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.

Brad Gallaway

Brad Gallaway

Brad Gallaway has been gaming since the days when arcades were everywhere and the Atari 2600 was cutting edge. So, like... A while.

Currently, he's got about 42 minutes a night to play because adulting is a timesuck, but despite that, he's a happily married guy with two kids who both have better K/D ratios than he does.

Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody at the office is looking, and his favorite game of all time is the first Mass Effect -- and he thought the trilogy's ending was Just Fine, Thanks.

Follow Brad on Twitter at @BradGallaway
Brad Gallaway

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11 Comments on "Invisible indies: David Cage is right"

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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.


[quote=Pedro]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.

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… Read more »
Mousse Effect
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… Read more »

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.

Mousse Effect

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


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).

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… Read more »
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… Read more »
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… Read more »
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… Read more »