Why We Shouldn't Make Games

Ernest W. Adams

2002 Game Developers' Conference

This is an approximate transcript of my lecture at the Game Developers' Conference on March 22, 2002 in  San Jose, California.


Good morning. I'm Ernest Adams, and this is "Why We Shouldn't Make Games." Now, I have a confession to make. I got you here under slightly false pretenses. In spite this lecture's deliberately provocative title, I don't actually mean to argue that we shouldn't make games. After all, I'm a freelance consulting game designer, and it isn't my intention to put myself out of business. So, two clarifications: First, what the title of this lecture really means is that I believe there are some good reasons to make products other than games, that is, products that are not games. Second, I mean that in a particular sense of the word "game" that I'll explain in a minute.

Last year my lecture was called "Will Computer Games Ever Be A Legitimate Art Form?" I concluded that they would be, but that we need to take certain active steps to achieve that status. The legitimacy of an art form is a social condition that is granted or withheld by the general public, and obtaining it is partly a matter of managing public perception and public expectations. This year I want to talk not about games as art per se, but more generally about the nature of the interactive medium. It's a sort of rambling discussion of how we're perceived and how we perceive ourselves.

This is, as ever, going to be very blue sky.

What Do We in the Industry Think a Game Is?

The answer to that is certainly not new, but I like the way that Scott Kim organized it when he explained it, so I'm going to shamelessly borrow from him, right up to ripping off his PowerPoint slides.



The bedrock of any kind of entertainment is experience, which doesn't have to be interactive – screensavers, movies, E-Books. The Flying Toasters screen saver was a non-interactive experience.



With toys, you add interactivity to experience, but you still have no rules and no goal. Sim City is a sort of toy because, like playing with building blocks, you design your own goals. However, Sim City does have a loss condition, or failure mode. Building blocks have a sort of failure mode too, inherent in the law of gravity and the structural properties of the blocks.



With a puzzle, you add more rules, the kinds of moves you are allowed to make, and one special rule, the victory condition or goal. You can achieve this goal by any means within the rules.



With a game, the goal becomes more abstract: to defeat the other player. Rather than a single fixed goal as in a puzzle, there are often many ways to achieve this, as in chess. Tetris is sort of peculiar because it is a game with no victory condition. The only real goal is to play for longer than you played last time.


Each type of play builds on a previous type, i.e. a puzzle should first of all be a good toy: it should be easy and enjoyable to play with even without a goal. Some games are highly abstract, like checkers, and closely resemble a puzzle. Other games are highly representational, like Half-Life, and our enjoyment of them depends on our capacity to pretend. Playing representational games is about pretending, about Coleridge's "willing suspension of disbelief."

You'll notice this is a very reductionist characterization, as you would expect from people with an analytical, engineering-oriented perspective. Engineering is the hub of computer game development, and that has consequences. Engineering is no longer the largest cost center in game development, but there was a time when it was, and that sense of importance has remained in our thinking about the way games are designed and built even though that's no longer where we spend most of the money. Engineering is not the hub of board game development or card game development, and that frees board and card game developers to think about the design of those games in a way that we, for all our technological splendor, seldom do. I'll talk about the effect that our engineering culture has on us later on.

We have this analytical understanding of what a game is because we are game developers: it's our job to build games.

What Does Our Society Think a Game Is?

So that's what we think games are. But what does our culture think they are? I'm indebted for these points to Matthew Southern, a lecturer the International Center for Digital Content at Liverpool John Moores University, who recently gave a lecture called "The Cultural Study of Games" at GDC-Europe.

Southern said that the word game connotes a temporary, artificial social construct. A game is an experience distinct from the real world and whose internal workings, events, ethos, and culture are disconnected from the real world. The military conducts war games. These are temporary, artificial, death-free wars. On the TV show Law and Order, the prosecutors are always asking suspects who are little too cocky or flippant, "Do you think this is some kind of game?" In short, games aren't important. But people find it kind of creepy when games either look too real, or when their consequences spill over into the real world. What's the final line in the movie Sleuth? "It was all a bloody game."

