PAX 2010: Warren Spector Keynote

John Funk | 3 Sep 2010 19:15
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Previous PAX keynoters had talked about how special gamers and nerds were, but Spector said he thought we should look at the ways in which we weren't special. "We're a group like a lot of others now. There are more people like us all the time." Every once in a while, we should celebrate the things that no longer made us different, said Spector. "We spent 20 years trying to convince people that we were cool (to stop them beating us up), trying to show them just how cool games were ... and we won."

"But we need to get past not wanting to let other people in the club," he amended. "We won, and we feel bad about it." You can't close Pandora's Box once it's been opened - people are starting to love games, it's become mainstream, and that's a good thing. Every outsider activity that has survived has become an insider activity. In his day, Shakespeare was decried as being for lowlives. Movies were worthless, until everyone was watching movies. When everyone watches TV, you can't argue it's dangerous.

In fact, said Spector, he really did think we were in a Golden Age of gaming, because "we have everything." When it started, there was a (single) culture of gaming dominated by adolescent male power fantasy. Now, we have mindless shooters, we have psychological artsy thrillers, we have massively multiplayer games, and we have games that you can play for two minutes while waiting in a line. We have a thriving indie scene, and more ways to reach more people than ever before. We have girl gamers, younger gamers, and older gamers. This diversity of audience could result in a diversity of content, but Spector said there was "no doubt in [his] mind" that we need to embrace mainstreamers who love what we love, not fear them.

Spector, who has been a nerd (and a Disney lover) all of his life, offered gamers and publishers alike a challenge. Gamers need to demand more from their experiences, he said. They need to vote with their wallets and voice their opinions - but they also had to be willing to let a man who made games about a guy with guns, sunglasses and a trenchcoat go on to make a game about a cartoon mouse. Publishers, on the other hand, need to trust their creative talent. "There's a truism in the industry that 80 percent of games never turn a profit," he said. "You could literally not do worse than just trusting your creatives."

Sometime after Junction Point had been acquired by Disney, said Spector, he'd spoken in front of a group of Pixar employees - some of the brightest and most talented movie-makers in the business - and had told them that movies were the medium of the 20th century, but games were the medium of the 21st century. Of course, he immediately couldn't believe he'd said that so bluntly, but that doesn't make it any less true. Games, after all, can celebrate unlimited creativity on the part of the player and the designer.

"[Pixar didn't] have to believe that," he said. "But we do."

We've come a long way, said Spector, as he showed the trailer for one of the first games he'd ever worked on - 1989's Ultima VI - and then segued into the never-before-seen intro to his next title, Disney Epic Mickey. Games have come a long way, and we should act like it.

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