September 27, 2005

Have You Seen This Man?

by Andrew Stern · , 4:06 pm

Neuvo-games journalism siteThe Escapist (now with beer ads!) has posted a fresh interview with Chris Crawford.

The man known as the Dean of American Game Design toils alone, unfunded and underappreciated, in a forest in Oregon. He has renounced games; or perhaps, one might say, games have renounced him.

Who is Chris Crawford, and why does he toil alone?

(Readers of GTxA will recall that Chris has told us why, which spawned further discussion (1 2). Also read about our visit last June to Chris’ annual gathering.)

Relax, open a cold one (or a carton of milk), and enjoy the article.

10 Responses to “Have You Seen This Man?”

  1. josh Says:

    his hermitage (hermitage?) is making things harder for him, I’d think. the more standoffish he becomes and the more he criticises everything that’s out there, the less he’ll be taken seriously. I do like his work an awful lot, though – I read ‘Computer Game Design’ for the first time recently and was surprised at how evergreen is.

    as to his arguments, what about efforts like Morrowind? they’re big on big worlds and it sounds like Oblivion will come closer than ever to interactive fiction, in terms of the radiant AI system they’re implementing. it’ll only get bigger in the future, and someday I imagine there will be no distinct story and every NPC in the Morrowind world will have a distinct personality and good or villainous tendencies, which would then provide narrative through normal interaction. maybe.

    I dunno. chris crawford is an important guy, the guy on the fringe that everyone watches to see if he does something weird or noteworthy.

  2. andrew Says:

    Chris does criticize pretty much everything (his gracious plugs for Facade are notable exceptions, of course). I’m guessing he gives those criticisms for a few reasons, the primary one being: outspoken revolutionaries need to stand up against things that are even half-good — ie, titles that have some good features, such as some of the better games out there — but because half-good is still half-bad. It’s sort of like trying to end a relationship that’s not absolutely horrible, but that’s gone sour and has little chance for improvement — best to make a clean break.

    If you take a step back, and look at the culture as a whole and who and who isn’t playing games, you’ll see that Chris’ dismissal of games isn’t so farfetched… Even in the game industry, I think a sizeable number of people agree with Chris, at least secretly or subconsciously, or suspect he’s right, and so Chris keeps getting interviews.

    (People tend to cite the game industry’s revenues being higher than the movie industry’s revenues as proof that games are becoming dominant; however that claim appears untrue. The game industry’s revenues are only higher than the movie’s if you include game hardware in the sales calculation; if you only include software, it’s less. If you included game hardware, it’d only be fair to include DVD player sales in the movie revenues, and then movies would still be on top.)

    About Morrowind: Oblivian’s efforts with Radiant AI sound promising, but the proof will be in the pudding, as usual.

  3. mark Says:

    Andrew— I’m a little confused why people are using revenues as an argument for anything in the first place, unless the argument is about venture capital or stock prices. Is the problem with the game industry really that it needs to increase the size of its audience? Applying that measure to literature, Dan Brown is an author orders of magnitude better than (say) Umberto Eco, which seems like a dubious claim…

  4. Josh Says:

    Fact still stands that games are big, though, regardless of whether they’ve surpassed the movie industry. I’m reminded of the fact that there was a line thirty people out the door at midnight for the release of Halo 2 at an inner-city St. Louis Gamestop. Most of those guys weren’t the hardcore crazies.

    But anyway, the analogy of an abusive father comes to mind. He’s a naysayer and never has anything resembling praise to say, but you know deep down he has a respect for what you’re doing and only wants to push you to do your best. It seems like Chris is getting a lot of attention because everyone’s looking at gaming, saying wow big stuff we’re important now, and he’s calling us out and saying games made today aren’t really anything to write home about. Which is half-true, like you say.

    By the way, if you guys EVER port Facade to Mac, I’m all over it ;)

  5. andrew Says:

    Mark — presumably revenues = sales numbers = popularity ~= cultural value. At least pop cultural value. Does the game industry need to increase the size of its audience? Yes, I think so… it’s not mass appeal yet. It’ll do that by branching out into new genres, etc., which is I think what you’re suggesting.

    Josh — yup, we are planning a Mac port.

  6. mark Says:

    Andrew— I’m not sure I agree it’s not mass appeal; a huge fraction of people young enough to grow up with video games have played them, and a pretty large fraction play them regularly. It may not be as mass as the latest Tom Cruise movie, but it’s definitely in the tens (if not hundreds) of millions of consumers.

