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Invisible indies: David Cage is right

Brad Gallaway's picture

Beyond: Two Souls Screenshot

At the recent DICE conference which just took place in Las Vegas, David Cage gave a speech which outlined nine points supporting his message that "the industry needs to grow up."

For further details on what he said, there's a great summary at Kotaku, or you can watch the entire speech on YouTube.

Predictably, his comments angered many people and I've been seeing comments across the gaming spectrum disagreeing with him or trying to prove him wrong in various ways. The most recent was this piece from sharp writer @EthanGach, blogging over at IGN.

Gach raises a good point in that there are certainly people within the indie/small gaming sphere creating the types of experiences that Cage suggests we're lacking, but holding up these projects as proof is missing the point of what Cage is saying. The way I see it, it's a matter of perspective.

To players like Gach, myself, or anyone who pays even half attention to the indie scene, I have no doubt that a long list of titles could be given that show hope for the games industry. However, when viewed from outside (and please forgive the term) hardcore circles, those titles might as well not exist.

To people at large in the world, or who don't play games on a regular basis, their conception of what games are is quite a bit different than the conception held by those of us who play them daily, blog about them, or review them.

When at work or at social events, I can recall several conversations where fellow parents were coming to me as "that guy who makes games" (sic) and seeking my advice whether Game X or Game Y was "safe" for kids to play, or what I thought about the current level of violence in video games. In almost every instance, the person asking me spoke about games as something dangerous, or as something that was bad for their children despite having no current personal experience themselves to base an opinion on.

Journey (PSN) Screenshot

Just to make sure that was still the case, I decided to do a little non-scientific research and asked several people who were not gamers what they thought of the industry. The friendliest response I got was something along the lines of "I don't know what those games are about, but my kids spend way too much time playing them" to "they're really violent and have too much sex." This latter theme was more popular, and it proves Cage's point—despite the existence of titles like Journey, Dear Esther, The Unfinished SwanTo The Moon, and many others, these experiences are utterly unknown to the outside world.

When asked to give detail about the perceived sex and violence as viewed by these non-gamers, the most common example given was Grand Theft Auto. Every single person mentioned that the player "gets points" for "killing cops," "beating up hookers" or "having sex." In their minds, these were the main functions of gameplay in that title—and please note, no one had any knowledge of the difference between GTA3, Vice City, San Andreas, or GTA4, or that those titles existed. All they knew of was some persistent, generalized and monolithic version of Rockstar's biggest franchise.

Other examples of games given during my chats included Pong, Pac-Man, Super Mario (no version known), Call of Duty (no version known), Halo (no version known) and surprisingly, I had one parent mention Minecraft although they had no idea how "bad" it was or how much violence there was in the game. All they knew was that their child (age 7) "was addicted to it."

Following up, when I asked these people whether they knew about "indie" games or Steam, not a single one had any knowledge of either, whatsoever. Not a single one.

Interestingly, I also got several happy mentions of "Wii," although it was meant in reference to Wii Sports, and not the console itself. I found this fairly telling for a few reasons, but I do give credit to Nintendo for managing to produce something which was seen as universally positive to society at large.

The Unfinished Swan Screenshot

Again, I fully grant that this was a non-scientific, anecdotal inquiry, but I think it's useful as a general indicator that only the most popular titles reach the level of cultural awareness required to penetrate the non-gaming populace, and that the overall cultural attitude towards games is that they are more negative than positive. I think it also suggests that most non-gamers have absolutely no idea of what gaming is like in the modern era.

I suspect that anyone conducting their own line of questioning would find something similar. Of course, this will likely change over time through cultural momentum as older generations die off and become replaced with younger ones, but for the moment, it is what it is.

My fellow critic Sparky Clarkson had this to say on the topic: Imagine if the only films EVER advertised in any major way were giant action blockbusters and kids' movies. Imagine if the only way to find out that films like Lincoln EXISTED was to spend hours every day exhaustively following movie-news websites. That's gaming. Intelligent games have almost zero visibility, and even when they rise above the noise, comparatively nobody buys them. Cage's critics seem to think that he's willfully ignoring all these smart, serious games, but the reality is probably that he's just never heard of any of them. In that respect, he's like most of the gaming public.