I believe that we get into political trouble with the anti-violence campaigners when two conditions occur simultaneously:

  • The game is highly representative of the real world, i.e. realistic; and
  • The ethics of the game are highly disjoint from the real world.

That's what disturbs people: real-world gameplay in a non-real-world ethical system. It blurs the boundary between the make-believe and the real. You hear a lot of people complaining about Grand Theft Auto and Kingpin, Doom and Duke Nukem. You don't hear a lot of people complaining about Medal of Honor or  Return to Castle Wolfenstein. World War II is sort of fair game, and you can slaughter all the Nazis you like without bothering anybody.

Games are also associated with winning and losing, of course. Apart from sports, races, and other kinds of contests, the main place where you hear about winning and losing is in war. However, I feel that the function of this is not to add gravity to games, but to reduce the gravity of war. It doesn't elevate games to the status of war. Talking about winning and losing, and speaking of war as if it were analogous to a game has the function of trivializing war, reducing it to the status of a game. Characterizing war in game terms has the effect of distancing us from the sheer horror of it. It gives it a somewhat unreal quality, and obfuscates the fact that, whatever the stated objectives may be, the actual process involves the mass butchery of human beings. We don't kill people, we bomb targets.

There's also a tendency to simplify war and see it in bipolar, game terms. WWII in particular is remembered very much in terms of the good guys and the bad guys. But at the beginning of the war, Hungary and Finland were allied with Germany, because they wanted protection from the Russians—and for good reason. Does that make them good guys or bad guys? At the end of the war, did Finland win or lose?

Connotations of the Word Play

So what do we do with games? We play them. The primary connotation is of childhood. Play nicely, play together, we play on the playground. Sometimes kids play too rough. We want them to play fair.

The adult connotations of play are a little different. We play poker; we play the ponies; we engage in sex play. We play professional baseball; we play musical instruments. Play also involves doing something freely and in an unrestrained, perhaps uncontrolled, manner. We play the fire hoses on the fire. If you have to push a long way on the clutch pedal before the clutch disengages, it could be because there's play in the linkage.

Most adult categories have other names, not all positive. Playing poker and the ponies is gambling. Gambling has strong negative associations. The gambling industry has tried to confuse the issue by calling what they do gaming. It's not the Nevada Gambling Commission, but the Nevada Gaming Commission. In fact, they may have done our industry harm by doing this. And of course gambling is very heavily regulated.

Playing baseball is engaging in a sport. Sports are related to athletics and have a legitimacy that goes back to the original Greek Olympics. Sports are necessarily a physical activity (though not in curling). Sports are hardly regulated at all. Baseball even has a special exemption from the rules against monopolies.

Playing a musical instrument also has the generally positive connotation of performing upon the instrument. Playing a musical instrument is expressive, but ephemeral. It does not leave anything behind. It can be recorded, but it is universally acknowledged that the live performance is the "real" performance while the recording is only an imitation. We also "play" records and CD's and tapes by extension from musical instruments and music boxes. Again, there's a connection with the ephemeral nature of gameplay: as soon as the music stops, it vanishes. It's gone.

Reading a book is just as ephemeral as playing a videotape. It creates nothing and leaves nothing behind but a memory. It exercises the imagination and it doesn't require a machine, but it's still not a "productive" or a "creative" process. But we commend reading where we don't commend watching TV. It has been very interesting to see the Harry Potter phenomenon. "Finally, a book that has got children reading again!" shouts the press, as if reading were intrinsically more meritorious than other forms of entertainment. Let's face it, it's still escapist children's fiction, whether it's the Harry Potter books or Scooby-Doo, the animated cartoon.