    Even if I agreed with that though, I don’t really agree that it’s an inherent problem, or that expanding the audience would be a good thing. If the audience can be expanded through dozens of niche markets, perhaps that would be good. If the goal instead is some sort of analogue to the mass appeal of Hollywood blockbusters or the latest Dan Brown novel, I think that would constitute a net decrease in quality.

    I do agree that popularity is approximately pop cultural value (Dan Brown and Tom Clancy are certainly more pop-culturally relevant than any of the authors who’ve won the Nobel Prize for Literature), but I don’t agree that pop cultural value ought to be the goal. If anything, I’d consider it something of an anti-goal; becoming the Dan Brown of the games industry ought to be something to actively avoid.

  7. Rinku Says:

    I believe Crawford’s point doesn’t have to do with the *absolute number* of audience games reach, but the *range* and *types* of people games reach which as you point out is still mostly young people, and still mostly males. The difference between Nobel-Prize winning literature (and I’ve read some of it and it’s *not* actually much better than the popular novels. I’d prefer Harry Potter over 90% of Nobel Literature Prize winners, definately) and videogames is that the audience of videogames is a particular demographic, whereas the audience for great novels stretches across all demographics, even if the absolute number may be less. People who read great novels come from all walks of life, in all shapes and sizes, whereas people who play great videogames are still primarily males in their teens or twenties.

  8. ErikC Says:

    I am afraid I disagree with the above sentence, gamers are actually entering their thirties all over the world (gasp shock horror).
    Jim McGee may be even older than 31.
    But I digress.

    Went back over the Crawford ‘files’ and he apparently created a game similar to one I want to make (for other nefarious reasons).

    Is it still available or playable somewhere?

    “Alien indeed. Trust & Betrayal put the player in the role of an alien acolyte competing against six computer-controlled acolytes of other species for the title of Shepherd. Each of the computer-controlled competitors had a distinct personality and the core of the gameplay was figuring out which ones to ally with and which to oppose. It was a pioneering attempt to put real characters into computer games, relying on artificial personality and language parsing solutions that were innovative or clumsy. No one had ever made a game like it before, nor since.”

    By the way, he isn’t talking about Interactive Stories, he is talking about GREAT INTERACTIVE STORIES. Sometimes people forget to mention that. It is pretty difficult to be hailed as the next Shakespeare when no one will stage your plays and you consider yourself too good for any potential patrons.

  9. Rinku Says:

    I was talking averages, not individual cases. The prevalent and propogandistic myth that game players are getting older and the gender gap is closing and that most players are in their 20s has been exposed by, coincidentally, Chris Crawford. Read

    Trust & Betrayal is available at The Underdogs. Search for “Siboot” in its title search area. It’s a pretty fun game.

    I urge you to reconsider the idea that he is talking about great interactive stories in the sense of “similar to what we have now, but greater / more artistic / better”. I’ve read through his complete works (several thousand pages) twice, and I can tell you that that is definately not what he is talking about. He isn’t even primarily a game designer, he’s not working on his own projects in secret, but an engine and infrastructure for others to make projects on. He definately doesn’t consider his works too good for others.

  10. ErikC Says:

    Thanks for the link, I found the site soon after, and it was very good of Chris to make that available. I think I see why it was not a huge hit–a command to read 68 pages of instructions and a novella for what appears to be graphically a very simple game (with confusing navigation).

    Yes I read his books, teach them, have met and shook his hand,but I still feel he is open to criticism, which is a compliment, he puts things out there that create discussion.
    Surprised he would not consider himself “primarily a game designer” and I guess we will just have to differ over this notion of great stories–I certainly see that in his writing.
    But as to marketing, almost every major polling is biased, even the media ones–they are looking for the newsworthy.
    And the age of gamers is growing, I know from personal experience, I know from other markets, I can tell from the advertising on tv, I can see it in the conferences I go to, I can tell when I evaluate people over the age of 40, that they have some idea of game genres, and what to do in virtual environments from games.
    To say the age of gamers is not increasing, because the surveys are biased is not neessarily valid, it only means that we should be more careful.
    Take the following reference:
    Electronic Software Association. (2005). 2005 Sales Demographic and Usage Data: Essential Facts About The Computer And Video Game Industry.

    Some amazing ‘facts’ there, it may suggest the people who buy games are older, it implies but does not prove they are the people playing games.
    As to more people playing PDA games, I wonder if they see these games as games, or as pure time fillers.

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