Note for Academics

Comments: Creative Medium vs. Industry

Sorry, no new material this week as I’ve been too busy. I’m working on something big, though, so please be patient. In the meantime, let me draw attention to a discussion in the comments instead. Responding to last month’s post on Journey, Jose Zagal remarked:

"Something is seriously wrong with any creative medium that manages to so radically block its own potential."

For some reason I had a double take when I got to this part. It looks like you're equating creative medium with the industry, and in particular with a certain portion of the industry. While I'm grateful that Sony has supported ThatGameCompany, I think it's a bit unfair to argue that "the medium" is the one that's blocking any potential. I think at this point in time, we have more to blame ourselves (the consumers) than anything else (e.g. the recent "we don't like the ending of Mass Effect 3" campaign). The platform holders have lost a lot of that power, the market has grown and changed (allowing for much more diversity), we now have more reasoned/critical/informed discourse about games than ever before.

To which I replied:

Jose: I appreciate your counter-argument here, but I'm not at all convinced that the industry can be absolved of any responsibility in this matter. Other creative industries - including books, films, television, music - all support lively niche markets for artistically-motivated works. In books and films, best-selling content is produced without having to step outside of the commercial sector.

In games, however, the industrial sector has been mono-maniacally obsessed with farming teenage boys to the extent that the large media corporations with a stake in games were so far removed from a fair understanding of the audience that they allowed the mass market sector (currently serviced by social gaming companies, Nintendo and Apple) to lie fallow for decades. This was pure commercial incompetence, and I would argue that the failure to invest in arthouse games is exactly the same kind of manifest incompetence.

We could have a lively, artistically-motivated game development scene at a commercially relevant scale if each of the big publishers invested 1% of their marketing budgets into creating such a space. But they have no interest in doing so, and it can't simply be claimed to be the audience's responsibility that the publisher's are too cowardly to invest in the potential of the medium. That many such investments would fail to turn a profit is no excuse since this is true of all videogame projects - including the mountains of dross that are pursued in the often mistaken belief that the publisher is funding a commercially valid project. And that's not to mention some perfectly reasonable game projects that fail simply because they were allowed to acquire excessive budgets (LA Noire springs to mind).

So yes, I do believe it's the industry's fault that the creative potential of games is under-developed. The responsibility doesn't end there, but I certainly believe that's where it starts.

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