OPINION: I hope my designs are addictive

OPINION: I hope my designs are addictive

By Andrew Smith

December 8th 2010 at 3:07PM

And, says Spilt Milk Studios boss Andrew Smith, thereâ??s nothing wrong with that if done with care

“The hot topic these last few days has been all the renewed talk of how addictive games are, and how this is ‘bad’ for society. It doesn’t take a genius to take a step back and realise what a silly way of thinking this is (especially with the BBC’s hilarious comments regarding their own ‘un-addictive’ games) but of course it is still a valid concern to be raised.

Even the most art-led, experimental game wants us to keep playing until it’s shown us everything it wants to, and we don’t have to be seduced by the grind of an MMO to recognise when we’re addicted. The levels of addiction only become an issue when the person themselves becomes the problem.

But that’s not what I want to talk about. Aside from the usual gutter-sniping that went on regarding Panorama’s show, coverage in some of the games press was reassuringly mature.

To me this shows a maturation of our perception – of ourselves most importantly.

How we see ourselves as an industry is so incredibly important to how we present ourselves to others, and getting all uptight just because a show is asking uncomfortable questions about our profession doesn’t really do us justice. It’s even reached the point where the people outside of the industry looking in are labelling us as ‘defensive’ and this needs to end. If we’re being defensive, we obviously have something to hide. Right?

I’m a Games Designer by profession, and I am happy to admit to anyone that I design my games to be addictive, Panorama-be-damned. I like to think I draw the line somewhere though, and I’ve not yet explored the social/casual space with much vigour, but I know that there are less-than-savoury ways of engaging people and taking their time and money. I’m not a fan of these practices, but ultimately I do believe that like any addiction the responsibility lies with the person it affects, and those that support their emotional wellbeing – family, friends etc.

I digress. We certainly have a lot to be sensitive and defensive about.  A lot of our most successful games are full of violence, cruelty, warfare, bloodshed and borderline sadism. Anyone in their right mind would be concerned that these are portrayed in a responsible and non-sensationalist way. This ‘worry’ is normal human behaviour. We’re proud of a lot of these games and their success, but we’re a little hesitant to shout our triumphs too loudly.

We also have plenty of games (admittedly mostly in the independent space) that celebrate and explore a wide range of emotion, the impact people have on their environment, the nature of relationships and other such ambitious themes. These kinds of games are equally valid as their less ‘morally wholesome’ brethren, but we should celebrate them all equally.

I suspect nobody reading this disagrees too much with what I’ve said here, but then that’s my point. We – the games industry as whole - know all this already. But we should take a moment to take a look from across the fence.

The people looking from the outside in are people who are uneducated about games. They haven’t spent their lives playing them, they don’t know how they’re made or by who, they’ve never read a post mortem or made a level in Little Big Planet. They’ve never bought a bit-tune remix of a popular track, they don’t know who Yu Suzuki is, and they probably think Mario, Sonic and Master Chief are roughly the same person.

They are learning about us though. We simply have to be patient as they do so. Programs like Panorama are part of that learning process, but if every time someone asks a question about what it is we do for a living we respond with, at best, angrily-defensive comments and counter-arguments then we’re not doing ourselves any favours. We need to stop complaining about the fact that these questions are being asked, and concentrate on the opportunities they provide us to give the world at large a more informed and accurate picture of what it is we do.

We need to stop reacting as if we’re being picked on, as if we’re stroppy 12 year olds. We’re grown up, as an industry. We have tons to be proud of, and let’s show them every last drop of it.

Think back to when you were young, and you fired up Donkey Kong Country for the first time on Christmas morning. You eagerly show mum and dad the game, and all they really take away from it is that ‘the music is fun!’.

Then look at it from their point of view. They may not understand the ins and outs of the game, why you’re so hooked, or why you nearly snap your controller in two every time you die, but they do get that it’s having a profound impact on you. You’re excited and impassioned about this new-fangled gadget, and that’s a positive that outweighs their concerns. They don’t fully understand it and as a result they have some concerns, but they will be assuaged given time (and the constant badgering from their child to pay with them).

Just because we’ve – in every single moment of our working days – validated the contribution we make to modern society, the future of entertainment and the plain, awesome cultural significance we have these days, we expect everyone else to have done the same.

But they haven’t yet, and it’s our responsibility to take their hand and show them, not give them the cold shoulder and expect them to catch up.”


Andrew Smith is a BAFTA-winning game designer for Spilt Milk Studios. He has featured in Develop’s 30 Under 30, profiling the best young talent in the industry today.