime time crime drama like, say, CSI or Criminal Minds. The people watching those shows are already interested in following clues to catch bad guys, and might find Heavy Rain's dark and brooding cinematic style appealing. Well, some of them might, anyway. There are still pretty huge hurdles to clear, such as convincing them that experiencing a mystery is going to be as fun as watching one, and that digital characters can be as compelling as flesh-and-blood ones. Even if you can sell them on that idea, there's still gaming's overall complexity and expense standing in the way. I'm not naïve enough to think that a single TV spot is suddenly going to turn legions of viewers into game-buyers overnight, but it might get them asking questions, looking up information online, or turning down a different aisle the next time they're in Best Buy.

The game-playing segment of the public may be growing, but the vast majority of it isn't particularly well-informed about this wild new entertainment frontier it's just entered. The public knows games deeper than Pac-Man exist, of course, but unless they've actually put time into playing them recently, they're probably completely unaware of the kind of experiences they can provide. Max Payne as a movie they get, because they have contextual knowledge for movies, but the idea of how someone would play Max Payne is foreign to them. They don't know that they could be sharing in Max's pain, helping him exact revenge, they are unaware of the beauty and satisfaction of using bullet time to dispatch a room full of thugs. By giving them a shove in the right direction, we might eventually get them to look beyond the obvious gaming choices, and more unusual titles will have a better chance to flourish.

Or at least we'll have something more fun to watch than Snuggie adverts.

Susan Arendt kills the occasional alien hooker.

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