The 18th Century hosted the Enlightenment, a movement centered on the questioning of traditional institutions, the rise of rationalism, and the adoption of modern science. A significant element of the Enlightenment was the rise of the public sphere: the areas of social life where people congregate, freely discuss societal issues, and influence political action.
This period was not a single movement, but a public awakening tied to a code of values that inspired conflicting and competing philosophies. The words “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” are regularly attributed to the philosopher Voltaire, and are famous for the characterization of the period. However, they are no less applicable to the state of the contemporary games industry or the internet for that matter.
Being the single largest public sphere in all human history, the internet provides a place for billions of people to congregate, share, and discuss. The liberty that the internet affords us is the fulfillment of the Enlightenment’s ideals. By allowing the public to communicate freely within this sphere, we are granted the freedom and anonymity to say anything we wish without fear or consequence.
That freedom may allow certain people to voice their ignorant, unpopular, or ill-informed opinions, but that is the price we must pay for the democratization of knowledge and expression. As much as we may wish to disagree with Voltaire’s philosophy and silence those that disagree with us, the liberty of the unpopular individual to speak his mind must not be infringed upon should we wish to see the same treatment. This principal is no different than the liberty of creative freedom we should allow game developers.
Until recently, the video game industry has largely been fixated on the improvement of visuals and the quest to approach graphic photorealism. Upon its unveiling in 2005, the aptly code-named Nintendo Revolution departed from the conventional forward-leaps of previous console generations by focusing on innovation and eliminating the barrier that is the standard controller. Derided for technical limitations and labeled as a fad by enthusiasts of traditional gaming, the success of the Nintendo Wii, and thereby that of motion controls, created a rift in the games industry.
In all previous console generation, the differences between the different pieces of hardware were rather minimal. What served to differentiate Microsoft, Sony or Nintendo was largely left up to software exclusivity. With competing models of hardware offering what was essentially the same service, consumers gravitated more to Sony than to Microsoft or Nintendo.
This disparity in the success of console sales drove Microsoft to embrace online gaming and the digital marketplace, and caused Nintendo to expand its audience by eliminating the barrier that is the controller. To date, both companies have been more successful in the current console generation than the complacent Sony Corporation – PlayStation 3 has taken over three years to really “hit its stride.”
As has always been the case, game enthusiasts can be extremely partisan when it comes to consoles. Recently, this has become extremely apparent as the internet has given these fanboys a megaphone to amplify their voices and further broadcast their opinions. Many of these individuals have identified themselves as hardcore gamers due to their longtime connection with videogames and interest in more serious titles targeted toward a mature and experienced audience.
Many of the more vocal and aggressive of these individuals have attacked games marketed at wider audiences, blaming those of lesser quality on the success of the Wii, motion controls, and the rise of the casual market. What these individuals seem to forget is that these types of games have always existed. Even the PlayStation 2, with its massive library of games, was ripe with dozen of titles of ranging quality intended for women, children, and audiences other than teenage fans of gory online shooters.
The difference that has made Nintendo far more successful than its competition is the ease of control that the Wii remote offers. Eliminating the controller as a barrier between potential consumers, Nintendo has brought many new gamers into the market to the point that nearly half of all console owners are Wii owners.
In a social atmosphere, it is difficult to disparage what motion control has done for video games. In my entire childhood I cannot remember a single distinct instance of playing video games with my parents. However, for being a part of a pastime, it has been largely discouraged in my upbringing; playing a few games of virtual tennis with my mother during the holidays was incredibly fun and facile. Nonetheless, for being a group attempting to gain public acceptance (I will not even touch the games as art debate), longtime gamers have been strangely hostile towards the expanded audience, and titles that are targeted toward them.
This same hostility, previously targeted almost solely at Nintendo, can now be seen focused on Sony and Microsoft after their unveiling of the PlayStation Move and Kinect for Xbox 360. Similar angst and hatred met Microsoft’s E3 2010 press conference that was once seen targeted towards Nintendo’s Wii Music fiasco at E3 2008. Now with the release of Move and Kinect on the horizon, many PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 owners are afraid their favourite developers will spend less time focusing on providing ‘hardcore’ games for them as a stream of casual titles fill their system of choice’s library.
Segregation and conflict within the market is not the answer to the industry’s problems, but neither is the motion controller. Motion technology is a means to making videogames a more interactive and mainstream medium. The solution is to provide software that takes advantage and capitalizes on a system’s hardware and unique set of controls, whilst focusing on providing a worthwhile and quality experience.
Fear and derision towards Sony and Microsoft’s new direction makes no more sense than complaining about a restaurant’s menu for having dishes that do not necessarily appeal to you as an individual. Games are evolving in many ways and are reaching to larger demographics that they never have previously. Gamers are now presented with more choice and variety than ever before.
Not all of it may appeal to every individual, as is the case with anything in life, but perhaps the future’s wide array of titles will satiate all gamers. Whether that means using your console to lose weight, play a game of tennis in your living room, swordfight, kill zombies, play a lightgun shooter, have a tiger lick your face, or just pwn noobs online, one thing will never change: I may disapprove of what you play, but I will defend to the death your right to play it.