Why are developers making more games for grown ups? I am unashamedly an older gamer, at 43 I have been playing games for over 30 years and started with a Sinclair ZX81 in 1981. More games for X Box, PlayStation and PC are getting mature content and in most cases that content isn’t about violence or sex but tackle areas such as loss, inclusion and mental health.
In the US the average age of gamers is 30 (click here for the source of the stats) and in the UK it is 35. In the US 68% of gamers are over 18. So from a business perspective it makes sense for development companies to create games that have more adult themes, as this is what the majority of their customers engage with.
Heavy Rain, Quantic Dreams masterpiece, dealt with loss, parenthood and how far would you go for love. A father has to save his son from the hands of a serial killer and it is possible for the child to die. I remember, particularly as my children were of a similar age at the time, being profoundly effected by this game. The game understood its audience and geared its content engage with them on a very visceral level.
Despite the vitriol of GamerGate last year, games are beginning to be more inclusive with game characters. Women in games are less sexualised and victimised and are strong characters in themselves. The Last of Us had a number of female characters, Tess, Marlene and particularly Ellie, they were well rounded, capable individuals. Their gender was insignificant compared to their skills and intelligence. The Last of Us and it’s expansion also had three gay characters, this was not camped up or stereotyped it was just a part of who they were.
Bioware, makers of Mass Effect and Dragon age, have always included gay, bisexual and transgender characters. Your playable character, which can be male or female, can enter into romantic relationships with them. In fact both Bioware and Naughty Dog won LGBT awards for the inclusive nature of their games. It is a measure of how the gaming industry is taking steps forward in character design. It isn’t there yet but some major companies are leading the way.
Games are even beginning to have themes of mental illness, The Last Door, The Binding of Isaac and Silent Hill 2 all dealt with issues of mental health. Most recently Don’t Nod Entertainment’s game Life is Strange dealt with depression and suicide. At the end of the second season a victim of cyber-bullying tries to kill herself by jumping from the roof of the school dormitory. The protagonist has to try and talk her down, however if you haven’t offered the right support during the earlier parts of the game or you choose the wrong things to say she will jump.
As I played through the game I became increasingly aware that the character was upset and desperate and did everything I could to support her. I won’t say whether I saved her or not (check out the playlist below and find out for yourself). I watched other YouTubers to get a sense of how they dealt with the situation. Some succeeded in saving her and some did not. However the dramatic moment on top of the dormitory made them all question their treatment of this character and feel genuine relief or sorrow depending on the result. Kudos must go to Don’t Nod for the very intelligent and non sensationalist way they dealt with this.
Games have to grow up with their audience, we now demand better, more engaging content. The power of the latest generation of consoles will allow developers to push the boundaries of story telling and character development. However there will always be room for games that are about shooting, jumping and brainless entertainment. We all need a little of this in our lives that will never change, but it will be unlikely to be enough going forward.
Don’t Nod very sensibly put together helpful contacts for people who had been affected by the themes in Life is Strange. If you have been effected by mental illness or are concerned for yourself or another click here for help.
Games for Grown Ups – Life is Strange
The video on the left is the episode in question the right has the full play-though.