The idea is the video game medium is inherently bound to this trigon view of games by their very nature. And the root of this idea stems from how software requires advanced technology to work. While I can sit down in a coffee shop and write the next great American novel on napkins and while I can compose a song or play a musical performance on any piano, other mediums cannot be created and presented from such humble means. The more modern the medium the more tied to the technology it becomes. I can capture a photograph on film or a digital camera. And while there are many technological advances in equipment (see a wonderfully inspiration video about underwater photography here), there are still some options in terms of how much technology I want to use to produce amazing pictures. It's about the same for making films. However, the software that powers our games is different from the mediums of film or photography or musical notation or text.
Software and digital computing are what video games are made of. Creating software using a coding language that can listen and interact with the player and hardware is something very new, poorly understood, and above the heads of most people. Because software is useless without the proper hardware and operating systems, the video game itself is strongly tied to the technology of its time. In other words, because the video game medium is digital where there is nothing appreciable about its parts outside of the specific digital systems to read the code and other electronic parts to produce the coded information, video games and technology are strongly tied together.
Because technology is always advancing along this "wave of the future" that amasses momentum due to Moore's law video games are also tied to business in a strange and perhaps unique way. Operating systems change, hardware is updated, and computing technology evolves. Even if we tried to restrict the video games medium to a specific type of hardware and coding language of particular point in time, soon the hardware would ware out, the factories would be unable to produce replacement parts, and the video game themselves would be impossible to experience. So we must ride the wave! We must update our systems and our controllers and our hardware to continue to enjoy video games. To ride the technology wave we have to pay the relatively few skilled programmers who can navigate digital coding language like a nautical polyglot. To have enough money to pay these professional programmers, we need companies, businesses, investors, and the like in order to sustain an industry especially of this size. And most businesses are focused on making money to at least sustain their efforts. Otherwise, they wouldn't exist for long.
By my theory, video games cannot separate easily from the views of games as technology and games as business. But unlike these two views, games as art is relatively disadvantaged. The products we commonly call "video games" don't need gameplay to be entertaining or interactive. In the pursuit of entertainment, most people just want to feel good. The less work the better the entertainment. Think of it as the comfortable choice, the easy way out, or the path of least resistance. It's clear that though we are all gamers, not all of us like gameplay. At one point I thought these non-gamer-gamers were a new trend in our industry because video games were becoming more mainstream. But now I'm starting to realize gamer have always been this way.
When I hear why some gamers put Zelda Majora's Mask as their favorite Zelda, the reasons are often because of the game's story elements. Though I feel that the story is fantastic especially because it's conveyed through gameplay, few others mention any of the gameplay parts of the game. This is strange. It's the same with Super Mario World. Gameplay wise, SMW is one of the weakest 2D Mario platformers. Yet overall, the game has many design similarities to the other 2D Mario games like New Super Mario Bros. So I wondered why many love SMW and despise the newer Mario games. And the reason is often because SMW has large open environments connected in a seamless overworld. Again, almost no mention of gameplay challenges, mechanics, or other elements. And no clear comparison of the gameplay differences between the Mario's they love and the Mario's they hate. I've found this lack of acknowledging gameplay to be the case nearly everywhere I look including GDC, forums, and in personal conversations. I've found that even for games with a heavy focus on gameplay, many of the most devoted fans most enjoy the non-gameplay aspects of the experience.
It's as if these gamers are blind to gameplay. It's as if they cannot see the parts, see the systems working, and appreciate gameplay for the rich experiences that only it can offer. Most do not have the language to talk about gameplay. This is something I've been working on for years (see critcial-glossary). It doesn't help that the critical discourse on video games is utterly lacking. Over 95% of the critical material I read on games is focused on feelings, vague experiences, and story elements. Basically, everything but gameplay. Much of the other 5% is satisfied with short sighted "rules of thumb" game design. When you lack the language to understand gameplay, you also lack the ability to express what you like or dislike about it (more on expression here). And eventually, these gameplay focused conversations don't happen. Then these gamers will begin to overlook the games that specialize in gameplay features and experiences. Eventually, players will become blind to gameplay or the games as art view. And eventually the industry will change to accommodate. Have we reached this point already? Is it too late to balance the scales?
In part 5 (click here), we'll recap and look at the consequences of the trigon views of video games and what our choices, whether active, passive, or tacit, have on our gaming future.