Speaking on a panel at the USC School of Cinematic Arts on June 12, Stephen Spielberg & George Lucas made a few interesting comments about video games, including the popular misunderstanding, “the second you get the controller something turns off in the heart, and it becomes a sport,” said Spielberg.
Lucas followed that with saying “the game industry can and will create empathetic characters, but it hasn’t so far because it’s been driven by hard-core gamers who enjoy onscreen violence.”
Those of us who have moved beyond Call of Duty and Madden will immediately be able to provide a list of games that give you the opportunity to empathize and connect with characters. The recently released “The Last of Us” or the “Persona” series are examples of popular, well-selling games that feature deep, emotional story-that connect with gamers from a multitude of demographics.
Yes, the industry is first-person shooter heavy due to the massive amount of revenue Call of Duty and Battlefield rake in but to generalize a form of entertainment based off of what is popular sounds, hmmm familiar. In fact, I would disagree that hard-core gamers are the ones who drive the sales of first-person shooters since the vast majority of individuals who play FPS’ do so on a casual basis.
“The big game of the next five years will be a game where you empathize very strongly with the characters and it’s aimed at women and girls,” Lucas said. “They like empathetic games. That will be a huge hit and as a result that will be the ‘Titanic’ of the game industry, where suddenly you’ve done an actual love story or something and everybody will be like ‘where did that come from?’ Because you’ve got actual relationships instead of shooting people.”
The irony here is that the most successful series of all time is “The Sims.” A franchise that naturally lets you develop relationships within the virtual life you create. You enter an artificial world and spend years connecting with all of the characters that come along with in it. You’ll notice a similar type of gameplay with most mobile/online games that require time and often money in order to build towns or develop a successful business.
But lets ignore those for now to point out the assumption that the only way the industry will shift is if a specific type of game is massively popular is false. Entertainment will always be entertainment. People want to come home from a long day at work and collapse into a release, a release that video games provide. Just like violent films and movies provide an outlet for those looking to satiate a blood-thirst, story-driven, emotional releases exist for those looking for something a bit more substantial.
To also assume that empathetic games should only be geared towards females is also misguided since like men, they also want to blow stuff up. The implication that men aren’t interested in an emotional product seems odd considering the type of movies Lucas & Spielberg create.
A well-written, well-executed release will be successful no matter what demographic you target. “Beyond: Two Souls” might be an interesting test since it features Ellen Page as the lead in a game created by a developer known for deep, immersive video games. Will it be a best-seller? Possibly. Will it change the industry? Probably not.
To his credit, Lucas’ LucasArts did produce some of most creative, plot-driven releases for their specific platforms but because not one of them was massively successful I imagine that soured his outlook on the game industry. You release Grim Fandango and everyone buys Half-Life. Spielberg had E.T. for the Atari 2600. Yeah.