The birth of video games was the result of digitizing real life games into the electronic world. PONG is the game of tennis in its most essential forms. Sports, board games, pen and paper, toys, and carnival games are the ‘sperm donors’, combined with electronic technology, that created the original video games. (Carnival games are games like shooting targets with a gun which is what Space Invaders is). (Toys can be games. Minecraft’s massive success has more to do that it has more in common with legos than with movies. The platformer is toy-like. Super Mario Brother 3′s world was one of puppets, curtains, and stage props.)
This was what video games were for around the first three generations. This is also when the popularity of video games began to cease growing (not accounting markets that were not accessible [e.g. Germany still had the Berlin Wall] population growth, and general economic trends). It was around the 16-bit generation when game businesses were more interested in competition over the market as opposed to growing the market. This altered how games were made.
When I see Space Invaders, I see an electronic-ized Carnival game. Over the years, innovations turned the Space Invaders gameplay into what we call the shmup. It seemed as if everyone forgot these non-electronic games that were responsible for the electronic game existing in the first place. At this time period going forward, the head was eating its own tail. “How do we make a BETTER shmup?” Perhaps make it harder? More colors? Faster? More ships?
What was once called the original video games became known as ‘genres’. Someone might say, “That game is like Donkey Kong” until more innovations where it became “That game is like Super Mario Brothers”. Then instead of “being like Super Mario Brothers” it became “a 2d platformer”. During the NES Era, such games were called ‘like Super Mario Brothers’ as everyone knew what the Mario game was. But in the 16-bit Era, these games became a ’2d platformer’ as if the ’2d platformer’ was a constant in the universe.
The original video games had two parents: the mother being electronic technology and the father being the real-life game. The father’s gameplay DNA was combined with the electronic technology of the time to create what we call the video game. The entire name of ‘video game’ hints at this union with video representing the television-like display and the game representing what was always known to be a game (something with rules where you can win or lose).
Since most games being made at the time were just to be ‘improved’ versions of the ‘genre’, we got ‘better’ shmups, ‘better’ platformers, ‘better’ RPGs, but very few new games. We were playing the oldest games in the newest technology.
The father of video games was forgotten. Video games was seen to revolve around the mother and to be birthed and evolved only by the mother. This mother, electronic technology, somehow became standard by which all games are measured. This could only occur by forgetting the father, the non-electronic games, which were what gave shape to the gameplay system we today call ‘genres’.
As we go forward through the generations of gaming, gaming didn’t exactly grow in popularity and, in many ways, was increasing in stigma. Sony’s PlayStation treated video games only from the context of electronica, the electronic technology as the be all and end all. Focusing on bringing PC gaming to consoles brought the wrath of Microsoft, and they go after video games from the context of electronica. Nintendo, with no association or desire to be in PC gaming, still committed electronica by focusing on 3d. Electronica is ‘our new game system has better electronics in it!’ or ‘can do new electronic tricks like 3d!’. And yet, it feels like nothing new was introduced because nothing was. We’re still playing the oldest games in the newest ways.
It was only when Nintendo decided to change their business strategy from Red Ocean to Blue Ocean that the game development thinking also changed (and created interesting results from the market). In the pursuit to make new gamers, Nintendo abandoned the Electronica-is-the-only-progress approach. Games like Brain Age relied largely on the real life ‘brain games’ that were once made. Wii Fit relies around actual fitness things. Wii Sports isn’t an evolution of previous video game sports games but a translation of sports into the electronic realm… which is how the very first sports video games were made. When Nintendo focused on 3d again (3DS), they returned back to thinking electronica is the only definition of video games.
Nintendo doesn’t understand what made Nintendo different. They think it is the integration of hardware and software (which is electronica). It is actually the integration of the electronic medium and real world games (Wii Sports, Wii Fit, Brain Age, Donkey Kong, Zelda). Nintendo was a toy company before it was a video game company. And Sega was a carnival game company before it was a video game company. Gunpei Yokoi made… toys before he made a video game. This is why Nintendo succeeded in the arcade space while others (who relied entirely on electronica) could not).
