David Cage doesn't want you to play games. The man behind interactive experiences like Indigo Prophecy, Heavy Rain, and the upcoming Beyond: Two Souls says he's had enough of titles that cater to children and teens. "I think we need to accept this idea of growing up and finally become adults," he said at the DICE Summit in Las Vegas today.
Standing in front of a room of video game industry executives, he challenged them to reinvent their work, with a nine-part manifesto titled "The Peter Pan Syndrome: The Industry That Refused to Grow Up."
"We have the same audience after 40 years"
The primary message? Game developers need to stop building the same games over and over again. "If you look at Wolfenstein in 1992, and Call of Duty in 2012… the graphics are incredibly realistic, but when you think about the concepts behind these games, they are really close," said Cage. "You still have to beat the computer or beat your friends, but the patterns or mechanics are always the same," he said. "Video games also live in what I call Wonderland, a dimension that's so not connected to the real world. They talk about things that are totally unrelated to what we all know."
"The conclusion: We have the same audience after 40 years," Cage explained.
Given the growing threat of mobile platforms and other forms entertainment, and the need to cater to audiences greater than kids and teens, Cage laid out nine ideas that would allow games to "evolve."
Make games for all
"How do we make content that will talk to your mother or grandmother?" asked Cage. "How do we make them play? Can we make content, interactive experiences, for an adult?"
Change our paradigms
"We cannot hope to keep doing the same things the same way and expand our market overnight," said Cage. "We need to decide that violence and platforms are not the only way. Now, if the character doesn't hold a gun, designers don't even know what to do."
"Can we make games without a gun?"
As example, Cage described a meeting he had when pitching Indigo Prophecy to a US publisher. When Cage explained that the protagonist didn't use weapons, the publisher didn't understand. "Oh, he drives cars?" No. Neither did Cage's hero jump from platform to platform. "Then it's not a game!" the publisher told him. "Can we make games without a gun? That's a challenge for the entire industry."
The importance of meaning
"When you think about it, you realize that many games have absolutely nothing to say," said Cage. "They're merely here to make you have a good moment, to trigger some adrenaline in your system, and that's cool." But Cage stressed the importance of using content to create real meaning. "All real world themes should be used. Anything you'd see in a book or movie or a tv series could be used in a game. Politics, homosexuality… we need to put games at the center of our society and our lives. They should talk about people, they should talk about our world, they should talk about relationships, about society, and games can do that in a very meaningful way."
"By the time you turn off your console, the game will leave an imprint. You will think about what you've seen. That's what every creative medium should achieve."
Games should focus on a 'journey' rather than a 'challenge'
"How fast they move their thumbs… who cares? Let's focus on what the player feels, not how they do it," Cage challenged game developers in attendance. Cage also suggested that games focus on the "journey" rather than a "challenge," echoing his comments about adults being less interested in mastering a system better than a ten-year-old kid, than experiencing something meaningful.
Bring other talent on board
Cage explained how rewarding it had been to work with David Bowie, and with Ellen Page on Beyond: Two Souls; not merely as faces to motion capture, but also learning from their participation.
Relationships with Hollywood
"Relationships with Hollywood have really been based on a misunderstanding for a time," said Cage, based on the idea that games were licensed products based on other ideas rather than a distinct medium.
"We still have a long way to go and a lot to learn, but we should respect each other. I think the time has come for a really balanced, more respectful partnership, and together we can build a new form of entertainment."
Changing our relationship with censorship
Cage believes the games industry's sell-censorship is damaging, and grossly unfair. "Now I have someone over my shoulder looking at what I'm writing, saying 'It's not possible, you need to change this,'" he noted. "Why would something that's okay in a TV series not be okay in a game? The answer is always the same: 'You are interactive.'"
"Why would we have different constraints than film or TV series?"
Cage continued, "As long as violence or sex is put in context and supports the narrative, that's fine. Why would we have different constraints than film or TV series? This is definitely something I'd like to see change in the future."
On the flip side, he also decried the excessive bloodshed in many modern titles he saw at E3 last year, each trying to be more salacious and controversial than the last. "Sometimes we go too far and act like stupid teenagers ourselves, and we should stop doing this. This is a matter of being responsible in our own industry, and also towards society. We should show that we're not a bunch of teenagers, that we're responsible and that we respect our mediums."
The role of press
"I think press has a very important role to play in this evolution and this change."
Cage believes that game journalists need to take a more active role in shaping the future, and handing out review scores isn't enough. "I think press has a very important role to play in this evolution and this change," he told us. "On the one side, we have very clever people. They think about the industry, they analyze it, they see how it could go in future. On the other side of the spectrum, you've got people giving scores, just scores. 'Oh, you've got a camera bug, so you have a 5 out of 10, or the AI is not that good, so you get a 6. Or the story is boring, you get a six.'" Cage explained that at one point in the past, French cinema was in decline, but French cinema critics helped shape it for the better with their ideas.
The importance of gamers
Cage also noted that gamers themselves have a responsibility in pushing the industry forward. "I think that buying or not buying a game is almost like a political vote. You decide if you wan the industry to go in this direction. Buy crap, and you will get more crap. Buy exciting, ambious, risky games, and you will get more of them. So buying a game is also a responsibility. So if you buy games, you vote where you want the industry to go."
We need a new word'
Cage finished by suggesting, though not outright saying, that the entertainment medium he's describing should no longer be called a "game." Addressing the audience, Cage said, "In the coming years, my hope is that we see the rise of 'digital entertainment.' It should be accessible to all, open to all themes and all genres, and talk about society in a meaningful way. It should be based on the journey and not the challenge, and be cross-platform [...] and finally become mass market. I think it's an amazing medium unlike anything else, and what we have here is absolutely different and unique, but I think we need to accept this idea of growing up and finally become adults," he concluded.
"I think we need to accept this idea of growing up and finally become adults."
It's quite a speech, and perhaps a controversial one too, as some game developers are already embracing many of these values and building games with meaning and broader appeal. But Cage's point is that these games are not the games that sell, and that Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, and Pokemon shouldn't be the standard that publishers strive for.