Books have a very ancient legitimacy. They're connected with scholarship, with the law, with religion. They are the repositories of all human knowledge, at least for the next ten years. The first book Gutenberg printed was the Bible, the founding document of the civilization in which he lived. But the first TV show ever broadcast was the 1936 Olympic Games, something quite ephemeral. If a person has a big library of books, she's a scholar. If she has a big library of video tapes, she's a couch potato.

The concept of play doesn't intrinsically include a notion of permanence or construction. To specify those notions, we have to add adjectives: creative play or constructive play. Play is closely tied to the imagination and to our capacity to pretend, as I said above, and it's understood that both are temporary and insubstantial. So you can see that the concept of playing a game doesn't really do us any favors, if we want our medium to be taken seriously.

The Universal and the Specific

When I was 10 or 12 years old, my father got me started reading the plays of George Bernard Shaw. I really enjoyed them; they were witty and clever, and full of funny anachronistic asides to the audience. One of the unusual things about Shaw's plays is that they have extremely detailed descriptions of the sets and the characters. For example, the play Arms and the Man is set in the Balkans, in an area that formerly belonged to the Turkish Ottoman empire, but at the time of the play belongs to the Austro-Hungarian empire. The set is described as being "half rich Bulgarian, half cheap Viennese." And I'm sure that set designers have been tearing their hair out from that day to this as they try to figure out how to bring this effect across.

When I wrote a play myself, in a play-writing class, I imitated Shaw's way of describing the sets and characters. My professor told me very firmly to please leave the director something to do. But these were the first plays I had ever read, so I just assumed that this level of detail was standard. Imagine my disappointment when a couple of years later I picked up Shakespeare for the first time. Half the time the characters don't even get names: The Duke of Norfolk. What does he look like? What does he sound like? How does he behave? How are you supposed to know? No descriptions of the sets at all, and no stage directions apart from ENTER, EXIT, and THEY FIGHT.

Shaw was specific. Shakespeare was universal. I want to talk for a bit about what I see as a distinction in the media and popular culture between the universal and the specific. By this I mean universal stories and specific stories, universal themes and specific themes, and so on. It's difficult to explain without recourse to examples, so I'm going to give you several. I also need to emphasize that this is not a hard-and-fast dichotomy. Rather, it's a continuum.

The universal serves as a template for exploring an idea in depth, perhaps in a variety of ways and from a variety of angles.


Painting used to be highly representational, highly specific. Back when painting was the only way of creating an image, almost all paintings were representational. But now, God help you if you try to get an MFA by painting what you see! You're likely to be flunked. The modern art establishment insists upon extreme universality.


Instrumental music is universal, vocal music is more specific. Why do people go to see operas when they can't understand the words? Because they are there for the universality of the music. It actually loses something if you do understand the words. Hearing someone sing "I'm so lonely" five times in a row rather diminishes the impact. Comic opera, however, like Gilbert and Sullivan, wouldn't be any fun at all if you didn't understand the language, and that's also true of Broadway shows.

Richard Wagner, with his music drama, tried to blend the two. He wanted extremely representational staging, but more importantly, he tried to write his singing as conversationally as possible, with none of the arias and set-pieces of conventional opera. He didn't call it opera, either, he called it "music drama."


In dramatic terms, film has largely taken over from the stage in terms of representing the specific. Film is capable of displaying a world that is indistinguishable from reality, so most film is highly specific. Even when film is showing something outrageously improbable, like an invasion of aliens, it does so with a high degree of detail.

People had trouble with the casting of Denzel Washington and Keanu Reeves as brothers in the movie of Much Ado About Nothing. Denzel Washington is black, Keanu Reeves is white, and we don't expect to see a black man and a white man portrayed as brothers on film. It places great demands on our suspension of disbelief. It violates our expectations about the specificity of film. But the filmmakers thought it acceptable, because it was a filmed Shakespeare play, with a long tradition of experimentation and universality.


