Closing Minds, Closing Thoughts
So where does this leave us? It seems that one likely effect of this shift in entertainment is that designers who grew up in the videogame generation will see less of a need for open-ended, flexible games than those who grew up playing in other ways. (The audience, too, will have those altered expectations.) The evidence is somewhat equivocal here. In at least three major genres (adventure, roleplaying and FPS) the direction has been steadily toward less freedom and a more directed experience. But in many ways that change seems to have come more from the pressure to be "movie-like," not from pressures internal to game design. And there have been exceptional, often blockbuster, titles that have offered considerable autonomy. The Sims, Black & White, Grand Theft Auto and Oblivion come to mind.
But these games are the exception and not the rule. And it seems fair to assume, for example, that designers and players whose formative experience with roleplaying games is Baldur's Gate (or worse, Final Fantasy), not a tabletop adventure, will see the genre in a totally different light than did the designers who made those games in the first place. The designers of early computer roleplaying games drew from memories of collaborative storytelling with friends. They failed to mirror that experience in computer games, and as a result players and designers relying on those games for inspiration have come to think of RPGs as fantasy cartoons wrapped around random numbers.
You can find a similar progression in adventure games, in which exploring and creatively solving puzzles transformed into walking in circles and looking for hotspots. Focused on the mechanisms rather than the inspiration, designers lost sight of the whole point of the genre. As a result, the evolution of adventure games as adventures or as games simply came to an end.
But the self-inspiring nature of games is not entirely a negative. To be sure, creativity may be suppressed as outside influences diminish and genres become rigid. But cinema did not come into its own until people stopped thinking of it in terms of other media (as recorded plays or moving pictures), and the same may well be true of games. Developing a distinctive idiom and honing core techniques can lead to mature design.
So many factors affect the development of game design that it may be difficult to pin down the significance of this cultural shift. Nevertheless, it seems imperative that designers continue to look outward to bring new ideas and greater breadth to the games they make, as there is still more to be found in the hills than there is an 8-bit cartridge.
Marty O'Hale has written stories for a number of computer and videogames, primarily roleplaying and strategy games. He has also published a number of works of fiction. Currently, Marty's career is in the law.