PAX 2010: Warren Spector Keynote

John Funk | 3 Sep 2010 19:15
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Like previous PAX keynote speakers before him, Deus Ex creator Warren Spector is a nerd icon. Unlike actor Wil Wheaton, Monkey Island creator Ron Gilbert or BioShock mastermind Ken Levine, though, Spector remembers something: decades of his life when videogames didn't exist. When he was a child, said Spector in what he jokingly described as the traditional "confessional autobiography" section of the address, he didn't geek out over videogames because there were no games to geek out over - instead, he found pulp fiction, comic books, and fantasy movies (in an age where fantasy films were "rarer than Steve Jobs picking up his Zune.")

After years of being told by his parents that Bugs Bunny and the Three Stooges were rotting his brain, Spector finally discovered games - but unlike Wheaton, Levine, and many of the thousands of people in the audience - he discovered them as an adult, rather than a child. He never had to deal with parents thinking that D&D was the devil's tool; he played with a group of adults - his first DM was Bruce Sterling, the father of the cyberpunk movement. Consequently, said Spector, he never really thought that games were something "geeky or weird," because he'd just grown up as a movie/sci-fi/fantasy guy.

That's why Warren Spector is a bit puzzled at the insecurity he sees in many gamers after they leave their little internal worlds, whether they're Azeroth, Hyrule, or places like PAX. "For all our hooting and hollering in places like this, [in the real world] we get insecure," said Spector, "We yearn to be accepted by the mainstream - by 'normal' people." But when they start paying attention to us, he argued - when they start to like the things that we like - we begin to complain. We get angry when developers and publishers reach out to them. We see these dreaded casual gamers as the Enemy. We act like their ability "to enjoy the things we've loved for years diminishes us somehow."

For a long time, said Spector, he didn't think much of it - but now, he said, he was beginning to think that our insular celebrations of our geekdom might be putting all of our advances "in jeopardy." His address took a sober tone for a few moments as he pointed to November 2nd, the date where the US Supreme Court will be hearing the case that will decide whether games will become the only entertainment medium to ever be legally denied First Amendment rights. He urged the crowd in attendance to go to Videogame Voters to add their support to the cause, because there was strength in numbers.

But because there is strength in numbers, argued Spector, we needed to start embracing the casual and mainstream gamers that many of us decry. "Growing the tribe means more than it ever did," he said. "When your grandmother and little sister are playing games, it's harder for people to look at it as a way to make political points."And that means accepting the new demographics that love to play games like Wii Sports Resort, and yes, FarmVille.

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