And of course that leads to the point that in the past 50 years or so, the stage has ceded the specific over to film, and has tended more and more to represent the universal. The stage doesn't do the specific as well as film does, so it has largely quit trying. Now we see bare sets, few or no props, and so on. Instead, live theater concentrates on the story and the characters without worrying so much about the realism of their portrayal.

Not long ago there was an all-Zulu production of Macbeth at Shakespeare's Globe in London, in the Zulu language, complete with full tribal dress. Before they were conquered, the Zulus had a complex, monarchical culture, and the story of Macbeth makes sense in that context. But you can't make a Schwartzenegger movie with Cissy Spacek in the title role. Schwartzenegger is too specific; the role is too closely tied to him. You'll notice that this universal/specific division also seems to come along the art/popular culture boundary. Popular culture is easy to grasp, art is difficult to grasp. The specific—Arnie movies—are easy; the universal is more challenging. Shakespeare did not necessarily intend to be universal; it is we in modern times who have chosen to see him in that light. But what enables Shakespeare's universality is the absence of stifling detail.


If we look at the greatest games of the past, it was their universality that made them great. Asteroids, Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Quake Arena are excellent examples of the universal. And of course, the absence of stifling detail in early games was partly due to technological limitations. They didn't look good, so they had to play well. I also think it's really interesting that Asteroids and Tempest and Battlezone were all done with vector graphics displays. And with vector graphics displays, you only draw what you have to draw. You can't afford to draw anything that isn't really needed.  I think that's an interesting discipline to consider when we're creating a game: What would it be like if we had to make this game with a vector graphics display? That would train us to trim down the fat, reduce the game to its essentials.

I realize that this sounds like just another variant of the graphics-versus-gameplay argument, but it's more than that. Nor is it just a question of "keep it simple, stupid." Entertainment doesn't have to simple—goodness knows The Lord of the Rings isn't simple—but every detail should contribute something; it shouldn't just be there for its own sake.

When you're designing a game, or any other kind of software product for that matter, it's very easy to get bogged down in the minutia. We've all seen products that were bursting at the seams with features and details, but lacking in a coherent theme or a central organizing principle. As Brian Moriarty put it, it's not a question of knowing what you want to do, but why. There's a temptation to dump in detail early on, because details are fun and widgety and they appeal to our engineering-oriented, gadget-centered, and dare I even suggest, masculine gaming ethos.

I think it's incumbent upon us, as we design games and other forms of interactive entertainment, to try to start with the universal, and to add specificity and detail as needed.

Rigid Social Relations

Another problem with the game concept is that it establishes rigid social relations. Formal game theory is defined as the mathematical study of situations in which there is a conflict of interest. When we characterize types of games and gameplay, we usually divide them into several categories: solitaire, competitive, cooperative, and team-based. But these simplistic social relations don't take into account the intricate complexity of real human affairs. The "game" concept simplifies social relations.

Remember what Treebeard said in The Lord of the Rings? The hobbits asked him which side he was on, and he replied, "I don't know about sides. I'm not particularly on anybody's side, because nobody is particularly on my side, if you see what I mean." Again, this pigeonholing that's associated with games discourages us from exploring the full complexity of human relationships. That's something that we need to try to move away from, characterizing people and their positions so rigidly in terms of "sides."

Dramatic Tension and Gameplay Tension

Dramatic tension is the sense of incompleteness in a story. The story involves you somehow, gets you hooked, makes you care about what's going on. All the classic schlock novel genres include the imminent danger of death: westerns, fantasy, spy novels, techno-thrillers, some mysteries. But most serious literature does not include the imminent danger of death. It's too strong a flavor. People don't go through life worrying about imminent death most of the time. Serious literature is about other concerns.

Dramatic tension does not have to involve risk, even non-physical risk. "What's going to happen next?" is the question that underlies dramatic tension, but it doesn't necessarily involve risk. Dramatic tension is usually explained using a sexual metaphor—and a rather masculine sexual metaphor at that—although they tend to paper this over when they're teaching you about it in 7th grade. Remember how they used to talk about rising action, and the climax, and falling action, and the conclusion?

