Why I Love Making Meaningful Entertainment
I'm currently leading one of USC's Advanced Games projects, and our goal is to create a game that has value in the real world beyond pure entertainment. I could dedicate dozens of blog posts to why I think meaningful content is essential to ensuring video games' transition from mindless entertainment to a widely respected form of expression, but today I want to share a few quick thoughts on why the creation of this kind of content is so fulfilling.
When making a game without meaningful content, whether it is a pure mechanics driven game with little story or an "epic" game sewed together by an incoherent story, it is not necessary to utilize much knowledge from the world we live in today. Sure, player behaviors must be studied in playtests to make sure the game's objectives and systems are properly sign posted, but this limited psychology is just about the extent of using current real world knowledge and experiences to solve game design challenges. Most game designers use other games as their primary research targets, or works in other mediums of the same genre or style.
At J.J. Abrams' WWDC talk, he told the audience that his dream was to attend USC for film school but his father persuaded him to pursue a liberal arts degree at a smaller institution instead, reasoning that without a well-rounded education J.J. would not have any subjects to make movies about. I wholly agree with this sentiment (although I believe USC offers an excellent well-rounded education) but I believe it works the other way as well. A well-rounded education influences meaningful entertainment, and the pursuit of meaningful entertainment influences a well-rounded education.
My attempts to bring meaningful content to games have made me a more intellectually curious person than ever before. My interest in all of my classes, from science to literature, has been dramatically heightened because I always discover a piece I can bring back into my current project. I read more, I inquire about subjects I traditionally had less of an interest in, and I am more engaged in my school work due its newfound relevance. Back in high school I saw little value in subjects outside my area of interest. Today I see value in all subjects, for I now know that one way or another they all fall within my area of interest.