Thursday, August 28, 2008

Good games for cakes

Happy birthday, Lil Derrick!

How’s it feel to be four?

And completely fictional?

Seeing this wacky cake design all over the internet, often accompanied by several blog posts crying about how poor parenting is destroying the world, I can’t help but think that the goofball that took the picture is feeling very proud of himself.

And here I go adding to the pride. Given the controversy of GTA it is not surprising people would react so powerfully to an image such as this. However, the number of three year olds that are capable of playing and understanding the game-play and themes of M rated games is a very small and possibly nonexistent number.

The primary market for GTA titles at this point is the same middle-class audience that buys derivative gangster rap with little to no appreciation for the cultural history of the genre. It’s actually a brilliant marketing move. Not all press is good press, but this kind of thematic approach turns a large amount of that bad press to useable print.

Layer solid map negotiation and chase mechanics on top of that (which is the core of GTA mechanics) as well as the impressive additions that have come with every additional GTA title and you have a studio making hit.

But that does not change the fact that this is not a game for kids. And it is more than the periodic bad word or prostitute. Having worked with children a lot in my career, I have never met any child that talks about GTA, preferring discussions of Pokémon and Zelda.

What this comes down to is certain game types are just not for a younger crowd. The puzzles of Zelda and Pokémon are all fairly directed and contained. And while the missions of GTA have a fairly direct nature to them, Zelda does not leave you completely lost if you take the fourth left instead of the fifth. This doesn’t make one game better than the other, both are fun and entertaining, but it does make one game more accessible do a different audience, considerably more accessible. And it is a two way street, I don’t know many twenty-five year olds who talk about Zelda en masse.

The audience best suited to the style of game mechanics of a title are often reflected in the thematic and marketing of these titles. The fantastic imagery and bright cartoony environments that are definably Zelda appeal to the youth market much more than the gritty realism of GTA.

Lil Derrick is almost most certainly an imaginary construct. There is just nothing in GTA for children; given the chance it is unlikely any four year old would opt to play GTA over virtually any other game title. Besides, Who calls a kid “Lil”?

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