GameFest: Evolution of Video Games — The Future, Panel Discussion
KEN LEVINE: It’s weird that you say that games can be isolators, because you could not find a person more isolated than me when I was in sixth or seventh grade. I had no friends, I had no connections, I was lonely, I was weird, and games were my Atari was my companion, right, and then D&D, which, at the time—Dungeons and Dragons—at the time, people probably don’t remember, that was one of those things that was corrupting our children. If you were there, you remember. It was, I mean, no joke. It was a serious—people had serious conversations. A TV movie with Tom Hanks where somebody, like, got involved, they got involved with this D&D group, and then, oh my god, what happened? And he ends up dead, and drugs—seriously.
KELLEE SANTIAGO: Yeah.
KL: And it was this—and when I found, I met—I heard two people, talking on the bus in the ninth grade about Dungeons and Dragons, and I started talking to them, and one of those guys—and then I had, for the first time, really, in my childhood, then I found my friends. I found a group of friends, and I’m still friends with this guy to this day, and it absolutely was—it did not shut my world down, it opened my world up, and I’m forever grateful. And those ideas were dangerous, and they were strange, and they were weird, and they were all I had, and so I’m forever grateful to games for that.
CM: Sure. No, and I didn’t say it was a problem that we did—we all did it, right?
KL: No, I know. That’s the perception.
CM: And, you know, that’s the problem, is the perception. My mother would always tell me, “Why are you doing this? Go outside and get some air,” and I’d, “Alright, I got some air.” Then I’d go back.
MARK DELOURA: Get the extension cord?
PAUL BARNETT: On the drawings in here
CM: We’ve done that—I’m sorry. We actually took a black-and-white television and the Big20 out into the backyard with an extension cord, and actually were out there playing some terrible, I think it was—I can’t even remember the name of it right now. “Radar Rat Race.”
MD: “Radar Rat Race”?
PB: The cab driver driving me in asked me where I was going, and I said, “I’m going to the art video games,” “Do you do anything with video games?” “Well not really, but sort of.” And he then said, “I need your advice,” so I said, “What’s that?” He said, “How can I stop my child playing computer games?” And I was like, “Well, I’m not sure I’m the right person to ask that.” And he was like, “He obsessively plays them all the time, you know.” I said, “Oh, okay, oh that’s interesting.” And he said, “It’s not good for him.” I said, “Ah, oddly enough, my mother had a very similar attitude to me when I was up in my bedroom constantly playing on my computer, and she was always going, ‘Go outside, get some exercise, get some sun. Go out and play with other people.’ And all those people who were outside, if I went outside, would beat me up and would be mean to me, and now, of course, when I go home, and I’m driving past there, they’re holding up stop signs and waving me through and cleaning up roads, right, sometimes. And so, I’m sort of from the other side, which is, ‘No, you should play more games.’” Which everyone is.
CM: You know, to the point of playing more games, we could talk about the Golden Age, I’d love to, not that you can stop me, I’m going to share this story with you, which had this juxtaposition that struck me and my wife as we were sitting, discussing this, as just the craziest, bizarre thing. When the Wii was released, and, you know, we looked at how controls and new types of gameplay, which are old types of gameplay, ping pong, tennis, these sorts of things, kind of opened up the door to acceptance, right, of games of a different generation.
My parents, my father and my stepmother, they had wanted a Wii for Christmas. They couldn’t get one. They bought one at, like, a silent auction for I think six hundred dollars, because they wanted one so desperately, and then they asked me for games for Christmas. So my parents were asking me to get them games for Christmas. Now, it gets better. One night, we had gotten—you know, our kids’ homework done, and got them all to bed, and it’s like “Oh, we’re exhausted, let’s watch a little TV,” we sit down. It must have been 10:30 at night or so. The phone rings, and it’s my stepmother, and there’s all this noise in the background, and she says, “We’re having trouble getting these two controllers connected to the Wii. What do we need to do?” And I’m going, “What the hell are you doing? It’s like Wednesday night at 10:30.” And she goes, “No, we’re trying to play.” I was like, “Alright, what game is it?” And my wife’s like, “What are you talking about,” and I’m like “I don’t know,” and I’m like, “Oh, that’s not a four-player game, it’s a two-player—”, “Okay, we’ve got to go, it’s my turn, bye,” and she hangs up the phone on me. Seriously, I’m like
KS: You’re like, “Get outside and get some air, Mom!”
