"In his house at R'lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming." - H.P. Lovecraft
A common meme surrounding games is that they are supposedly in their infancy, that the reason game stories don't really work very well, or that players don't really participate in games as heroes is a problem of technology and technique.
What the meme is actually trying to say is that games should be unlimited and that they should not accept constraints because one day the tools and techniques will exist to craft the perfect world. This ideality will offer meaning and gameplay, players will become heroes, and finally games will take their rightful place at the head of all media tables.
In his house at R'lyeh, dead Techthulhu waits dreaming. The meme is beautiful. It's also wrong.
The belief that one day the stars will align and Tecthulhu will rise is very similar to the belief in the Uncanny Valley that many animators share. Both say that there is a tipping point out there somewhere on the technology and tools research curve, and once we reach that point the resulting product will be intrinsically different than what went before. It's an argument for synergy.
Both are almost fanatical statements of belief in things not seen, and they run counter to how all other arts evolved. All arts can, at their most basic level, be practised in fundamental forms. You do not need a NASA camera to take beautiful photos, nor a Stradivarius to play music, but the Techthulhu cult would have us believe that you do need a baseline of sophistication to achieve their dream. To be honest, I think such people have been reading too much Neal Stephenson.
Sophistication is not synergy. The net effect of sophistication is a greater, but also diminishing, return. While the expenditure may well increase, the return decreases, such that the net effect of spending $100m on a game is that players barely notice the difference between it and a $30m game. Sophistication is just refinement and polish. It does not change the fundamentals.
Games are not in their infancy. Their infancy and adolescence was from 1972 to 1993, from Pong to Doom. That was the period when the basic rules of the form were discovered, all the major modes of play defined, and everything that has been made in games ever since has been elaborating on those ideas.
Some people hate that: They object on several grounds, such as attacking the inference that this means all players play the same, that games are not just one form but many, or the idea that we can't know what technology will bring.
The first and second are not true. Players play differently, and games really are only one form. And while the third certainly shows that there is room for further expansion or elaboration on the ideas (3D graphics or gesture peripherals, say) the core form and constraints remain sound.
Games are a creative artform, and like any artform there are limits. Those limits come not from on high or because I say so. They come from biology, how the brain plays and what it can and can't understand. The difference between a designer and a dreamer is the ability to work with constraints to create something great, not to pretend that constraints will magically go away on their own.
The Techthulhu belief is simply future fantasy. It has nothing to do with what games are, because the stars will never be right.