Inside Gaming

As an on-air host, producer and writer in the industry, I’m fortunate enough to travel around the globe delivering the very latest gaming goodness to numerous online, print and broadcast outlets. “Goodness” is a term I use loosely, however, as I’m sure you’re aware that the slippery slope of questionable content in gaming, like film and television before it, is constantly gravitating towards the edge of the moral, social and religious boundaries many gamers feel uncomfortable straying beyond.

Most of today’s gamers, like me, have been twitching their fingers on a D-pad for more than 20 years now, and we’ve seen the evolution of the medium progress both technically and creatively. With a heightened sense of realism being provided by the advanced capabilities of next-gen consoles such as the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, a game developers’ ability to immerse us in these interactive experiences goes way beyond what anyone would have imagined when they were bouncing a single sprite across the screen in Atari’s Pong.

But where is it all heading? How will gaming be used as an effective tool to tell thought provoking, insightful and meaningful stories that inspire as much as they entertain? And why the heck won’t parents take the Entertainment Software Rating Board’s (ESRB) ratings seriously by assuming responsibility and ceasing to buy “M”-rated games for little Johnny car-jacker in training?

These are all important questions, and to be honest, my insight into the industry allows me to see firsthand that the wonderfully talented people behind the games have only recently truly embraced the idea of culturally impacting audiences though gaming. But honestly, why should they even care? Like any other entertainment medium, gaming’s gravitation towards the quick sell of sex and violence has proven to be extremely lucrative and until recently, has been accomplished “under the radar,” since most people don’t take gaming seriously (Bill O’Reilly, I’m watching YOU …).

It hasn’t happened overnight, though, as a veteran gamer such as myself can tell you, the sheer “shock value” of what now seems like tame titles back in the early 1990s (Mortal Kombat anyone …) pales in comparison to the average game on the shelves at Wal-Marts across the nation.

If you take a look at the biggest AAA titles on the horizon in the world of video games, you’ll find that nearly 80 percent of them aren’t exactly the types of games you’d like to brag about playing if you’re not looking to degenerate into a desensitized, card-carrying member of the ADD society.

While technically impressive and most often providing a new spin on an old gaming paradigms, titles like Grand Theft Auto (the whole series really, not any one game), Gears of War (which won countless “Game of the Year” Awards for 2006) and the mega-popular God of War franchise (Part 3 of the trilogy is on the horizon) deliver blood in buckets while keeping clear of the key strength of the medium: provoking thought through interactivity. Don’t get me wrong, I’d be a total hypocrite if I didn’t express my appreciation for what these titles bring to gaming as a whole, and yes, they can be fun to play if you’re head is firmly screwed onto your shoulders. That being said, my question to the entire gaming industry and you as a gamer in 2007 is, “Where is this trend going?” I mean, how much further can we push an envelope that’s already been ripped to shreds by atrocious titles such as Rockstar’s Manhunt or Running with Scissor’s Postal, which took interactive debauchery to new heights?

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The good news is that in recent years, rays of hope have managed to emerge through the darkened skies on gaming’s horizon. Titles like Sony’s Shadow of the Colossus and Capcom’s Okami for the PlayStation 2 have chosen creativity, ambience and narrative over cultural stereotypes, vigorous violence and sexed-up sprites. These games (and plenty of others, honestly) have proven that the medium can provide a unique interactive experience that film and television simply can’t attain. By seeking to immerse the gamer in a world full of outrageously artistic and often inspiring situations and settings, these titles showcase the potential of what can be accomplished in gaming.

Trust me, I’m no Jack Thompson, as I don’t believe that tossing lawsuits at every controversial title that finds its way into retail is going to light a fire of inspiration under the industry. I do, however, believe that thinking of what could be instead of just what is will help initiate a climate of change that forces both developers and consumers to approach gaming with a different frame of mind.

So, this first edition of Inside Gaming is an opportunity to issue a challenge. A challenge to game developers and publishers to think about the true power of the medium and how it can engage end users like nothing before it. It’s a challenge to consumers to put some forethought into purchasing decisions and lay the hammer down by speaking with your wallets. And most importantly, it’s a challenge to the folks like me who’ve developed a love for this medium to respect its social and subconscious impact while thinking of ways to avoid the easy way out and, in the end, truly change the game.

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