April 12, 2005

Utopian Entrepreneur

After reading Utopian Entrepreneur, I decided that it's a good thing I'm not planning to start a commercial business anytime soon. The collapse of Brenda Laurel's company, Purple Moon, because she wanted to build it with some social responsibility is disheartening, to say the least. Her ideas that girls don't play video games because of the lack of character development, plot, and character relationships is intriguing. Although I do enjoy my occasional chick flick, I have always held a soft spot for action movies. The Die Hard trilogy (soon to be made greater by the addition of a fourth Die Hard) ranks in my Top Ten favorite movies, and the Lethal Weapons aren't far behind. But while these movies depend on their explosions, comedic timing, and fast-paced action sequences to survive, its the loveable hero with his flaws, his friends, his family (or lack thereof), and his goals that we come to love. Although we enjoy the fast-paced action sequences, what makes these movies appeal to me are the personal risks the characters have to make.

I have to applaud Brenda Laurel for her insights into why young girls don’t usually play video games, but I think she sells boys a little short. I asked my boyfriend what his ideal video game would incorporate and said that he would rather have a fantastic story than spectacular graphics. It would have in depth character development – almost as though he were playing a novel. When I asked my female roommate why she played Super Mario rather than more “masculine games” such as Mortal Combat and James Bond, she said it was because they were too difficult. Laurel mentions that Mattel attempted to create a Barbie game where the action component consisted of marshmallows thrown slowly so that it would be easier for girls to hit. After all, “’everyone knows’ that girls aren’t good at shooting games” (22). [Insert rolled eyes here] Although a failed business enterprise, Laurel’s Purple Moon seemed to do exactly what it had planned – hit it off with girls. Her idea that games should consist of relationships, values such as loyalty, love, and courage, and conflicts such as jealousy, cheating, exclusion, racism, materialism, and broken homes seems worthwhile, but as a young girl I also would have wanted some action as well. Perhaps there is a happy medium that would please both boys and girls – a video game that incorporates action and physical complications into an in depth storyline filled with rich characters, relationships, emotional conflicts, and growth.

Posted by JohannaDreyfuss at April 12, 2005 08:48 AM | TrackBack

Great impromptu research to back up your response to the reading.

It's a bit of a cliche in computer/media studies to suggest that we haven't yet found our Shakespeare -- that is, Marlowe experimented with iambic pentameter and showed Shakespeare what could be done with it, but it was up to Shakespeare to make it truly great.

Edison and his collaborators and competitors developed motion picture technology, but it wasn't until decades later that great directors figured out how to use the tools to create art (and a commercial product) that really unlocked the power of the new medium. Today's computer game companies are competing with each other to create more realistic graphics and more powerful special effects, but storyline is expensive to produce -- and when the story is over, the game ceases to be fun.

It's easier to create a virtual arena where players can fight against each other, with game engines adding more spurting blood and exploding scenery.

We probably need to return to this subject, but in the meanwhile here's a link to an audio transcript of an academic panel I arranged, featuring Scott Adams, who created the first commercial computer game, and whose games were always non-violent. (The link contains his version of the "Screw the bear" story -- he tells it well.)


Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at April 12, 2005 07:45 PM
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