It is from this "we only know the big games" perspective that Cage's charge to the industry makes perfect sense, and honestly, I think he's right. The points he raised in his speech ring true to me, and rather than players trying to discredit or prove him wrong, his critics might be better off trying to understand where he's coming from, even if that doesn't reflect their own personal perspective or the entire spectrum of games development today. With all the scrutiny currently being given to games thanks to horrific acts of real-world violence, it can only be a positive thing to honestly evaluate where we're at, how we're seen, and where we want to go from there.

Category Tags
Platform(s): Xbox 360   Wii U   PS3   PC  
Key Creator(s): David Cage  
Articles: Editorials  

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Sex and Violence, Violence and Sex

Sex and Violence, Violence and Sex, yaddda yadda yadda. Time to dig up Pawlow again.

How come no-one calls out that that Cage's games have the central thematic of violence and sex? Why do you think that is? It's because people like Cage are really trying to do is to force everyone to play their sanitized versions of games, as another critic on this site described it. Sure, those games can have violence and sex, but it's their version of violence and sex -- it's the violence and sex that people who watch Game of Thrones, Spartacus, _____ and so on are comfortable with. This is exactly what Cage and consorts are doing, they are aping acceptable violence and sex in order to get more "mainstream".

It's not about artistic vision or any of that crap, no, it's about pandering to the people who you describe as not knowing the difference between GTA and their a**holes. This is also why Cage doesn't "know" about indie titles, he just doesn't give a crap about any of them, it's not his goal to advance video games as a medium, he just wants video games to be exactly like films, so he can then go and say: "See, play my game, it's just like the violent and oversexualized movies you guys like watching". And he would be correct. People love this sh*t, but they don't like being called out on it, because they don't have the balls necessary to simply say: "This is what i like, and if you don't you can piss off". Simple as that.

The question I ask myself is why Cage is doing this. Actually i know why, he's a hack. There's no deeper meaning, no mystery to be solved, he just wants to brown-nose his way up to the "top" and be regarded as the one who finally brought games out of the gutters. The more i think about it, the angrier i get. What a despicable person. Didn't think this "director" (and use the word loosely here) would be able to conjure up emotions in me, but he certainly did here.

This whole movement is nothing more than a poorly disguised social agenda, and i couldn't be more sick of it. Leave your politics out of my video games. You have your movies, watch those, why do you insist on intruding into my space as well? And for anyone who "has moved on", well, it's time to accept that you've just become old, boring and/or have become tired of fighting these gibbering (OMG GTA VIOLENCE SEX) idiots -- exactly the reason why it's a waste of time to try in the first place.

These people will never be satisfied unless they have turned every game into the sort of unengaging, feminist, piss-easy roller-coaster ride they can jump into before watching people fall down in Americas Next Top Model and other people getting murdered in some gritty based-on-real-events fantasy flick, maybe even turning on the news to get some righteous indignation against whatever boogieman the media carted out this week. But guess what these hypocrites will never be able to do: Actually enjoy games. And no-one else will be able to either.


Reality is that games are games, the idea that games need to 'grow up' is a bunch bs. They are entertainment. They don't have to be as mainstream as movies because games require some level of effort and talent. TV and hollywood don't, lets also not forget 99% of what comes out of hollywood is just low intelligence garbage.

Gaming has been sliding for the last 10 years by catering to the reflexless and skill-less masses.

Gaming is fundamentally about challenge and participation, when you shove stories, character and try to ape hollywood you lose the essence of what makes games great.

Right now the industry is chasing hollywood and the lowest common denominator too much and the actual gameplay is suffering.


What a great article.

I personally don't have any issues with what Cage said, and reading that Kotaku piece, I was nodding my head. And while there are plenty of games that fulfil his requirements *to some degree*, many of them are fairly niche even within gaming circles.

You've really hit the nail on the head when you say that most of the population is oblivious to gaming. My own experience getting back into games a few years ago as a 35 year old really was a journey down the rabbit hole - before that I walked past Gamestop without even noticing it, I had no idea that there was this massive 'geek culture' that existed, I knew a grand total of one person with a console (who only played, and still plays, Fifa).

In that sense, the Wii opened the door to gaming for a lot of people. Some of them graduated onto the harder stuff, like me, but I can say that in my entire social circle even now, I can talk to *one* person about gaming. For the rest, it isn't even a factor. As you have noted, any attempt to even raise the subject is met with dismissal (from intelligent adults who would normally discuss pretty much anything of interest).