CM: Alright, listen, before we open this up to some Q&A, what I really want to talk about is, you know, I’d like us—you all, I’ve spoken enough—to take yourself a little bit outside of the type of games you do, and if you could—we’ll start with Kellie—tell me some things that you would hope for the future of games. What video games could achieve in the world. Something that sits maybe apart from where you think we are today. You know, what would be kind of your biggest hopes for where you think games could go?
KS: Well, I mean, I’m kind of borrowing from what Mark said at the beginning, which is that my biggest hope is that the people who are making games, and what those people look like, completely changes. I think that’s where we’re going to see new types of stories, and new types of experiences, and yeah. I mean, I think that with the more accessible technology and distribution channels, that’s what’s really exploded in just the last five years and has impacted it so much. The stories around the types of people who are finding success, however rare or huge they may be, on the App Store, it has sort of, I think, flipped a switch for a lot of people, saying, like, “Oh, well, I could do that too,” you know, and it has at least opened them up to the possibility of thinking about making games themselves and telling their own stories, and I think that’s what I’m excited for.
CM: Great. Ken?
KL: Yeah, I mean I think that what’s interesting about games is those surprises we get, and I think they’re becoming much more democratized, like you were saying, with the App Store, and things like Kickstarter, in terms of people feeling it’s not something that a bunch of guys in suits decide, it’s a bunch of things, it’s the things that we decide, that individuals decide. And certainly, when I was coming up, and I’m sure when you guys were coming up, it was already sort of like the record industry. It was formed, and there were people who had the funding, and as the requirement for funding goes down, for external funding goes down, I think the creativity is naturally going to go up.
But I also think that there’s going to be cycles. Like, the Kickstarter thing, probably, there’s going to be some giant thing that explodes and causes a problem there, and then there’s going to be some weird hybrid model with some funding coming in, and, you know, venture capital people getting interested, creating excitement in this space. And so the future’s not really clear, but I think the fluidity of the funding model is going to be the most exciting driver for, you know, bringing new people in, and different kinds of people in, and also just for the creative process, because you don’t need to convince some marketing person that this is going to be a successful idea. I mean, you know, Minecraft’s a great example. If he had to try to convince some marketing guy of that, that probably would have been a really hard sell.
PB: That’s true. What do I think?
CM: Tell us.
PB: I think that it’s going to be easier to—I think it’s easier right now to be a computer game maker. What you should do is get a hold of anything, anything, and no matter what anyone says, make something. No matter how good it is. And put it out. No matter if anyone buys it. It doesn’t matter, because then you’re a game maker. From then on, the only thing you have to worry about is budget, scope, and ideas. Because you’ve already done it, so that’s all you have to play with at that point.
So, I think that’s really, really, really exciting, and I’m really, really impressed with—when I started, there was no way of going to school to learn how to do this. Then there were some courses that started up that were terrible. And now there are some courses that are actually astonishing. I’ve been blessed to go to lots of different universities and see them, ones where they run, like, actual little studios, and they have their own little budgets and they’re making games, they’re doing stuff—“Dig and Rig” was one I just played recently. So, there’s a whole new wave of people coming out. They’re fearless, they expect success, they have wide-ranging views, they’re not built on the same sort of grounds that I came from, and they want to make games. They don’t want to make games that are art, they want to make games that are awesome, and that’s the place I like being in. I don’t want to make art, I want to make awesome, and so I’m very, very happy about the future.