Gameplay tension is caused by the presence of a victory condition or a loss condition or both. Gameplay tension produces artificial emotional constructs—the desire to win and the fear of losing. It is this similarity between gameplay tension and dramatic tension that is the reason it's so natural to try put stories into games, and to make stories out of games. Gameplay tension, like the dramatic tension of schlock fiction, tends to center around death, and like schlock fiction, it trivializes death. This is another reason we're not doing ourselves any favors by making games.

I'm sure you all remember that six or seven years ago there was a great deal of excitement about "interactive movies," and a lot of debate about how we can make them. Well, I think that problem has been solved, at least for one particular genre of movie: We know very well how to make interactive action flicks. But not all interactive entertainment has to follow this quasi-sexual model of tension and climax.

I happen to think that most massively-multiplayer online role-playing games at the moment are pretty lame. Because of their mindlessly automated nature and their historical basis in tabletop role-playing, they've given rise to a number of degenerate strategies, of which player-killing and camping – waiting around for monsters to respawn – are only the two most egregious. However, they do represent a major step forward in one respect, because MMORPGs are not games. MMORPGs don't have an ending. The object is to offer continuing entertainment and enjoyment.

There are four classic reasons people play MMORPGs: social interaction, exploration, character growth, and combat. Social interaction has no goal, it's simply pleasurable to do. Exploration has only a diffuse goal. The whole point about exploration is that you don't know where you're going or what you'll find when you get there. After all, Columbus didn't say, "I'm going to discover America," he said, "I'm going to find a faster way to get trade goods back and forth to India."

Character growth and the acquisition of goods has a generalized goal but one with no real end in sight. You seem to be able to go on leveling up indefinitely. Unfortunately, it's very numeric. This isn't character growth in the literary sense.

Combat, the fourth reason, has the most game-like quality. It's very immediate, and it immediately punishes failure.

The thing about MMORPGs is that you can do any of these things, in one degree or another, although they vary from product to product. I've long been interested in the problem of the inverse relationship between interactivity and narrative in traditional single-player games. MMORPGs sort of disentangle this problem.

Consider the options of a private in the infantry in World War II. They're extremely limited. He has very little free time. He has to obey orders. His life is a linear path, rule-bound.

Consider the options of a wealthy landowner in Chile during World War II. He has near total freedom within that environment. He can do whatever he feels like.

In between these two—the infantry grunt in the trenches and the wealthy landowner who's unaffected by the war—is somebody special: a secret agent, a commando, or better yet a member of the Resistance. They're bound by their mission, they're surrounded by danger, they have limited resources. Yet in spite of that, considerable freedom to innovate, to undertake the mission in whatever way seems best. The British SAS, and most commandos for that matter, are unusual as soldiers in that they're selected not for slavish obedience to orders, but for their ability to improvise. That's the kind of person our player needs to be.

Again, to quote the Lord of the Rings, we don't get to choose the time in which we live. All we can do is decide what to do with the time that we're given. And I think that, ultimately, is the game designer's challenge: we create the circumstances in which the player finds himself, but we must also give the player the freedom to react to those circumstances in whatever way he thinks best. Our player needs to be a sort of commando. There's nothing he can do about World War II as a whole, but he can do his best to find a way to achieve the mission that he's on, in whatever way seems best to him. The MMORPG is open-ended and it does this pretty well, but it only rewards certain kinds of success.

Limitations of Providing Goals

There's one other game that I'm very interested in learning more about, and that's Rez, from Sega. Rez is a sort of musical shooter, in which your shots blend with the music and become part of it. But what's really interesting about Rez is that it has an invincible mode that in effect turns the game into a musical instrument. Many games have invincible modes, but usually as cheats left over from the testing process, not as legitimate ways to play the game. In Rez, when you turn on the invincible mode, it stops being a game and starts being a musical instrument. That's very interesting and unusual.

