Wednesday, 11 July 2012

David Cage - "this industry will die if it doesn't try more to be innovative"

He certainly said stuff.

David Cage is probably best known as one of the people behind the game Heavy Rain which took a much more narrative approach to gaming then most games do these days. Right now hie and Quantic Dreams are currently working on Beyond: Two Souls which seems to promise to be a similar, if not hopefully improved, experience. Cage also recently went on the record about some of the trends he sees in the industry, and he doesn't quite like everything he sees; is he right though?

Basically, the meat of what I found interesting can be found in Cage's response to two questions in particular:

Q: There aren't that many games that try to tackle that kind of subject matter. Do you think that for this industry to mature, that more game designers need to look at these serious subjects - choice and consequence, death and the afterlife? These are all very human things that, as you said, deal with emotions and what it means to be human. 

David Cage: You know, in most video games story's not very important. It's just a way to tie levels together, but no one cares really about what you have to tell. Also, in many teams, most creative decisions are done by teams, so you have twenty people in a room and they raise their hand if they agree or disagree. This is how creative decisions are made. Actually, this is not the way things are done at Quantum Dream. I work pretty much like an author in many ways. I write very personal things, totally subjective. I think it gives a special tone to the games we make. 

I'm not sure I completely agree with Cage's initial assessment of story within games. I can somewhat agree that for games like Halo or Devil May Cry or numerous other examples that the story does serve as a means to an end, as a way to give cohesion to the otherwise segmented levels. However, I would say that even for these series there are people that care about the narrative and engage rather actively in the worldbuilding that is offered to them: how else do you explain the popularity of things like the Halo novels, which expanded the universe of the games? If people were just in it to get from point a to point b, then they really wouldn't argue over things that happen both inside and outside the narrative scope of the game. While it's true that story might not be at the forefront, it's not something that has been completely ignored or sits languishing unused and unloved. That isn't the only response that I'm keen on though, not by a long shot.

Q: So you don't think that the industry is missing out on something in terms of the subject matter out there?

David Cage: It's not up to me to tell the industry what they should or should not do. There are very clever people out there and they know what they want to do. I can only talk for my studio. I wouldn't be interested in making just software to sell to people at Christmas. I'm not that kind of person and I'm not interested in that. I respect people doing this, but it's not how I see my work. I'm interested in using this medium to express something and to trigger deeper emotions. I think you can do it if you make movies, if you make TV series... all expression forms are great for that. But games, we just shoot and jump. What about trying something else and using it? 

It's a fantastic medium. It's crazy what you can do with this thing, because the relationship you have with experience is so different from what you have with anything else. You watch a movie, you're just passive. You watch a story, and it's a story that's told to you. But when you're in a game, you can tell the story. You can decide what you want to happen. And you can make up pretty much your own story based on your choices and your moral decisions. That's fascinating. 

I wish more people were trying this, but it's not so much about telling the industry you should do games like Heavy Rain or Beyond; the last game I really enjoyed is Journey, for example. Journey was amazing. It has nothing to do with what I'm doing. But it's not so much about storytelling. It's about emotion. It's about trying something different. I mean this industry will die if it doesn't try more to be innovative and to come up with new ideas and to talk a bit more - not necessarily serious, but deeper things at some point. It's great that you can shoot at monsters, and that's great and it will always be there and it will always be successful, but at the same time, what about giving the choice to people? Give them different options. So if they like that they find it, but if they want something deeper and interactive, they can find that too. 

I'm more inclined to agree with Cage on these points, but not entirely. I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with aiming to make a popular, well selling title; it's when it becomes the point to push a game like an expendable commodity with the mentality of "well, you have to get this year's edition" more than "what can we do to improve or give a different experience" that hurts gaming more then anything these days.

Cage is pretty much on the mark about the whole interactive medium thing, but then again that's hardly a shocker to anyone that's been playing or even just vaguely around games for the last ten to twenty years. I think that to innovate and provide something that gives more resonance is a noble and lofty goal, but I don't honestly think that it's the glut of shooters and generic game X: the genericing that's killing the industry or even threatening it; it certainly isn't helping, but there are deeper issues I believe.

That, however, is for another time.

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