You may be thinking, “Why does the title of this post not match the content? Shouldn’t the title be ‘The Missing Father of Video Games’ or something?” This post is coming about because it is my conclusion as to the question how video games became movies.
What is the difference between watching a movie and playing a game? When you watch a movie, stuff just happens. In order to play a game, it is about improving your skill.
When video game businesses began to see electronica as its only parent, they began to think video games as being closer cousins to electronic media as opposed to non-electronic-ized games. For example, RPG game companies began to think they were more like the Lord of the Rings movies than pen and paper RPG games. One RPG game company thought its work in electronica meant it could do anything in electronica such as movies (and almost destroyed that RPG game company).
Video games have become Movies-In-An-Electronic-Medium because video games only define themselves as electronica and no longer defines itself by the non-electronic games. Movie-form games are so popular with video game businesses since it allows them to demonstrate their electronic ‘prowess’. Also, everyone gets to see the content. There are so many old school games where I’ve never beaten the later stages. What are the final stages of R-Type 3? I don’t know. Never got there.
People say, “The rising cost of video game development has forced all content to be accessible and to let everyone win.” But why is the cost of video game development rising so fast? Is it not because everyone is competing based on the plane of electronica? No one even bothers to make a ‘better game’ today. All competition now is based on a ‘better electronic experience’.
I am sure there is an Alternate Universe where this problem has been flipped around: where video games are defined entirely by the games and the electronica part of it is forgotten. Such a world would be full of brand new innovate games all stuck in the 8-bit generation in 2012. Our universe has brand new electronica technology applied to 80s era type games in the year 2012.
Video game players have also vastly changed. In the past, gaming was seen to improve one’s skills. Players would brag that they ‘beat’ a game. Today, gaming ‘just happens’ in like how a movie ‘just happens’. Gamers don’t brag that they ‘beat’ a game, they discuss their different experiences with the game not unlike how movie goers discuss their different experiences with a movie. Was it Warren Spector who said how worried he was about gaming when E3 2012 focused more on the apps attached to game consoles than the games? The reason why is because video games are no longer tethered to ‘games’ and haven’t been in a long while. Video games are seen to revolve around ‘electronica’. Gamers find Netflix more entertaining on their game console than the “games” because if you want a movie where ‘stuff happens’, you go for the real thing and not the ‘lite’ version.
What differentiates video games from other electronic media is the games. Since video game companies are obsessed over electronica, it is no surprise that 3DS is being gored by Smartphones and iPads NOT because those objects play games but because they offer a richer electronic experience. 3DS relied entirely on ‘omg 3d’ which has nothing to do with gaming.
The problem with the 3DS is occurring on home game consoles as well. As electronic media is now free from dedicated computer products (home computers, game consoles, etc.) and can now be in television sets and all, there is less and less reason to buy a video game console. If you define the video game experience as the ‘best electronic experience’, you are being steamrolled by this tidal wave of electronic media.
The DS and Wii, in its growth periods, didn’t have this problem because it, unconscious or not, focused on the gaming and not on the electronica (and in cases like 2d Mario, it focused on classic games that had focused on the gaming and not on the electronica).
-First, video games were severed from gaming and centered on the electronica (the electronic experience).
-Then, this change eliminated the differentiating factor between video games and other electronic media.
-As generalized electronic media becomes more widespread, video games cannot compete against it.
Now I know there is a reader out there thinking, “This is crazy.” The proof is in the gamer behavior. Ask a gamer decades ago how far they are in a game, you will hear: “I am stuck on stage 5.” Ask a gamer today how far they are in a game, you will hear: “I am twenty hours in.” This difference illustrates that the early gamer saw gaming as a skill to be improved while ‘gamers’ today think games ‘just happen’ not unlike a movie.
“But in games-as-movies, everyone wins!”
Malstrom looks at the declining video game sales.
No. With games-as-movies, everyone loses.