Millions of homes possess technology that can involve users as co-creators and participants in deeply nuanced immersive experiences, and all we get are games that let us shoot things or play sports.

The gaming world is diverse. Games can be played on consoles, smartphones, and online. People can play them alone or in groups, pitted against computers or one another. Genres vary widely and include gambling, building, mysteries. Themes touch on almost every topics and period of history (or, quite often, fantasies of the future).

But I’m interested in consoles, primarily Microsoft’s Xbox and Sony’s PlayStation, where 8 of the 10 best sellers in 2022 were either shooters or sports games.

This makes no sense to me.

Well, it does, kinda. Console gaming doesn’t look much different than movies or music, all of which skew to titles that provide the simplest, most consumer-testing content so that the largest numbers of players, viewers, or listeners will fork over their money and time.

But movie and music content is defined in large part by the constraints of the media and how people experience it. They’re well-established formats. Sure, you can play with the structure of either but your customers are going to balk if you stray too far from what they expect. You’re only going to get peoples’ attention for a short amount of time no matter how brilliantly you fill their screens or speakers with your content. Movies need plots. Songs need hooks.

Gaming is different.

The first-person shooter/player POV is not inherent to the technology underlying gaming experience. Nor is game structure or length. A game could be experienced from any (or multiple) perspectives, provide an infinite number of ways to interact, and take a few minutes to many hours to complete.

The old architecture adage is true: Form follows function. We get lots of shooter/player games because game designers decide that’s what they’re going to do and then put the tech platforms to work realizing that approach.

What a wasted opportunity. Again, consoles are powerful immersive experience machines. Combined with VR goggles, they can power interactive 3-D worlds.

They should change how we think about entertainment content, and not just games. We could rethink movies and music, too.

It would all start with better and different content.

Imagine a popular book being optioned for a game and not a movie. The game version would be interactive and allow players to actively participate in the story. Maybe they could play different characters, thereby providing different experiences of the narrative. Perhaps this model would provide new ways to monetize the content, like charging a basic price for the content and then uncharges for playing new characters (or perhaps extended game play could require players to buy more time).

Think another sequel to Game of Thrones that had endless add-ons to play different characters, access backstories, etc.

Imagine classic literature reborn as games. Hamlet, Moby Dick, you name the title that never seems to reach audiences beyond those captured by required reading lists. Again, not glorified presentations of static content (there’ve been experiments doing just that with Shakespeare, for instance) but rather reimagined ways to stage them. If the directors of plays can change location, time, and edit dialogue, why couldn’t game designers do the same?

Hamlet is a very different play from Ophelia’s viewpoint. Could we learn more about Melville’s genius if we could play his story from the perspective of the whale?

Opening new avenues for experience & participation.

Imagine a music “game” that gave fans access to activities in recording studios or simulated live performances? Could add-on modules let fans remix or otherwise play around with songs (for a price, of course)? Dedicated fans could participate in betting pools that predict instruments, rhythm, even the mix and sound volume of songs in progress.

Fans could assemble fantasy music “teams” and build and trade music, for a price that got paid to the original artists.

Then imagine an entertainment platform that isn’t just focused on satisfying the juvenile urges of teenage boys, and instead hosts content that attracts different audiences. Different genders and age groups. Different players interested in accomplishing different things.

Disruption happens when a something new meets a consumer need more cheaply, easily, and sustainably than a current solution. It has already happened in movies and music. One could argue that blockbusters don’t matter anymore, at least not to consumers. Most of the video and audio content that people consume is far smaller in scale and aspirations.

The Oscars and Grammies don’t even reference the content that most people enjoy during the year.

There’s experimentation going on in the gaming world, like last year’s Immortality and Pentiment, but they are outliers (and don’t use the technical capabilities of consoles). But game developers won’t forsake their shooter and sports titles anytime soon. They are too dependent on the blockbuster model, just like their counterparts at the major studios and labels.

I’ve been waiting for creatives to step up and exploit the robust technology and interactive storytelling capabilities of game consoles. To rethink the very purposes to which those machines are put to use.

It’s past time to disrupt video gaming.

Categories: EssaysInnovation