Are we returning to a ridge of quarters sitting at the bottom of the screen?
Apologies if this seems a bit scattered. This is definitely thinking in progress, and I imagine working 70+ hours last week isn't helping either. But it's something I've been trying to understand and articulate for some time now; consider this the first foray.
Simply, I'm deeply skeptical of mobile and social games.
Often the future of gaming is presented as being dominated by this pair. But I can't help but feel that would basically be leading us back to the arcade, with all its weal and woe. In my youth, I had many good times at Jackson's Fun Stop arcade. But these times were meaningful because of the friends I played with and the stories we created. The games themselves were not terribly substantive. No offense to Mortal Kombat or Darkstalkers, but they could (and were) easily replaced by Primal Rage and that awesome six-player X-Men cabinet.
I look at the vast majority of iPhone and Facebook games, and I can't help but see basically the same thing. They're touted as the future so often, but in terms of almost all meaningful qualities, they're a step backward. They're largely shallow, they're amusing because they're played with others and they're all about collecting your quarters (or convincing you to click on ads and/or use real money to buy fake things).
I worry this reinforces the antiquated notion that games are diversions, things meant to provide quick amusement and pass time. As mentioned briefly when discussing the surprising sophistication of contemporary television, increasing complexity is the hallmark of sophisticated media. Max Injury and Bejeweled 2 are not that. I'm not sure they could move beyond just being "fun." (Indulgent self-referencing ends here, btw)
Now, I'm fine with games providing only amusement and social reward. I cannot enumerate the good times I've had with friends over Rock Band, Super Smash Bros., Mario Kart/Party, World of Warcraft, Ticket to Ride, Settlers of Catan, Arkham Horror, etc. Some of my fondest gaming moments have really been about the people I was playing with.
But there is also my time with Planescape: Torment, Thief, Fallout, Far Cry 2, Little King's Story, and so forth. Experiences that would be unreproducible if shared with others or if consumed in small bursts on a tiny screen. And this is why I worry about mobile/social games "being the future." They're perfectly capable of producing amusing, shared experience. But the rich, deep, atmospheric one? I'm not so sure.
The vast majority of people don't engage with mobile content like they do other entertainment media. It's sporadic, low-attention engagement. The race-to-the-bottom pricing of the iTunes app store creates a perception of value (or lack thereof). Even the best iPhone game had to make their message a secret. I know less about interacting with social browser games, but I doubt they're that different.
Games of this nature facilitate meaningful interactions between people. But in and of themselves, they are not meaningful and do not create meaning. And that's why I cringe every time I hear "mobile/social games are the future!" As a Trojan horse, showing people that games are not just bombs and boobs? Sure. But are these platforms simultaneously the point of departure and final destination for new gamers? I sincerely hope not.
Games had to move out of the arcades to become something more than basal amusements. By asking us to put the arcades in our pockets, can we really expect the games to be different? I'm extremely curious about your opinions on this. Is there untapped potential here, or is it just Farmville, as far as the eye can see?