Last year I talked about the possibility that working towards a goal, especially a fixed goal, might not be compatible with having an art appreciation experience. Games can also have flexible victory conditions. The board game Careers let you define your goal within certain parameters. You had to collect sixty points to win, but they belonged to one of three categories, love, money, or fame. At the beginning of the game, you defined how many of each you wanted to collect, as long as they added up to sixty. That let players define their goals for themselves

And games can have no victory condition at all. The Maxis sim games have no victory conditions, they just have failure modes. which put pressure on the player to act.

Teachers Hate Video Games

Another reason that the game concept hurts us is that it has engendered a mutual suspicion between academe and game developers. For our part, we certainly regard academics with suspicion. There are two reasons for this. One is our heritage as self-taught game designers building games for ourselves. A lot of us don't like the idea of being told by some eggheaded professor that they know what fun is and we don't.

Despite the billions of dollars that the industry makes and the millions of dollars that it requires to build a hit game, there's still a perception that you can do it in your basement, and a hell of a lot of people trying. And a few of them do meet with success, which tends to reinforce this notion. We're suspicious of ivory-tower elitists.

The second reason is our heritage in engineering. Our culture still harks back to the days when you spent 90% of the money on programming, and 10% on art—the days of the Atari 2600 and the Mattel Intellivision. Nowadays the engineering work is only a fraction of the total expenditure, but even so, the engineering is still the hub of the project. If you took all the pictures and all the sound out of a computer game, the game would still be there. You couldn't see it or hear it, but it would still be there running inside the computer. The dominance of engineering brings it it an engineer's mentality, a put-up-or-shut-up, show-me-the-numbers attitude that tends to pervade all game development.

The engineering mentality has crept into the marketing and sales and reviews of computer games too. When was the last time you heard of a really good movie whose advertising talked about the technical specifications of the gear that created the special effects? OK, you get some, like TV specials on "The Making of Jurassic Park," but then Jurassic Park wasn't actually a really good movie. It was an action flick that also happened to be a technological tour de force. We've trained our consumers to think like engineers, and to demand games on the basis of their technical specifications. We don't encourage them to ask for decent acting or a credible plot or subtle characterizations, and God help us if they ever start to!

Engineers don't have any time or respect for fuzzy studies. They don't care about "cultural this" and "social that." As a result, we don't have much interest in academic studies of computer gaming, except for advances in programming and artificial intelligence.

On the other side, the academy is suspicious of, and hostile towards us. Their students play games, but the policy makers at the top don't. At the risk of seeming ageist, the tenure system tends to guarantee that the people at the top of the educational establishment are older, and at the moment many of them are still from the pre-gaming generation. And games aren't respectable; they're distractions from homework. Yesterday at the Academic Summit I heard a professor at UC Irvine say that when she told a university committee about the research she was doing on games, she was firmly ordered never to work on games again.

These prejudices, on both sides, are harmful to us. As with other art forms, especially recent ones, it is only when they become the subject of study and thought that they begin to be treated seriously by the general public. Movies began to be taken seriously as an expressive medium when people began to study what you could do with them, when they moved out of the nickelodeon. There are no degrees offered in board game design. So far as I know, there are no degrees in toy design. These remain childish pursuits with no cultural significance except when there is an issue about how they influence children specifically.

There is a tremendous benefit to be had from the non-commercial study of interactive entertainment. It enables us to try new things, examine areas that have no known commercial potential thus far.

Some companies set up research and development departments inside their own shops. Pharmaceutical companies and electronics companies consist almost entirely of R&D departments. Well, I was at Electronic Arts for eight years, and if any company in our business has the resources to fund an R&D department, it's EA. But in all that time, I never saw the company make a serious commitment to the idea. It did some R&D every time a new piece of hardware came out, but other than that, Electronic Arts' approach to advancing the potential of the medium that it depends upon for its livelihood was never anything but by-guess-and-by-God.

