The Gaming Difference • Page 2

Spore is the latest step towards discovering videogames' voice.

Today, we are surprisingly media-savvy creatures - interpreting camera angles, subtleties of lighting and careful focusing in narrative to help spin our own understanding of scene-setting and storytelling. There's no reason for videogames to dispense with what others have learned about telling stories and entertaining audiences, and every reason for our creative geniuses to continue learning from the techniques. However, that should not, and must not, preclude experimentation and discovery of the unique potential of videogames.

If anything, the lesson we can learn about videogames from the past five years is that there is dual potential to this medium. Firstly, it has the ability to be a crossroads of all other media - a meeting point between music, film, television, literature, fine art and any other kind of medium you can imagine. Any of those, or any combination, can potentially be mixed up, played with, and turned into a unique, fresh, interactive experience.

At the same time, and not in isolation from that process, there is also the potential for videogames to generate their own unique experiences, which will gradually feed back to other media and blend into the world's culture as seamlessly as rock music, action movies and fantasy fiction have. Titles like Spore (and, with any luck, the forthcoming LittleBigPlanet) should provide proof that this endeavour can bring financial rewards as well as creative acclaim.

The challenge to publishers, however, may be too much for some. Approving products which lie at the crossroads between gaming and other media isn't particularly difficult, because executives at game publishers generally understand those other media. They grew up with music, and movies, and books - it's clear to them how a linear narrative, movie-style cut-scenes and even music-driven rhythm-action work.

A purely gaming-originated, games-driven approach to design, however, can seem alien to those who have never really picked up on the burgeoning language of videogames. In over a decade of writing about videogames, one very positive change has been the reduction in the number of industry executives who don't actually play or even understand videogames - but there are still plenty of these people around, often with keenly focused and extremely effective business minds, but with no grounding in the creative factors that drive games forward.

Some commentators talk in harsh terms about "getting rid" of such people, which is, of course, nonsense. There are enough business "leaders" in our industry who are terrible at business, if you want to talk in terms of a cull. Those who run fine businesses but lack the creative understanding that makes for great product decisions and brave bets on innovation definitely have a place in this market, but they must evolve and change.

Either hand off those decisions to those who fully comprehend them - or be brave, pick up the controller, and see where it takes you. For every Spore and LittleBigPlanet that gets published, a veteran developer complained to me this week, there are ten that the publishers just don't "get". An overstatement, perhaps - but it might be worth looking at the excitement and eventual sales figures around those games, and then looking at the proposals on your desk with fresh eyes.

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