Sometimes I think we're going about this game criticism thing all wrong.
Read most videogame reviews these days, online or off, and you'll see a tendency to focus on a particular game's graphics, storyline, intricate gameplay, etc. Critics (and I include myself in this diatribe) tend to reward games for their complexity and depth, disdaining anything that seems to simple, shallow or, horror of horrors, "kiddified." Is it more than 40 hours long? Is there a huge difficulty level? Do you need to level up for several hours before moving on to the finale? Do you need to crack open the manual before even playing? If so, give that puppy a 10.
The problem with this is that most people don't want to play 40-plus hour games that require intricate knowledge of the controller and familiarity with the genre (or gaming culture in general). Joe or Jane Six Pack has neither the time nor the interest to invest in such matters. What's interesting about this discrepancy (at least from a sociological standpoint) is the hypocrisy some "hardcore gamers" display towards those that ignore or mock their hobby of choice. Like the comic-book geek who can't understand why the general public doesn't hail "Ultimate X-Men" as the masterpiece it obviously is, too many gamers bemoan the fact that they're seen as a market solely devoted to adolescent, immature boys, who crave little more than violence and tits. "Why can't we get more women/kids/adults-over-30 to play our games" is an ongoing industry cry, after which developers go and make something like Manhunt.
All of which brings me to the EyeToy, Sony's new camera peripheral for the PlayStation 2 (PS2). Now, my two-year-old daughter loves the EyeToy. Ever since I showed it to her a few months ago, she asks me to bring it out constantly. She loves seeing herself on the TV screen, especially in the "Playroom," where she can make colored sparkles dance off her televised image. She loves playing the window washing game with me, where we fling our arms about in an attempt to remove computerized suds from an endless series of windows. She especially loves recording 10-second messages via the video messaging subsection.
All of the games on the EyeToy: Play disc that accompanies the peripheral are as exquisitely uncomplicated. Apart from the window washing game, the rest of the games tend to involve smacking or spinning something, sometimes both. Kung Foo, for example, has you beating back a never-ending stream of tiny ninjas. Soccer Craze asks you to keep a ball in the air for as long as possible. And in Plate Spinner you, well, spin plates. In many ways, the EyeToy games hearken back to the early Atari era, where developers took one idea and repeated it, getting faster each time.
Now, the above paragraphs would be enough for many gamers to disdain EyeToy: Play without even looking at the thing. And while the interactive camera has garnered mostly good press, there have been dismissive rumblings. Even strongly positive reviews tend to focus on the EyeToy's potential as a PS2 peripheral and dismiss the accompanying game as little more than an amusing novelty title; too simplistic to garner much attention from PS2 owners.
I would argue, however, that its simplicity and superficiality are actually good qualities. In creating the EyeToy, Sony got two important concepts right. One, by throwing away the controller, gameplay suddenly becomes a lot easier. You don't need to know anything about dual shock or an R2 button to enjoy the EyeToy. My father-in-law can play the EyeToy. My wife's young nieces can play it. More to the point, they would actually want to, since the games offered on EyeToy: Play are fun, engaging and addictive.
That brings me to point two, namely, that the EyeToy feeds the average person's vanity by projecting themselves onto the television. As just about every reality show on the air proves, being on television remains an important status symbol in our culture. EyeToy allows gamers to reward their egos, but since the game is in their home they're safe from embarrassment. I don't have to worry about my weight or if I combed your hair when I play. It's pretend broadcasting.
What's more, EyeToy breaks down a lot of the boundaries between the player and the game. The average nongamer, let's face it, feels some degree of disconnect when they're outside the game pushing buttons on the controller. But when they see themselves inside the game (shades of Tron), all of the sudden they have a more invested interest in what's going on. It's the same reason why we like customizing characters in games (like in the Tony Hawk series). EyeToy allows the player to feel more connected to the game than they could before.
Like Karaoke Revoution and the Dance Dance Revolution franchise, EyeToy: Play is inclusive rather than exclusive. It encourages people of all ages to join in the fun rather than feel excluded from some odd club they have no interest in being a member of. More than Metal Gear Solid or Final Fantasy Whatever, EyeToy is the killer app that can draw people who have never played a videogame in their life before towards the PlayStation 2.