CM: Before you go, typically, more times than not, an artist doesn’t get to choose whether or not their work becomes art. So, while you want to go ahead, you can say, “I’m an artist,” I can say that every time I, you know, put a brush to canvas, what I’m creating is art that will be held—will aspire to be labelled as art. You could make—we could all make the accurate argument that if anything comes out of expression, it’s art.
CM: It’s art, when we’re talking about in the context of it being recognized by a broader segment of the population as art. It’s interesting that, while I agree that games need to be awesome first, because terrible games are terrible games, regardless of how beautiful they are, or regardless of what the message is. If you can’t connect with the player in some meaningful way, if the mechanics don’t work, if there’s frustration that removes them from what it is you’re trying to say, then it falls apart, so I agree a hundred percent that games should be awesome. But I think it’s also important to recognize that where the next great games that are viewed as art, artful, are not necessarily the ones that we can discern, they’re not ones that we really have a say in, right? One can argue that Minecraft is an extraordinarily beautiful game, much more artistic—held up more as art than so many more photorealistic games, or games that really push, you know, mass amounts of space, because within it, you have them viewed to be kind of the desire and the creativity of the player themselves, and you’re kind of self-reflecting, then. So, I just wanted to make the point that while I agree a hundred percent, games have to be awesome first and foremost, where art’s going to come from is anywhere, right, and we can’t predict that. So, trying to go ahead and make the case that you’re not trying to create art, may not be entirely in your control. They may deem what you think is just “awesome” as “art.”
PB: The more that gamers get old, and then they have money, and then they want to invest in museums, and they want to invest stuff, and they want to run for President, because they were gamers, the more they will legitimize it. That’s great, and the thing they’ll talk about will be awesome games that they now say are “art.” And I am all for that.
CM: Alright, that I accept. Awesome art.
MD: Awesome art.
MD: I forget what the original question was, but I’ll just react, because that’s what I do.
CM: The original question was, what is your hope for the future of video games? Where do you think they can actually go? What can they teach us?
MD: Yeah, well I guess I vented about that a little bit earlier, but being a technologist, I feel it’s incumbent upon me to represent my peoples. The engineers. You know, I think it’s been—it’s been fascinating to me this day, because we got to hear about, you know, the guys who brought us in television, and the gentlemen who brought us Pitfall, right down here in the front row.
CM: That’s right, Mr. David Crane, right down here.
MD: Which is fantastic. And I spent a lot of time on it. And Rand and Robin Miller over here. I still remember the opening chime to Myst, it just, it plays in my dreams, to your point about game tracks. And I think about all of the constraints that they all faced as they were making games, and I think it’s easy, especially as a technologist, as we go forward from platform to platform to platform, and we get more memory, and more CPU, and more resolution, and more channels of audio, to think, “Wow, we can do anything we want.” But then I think about, I want to come back to you again, Kellee, because I think about the way I felt when I played “Flower” for the first time. The way I felt was, “I would never have made this game,” because the constraints that I grew up inside of, this was not something that I would conceive of. The tools that I had, the horsepower I had, I was trying to replicate other things that I had seen and gone through, and so, what gives me great hope is thinking that, for me, looking back when I got my start, and the constraints that were there, that people who are looking at the platforms we have now, and thinking that they’re constrained on these platforms, what are they going to be doing in fifteen, twenty years? This is what I get excited about. I want to see when, you know, the constraints of today seem like I’m some primitive guy, you know, I’ve got handcuffs, I can’t even make a character articulate properly on screen. What are you going to do when you’ve got 10x the horsepower and five channels of video around you in three hundred and sixty degrees? I don’t know what it’s going to be like, but I hope it’s a lot more immersive, and I hope there’s a lot more educational content, because that would sure be nice.
CM: That would sure be nice.
Curator Chris Melissinos moderates two panel discussions exploring the history of video game design and predicting what is in store for the future. Evolution of Video Games: The Future with Paul Barnett, Mark DeLoura, Ken Levine, and Kellee Santiago.