On Games and Emotion (quick comments on Jenova Chen’s interview)

ai_623Jenova Chen, creator of masterful artistic games such Journey and Flower, took part in an interview with [a] The Daily Writer[1] Steve Peterson. In this interview, Chen talked topics as broad as the purpose of games, social gaming, the role of publishing, and the game market. Most of his comments were fairly standard. The most interesting comment that I found, however, was the last one. When asked about the greatest opportunities and challenges that game developers face, Chen said that developers should focus on exploiting the different emotions that one can present through the videogame medium. He stated that:

“Right now the game industry is still at a very young phase. There is a lot of space for people to go deeper on emotion. We actually went quite deep on the feeling of action and adventure. The feeling of killing someone used to be some pixel changed color, now it’s some guy’s guts are falling out. A lot of other emotions can go a lot deeper, and that will result in each genre becoming more and more sophisticated. […] What is the equivalent in a video game of a romantic film? A documentary? A drama? What is a family video game? There are family games, but they are mostly for the kids. What is the equivalent of a Pixar film in the video game industry, where adults and kids can have fun together? They don’t exist right now. They are all blue ocean, and they are huge markets.”

These comments are, I think, mostly on the mark. The videogame industry has explored to great extent the action genre and the emotions that it can portray. The recent masterpiece The Last of Us is an example of the current heights that can be achieved through the medium of videogames exploring action. The same is true of open-world games like Fallout III or Xenoblade Chronicles and the adventure genre, where exploration becomes paramount. The sense of empowerment and excitement prevalent in action titles, and the sense of wonder and curiosity present in adventure titles are part of what the industry thrive.

However, Chen is correct in asserting that we have no videogame equivalent of romance, documentaries, or dramas. Certainly, we see elements of these genres in some games, and to some extent it can even be argued that some of the more story-heavy videogames can be considered as romance or drama. However, these titles are also action-heavy, and at times the narrative-driven elements of relationship and character development take a back seat to battles, skill allocation, or grinding, as is the case with Lunar, Final Fantasy VIII, and other titles. These titles share several elements with the classic romances (not the Nora Roberts-type, but the Chereten de Troyes-type and Elizabeth Haydon-type), but because of the enormous focus on non-romance they can be considered as ‘romance-hybrids’. The same is true of videogame detective fiction such as those presented in Heavy Rain and LA Noire – these are by and large adventure / detective fiction texts with enough action elements to consider them as hybrid-genre texts. And what is detrimental to the growth of the industry and the exploration of these other genres in videogame form is that when developers do decide to explore them, they usually do so in a caricaturesque manner where, for example, “romance” becomes “hentai dating sim”. Indeed, the industry does need to explore emotions other than action.

What I don’t agree with Chen on, however, is that there aren’t any family-oriented games. Chen asks the question “What is the equivalent of a Pixar film in the video game industry, where adults and kids can have fun together?” The answer to this question is “mostly on the Wii – and perhaps on other platforms”. Both Sega and Nintendo constantly publish games that are easy enough for kids to learn to play, but complex enough to compel adults to master them. Games like Mario Kart and Sonic racing are games that, visually, are geared towards kids, but that can also be enjoyed by adults. So are the Mario titles (specially the New Super Mario titles), the Pikmin titles, and the Monkey Ball titles – these are the ones that I play the most. The recent Disney Infinity money black hole is another example of this. Are these titles enough to satisfy a huge market? No. There is definitely room for growth and more IPs. But to say that there is no videogame equivalent to a Pixar title in the sense that they cater to both young and old (or as old as game players get), is a completely unfair assessment.

[1] http://www.thealistdaily.com/news/jenova-chen-on-design-marketing-and-emotion/


About Quijano

Johansen Quijano is a professor of English in The University of Texas at Arlington, where he is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in English. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in the Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Development focusing on TESOL, and a Master’s Degree in English Literature. He has published and presented on a variety of topics including video game studies, popular culture studies, education, teaching methodology, language acquisition, romantic poetry, and victorian literature. His research interests include the above-mentioned topics, narrative, interactivity, simulation, new media in general, and 18th century literature. He also enjoys creative writing (fiction, historical fiction, and poetry), and reading all kinds of epic literary works - from the Epic Poem of Gilgamesh to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.

Posted on September 29, 2013, in Video Game Commentary and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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