Thursday, August 30, 2007

Lessons from other media: addressing different levels of literacy

For this round table, I´ll adopt Bateman´s suggested terminology and discuss casual and hardcore in terms of levels of literacy. This terminology, I believe, makes easier to approach videogames as part of a large group of different media - and that´s is pretty much what I´ll try to do here. I´ll not, however, directly compare films to games, music to games, etc. The intention is to discuss how other media manage to please and attract heterogen audiences comprising varied levels of literacy.

I am not suggesting that a designer should necessarily aim at a varied public - there are niche products and genres, and that´s fine. But you will notice that most examples have been quite successfull in both short and long terms. Here they are:

TV: The Simpsons

The longest running animation in history is capable to please children and adults of all age. It is no secret that part of its success is due to its allusions and references to works and characters that should be familiar only to a parcel of the audience. Still, it also has a very strong, straightforward, comic verve, that does not depends on sophisticated levels of literacy and can please anybody.

Literature: George Orwell´s Animal Farm

Again, a very clear piece of work that can be read and enjoyed by children, but that also is very interesting to adults for its political message, which is about Orwell´s strong critical view on the communist regime.
(It seems there´s a film adaptation)

Music: The Beatles

Or even just Sargeant Pepper´s Lonely Hearts Club Band, for that matter. The Beatles successfull fusion between catchy pop tunes, avant-gard art and classical music (this one, thanks a lot in part to producer George Martin) took rock music to a new degree, earning even more respect and credibility for their work. In a single album, sometimes in a single song, they could add elements that would please the ears of people with different musical background and taste.

Web: Google
Its front page is still a single form line with two buttons. However, in the hands of experienced users it can trasform into a all-in-one online center.

In the end, it seems that it all comes to what the reader/player/listener chooses to pay attention to. It´s about giving not only variety, but depth. Taking care of 'casual' and 'core', to bring back these terms.

Ok, so what games would you say that have this kind of quality? Well, I would start a list with Sensible World of Soccer. Very simple to play (one button!), and several levels of micro-management that could be safely ignored, if so the player wished to. What games would you add to the list?


Chris said...

Tetris is an obvious choice. Its 1.5 dimensional control scheme is so simple that some people don't think of it as a game in order to maintain their claim that they don't play games. :)

It sold 33 million on the Gameboy. It's probably been played more than any other videogame in history

Corvus said...

At last night's IGDA meeting someone broke out the ol' "Where is our Citizen Kane" chestnut and I responded, "Hell, Tetris is our Citizen Kane."

People laughed, but didn't know whether to take me seriously or not.

I'm still debating on what title to suggest in response to your post, Chico...

Chico Queiroz said...

Chris: I´m not sure if Tetris would serve our needs. To me, it feels much more like practicing and developing a (very simple, in principle) set of skills than being 'game-literate'. Don´t get the wrong idea - I love Tetris. But I don´t see any hidden depths that could be explored by experienced players. If Tetris appeals to casual and hardcore, I would say that´s because it has a great game flow, that makes it challenging and continuously interesting to anyone. Hum... so maybe you´re right, after all. But in a different way than proposed in my post.

Tetris is a fantastic case, isn´t it?

Corvus: I´m not sure Tetris would be our Citizen Kane. Tetris is the perfect hand-eye coordination game, refining to perfection a concept that existed since Pong. I believe Citizen Kane was more about pushing limits and creating a language that was more than a filmed stage play.

"Civilization" maybe? or "Elite", for some?

Thank you both for the comments!

Corvus said...

I'm not sure whether to take myself seriously or not, either.

But I think it's a mistake not to examine every extremely influential game to see if it qualifies or not. If nothing else, the discussion it generates is worth it.

Chris said...

Definitely not Civilisation - not only a niche appeal, but an adaptation of a boardgame... surely not our poster child. ;)

Now Elite, *sigh*, there lie happy memories. But too old, perhaps, to stand it good stead.

Chico Queiroz said...

Corvus: Sure, this is a valid (and fun) exercise, even if not 100% accurate.

Chris: Good point on Civ.

Hum... What about The Sims, then?

Troy Goodfellow said...

Actually, Civ wasn't adapted from the boardgame at all. Work was well underway on the computer game before Meier was even aware there was such a game (which is very different from the Civ we know.) Microprose bought the rights to the name to avoid legal issues, but not the right to adapt the board game, something Avalon Hill did in 1995.

Now for the post. Very few games I think expect any literacy beyond what is presented on the surface. I think one reason Bioshock is such a critical hit is because it does touch on things that other shooters haven't (Randian philosophy, period art, period music.)

As for whether gaming has a Citizen Kane, we have ask what that even means. If you mean a game that changed how the craft was done, for good and for ill, I'd probably go with Doom. If you mean a game that has become a cultural touchstone beyond the movie itself, I'd say World of Warcraft.

Chico Queiroz said...

Hello Troy! Thanks for clarifying the story behind Civ.

Incidentally, I haven´t played Bioshock yet, so I still don´t know why people are loving it so much. From the trailers I´ve seen, it looks like a good shooter. In fact, I have a friend who has played and has no idea why people like it so much either. Some reviews are calling it revolutionary, so I should check it out.

As for the titles you suggest, I guess you´re saying that WoW is the equivalent to Citizen Kane (which is a valid comparison), and that Doom is like, say, The Jazz Singer? In fact, this could be a more accurate parallel than the first one.

Thank you for commenting!

Copyright, Chico Queiroz