Friday, April 29, 2005

Sanity 1, Dvorak 0. It's a Shutout.

I thought I didn’t have much to write about when I woke up this morning. Fortunately, John Dvorak opened his mouth. Problem solved.

John Dvorak is allegedly a “technologist” who is considered a guru by people who don’t understand technology. For anybody who does understand technology, he’s a towering mound of asshead (note the use of the officially approved new phrase). He could inflate a dirigible with his hot air, but wouldn’t have the faintest idea how to fly one.

My favorite Dvorak moment was with HDTV. For years, Dvorak absolutely railed against HDTV. It was obscenely expensive and unnecessary, he’d say. He would cite “current” prices for HD sets as proof, the only problem being that the prices he cited were thousands of dollars over what people were actually paying. It’s as if he was in a one-person, clueless time warp.

This was a technologist condemning a technology because he didn’t understand the production curve. How remarkably, um, stupid. He’s been totally off-base with so many technologies and trends that I don’t even keep track anymore, but if he bets against it, bet the house in the opposite direction as fast as you can.

So here’s the lead to the genius column he wrote today
(available at,1759,1784975,00.asp):
Am I the only one who expects a collapse of the gaming business soon? Does anyone else think that it is overdue? It has happened before, and I can't see how people will keep shelling out $50 or so for a video game when the games have hardly changed since the invention of the first-person shooter.

Let me quickly answer those first few questions.
--Am I the only one who expects a collapse of the gaming business soon? Yes.
--Does anyone else think that it is overdue? No.
--I can’t see how people will keep shelling out $50… That's a problem with your vision.

Here’s why Dvorak totally misses the point: he doesn’t play games. He doesn’t understand them as a cultural phenomenon. Most importantly, he doesn’t understand the cumulative impact of gaming by generation. If you looked at people who consider themselves gamers by decade, there would be a steady rise in every decade. Twenty years from now, guys like Dvorak who write about games but don’t play them won’t even exist anymore. He is uniquely ill-suited to understand what’s going on.

Gaming is no more likely to “collapse” than movies are, because it is embedded as a cultural element. Ten years from now, the vast majority of people under forty will be gamers. The question “Are you a gamer?” won’t even be relevant anymore. It would be like asking someone “Do you go see movies?” No one even asks that question, because for almost everyone, the answer is “yes.”

Here’s more:
I'm not the only one who thinks there's a problem. When Nintendo president Satoru Iwata spoke at this year's Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, he discussed the lack of new game ideas. He saw the same things that I see: There are four or five simple game categories and nothing really new or different.

The categories are shooters, puzzles and mazes, adventure games, sports games, and simulations. That's it.

Outstanding. Way to hitch your analytical star to a magic mushroom, John. Nintendo isn’t exactly the clear-thinking, analytical type of company, really. They don’t understand industry trends as much as they try to create them, and they fail as often (or more often, in the last ten years) than they succeed. Now anyone who games and follows gaming knows this, but Dvorak doesn’t. Trying to validate your own opinion by citing Iwata is like an economist trying to validate his theory on money supply by citing a hippie who’s lived in a commune since 1975.

Congratulations are also forthcoming for your keen understanding of gaming genres. I had no idea that role-playing games and real-time strategy games had disappeared overnight. Man, I’m going to miss those.

If you analyzed the content of popular films, would you come up with more genres than Dvorak came up with for games? No. The film, industry, though, doesn’t appear to be on the verge of collapse.

Iwata mentioned that in almost all the big games, the so-called boss characters are all beginning to be pretty much the same: big, creepy monsters. If you want to see exactly how inane this is, go out and rent the brain-dead Paul Verhoeven film, Starship Troopers. The movie stank so bad that nothing came of it after its release. It's essentially a video game turned into a movie—all the elements are there, including an idiotic "boss" that is just some huge flabby bug—and it shows you just how lame these games actually are.

This is sheer genius. Dvorak wants to condemn the quality of games because of a film. That’s so illogical it’s stunning, really. Oh, and dude, I hate to mention it, but that “idiotic boss that is just some huge flabby bug” is modeled after you.

Let me get to his conclusion, because it’s just as brilliant as everything else he’s written:
None of this will save a doomed industry. The business is going to attempt to sustain growth and creativity by making game players buy newer and newer machines. Computer gaming has always been sustained by never-ending improvements in resolution and realism. But once we get to photorealism, what is going to sustain growth?

Um, stories? Experiences? Immersion? If gaming consoles produced photorealistic graphics, how many people would rather “play” a movie than watch one? Dvorak, not surprisingly, has this totally backwards. A film is far less diverse in the kinds of experience the technology can offer. A photorealistic gaming console, on the other hand, has the ability to create an unlimited variety of experiences. Again, because he doesn’t enjoy playing games, he doesn’t understand why we play them.

We are already getting pre-hype for the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 2, as well as the new Nintendo. All this will do is make the visuals more lifelike and the blood and gore more realistic and nauseating. While the kids who are used to this "progress" may not be put off by it, newcomers may be repulsed and skip these new generations of machines altogether.

There we go. John, the only “newcomers” left are gasbags such as yourself who hate games to begin with. You just don’t get it. It’s not just “blood and gore” that will be more realistic—it’s environments. That’s a crucial concept, and one that you miss entirely. People who would be “repulsed” by blood and gore aren’t playing blood and gore games. There are plenty of other games to play, and they are all going to feel more real.

Partly, this is a generational gap. John is part of a generation that “watched” their entertainment. We “do” our entertainment, and the number of people like us is growing every year and will do so for at least the next twenty years, as people who never had the chance to play games are replaced by people who do. If anyone should be concerned at this point, it’s the film and television industry, not the gaming industry.

If that doesn't flatten the market, the never-ending need to satisfy the demanding full-time game-player should do it. Some of today's games are ridiculously hard to play—unless gaming is your so-called life—and so daunting to casual players that they will quickly reject them. Who needs to devote themselves to a game just to play it once in a while? I'll take Spider Solitaire instead.

I really can't imagine this scene continuing as it is for much longer. I suspect that the next generation of machines will be the last—or at least the last in the current boom market. It will be downhill from there.

Yeah, I’ll bet you’ll take Spider Solitaire instead. Thanks for clearing that up, because I assumed you were a hardcore Halo 2 player.

This really is pretty simple, at its core. Dvorak doesn’t like games and doesn’t understand why anyone would. There are literally thousands of games that don’t need “devotion” to be enjoyed. Remarkably, there are shocking technological innovations like “levels of difficulty” that enable newcomers to play games.

I wouldn’t have gone on so long about this, but Dvorak’s column is probably the most poorly-written column I’ve ever read about gaming. He makes so many fundamental errors in his reasoning that it wouldn’t even qualify as a competent blog entry. It’s going to get big play, though, because like I said, for people who don’t understand technology, Dvorak’s a guru.

Here’s the future, and I’ve talked about this before: games will be projected in high-resolution 3-D and will scale to fill whatever size room we can open up for gaming. That’s where we’re going. And when we get there, Dvorak will be bitching that games in 3-D aren’t any fun, and how he thinks this is definitely the end of the gaming industry. Enjoy that ride on the crazy train, John.

Site Meter