Games As (Primitive) Art

I don’t have the disposable time or income right now to indulge my love for games, but given the PS4 and Xbox One have both been released now, I can’t help taking a second to think about them.

The first game I remember playing is Space Invaders. I played it at my “uncle” Mac’s house on a wood-veneer Atari 2600. Not long after, we had one of our own. Not long after that, we had a C64, which was the system I really cut my gamer’s teeth on. Infiltrator 2, ATF, Skyfox, and Paradroid all persist in my memory, and Alien showed up in there somewhere.

After that came a Sega Master System (still think the games were better than NES games), NES, SNES, 386, Pentium, XBox…

And here we are now, and there’s a viable market for VR headsets and 3d motion detection, and two really solid systems have come out within a few days of one another, and it’s kind of a golden age for small indie game developers.

It’s funny, then, that I find only one thing I really care about in the new gen consoles. It’s not the difference in specs, although that’s a big image problem for Microsoft. It’s not the difference in the gamepad controllers, although I think both are innovative and have a lot to offer. It’s not even the differences in marketing to gamers and developers, although Sony has pretty much owned that whole battle first to last.

It used to be that Nintendo was the go-to for innovation. They did the Gameboy, which, although it wasn’t technically the greatest device of that generation, was a portal that almost certainly expanded gaming’s audience in a way nothing else could. They did the many failed experiments of interaction that were peripherals for the NES. They did the Virtual Boy. With the Wii they hit a home run in a completely unknown direction, as if they had suddenly unrolled string theory’s higher dimensions.

They had balls, and they had brains, and they did not lack for insight. Someone at Nintendo has always understood that the core of gaming is interaction, understood it at a level that nobody else really did for a very long time. Speaking with my game dev buddies now, and looking at my own ideas for the medium, I am coming to understand that this is their legacy, and long after they Sega into the sunset, Nintendo’s interaction focus will be the bedrock of games.

And because of that, the only thing I care about in the new generation is the Kinect. With this device Microsoft somehow out-Nintendo’d Nintendo. There’s a fundamental disconnection in the interactive mode at play, or so I’m given to understand. There are problems with the voice interface. It’s still crude, the way a cave painter’s finger-brush might be crude. But the way it does things is not like the way its competitors do things, and that is a difference that I believe in to the exclusion of all other things.

Just as importantly, for the first time in a long time Microsoft has exhibited serious balls with the new console, because despite the lack of adoption in the previous generation they baked the Kinect into the heart every single XBox One that will be sold. It’s a fundamental mode of interaction. I expect at some point it will be the fundamental mode.

I won’t bore you with the things I want to build for this new generation; suffice it to say merely that there are things I want to build for it, and that nearly all of them in some way assume an interactive experience that does not depend on a controller held in the hands. To me these are the first steps past that cave painting period, and given my druthers I’d be one of the folks exploring the new directions that are appearing.

This entry was posted in essay.