Obviously this is an older demographic - late 30s and early 40s - and perhaps it will all be different in ten years time. But I already find myself looking for what Cage talks about (to *some* extent) and I'm actually starting to rule myself out of more and more of the big triple-A franchises as I play them. They are getting dull.

To the less extreme of my

To the less extreme of my angry colleague above me, I heavily disagree with Cage's opinion because well, he's not above his own criticisms. His games are frequently immature and rife with sexism and contrived stories. It's like Michael Bay claiming movies need to have less explosions.

Which actually leads into my next point where I vehemently disagree with Sparky: We DO see that exact circumstance where the only movies advertised are huge blockbusters (see: michael bay movies) and childrens movies (see: Wreck-it Ralph (although that was good)) and as a result similar things end up popping up. As a casual movie-goer, I couldn't tell you any mature or intelligent movies that came out in the past five years because, well, I'm not vested enough to care. I can't even tell you any indie movies that are trying to buck the trends because hell, who advertises those?

It's the same situation with games, except we still have an overarching media narrative that games are dangerous to kids and causing kids to be violent little murderers. It's no surprise that then you see the popular opinion on games be that they're immature. Despite one of the most popular series in the entire world (Mario) selling well and above what even Call of Duty and Halo can dream of.

David Cage is only right to an extent, but mostly wrong because he produces the same thing that he complains about. You literally fight the internet in a game of simon-says in one of his games. I can't take his opinions on the game industry seriously at all.

As a voracious cinephile I

As a voracious cinephile I can confirm that niche movies are not a whole lot more highlighted than indie games. Lincoln is definitely not a Dear Esther of movies. It may not be a Call Of Duty, but it's a Mass Effect or something along those lines (it's also a pretty mediocre film, if you ask me).

Didnt you guys have an early

Didnt you guys have an early podcast commenting a similar claim tgat games are only male power fantasy and that there is no gaming citizen game? At the time, youbthought that claim was fallacious, so what changed?
Also, I'm on board with previous comments about movies. For me most advertised movies are either action crap, chick flicks or kiddie stuff

I was so going to call out

I was so going to call out Cage as being one of the least qualified persons to make that kind of statement, but then the very first comment was an angry rant about just that. Beautiful.

People shouldn't pay too much attention to anything Cage has to say, be it on conferences or through his terrible, terrible scripts.

Other than that, this was a good read.

Top 30 movies = Top 30 games

Cage's talk is interesting. However, he's starting assumption is a fallacy. Cage looks at the top 30 grossing games of all time and see games mainly targeted at kids and teenagers. However, I just looked up top 30 grossing movies and it's exactly the same: you have "geek culture" movies (comic book adaptations, sci-fi adaptation, tolkien etc.), kid movies (disney, pixar, harry potter) and chick flicks (titanic) primarily targeted at female teenagers.

The truth is, most of the top-grossing movies even have video game adaptations. The two universe are very similar. The real issue is more with critics, were video game critics tend to value production values, while movie critics value writing and cultural meaning. Not sales or marketing.

Also, great writing Ticktock...


So the default position here is because Cage has made some successful, though flawed games, he isn't qualified to talk about games? Incredible.

I agree that looking at the top 30 grossing *anything* isn't a great way to start your discussion, but looking past that, at his actual points, what does everyone think?

I disagree with about half of what he says - I don't really think games would benefit from having authors or actors or creative movie people involved - maybe in some individual instances, but it has seldom been shown that throwing talent from one discipline at another has worked very well.


Do you think developers are making the same games over and over?

Would you like to be able to talk to non-gamers about games?

Why is our first reaction to this so defensive? Gamers are notoriously defensive and seem to perceive any debate as a personal attack (see first comment). Why is this?

Pedro wrote: I don't really

Pedro wrote:

I don't really think games would benefit from having authors or actors or creative movie people involved

I think Cage's games could benefit highly from having an author involved.

Also, it's not that he isn't qualified to talk about GAMES, but rather that it's hypocritical of him to call out games for being to heavy on sex and violence. The argument is not about quality after all, but content.


On the topic:
The analogy of Sparky Clarkson's I think was right on the money.

Off the topic:
The symbiotic relationship of Wii+Wii Sports is also really telling. For me, the Wii is really like an Atari Pong machine, but can play other games, too. Because, despite the fact that we own a lot of "hardcore" games on the Wii, our most played game is, in fact, Wii Sports. And I really want to play Skyward Sword with a classic controller.

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