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sunandshadow

Games for adults - adult-focused themes and topics

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Recently an English major writing a paper on the topic of cliche asked for my opinion on the definition of cliche and some examples of what was cliche in different genres. I looked at fantasy in both novel and RPG form, and talked about the heroic journey myth, coming-of-age stories, apotheosis (becoming godly), male-pov romance with a princess as reward for the hero's effort. One of the points I made was how this cliche (or staple, or archetypal, if you want a more positive word) core of the fantasy genre appealed strongly to teenagers. After I sent off my response, I got to thinking about what sort of cliches/archetypes existed in other genres which mainly appealed to adults and not teenagers, and whether a video game built around these sort of themes would be regarded as mature, boring, or just wtf by the gaming community. Anyway the first thing that came to my mind, because I was playing with it as a story idea recently, is the theme of the "second chance". The main character would be an adult who was going through a sort of midlife crisis where they were realizing their youth was gone, and although they were proud of some things they had accomplished, or at least felt that they had mostly done the best they could, they regretted where they had failed, and mourned dreams that had never come to fruition. Then through some sort of magic or technology they are given the chance to start over, retaining their memories and the spiritual injuries of a tough life, but given a new young blank body which would become individualized over time by their own actions, told they had a new magic or sfnal skill to develop, placed in a school with some actual teenagers to show the contrast between living a life for the first time or having to start over. Perhaps this second chance life would also come with an expectation of becoming a soldier, and the main character would have to decide whether they wanted to do that or whether they preferred to be a civilian despite the cost of rebelling. So, two questions for you all, forum goers: 1. Would you find a game or other type of entertainment (anime, novel) with this theme interesting and appealing? Along with your answer please note your age and gender, so I can tell if the idea appeals more to a certain age group. [smile] 2. Is there some other adult-focused theme you would like to see developed in a game or other type of entertainment? Perhaps one you already enjoy in a different genre but haven't seen done in a game?

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1. Would you find a game or other type of entertainment (anime, novel) with this theme interesting and appealing? Along with your answer please note your age and gender, so I can tell if the idea appeals more to a certain age group.


Assuming it was well done, yes. I may not be the best to answer though, since I'm a bit unusual in my tastes compared to the typical 24 year old male. I'd actually find it interesting; since there's a few times even at my age I wish I could call for a mulligan. We all have regrets, things we wish we could have done or not done. You just have more the older you get.

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2. Is there some other adult-focused theme you would like to see developed in a game or other type of entertainment? Perhaps one you already enjoy in a different genre but haven't seen done in a game?


I can't really think of any off the top of my head that would specifically be "adult".

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Original post by sunandshadow
2. Is there some other adult-focused theme you would like to see developed in a game or other type of entertainment? Perhaps one you already enjoy in a different genre but haven't seen done in a game?


Politics,
and I mean global politics, not the american definition thats more of a personality contest.

It makes the world that the story's set in more interesting and realistic and allow for a story centred around grand scale conflict without cliche good vs evil character motivation.

Most of the series in the gundam franchise use this though it can also make the story a bit depressing when likable charters are conflicted against other likable charters.

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1. Would you find a game or other type of entertainment (anime, novel) with this theme interesting and appealing? Along with your answer please note your age and gender, so I can tell if the idea appeals more to a certain age group.


As a 35 year old male, I would find anime or a novel with that theme interesting, but for a game doesn't seem like there's enough important things to change to go back relive a "normal" person's life.

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2. Is there some other adult-focused theme you would like to see developed in a game or other type of entertainment? Perhaps one you already enjoy in a different genre but haven't seen done in a game?


The thing that turns me off of many game is that the situations and game mechanics are "dumbed down" for people of all ages. I would like to play more games where the details are there in all their glory. The only examples that come to mind right are World of Warcraft as a game being "dumbed down" and EVE-Online as a game that is not.

Another type of game that would appeal to me is game in the style of the "Groundhog's Day". Where you have to solve a puzzle of some sort while repeating the day or a couple of days over until you get it right.

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Heh, mentioning EvE Online mdae me think about how much I like and hate that game. I find that the most "grown up" parts of it are the ones that feel most like work. Running the corporation, politics with other player groups, commodity trading on the market, etc. If you can stare at a spreadsheet and fill out forms for two hours and call that "playing a game", then I guess EvE's for you.

