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Intellectual Content in Games

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This project has been making me think alot lately about the possibilities that could open up with independently-funded games, where the pressures of marketing and demographics and other corporate shenanigans might be greatly reduced. To me, it seems this may be a unique opportunity for some of the best talent in video games to bring something new to the table.

Much of the talk about this game has been centered around a return to the old school, and it seems like many backers and fans want the creators to simply re-make Monkey Island. I completely understand this way of thinking, as I still feel the old LucasArts adventures were some of the finest ever made. However, I think that the creators should be free to take this opportunity to work in that old school style, but perhaps explore new things that have never been dealt with in games before. I would love to see this art form mature even further, and incorporate more intellectual content that could be expressed in the ways this medium provides. I wonder, what does everyone think about this?

I've always thought it unfortunate that adventure games became unpopular, because they are unique in the way the player becomes completely immersed in the story and world of the game. They're a personal experience - one that causes the player to internalize so much. The puzzles and humor and need to think your way through the story could make them capable of tackling some complex subjects, or perhaps explore philosophical or psychological ideas in the mind of the player. I'm certainly not suggesting that the game play like a college lecture, but I do think you can achieve a balance, where the game is fun and also enlightening. For some examples of things that got me thinking in this direction, check out some of the "RSA Animate" videos on YouTube. There was one I saw recently about what drives innovation that I loved, and in particular made me think about this project (and included a few Back to the Future jokes, so added bonus).

I know this has been attempted in other games before, but the clearest precedent I can think of is Psychonauts. That game was very fun and hilarious, but also had some incredibly dark, heavy ideas that it presented to you about the inner workings of the characters' minds. This (to me) is why that game was so great. I think if the designers and developers are allowed to get as dark and heavy and deep and complex as they want, within the framework of an old school adventure with amazing, evocative 2D artwork (the surrealism of Dr. Fred's mansion in DOTT and the wonderful feeling of exploring Woodtick at night), we might end up with a product that will truly advance the art form.

Of course these are just my opinions, and I thought I'd lay them out here, where I assume is the appropriate place. I would never presume to give direction to Tim Schafer, Ron Gilbert, or any of the talent working on this project. I gave my money so that they could be free to make the game they want with less pressure than they might usually find themselves under, and I hope that they don't feel required to appease anyone - even the backers and fans - if it means not making the game they want to make. I just think that intellectual content, and how to balance that with humor and good storytelling, particularly in games like this, are interesting to consider and discuss.

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I absolutely agree. Games as an art form need to progress and evolve into much more than they are in my opinion. Most people still view video games as children's toys and not a legitimate art form. I think adding such intellectual themes that truly push the envelope would help the video game industry. The biggest problem is how will it sell, and does someone want to spend time and money on making a game with such heavy themes despite not getting the amazing returns that a COD copy/paste would. Just me thinking out loud.

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Adventure games with truly intellectual/philosophical/psychological themes seem to be relatively rare.

Not very suitable for this adventure project, I think, given the backers' expectations.

By the way, your post reminded me of this thread: "Dedication, anger, grief, spirituality, parenting, love... this list could go on and on. [...] To make something that should of course have a huge portion of that patented humor of the old adventures, but tries to add far more dimensions [...]" (and a little of this thread). In Fargo's video about Wasteland 2 he says "It also had moral dilemmas, ones where you were making choices, tough moral choices that had consequences that rippled through the entire gameplay." That also seems somewhat related; see the "Multiple Solutions/Paths/Choices" section in this thread.

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I don't think that you necessarily have to get dark and heavy and deep and complex in order to create something worthwhile and artistic, and I don't think that Psychonauts really had any of them at all. But why should that matter? I think that games should try to define successful art on their own terms in the way that film and literature have before. Kickstarter type pay models might be able to help, but then again, they might not. I know that gamers really crave legitimacy but I think we need to keep having patience and rewarding good products, rather than trying to dictate the details of what should be done to impress the skeptics.

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Most developers make the mistake of creating "intellectual" games by adding a good/evil bar of some sort or having plenty of characters or in-game books saying the same moral over and over and over. Lame.

The most intellectual game I've played so far was Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors. The game is full of interesting trivia, smart puzzles and controversial themes. Just that story of the White Santa and the Black Santa really makes you think about reward and punishiment for a long time...

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I would really like to see such a game that does not make the mistake of simplifying things too much. And that applies to much more than just old-school adventure games. Spore for example was a step in the right direction but simplified things to the point where it doesn't have too much to do with reality.

The problem is that some people are afraid of games not being solvable by little children or a certain percentage of the population (see this thread)

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While your idea certainly has some merit, quite frankly I would personally rather have this game just be plain fun to play with a goodly number of thinking-required puzzle challenges along the way. If I wanted to play a dark and deep philosophical game that advances the art form, I'd go play Planescape: Torment.

