Thought for the day: videogames are proper popular culture now

Jan 21, 2009

The original Doom didn’t have much in the way of story. Players took control of a space marine on one of the moons of Mars, where scientists have accidentally opened up a portal to Hell. The bulk of the game consisted of running around shooting all the demons that came through that portal. That was more than 15 years ago, and it seems series developer id Software is looking to grow the series at least a little beyond those simple roots. In an update to his personal Web site, British author Graham Joyce announced that he is now working on id’s upcoming Doom 4.

I’m officially old now, I think.

On a slightly more serious note, this reflects not only my own (dubious) maturity, but certainly reflects the maturity of the video game industry. It’s famously the only entertainment industry not suffering right now and I think this has a lot to do with the fact that there are now lots of people like me who may well buy Doom 4 simply because the Doom franchise holds such huge nostalgia value. Just like the CD really only made so much money for record companies because non-teenagers converted their old analogue record collections to the new format, the videogame industry may be poised to exploit the burgeoning population of people who grew up with videogames and who now have the disposable income to buy a game without thinking too hard about it. <!–break–> But this group now has different tastes. Quality interaction matters more than sheer volume of content (we don’t have that much time to play through it) or insane difficulty levels. There have always been games with good storylines (the Monkey Island series springs to mind), but this matters now more than ever. When I think of my recent favourites, story-driven RPGs like Oblivion feature heavily. These games are more about providing a consistently interesting experience rather than a treadmill of enemies to kill, goals to score or record times to set.

It’s worth pointing out that there’s a whole other class of games which are definitely not story-driven, but instead focus on immersive interaction. ‘Social’ games are like that - they use the social element to hold the player’s interest in activities which would be boring if carried out alone. The existence of these games does still fit with my overall theory, I think.

I think that the increasing acceptance of videogames as an art form that it’s OK to take seriously is something that is going to make games a lot more fun and a lot more interesting.