Every five to ten years video games leap forward in potential and scope through increases in technological innovation. In just 30 years we’ve gone from Frogger to Red Dead Redemption, from the goal of crossing the road to the goal of crossing former gang members. Yet even as the dream of a more mature, evolved game grows ever loftier, they still don’t get a word in at the office water cooler. The problem is that games just can’t compete with the mass appeal of film.
Quite simply, video games have enormous barriers that keep them from hitting the tipping point necessary for mass appeal. Not only do most games cost way too much money, but a game you can beat in ten hours is often considered way too short. It’s just simpler to consume and get up to speed on the latest popular film, whether it is discussing the symbolism in Black Swan or the emotional shock felt when watching a trapped hiker in 127 Hours; buy a cheap ticket, spend two or three hours watching, and you can get in on the conversation. Meanwhile, you can spent 25 hours playing Red Dead Redemption, enjoy it to your hearts content, but make hardly any progress in the story. Of the few people who also spent over 60 dollars to buy the game, rarely are they at the same point in the story, and even less will ever make it all the way to the end. It has won a number of awards, including Kotaku’s Game of the Year award, and yet even most hardcore gamers have never beaten it. Almost no one has the money and the time to get through all of the best game contenders in any given year. You could watch every film nominated for an Oscar in less time than it takes to beat the year’s best game – that’s huge.
Another major setback is that games often test players on their skill level. Most games operate on the idea that you must complete a series of increasingly-challenging tasks for the game to progress. For those familiar with a gaming controller, and capable of complex hand-eye coordination, this can be an exciting and motivating factor; for others, this keeps them on the outside looking in. Sure, with dedication and practice almost anyone could gain those skills, but the reality is that many games are just too tough for most people to get into.
While anyone can go to the theatre and watch the latest popular film, games are often very exclusivist, only working on one or two gaming systems. Whether it is available on PC, PS3, 360, Wii, iPhone, or Android, the current model of distributing games keeps people from playing them. It’s unclear to the general public which system they should buy, which company they should invest hundreds of dollars in, and the end result is that gaming plays a minimal role in their purchases. The end result is that games are broken down into even further niche markets.
Interaction itself, the core of gaming, is also a barrier. The passivity of film allows active watching, but also stress-relieving laziness. It’s the difference between watching and playing hockey. With a game, you have to “learn things” – the horror!
Although gaming will never have the same mass appeal as film, it does do a lot of things better, it has more valuable applications, and it will continue to grow and evolve in ways that will ultimately make it a far more important medium in the future.