But S&S was talking story, and I'm having a hard time coming up with an example. GTA IV has a pretty "grown up" story, if a bit meandering, and it tells a tale of remorse, redemption and self-discovery. It tells it in the context of an unending string of fetch missions and fights, with the entertainment value of traveling and fighting pretty much carrying the game. I'm never motivated to advance the plot or learn what comes next, I just find the individual assignments interesting and fun enough to do them.

The only thing I could think of when I read the OP was the japanese dating sims. That's what I'm afraid such an idea would turn into. You get a checklist like "Don't get fat after graduation," and "Marry Lisa Simmons; don't knock Jen Wheeler up," and "Buy Google stock." Then you spend every day going to the gym, buying flowers and condoms, and doing odd jobs to save up for that muscle car you always regretted to buying and fixing up.

Maybe I'm underestimating the importance of writing to a game, but with the exception of The Indigo Prophecy (Fahrenheit for you Euro-types) I've never seen gameplay take a back seat to storytelling, or even let it get much of the spotlight.

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25, male.

I somewhat object to the idea that the themes you listed are necessarily favored by teenagers. It's perhaps a cliche example, but LotR (novel or movie, take your pick) is a heroic journey myth with aspects of coming-of-age and male-pov romance that I've known men and women first coming to it at different ages to enjoy. I can't say if I would've enjoyed it in my teens, but I know I didn't like it around 13 (I first tried reading it in middle school) and I know I liked it around 19 (I tried again after graduating high school).

1) I might enjoy it. I like the themes of redemption and second chances that are involved, but I'm worried that there's too much and not enough at the same time. Too much in that you're proposing to deal with both the adult in a child's body problem and problem of what it means to do it better the second time. Too little in that it may be a bit too much like a reset button since our protagonist is relieved of the burden of his past.

I don't know how well it'd do in a game, either. You could make the player replay the same scenario many times, but unless there's some gameplay connection between the different run throughs, it's just like any other game where you practice to get better. Or you could have it as the (back?) story of an RPG, but then you either are just telling a story or you, again, have trouble differentiating from just playing through Fallout a couple times. In fact, I think one of the main difficulties in making a game out of this (the other being brought up by egwenejs) is that all games already tell this particular story.

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24, male.

1. Yes. Even if it's not so well-made, I think I will still find it to be interesting enough.

2. A warrior who try his best to stay true to "the way of warrior", even after he's been through so many painful events, like betrayal by his own leader, death of beloved ones (which put him in a dilemma of whether he's going to follow the law or seeking revenge his own way), and such.

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Maybe this is generalising too much, but I would say that a lot of games have this kind of theme. A player controls a character with a given history (usually traumatic), but this act of control effectively makes the character a blank slate anyway, because players can project whatever morality they wish upon the character.

I'm interested in your thoughts on archetypes and genres. I was at an AI planning conference a while back, and in several cases researchers were using the tropes of fairy-tales, or other well-established genres, to inform rules in narrative planning systems, so new, unique, stories could be generated within those genres. The planning systems could also change the narrative dynamically, allowing for player interaction within those narratives.

It's not a new idea, but its use in games is fairly limited (Fahrenheit did something similar but more limited). It would definitely be handy in something like Infinity, for example (procedural quest generation?).

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Original post by CoderFish
I'm interested in your thoughts on archetypes and genres. I was at an AI planning conference a while back, and in several cases researchers were using the tropes of fairy-tales, or other well-established genres, to inform rules in narrative planning systems, so new, unique, stories could be generated within those genres. The planning systems could also change the narrative dynamically, allowing for player interaction within those narratives.

It's not a new idea, but its use in games is fairly limited (Fahrenheit did something similar but more limited). It would definitely be handy in something like Infinity, for example (procedural quest generation?).


Actually I've written a bunch on this topic, try searching the design and writing forums for 'story generation' or 'plot engine'. I attempted to describe how a story generation engine could be constructed, but also concluded that it was too large of a problem for a single person to solve.

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1. Yes, whole-heartedly. I know so because I've played Alter Ego and I thought that was brilliant (even with the REALLY basic UI). For your reference - I'm male and I'm 30.

2. A theme I'd personally like to see much more in games is coping with bad decisions of your own making. A game where you make choices that may initially have negative consequences, and then later turn out to be good, indifferent or simply bad. This would have to be a game where you can't backtrack, forcing the player to deal with the consequences of their actions.
I find this kind of game-play engaging - most games are about "what if I didn't do that wrong" - I want one about "what if I did do that wrong"!