Wise, enlightened corporations have always funded academic study because they know that it will benefit them in the long run. But it takes a wise, enlightened company to think about the long run these days. Few companies look beyond next year's product plan and this quarter's bottom line.

Academic study provides legitimacy. The two areas that reliably turn ridiculous science fiction fantasies like "space flight" into realities are academic research and military research. And in both cases, the motivation is something other than commercial sales.

Summary: Why We Shouldn't Make Games

Why shouldn't we make "games"?

First, because games aren't perceived as important. Art is important. Literature is important (even popular fiction). Music is important (even pop music). Who would have guessed back in 1964 that 40 years later the Beatles would be treated with the same kind of reverence that we reserve for authors and artists, that it would be Sir Paul McCartney. Film and even television are important.

Games aren't important... but what we do is. How can that be? We are now a powerful social and economic force, but we're not a powerful political force. How many other $6 billion industries can you name that are so universally reviled by lawmakers? The term game pigeonholes us with the public and with lawmakers, and that has political and social implications.

We lie along a continuum of popular culture that runs from books to toys. Nobody thinks books are only for kids, and any suggestion that we should censor books for the sake of children's mental well-being would be met by utter outrage. But nobody gives a second thought to censoring toys. They're not covered by the First Amendment, they're regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. We're somewhere in between.

Second, because the whole "game" notion constrains how we think about entertaining people, and how others think about us. The game model imposes a limited and rigid model of human relations. We don't need the game concept, the thrill-of-victory/agony-of-defeat dichotomy, in order to create successful entertainment products. The Sims, and in fact the entire Maxis product line, are proof of that. So are MMORPGs. Restricting ourselves to making games is like restricting a composer to working in 4/4 time. You're never going to invent jazz that way.

Third, the "game" concept earns us only the distrust and even contempt of the academy. It's easy to say "more fool they," but we need them. We need to work together, both to better understand our own work and to obtain the cultural credit we need in order to preserve our own creative freedom.

Fourth, we need to shed the kiddie image. We can't stay in this children's ghetto forever, and that's where "game" puts us.

Finally, we shouldn't make games because we already know how to make games. I know I'm shooting myself in the foot to say this, but game design is not rocket science. There are certainly areas that are better understood than others... there's that whole vexed question of interactivity and storytelling, for example. But even so, we're doing pretty well at what we do. For example, I consider the first-person shooter, and most action games to be pretty much a solved problem. They're defined by the physical limits of the human eye and hand. There's still a lot of room for innovation in content, and details like artificial enemies, but the fundamental design principles are pretty well understood.

I firmly believe in doing things that you don't know how to do. The only way we obtain advancement, both technological and aesthetic, is by doing things that we don't know how to do. The Wright Brothers didn't know how to build an airplane. They just kept at it until they did know how. We spend a lot of time working on things that we don't know how to do technologically, but very little time working on things that we don't know how to do aesthetically, and even less time working on things that we don't know how to do in gameplay terms.


The interactive medium is so rich, so powerful, so flexible, that the variety of things that we can make cannot possibly be encompassed by the term game. We need a paradigm, a metaphor for what we make, that is disconnected from these connotations of childhood, artificiality, impermanence and irrelevance. I don't know what the name of that paradigm is. Some years after he founded the Journal of Computer Game Design, Chris Crawford changed its name to the Journal of Interactive Entertainment Design to reflect the broader meaning that those terms have; but interactive entertainment is a vague mouthful that doesn't really conjure up any particular idea.

We don't yet have a term like film or television or Hollywood that instantly denotes what we do and who we are. The word game is a straitjacket for our own creativity, a straitjacket that we cheerfully put on by ourselves. But the time has come to take it off. Go out there and create new kinds of products that are not games. And in a final, shameless moment of self-promotion – let me know if you need any help, because after all, I am a game design consultant. Or just a design consultant.

Here endeth the lesson. Thank you for coming.