“I’m here to replace you,” says the youth to the elder. This, I think, is how a lot of people view the generations as we grow older. Sometimes this turns into arrogance, but there’s some truth to the statement. The younger generations will eventually be the older ones.
How the statement’s interpreted is really important. In video games we see developers trying very hard to maintain the same thinking that they held as youth. It begins to feel as though they prize their youth more than they prize maturity, and so games have this pretty strong reputation as toys for kids. Some have chalked this up to the “nature” of video games. They’re fun, they’re inspired by childlike awe and curiously, they’re non-serious, non-political, pure. This is as much a failure of our developers to mature their craft, see it as emerging from the culture and as a source of culture in it’s own right, as it is a failure of the industry to allow games to mature. The industry is all about copying models that have already worked in the past, not improve on them. I think this prevents our games from being more versatile and keeps them narrowly focused on entertaining us. That’s why indie development continues to be one of the most important products of the popularity of the internet.
I don’t know when I started to realize this. Probably around 2007, the height of my MMO gaming. I started wanting more from my games, but I didn’t really know why I was becoming so much more demanding. Was I growing up or outgrowing games? Was I playing the wrong games? Was I just so immersed in gaming culture that I became a snob? The answer was probably a combination of all that and then some. I’m still pretty critical of games, but I’m also more accepting because I think somewhere along the line I realized I had matured. Some things would no longer hold my interest by virtue of just getting older. That leads to greater tolerance in all of us as we mature.
I encounter younger people all the time who see their place in the world as the new leaders. Some believe they have a duty to overturn everything the last generation believed in. Worse, some veterans of my generation see their place as squashing the hopes of the younger, to tell them “how it is” and in doing so discourage them from trying to imagine how it can be. To deter innovation because they worked really hard to get what they have and they see change as destroying that work. The relationship doesn’t mature. If you play as many games as I do, you know that it’s obvious in many game communities. Somewhere in there we’re all failing as stewards and students.
I wonder what can happen if we view each generation not as replacements, but as successors. Will games become more than entertainment? More recognizable as an asset to culture instead of a liability? I think we’re already finding out the answers and to me it looks promising. On most days. On some days it’s down right terrifying.