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The theme is interesting and has been done well before but it has also been done horribly. I suppose it would have to do with the execution; even cliché storylines can be very entertaining if they are done right and the character evolution is there.

Personally I find stories of betrayal interesting. I suppose if they are centered around politics it helps put things in context. I absolutely hate it when a character that you grow to love betrays the main character for an obscene reason. I like it when the morality behind the betrayal is in a grey zone.

Take Joey in Suikoden 2 as an example. He betrays your party because he believes the quickest way to bring peace to the land is by ending war and that the side closest to winning is the 'evil' empire. He also believes that if he can get high enough in the ranks that he can have a positive influence on the decisions made against the rebellion. You never actually end up hating him because he's not a bad person.

edit: Oh and I'm a 23 year old male.

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Original post by sunandshadow
2. Is there some other adult-focused theme you would like to see developed in a game or other type of entertainment?

Space Games seem also to target a teenage mind. Expand and Conquer the universe. Take your Rightful Place.

How about Now-That-You're-King?
I'de like to see a space game where the universe is already fully populated with a thriving interstellar community. Politics that involve working out who knows who, and influencing their friendships. A barter system that doesn't involve a generic central bank. Some limited resources, and some unlimited. A technology map that doesn't scream 'bigger, newer, more expensive'. And a bit less of the Star-Vaporizer missiles.

Male, 44.

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19 Male (I know, I'm still just a kid)

Opinion:

Because I'm still on the young side, I'd definitely find a 'politics' game extremely boring. I have a hard time with even 'sim' games because they just don't hold my attention. But that's just me.

However, what with the average gamer age increasing there is now a nice big niche market for adults, if they're interested in what you've described.

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Original post by sunandshadow
The main character would be an adult who was going through a sort of midlife crisis where they were realizing their youth was gone, and although they were proud of some things they had accomplished, or at least felt that they had mostly done the best they could, they regretted where they had failed, and mourned dreams that had never come to fruition.

I don't think the mid-life regrets that make dreams disappear is about growing old. It's about marriage and children. Gaining responsibility and losing freedom. When the only person you need to look out for is you, you can do exactly what you want, whenever you want, however you want, for as long as you want.

Unless you're just talking about the fantasy of wanting to become a child again, to exploit life's preconceptions about children with your grown up mind, and correct all of the mistakes that you made in your youth. I think everyone has probably had that fantasy. Beat up that bully that messed with you in 3rd grade, kiss that cute person that liked you in 8th grade, and make that perfect move that you were afraid to make on your first date. But I doubt a game would be capable of fulfilling this fantasy on the personal level that it needs to be. Most games are already fulfilling it as best they can - by just letting us roleplay as different people.

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Then through some sort of magic or technology they are given the chance to start over, retaining their memories and the spiritual injuries of a tough life, but given a new young blank body which would become individualized over time by their own actions, told they had a new magic or sfnal skill to develop, placed in a school with some actual teenagers to show the contrast between living a life for the first time or having to start over. Perhaps this second chance life would also come with an expectation of becoming a soldier, and the main character would have to decide whether they wanted to do that or whether they preferred to be a civilian despite the cost of rebelling.

This is exactly what role playing is all about. The magic is starting the game up. They retain their memories of real (tough) life, they are given a new body to develop into something great, and are almost always expected to fulfull a grand purpose.

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If we take "popular games that are much more likely to be played by an adult than by an adolescent" as key criteria here, the archetype of adult-oriented games is Solitaire.

Despite initially having to identify with a mid-age protagonist, I don't think that the "new life" game described in the first post actually fulfills that criteria.

Topics that require some level of maturity, such as politics, philosophy and ethics might be considered "adult content" on some level, but is that content likely to appeal to an adult gamer, especially in form of electronic entertainment? I very much doubt it.

Since we're making a generalized profile - an ordinary adult has a job to do, bills to pay, family to take care of, and probably dozens of nerve-wrecking problems and responsibilities of one kind or another that pop up on daily basis. I wouldn't expect he wants to get immersed into deep contemplation of serious subjects in his spare time.

[Edited by - Talin on May 9, 2008 6:06:13 PM]

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Original post by sunandshadow

So, two questions for you all, forum goers:

1. Would you find a game or other type of entertainment (anime, novel) with this theme interesting and appealing? Along with your answer please note your age and gender, so I can tell if the idea appeals more to a certain age group. [smile]

Maybe, I don't generally think that theme of a game has much impact on how much I enjoy it. It really depends on what I get to do as a player. From what you've described, it sounds similar to Fable, but in a contemporary setting. One issue I had with Fable, is that there was a lot you could do, but not with any kind of depth. Ended up being pretty shallow gameplay wise, and I think that's a real risk when you make something too open ended.

