So often, we in the game development community are envious of other media. In part, this may be game designers wishing for the respect that other media command in society, the legitimacy that I spoke of earlier. Others may secretly , subconsciously, or even openly wish they were working on something other than games . A game designer may say, I want my game to have a similar effect on the audience as the movie The Godfather ! or I want people to enjoy playing this game the same way they enjoy listening to The Jimi Hendrix Experience s Electric Ladyland ! But this is the wrong approach to take. The strength of our medium lies in what it does differently from other media and the emotions it can evoke in the audience that no other art form can. If we endlessly try to ape other media we will forever be stuck with second-class , derivative works. Surely Jimi Hendrix did not try to emulate a movie he had seen when he recorded Electric Ladyland . Similarly, Francis Ford Coppola knew he would have to radically alter Mario Puzo s book The Godfather in order to make a good movie out of it. Indeed, Coppola s mastery of film allowed him to create a movie significantly better than the book upon which it is based. Both have nearly the same story, characters , and even dialog, yet Coppola s telling of the story cinematically outdid Puzo s literary telling in nearly every way. Though the effect a game has on a player may be different than a book has on a reader, a film has on a viewer, or a song has on a listener, it is not necessarily a worse effect, merely a different one. Computer games have strengths of their own that we must master if we are to produce the best work possible. Surely our medium presents challenges for those who choose to work with it, challenges not to be found in other art forms, challenges we have a duty to face if we hope to be more than charlatans and conmen.
In his book Understanding Media , Marshall McLuhan is famous for saying, . . . the medium is the message. This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium ” that is, of any extension of ourselves ” results from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves , or by any new technology. McLuhan argues that while people concern themselves with the content of television shows or plays or music, a medium s true message comes not from the content but from the medium itself. Now, I certainly do not claim to be a McLuhan scholar, yet I cannot help postulating what the nature of our medium of computer games is, a medium that did not exist when McLuhan wrote those words. The inherently interactive nature of computer games creates a mass medium that encourages players to be active participants in art in ways other media cannot. I cannot help but conclude that the fundamental message of our medium is one of participation and empowerment.
Game designers make a product that either facilitates the interaction between others,in the case of multi-player games, or sets up an interaction between a single person and the computer, for solo games. In the latter case, it is somewhat incorrect to say that the true interaction takes place between the person and computer, since the computer is nothing more than a medium for the interaction; the interaction actually takes place between the player and the game s creator. When I spent weeks of my early life alone in the dark computer room in the back of my parents house playing The Bard s Tale and The Bard s Tale II , I never thought of myself as being alone. In a way I was there with Michael Cranford, the games creator, playing in the world he had made, exploring the piece of himself he had put into the game. This medium seemed so powerful I knew immediately that I wanted to work with it to create my own games, so I could put a part of myself in games for players to experience.