But if DFA winds up being what you'd hoped for, I'm sure I'll still enjoy it quite a bit regardless.

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I like intellectual content in games, controversial themese... but for this game it's not likely the way to go. For me a wonderful story like Grim Fandango or fun like DOTT would be perfect and probably meet a lot more backers expectations here. And yes, it shouldn't be simplifying too much. That's a weakness of many games these days.

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I don't think this is a problem of games lacking "intellectual content" as much as it is a problem with games not treating players like they are mature, intelligent adults.

I think I agree with Extra Credits when they said that when you're younger, the kinds of stories that you see used over and over again in stuff like JRPGs appeals to you. Themes like:

--I'm finally getting out and going to see the world.

--I'm learning my true identity

--I'm learning the value of cooperation and having a good friend network

--I'm learning that everyone is an individual, which means everyone has different strenghts! And weaknesses...

But once you start passing into adulthood, all of this stuff becomes extremely trite and uninteresting. You get nothing from it, because that game isn't talking at your maturity level anymore. But what does it mean to make a game that is more mature? Unfortunately, that word "mature" has certain resonances these days that result in it meaning adding more blood, more death, more sex. There's the GTA brand of adult narrative, which can basically be summarized as "it's a hard knock life, yo". But none of that makes for a very good solution. That just gives us an option between choosing games that were made for kids/adolescents and games that were made for barbarians. (Not that I don't enjoy being Conan now and again.)

Just like JRPGs long ago mastered building RPGs that give adolescents what adolescents want, if devs (and/or the publishers that make them dance) want to appeal to adults, they need to make games that appeal to adults and what adults want. What are adults interested in? Adults aren't interested in playing G.I. Joe with plastic guns in the backyard. (Well, okay. Guilty. Sometimes we are.) But when look at all adults, not just nerds, they are usually playing stuff like poker. They like to play with things like deceit, manipulation, power dynamics, alliances and betrayals, and all the complexities of human interaction, and all the feelings that result from how they pan out. How are video games doing in this department? Getting better all the time, but still lots of room to improve.

In closing, I didn't support DFA expecting some kind of thought-provoking story or themes, though. I just expected fun, and DF always delivers. They can do whatever they want, as long as it's made with the same DF love as all their other games.

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I don't think a game has to be overtly intellectual or dark to be intelligent. A game can have great depth and layered meaning without turning into an interactive novel or taking the focus off fun. You could make a kart-racing teletubbies game and still load it with conceptual richness if you actually tried to.

I completely agree that these kinds of projects (community funded etc) have a great opportunity to be free of many of the stifling fears that would usually be expressed by a publisher. I absolutely want, in fact I CRAVE, intelligence in games. I'm sick of the "lowest common denominator" targeted stuff. I want depth, philosophically provocative ideas, psychological intrigue.. etc.. but, coming back to my first point, this can all manifest in the design of the world, the personalities of the characters, the setting, the details, the non progress-critical dialog. A game can have depth up the wazoo and yet still be entirely comprehensible and fun to a child. The puzzles don't need to be insanely complicated, the dialog doesn't need to be a physics textbook. It can be layered so that the depth reveals itself to you the more you ponder and explore. Perhaps a juicy concept could come to the foreground of the plot here and there, but they are often as powerful, if not more, when they are only implied. Darker themes can work in this same way, being a part of the world at large or in sub-plots without dominating the game or even requiring the player's attention. I think an intelligent game can have intellectual content without laboring it or alienating anyone.

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I absolutely agree. Games as an art form need to progress and evolve into much more than they are in my opinion. Most people still view video games as children's toys and not a legitimate art form. I think adding such intellectual themes that truly push the envelope would help the video game industry. The biggest problem is how will it sell, and does someone want to spend time and money on making a game with such heavy themes despite not getting the amazing returns that a COD copy/paste would. Just me thinking out loud.

Here's a quote from games designer and *games design teacher* from another forum:

"It is definitely a strong thought in the mind of designers in general to make games less hardcore and more accessible, but this is driven by the fact that AAA games cost so much to make and are so high risk that you need to maximize your sales/audience to ensure the game turns a decent profit and reviews well.

Otherwise you'll probably be looking for a new job fairly soon, as your studio will shut down."

I'll post more tomorrow (after sleep!) but you get the idea: there's nothing in there about creativity, artistic vision, or furthering games as art. He honestly think that's how designers should think: in business buzzwords. I like the guy, but it's kinda sad, you know?

The last line's the killer, but. Yeah. Remember, Interplay, Westwood, Ion Storm Austin, Looking Glass...they all because they made *terrible* games...(sarcasm)

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