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Another contributor to the fecklessness of our current computer games is the timidity of the marketplace. These machines are new; the public is unfamiliar with them and the manufacturers are hesitant to press the public too hard too fast. We therefore opt to build inhibited little games pathetically whispering some trivial emotion. Truly intense emotions or situations such as pathos, ecstasy, majesty, rapture, catharsis, or tragedy intimidate use. We hide behind the defense that we are in the entertainment business, not the art business, but that defense only betrays a profound misunderstanding of art. Art can be starchily elitist, but good art can also be a foot stomping blast. Elitism arises from the intellectual content of art; impact springs from its emotional honesty. Fortunately, times are changing. Already, we see a backlash developing against computer games. It expresses itself in many ways: in ordinances against the placement of arcade games in some areas, in statements by educators denouncing the games, and in more vigilant regulation of children s game activities by parents. This backlash is viewed by smaller minded members of the industry with anxiety. More visionary thinkers watch the backlash with eager interest rather than defensiveness. The American people are telling us something here, something very important. It is imporant enough to them that they are willing to compromise their traditional reluctance to interfere with other people s business. While the arguments presented in public debates normally focus on formal issues such as delinquency from school, creation of large groups of rowdy teenagers, and so forth, the concerns expressed privately reflect a distaste for the games, a vague suspicion that the games are a waste of time. You can t fool all of the people all of the time; they are beginning to realize that the world of computer games is as yet a vast wasteland. Computer games are much like candy, comic books, and cartoons. All four activities provide intense or exaggerated experiences. Whether they use sugar, exclamation points, or animated explosions, the goal is the same: to provide extreme experiences. Children appreciate these activities because their novelty value is still strong. Adults, jaded by years of experience with such things, prefer diversions with greater subtlety and depth. We thus have the panoply of culinary achievement, the vast array of literature, and the universe of movies as the adult counterparts to candy, comic books, and cartoons. Yet, we have no adult counterpart to computer games. This deficit is pregnant with possibilities, for it suggests a momentous upheaval in computer game design. This developing revolution has nothing to do with the rapid technological developments of the last few years. While technological improvements will surely continue, we are no longer hampered primarily by the limitations of the hardware. Our primary problem is that we have little theory on which to base our efforts. We don t really know what a game is, or why people play games, or what makes a game great. Real art through computer games is achievable, but it will never be achieved so long as we have no path to understanding. We need to establish our principles of aesthetics, a framework for criticism, and a model for development. New and better hardware will improve our games, but it will not guarantee our artistic success any more than the development of orchestras guaranteed the appearance of Beethoven. We are a long way from a computer game
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comparable to a Shakespeare play, a Tchaikowsky symphony, or a Van Gogh self portrait. Each of these artists stood on the shoulders of earlier artists who plunged into an unexplored world and mapped out its territories so that later artists could build on their work and achieve greater things. We computer game designers must put our shoulders together so that our successors may stand on top of them. This book is my contribution to that enterprise.
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