Also -
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"Perhaps this second chance life would also come with an expectation of becoming a soldier, and the main character would have to decide whether they wanted to do that or whether they preferred to be a civilian despite the cost of rebelling.
this would make the game very hard to produce. You would end up wasting a lot of art assets if the player decided to become a soldier, and vice versa.

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2. Is there some other adult-focused theme you would like to see developed in a game or other type of entertainment? Perhaps one you already enjoy in a different genre but haven't seen done in a game?

I think more games should be in a contemporary setting, versus sci-fi or fantasy.

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1. Would you find a game or other type of entertainment (anime, novel) with this theme interesting and appealing?


Possibly, but I doubt that it's an element that would particularly draw me to the game. I don't think that it would be likely to drive me from it either, however. I think that the final result would depend largely on the specifics, setting, gameplay, story and style of the entertainment in question.

I'm male, and 25.

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2. Is there some other adult-focused theme you would like to see developed in a game or other type of entertainment? Perhaps one you already enjoy in a different genre but haven't seen done in a game?


Hmm... I'm not sure of how often it is currently encountered in games (I'm pretty confident that such games do exist, however), but I think that it might be nice to see some thoughtful treatments of philosophical topics.

By the way, I would like to mention one game that I feel included some mature topics: Gabriel Knight 2. As I recall, the core theme was the conflict between instinctual, physical urges and spiritual desires, but also touched on were themes of homosexuality, in particular one character's suppression of it, and the desire for partnership. (I suspect that I'm forgetting some of the themes that I thought of earlier, but may be wrong.)

Finally, it has a primary villain that is actually, I would say, highly sympathetic, with, again in my opinion, quite human motives.

Given that the game has some following even today, I believe, I'm inclined to guess that this adds weight to the idea that a game that bears at least some mature topics could find a place in the gaming community.

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Originally posted by Talin
Topics that require some level of maturity, such as politics, philosophy and ethics might be considered "adult content" on some level, but is that content likely to appeal to an adult gamer, especially in form of electronic entertainment? I very much doubt it.


I don't know about the general case, but I think that at least a subsection of adults enjoy the discussion of such topics in depth, to a degree of involvement that suggests to me that at least some of those (and perhaps others, who might not be sufficiently interested to enter discussions, but are nevertheless interested) might enjoy games that explore such topics, if they were handled well.

Quite frankly, I think that philosophy is probably a great area for games to explore. Again, I'm not sure to what degree it would appeal to the average gamer - especially since it might yet take a little time for maturely-themed games to filter into the mainstream - but I do think that there is a place for such. There's probably place for politics as well, although that's far less to my own, personal interest.

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It seems to me that if you're interested in clichés that appeal to adults, the place to look for them would be television drama. Indeed, they are so abundant there that they've become genres: hospitals, courtrooms, squad-rooms, war-rooms, boardrooms ... hidden places, removed places. Comedies require familiarity, so they tend to be set in places of employment and enjoyment. And then there are travel, cooking and golf shows - which all suggest themes of escaping from the monotonies of routine living. I suppose golf suggests sports, but that's not enough to explain how it gets it's own channel. And lest I forget, houses and children. Perhaps those two things more than any other preoccupy the minds of adults.

Setting all that aside, a couple of more literary clichés that appeal to adults are "monster children" and "unresolvable dilemmas" (aka Sophie's Choice). The prime example of the monster child theme is "The Exorcist", but other examples abound in horror movies. An unresolvable dilemma need not be portrayed as the choice of who lives and who dies, but that's usually what it reduces to - incredible stakes at risk with either choice, an absence of clear guidelines and unrelenting pressure.

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Original post by Kaze
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Original post by sunandshadow
2. Is there some other adult-focused theme you would like to see developed in a game or other type of entertainment? Perhaps one you already enjoy in a different genre but haven't seen done in a game?


Politics,
and I mean global politics, not the american definition thats more of a personality contest.

It makes the world that the story's set in more interesting and realistic and allow for a story centred around grand scale conflict without cliche good vs evil character motivation.

Most of the series in the gundam franchise use this though it can also make the story a bit depressing when likable charters are conflicted against other likable charters.


