DESIGNED EXPERIENCES, MEDIUMS, AND GENRES
My mother is not the first person you would consider going to the Disneyland theme parks with. She’s 66, and she finds even the Dumbo ride to be violently nauseating from the spinning. As a result, when we recently spent two days there with my family, she regarded every ride with suspicion, going on the “experience” rides and avoiding anything twisting, spinning, or flying.
When we made it over to California Adventure, I talked her into going on a ride called Soarin’ Over California. Of course, simply judging by the name, she was dubious. Another flying ride! But I made her go on it anyway.
If you’re not familiar with it: Soarin’ Over California simulates a trip over California in a hangglider. You sit in a big bench seat, strapped in, and get lifted into the air in front of a huge, floor-to-ceiling, 180-degree movie screen. Wind blows in your face. When you fly over the redwoods, you smell pine; when you fly over orange groves you get a faint whiff of oranges. It’s incredibly immersive and maybe the one thing that makes those Parkhopper tickets worth it, at least for one day.
As we were exiting the ride, I asked my mother what she thought about it. She waved me off. Oh great, I thought. She hated it. I don’t get it! It wasn’t the least bit scary or motion-sickness-inducing! When we got outside the ride, I asked her again, and she took off her sunglasses. There were tears in her eyes.
My mom is 66 years old and spent most of her teen years and adulthood in California. She had memories of every single place we flew over, and the immersive nature of the ride brought them all rushing back. “I just love this state so damn much,” she said to me, voice a bit strangled.
One of the biggest traps we can fall into as designers is to conflate mediums and genres. I never thought a theme park ride could make my mother cry! And, of course, the only reason it hadn’t happened was because no one had tried to do it. This revelation isn’t exactly news in the game design world, thanks to the Wii and the Kinect and the iPad and the 3DS, but it seems like it is a lesson we are resistant to learning. Maybe it’s because people who make games now are people who loved games as they were, and everyone wants to design games that they themselves will love and play.
(Incidentally: THIS is the reason it’s so important to do outreach and inclusiveness to attract women, people of color and others with diverse backgrounds and experiences to design games! Our medium wants to be as loved and respected as cinema, but it will not be until it is embraced by EVERY walk of life the way that cinema has been; and that happened through more and more people wanting to share their unique visions through film.)
Whatever the reason, we limit ourselves when we think that a medium belongs only to a certain demographic: roleplaying games are for dorky guys aged 16-30. Social games are for housewives aged 30-40. Console games are for bros aged 18-24. The Wii is for kids.
Has there ever been a video game that made my mother cry? No, but then, I don’t think anyone has designed an experience in a video game to make her cry, either.