It is easy for me to forget that I do have heroes. Gaming is an industry run by hacks and shills, full of good ideas lacking commitment and bad ideas with far too much funding. It is a culture strangling itself with an obsessive cycle where companies are rewarded and thanked for their lack of vision. Games are art, but this art form is doomed to mediocrity unless a hero can galvanize it.
It is easy for me to forget that there are such heroes.
Let me introduce you to Clint Hocking, one of the most forward-thinking game designers I know about. When he worked for Ubisoft, he was responsible for the design of the original Splinter Cell, as well as Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, and one of my all-time favorites, Far Cry 2. His games uniformly display a reluctance to use derivative features lazily borrowed from other games, as well as a narrative maturity that challenges the player to think for himself rather than simply be led along in an adventure by invisible guiding hands. He is a game designer who believes in games.
Just as impressive as his design work is his writing, and this is where the article you are reading becomes news! Here is his most recent article, published by the internet gaming magazine Edge.
Hocking makes the argument that the culture of gaming is too similar to viking culture, and that the current pattern of the industry’s growth is unsustainable. Here are some of his words.
Young men tend to behave in a fairly predictable fashion. It’s easy to imagine what will happen if you take a group of 30 or 40 men in their teens and twenties, give them axes and beer, and make them row a longship out to sea for a few weeks in order to make a living. There will be a lot of pent-up aggression. There will be a lot of fart jokes. When they finally reach land, they will cut loose – and if there’s no strict rule of enforceable law where they come ashore, watch out. They will rape and pillage their way across the countryside, exhausting any easily consumable resources as they go, then get back into their longship and continue with their journey.
This is the model of Viking expansion that led to the Scandinavian kings controlling much of northern Europe a thousand years ago. Minus the literal rape and killing, of course, modern game development has a number of things in common with the Viking expansion. Specifically, game development studios and their teams are largely staffed in the same way that Viking longships were crewed. Consequently, the culture is overflowing with beer and pent-up aggression, and a very significant portion of our overall cultural output is fart jokes. I think we can do better.
Hocking’s ultimate argument is that the game industry needs to hire more women. Not simply because of the need to reach to the relatively untapped female market, but because no art form can flourish without the input of the entire spectrum of human experience. The industry has very much been a testosterone-fueled phenomenon thus far, and this can be seen in the increasing tastelessness of the games being released. Just look at Duke Nukem Forever for an example of what I mean.
It’s not enough for games to be fun and explosive and exciting. (Not that they usually are.) What might games be like if we broadened the scope of what they can mean to their creators?
Clint Hocking now works for LucasArts, and he is building a yet-unannounced project. Check out his blog for more fresh ideas.