Does anyone in western high level game development have fun at their jobs?
I don’t mean taking a break between rendering, having lunch next to the tennis court with Adam the marketing assistant. I mean the actual job itself. Cleaning up a texture or picking bugs in a billion lines of code so Arno can crouch properly isn’t thrilling regardless of the game. But putting in this work, this precious time we will never be allotted enough of, on something that has no personal investment, does that bring satisfaction? This isn’t intended as a personal attack on people who are just trying to do their best. Working towards something that you have no investment in besides a paycheck is soul crushing for the rough majority of people who have jobs. I don’t blame the companies or even their motivations (as morally bankrupt as some may be). I blame the meat left out in the open that caused the vultures to circle.
A question that looms over my mind when playing most games is “What is this game trying to show me?”. A creator's motivation, as told solely through the game, is what should drive our enjoyment of it. In all entertainment, really. If an artist has nothing to say, then they do not deserve to entertain you. Entertainment should be used not just as a way to mindlessly pass time, but to ask questions and start a conversation. A complex message should be buried inside our media. There is no complex message behind a yearly Madden release; the people who buy it take the same attitude as finding out it’s time to do their taxes. The message behind releasing the same game (or a similar enough one that it hardly makes a difference) reads as “GIVE US MONEY”. Thus, even the prospect of spending my money on a Madden is sort of disgusting to me. Because no one on the Madden development team seems like they want to entertain me, even if someone there does take pride in the work they do.
I want to play games by people who seem like they want to be there, by you, watching you enjoy the thing they create. But those aren’t the ones that always make the money. The ones that make the money are often predatory, designed by people that try to hypnotize you to drop money on it. Carefully woven trailers and screenshots, crafted to impress the largest number of people possible, typically with a recent pop song or two accompanying it to ingrain familiarity. Scripted gameplay videos with producers imitating a normal play session of their game. Instead of having someone just play the game naturally. Smoke and mirror publicity designed to build hype. I have heard people actually praising these tactics as a reason to give them money. That finding ways to subconsciously get you to spend money is to be rewarded. But to paraphrase Princess Jasmine, my bank account isn’t a prize to be won. I willingly give my money to the things that I think earn it. My Magic 8 Ball tells me that The Elder Scrolls VI is going to perform well whether or not I buy a copy, so I don’t feel particularly pressed about passing it up for Deltarune, if it comes to it. Which is weirdly specific for a Magic 8 Ball, but whatever.
The point is that I think we, as a collective society, do not think critically enough about the games we play. Do I think that I’m going to incite a revolution; have every child drop Fortnite at once to go play I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream? No, of course not. People love their superficial crap. There will always be meat for the vultures to consume. But maybe, just maybe, one person will read this and start having a broader mind about the entertainment they consume. Just take a stab at the idea maybe. Save one person from spending $1000+ on cosmetics in some phone game that they will drop in two months. One more person not reduced to a slab of meat. It gives me some sort of peace of mind knowing that I at least tried to put something out there that asks questions of everyone, myself included. Instead of releasing “Knack 2 Review 2020”, advertising the newly added word and tweaks to the font size.
(Nick Miller is a video game historian and collector based in Cincinnati. You can reach him at [email protected])