What’s 99% white, 98% male, and thinks that first-person shooters are the only games really worth attention? You got it: The Game Developers Conference. To this reviewer, the biggest bummer in the West.
I was profoundly upset by what I saw amongst the GDC exhibits, actually depressed by it. The industry, which a senior exec decried a few years ago for striving for no more than increased pixel count, now seem frozen in time. Is there nothing but war and shooting to occupy users? Nothing but testosterone-drenched slaughter to assuage our minds?
I started to look around, to really notice who surrounded me. Everyone had a full head of dark hair. I saw no people of color. I saw very, very few women. I remember when IT and multimedia shows approached 40% female—a long decade ago. Walking across about half of Moscone [Center] I counted just over 100 women. There were literally thousands of men wandering about, outnumbering the women by 50 to 1. What psycho-cultural time warp had I entered? I asked myself.
I decided to check out the seminar sessions. Walking the hall that housed breakout sessions I happened upon the LGBT round table and decided to check it out. The room was full and I was directed to the back but I wound up staying for the entire meeting. It was uplifting. What is the experience of lesbian and gay producers and programmers in the games biz? Several people told stories of coming out to their company or clients. Everyone agreed on the importance of being fully themselves and two people testified to the power of a now integral persona. I wanted to speak out, to urge these people to help the industry broaden its sensibility and create more collaborative and humane product. But, being straight, I felt it wasn’t my place to talk. I wish I had, if only to praise their spirit.
However, it seems the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender purveyors of games serve the same monstrous Mammon whose products we’ve known for decades: First-person shooters with occasional fantasy settings. What a poverty of metaphors! There wasn’t a single learning game in sight. Even the casual games—rage of advertisers, mobile operators, and venture capitalists—presented nothing visually new.
How do we break out of this Procrustian bed? Game companies follow the dollars. The endorphin rush of a good kill continues to compel male users. The dollars flow with the juices and the predominant metaphor of games remains war.
I feel ashamed of the games industry. It’s a space I know well and have inhabited since 1982, when I produced the first interactive movie game, “Murder, Anyone?” (written by the writer-producer of “Monk,” Hy Conrad). E3 was always the home of mindless roar and splatter. Now it seems the industry cannot imagine existence without endless reloads.
The GDC in 2011 made me think that adult entertainment, at least, has managed to create truly interactive product. Games have become increasingly solipsistic and closed. There is no humanity to any aspect of the experience, and no human contact spawned or advanced. Hence, from an epistemological viewpoint we can say that nothing can be learned from them. All there is for us is a momentary rush. It is truly sound and fury signifying nothing. A suitable climax to a path unexamined.