Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Generation conflict

If I could have one hour of your time, I'd propose you spend that hour watching Clint Hocking talking about gamer generations on Teut's blog. Clint Hocking is Creative Director of Ubisoft Montreal, responsible for games like Splinter Cell and Far Cry 2, and talked at the International Game Developers Association meet in Montreal last February. While the video is long, and gets off to a slow start, it then explains brilliantly Clint's theory of gamer generations.

While the very first video games were made by the generation of baby boomers (which happens to be my generation) born between 1946 and 1964, the exponential growth of the video game industry, and its tendency to hire young people, means that in 2000 80% of game developers were members of generation X, born between 1965 and 1981. But there is a generational change ahead, with generation Y, born between 1982 and 2001, about to take over by 2015.

Clint says that generation X "doesn't play nice with other people", but they prefer abusive, punishing, single-player games, or multiplayer games in which they dominate the other players. Generation Y is a lot more social oriented (not unlike baby boomers), cooperative, and prefer games that hand out rewards left and right, and are very forgiving. That kind of relabels the hardcore vs. casual conflict into a generational X vs. Y conflict, but gives it an inevitable demographic shift direction towards generation Y. But Clint expresses some hope that generation Y learns how to handle handing out rewards better than just giving everyone the same, and that they can solve the hard problem of immersion in the context of games, especially multi-player games. "Generation X always imagined that the Matrix was an objective reality, created by machines, and given meaning by our senses. Generation Y is going to discover that the Matrix is an aggregate subjective reality, created by players, and given meaning by our hearts."

Being a baby boomer, I agree with generation Y that kicking other people's ass cannot be the ultimate meaning and purpose of games. But when I look at the strong effect of trivial rewards on people's behavior, I have to agree with generation X that it doesn't make sense to just hand them out to everyone, regardless of performance and behavior. Having discovered how powerful rewards are, we must now use them to encourage positive behavior. Too bad that generation X and generation Y will never be able to agree what exactly "positive behavior" is. So here I'm with generation Y again, hoping that it will mean cooperation and social interaction, and not just striving to perform well in an artificial, abusive, and punishing virtual reality.

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