The videogame industry is bad at reaching mainstream audiences. It sounds like a cocky Buddhist koan, but one need only search the internet for a few Googles to see the game industry has not coexisted with the mainstream scrutiny and journalistic probing other entertainment industries have known for decades. Whereas film writing began in academic journals, videogame “journalism” and criticism began in enthusiast publications like Nintendo Power, where software companies and publishers kept information about products on a strict IV drip as prescribed by marketing plans. The dynamic hasn’t historically existed for picking up phones, chasing down leads, and taking scalpels to big systemic problems in the industry.
City management has long been a core pillar of the Civilization franchise. As the building blocks of your empire, cities provide all the resources and tools required for it to flourish, from gold and science to the military and religious units that propagate your culture. Previous iterations have largely automated city management: players would pick a nice area, preferably near the coast or on a river and with a handful of natural resources nearby, and plop down their urban centers without further thought.
It’s difficult to predict which skills will be valuable in the future, and even more challenging to see the connection between our children’s interests and these skills. Nothing illustrates this better than Minecraft, a popular game that might be best described as virtual LEGOs. Calling it a game belies the transformation it has sparked: An entire generation is learning how to create 3D models using a computer. It makes me wonder what sort of jobs, entertainment or art will be possible now. Cathy Davidson, a scholar of learning technology, concluded that 65% of children entering grade school this year will end up working in careers that haven’t even been invented yet. I bet today’s kids will eventually explore outcomes and create businesses only made possible by the influence of Minecraft in their lives.
The relationship between work and play is inherently entwined—there would, after all, be no PlayStation without the workstation. The link is clearest, perhaps, in a genre of simulation games that has enjoyed a surge in popularity in recent years. Car Mechanic Simulator, an unironic video-game approximation of the trade, became a best-seller in its first week of release, in late April. It’s just the latest simulation game that seeks to replicate working-class professions; the list includes Farming Simulator (gather crops), Oil Platform Simulator (drill for fossil fuels), Stone Quarry Simulator (collect rocks), Street Cleaning Simulator (collect litter), Euro Truck Simulator (deliver goods), and Tokyo Bus Guide (deliver passengers).
In a few cases, such simulations are authentic enough to be considered legitimate training for the profession itself. Time spent using military-grade flight simulators, for example, can count toward a pilot’s official flight-time record. Last year, a number of players of the Football Manager series of games submitted résumés for the job of managing Manchester United, in the U.K., citing their in-game achievements as qualifications. And each year the Japanese car manufacturer Nissan runs a competition using the driving-simulation game Gran Turismo, to find new racing talent. Lucas Ordoñez, the winner of the inaugural competition, in 2008, has become one of the company’s leading competitors on the professional track.
To give you an idea about how bad publisher influence can be, consider this: during production meetings, publishing execs often have someone—often the developer—“drive” a game so they can see how it is coming together. The publishing people all watch and then make passive, aesthetic appraisals of active, functional aspects of a game. This is because the bulk of execs can’t and don’t want to play or understand how games work. They don’t want to play. This would be akin to editors in literary publishing being unable to read or write.The relative ignorance of people in game publishing has been called out before. As Gabe Newell put it, gamers/consumers have a much better understanding of games than the management at publishers. It’s entirely and utterly true.
Every woman I know in games right now is really tired. Careful: That is “every woman I know,” not “every woman.” You must be very careful. It’s the kind of fatigue that isn’t so easily explained by our fist-shaking male colleagues who earnestly empathize across their social media platforms with how “we get harassed a lot”. Some of us get harassed a lot and some of us don’t. Sometimes it upsets me when people bring up the harassment: comments like I have no idea how you put up with all the shit you put up with or gee, you sure have a lot of haters, because honestly I am usually trying to ignore that part and, well, a lot of people like and support my work too, thank you.
Why is this still happening? Why do people so often have to work crazy hours just to make video games? Should companies be doing more to prevent it? Over the past few weeks, I’ve talked to some two dozen current and former game developers—some of whom spoke on the record and others who asked to be kept anonymous—to try to answer some of these questions. The stories are candid and ugly: some speak of nights sleeping in the office; of going weeks without seeing their families; of losing friendships and relationships because of endless unpaid overtime. Some say crunch drove them away from the video game industry. Some say they’ve taken vows to never work more than 10 hours a day.
To many developers and outside observers, one thing is increasingly clear: the video game industry’s reliance on crunch is unsustainable, and hurts far more than it helps.
This game seems to lean heavily toward being a muliplayer solitaire puzzle at first glance, but once everyone is familiar with managing the feedback loops between reputation, population, and income, and with the scoring goals that are available, denying other players what you think they need becomes pretty competitive. Another nice mechanism is that tiles from the market can be played upside down as small lakes, which provides a cash infusion but also allows you to take a tile out of the game that’s useless to you but helpful to an opponent.
In the same way open source has spawned millions of careers and thousands of companies, imagine the opportunity with openness applied to products. It could potentially jumpstart a revolution in how we conceptualize, build, and share things and how we experiment and innovate to push the boundaries of science and technology.
Design fictions draw on a long tradition of technological storytelling. Every technology starts with a story. We don’t know how the first hominids who fashioned a hand-axe from a flint shaped their thoughts, but the very action of flint-knapping implies a plan for the future: the result will be better, in some way, than the flints already to hand. So it is with all technologies. ‘A tool always implies at least one small story,’ writes the historian of technology David Nye in Technology Matters (2006). It begins in the imagination, and that imagining extends to what the tools will help us to achieve.