Lack of Imagination

Mike Cook, the researcher behind the Angelina game-generating AI system, recently spoke at VideoBrains about gamers’ lack of imagination. Gamers, he argues, do not demand enough.

Cook is deliberately being provacative here, but he has a point.  We think of gamers as demanding and entitled, offering death threats when they can’t have their way, but what are they actually demanding? If the current games market and culture wars are to be believed, more of the same; they’re violently demanding the status quo. Cook points out that Polygon’s most innovative games of 2014, for example, include an FPS MMO, a slightly more realistic Tom Clancy game, and a game in which a single player competes against teams.

UC Santa Cruz alone has a staggering portfolio of research that could change the way we see games forever. Other institutions have equally impressive research portfolios. But these advances are not what gamers are clamoring for.

The indie scene is an interesting case which seems to be comprised largely of people who find the AAA scene to be inadequate for various reasons. And while it would be disingenuous to lump all indie games together, each indie micro-scene that I orbit also seems to suffer from the same small, iterative understandings of what’s possible that AAA does, just in different directions. In Cook’s words, we’re asking creators (AAA’s, indie rockstars, or our own flavor of idolized makers) what’s possible and taking their answer happily at face-value, with everyone patting each other on the back afterwards. There are exceptions, of course, in which incredibly talented people shatter expectations with ground-breaking new ideas, but like Cook, I would personally encourage us all to step away from the idols, ask what we want most, and make it—no celebrity necessary.