Ghost in the Shell has done a bang up job of incorporating global politics into it's story lines. The entire second season was rife with such themes. And even though the world it envisions is fictional, the conflicts explored in that show resonate with present day conflicts. Rumor has it that Steven Spielberg has bought the rights to make a live action feature of it.

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Instead of simulating things that are impossible why not keep it simple in someway and embrace the knowdledge and wisdom of people above a certain age?
I can imagine that people who have already lived a big part of their lives aren't always seeking a way out, many are happy with their lives and like to stick to that path.

When deciding what group you wan't to aim at you should not see all people above a certain age as One group. I bet that there's a link between job and 'gamer' or 'not-gamer'. I'll demonstrate what I want to say with an example.
Imagine that Only politicians liked gaming. A game containing vast economical eco-systems are clearly not the way to go. Instead global politics or something of that scale would attract more. This point only works if a clear group of people likes games, instead of just All people over that certain age.

Another problem you'll find is wether or not people will like to be confronted with -or- required to use the skills they already use everyday. You can imagine that the people with the most boring jobs will seek their joy in their private lives. The gamers among them will likely not want to be confronted with spreadsheet like games, or to have a replica of the daily news in game-form. For this one you can already look at a live example: webgames. Many Many people play them, even well educated people are entertained by these, often, simple games which require little more than basic timing & planning skills like your average platformer or puzzlegame. These games have an advantage: only the core of a game is required for it to be fun. Things like a backstory and heavy graphics often make it less fun for the people who genuinely play it.

I think this means you're going to have to make a decision here. Do you want to make a game for people who like to use their skills to the fullest and conquer over the lesser. Or will the game be designed for people who have either little time on hands for games or who just seek some (often quick) relaxation. Imagine this in 2 dimensions (make it a cross). Dailylive-escapism is a reason for playing games and it opposes to games that enhance you as a person.


I'll try to visualize these choices for you.


                  
Very little
Time
Daily Life _#
Escapism _/
# _/
| _/
|/
MindSkills #-------# Handyness & Coordination
_/|
_/ |
_/ #
_/ Daily Life
# Enhancement
Lots of
Time


Yes it's 3D.


Where does the average 35 year old gamer stand and does this differ a lot for all the backgrounds/jobs the gaming 35-plussers have?


22 yrs. old, male student

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1. Would you find a game or other type of entertainment (anime, novel) with this theme interesting and appealing? Along with your answer please note your age and gender, so I can tell if the idea appeals more to a certain age group.

I think a second chance, or redemption, is always an interesting theme. That is, if it's done well.

2. Is there some other adult-focused theme you would like to see developed in a game or other type of entertainment? Perhaps one you already enjoy in a different genre but haven't seen done in a game?

Extremely difficult moral choices.

For example, you have a really, really, really good friend. You grew up with him since you were kids. You both grow up. One of you is successful, the other is dirt poor and depressed. Through some kind of conflict, the friend who is dirt poor ends up killing the successful guy's wife. What do you do?

Or, something like this: John Doe lives in a racist society. However, just over his backyard fence lives a community consisting of the other. He is friends with an indvidual from the other side. Their relationship is secret, for if anyone found out that they played together he (or, rather the other) would be severely punished. One day they are caught together by other neighborhood kids. The kids think that the "other" kid is harming John Doe. One of them pulls out a baseball bat and beats the "other" kid to death. John Doe grows up, and nothing in society has changed...present him with an opportunity to redeem himself for not acting when he should have.

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1. Dunno...why displace his mind from his body into a younger one? I mean, it could be cool, but why not have a situation where this character has just had an epiphany of sorts (going to a shrink? someone close dying? an event he witnesses?) and wants to get out and do well and not give up just yet... The player's goal is to make this older character successful. The challenge is dealing with and resolving the results of the character being lethargic and depressed for a period of time as well as the aftermath of past choices. If it's a GTA-like sandbox game, why not have the progress be marked by weekly trips to a shrink?

2. Other ideas? Let's see...
* Have the player-character be a person of somewhat importance during a period of high political tension where there's a lot of gray area, and the player has to choose what position the character will take. Have the consequences of the character's decisions have a very real affect on the game world. A lot of work on this one, but potentially very rewarding for a more mature audience.

* A true survival game. Character somehow stranded in the wilderness (injured?) and the player has to find a way to survive. "Into the Wild: The Video Game" basically. You have to figure out how to build a camp/shelter, tend wounds properly, find/trap/hunt/kill food, deal with weather and terrain conditions, and navigate your way through an unknown-to-the-character wilderness back home.

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