What Games Are is a conversation-starter, presented in book form.
For a long time, in venues such as Gamasutra and a variety of game forums, I've advocated the view that video games are an expressive art, but unlike the arts that we've known before. Whether it's the magical feeling that you get with playing games, the way that they engage you, or the apparent shallowness of their attempts to deliver stories, I've always felt that no writer has really nailed what games really are artistically, culturally or even functionally.
In many ways I think that is because it has taken 30 years of game development and publishing to understand what games are, what they seem to do well and what they seem to do very badly, and to come up with enough widely accepted examples of games in action to draw strong correlations. And yet the ideas about what games are and what is good game design seem, to me, stuck. There is a lot of resistance to change, a lot of religiously defended positions and totemic ideas that don't, as far as I can tell, actually work in the outside world. The conversation around games seems to have turned inward, become repetitive, dull and effectively landed in an evolutionary dead end.
So I'm putting together a book to initiate that next stage of the conversation. What Games Are explores what works, but also what doesn't. What games have been trying to do but fail to do. What game developers have been fooling themselves is going to work out some day if only the technology could become sufficiently sophisticated. What makes players function at a basic level, and what will never work because of those constraints. What assumptions many developers have about players, and what players are actually looking for. What the games business is doing well or poorly, and how it can improve.
The book is intended to be positive, not negative. Games should be celebrated!
Our culture of game development, the achievements therein and their creative achievements are not tepid things to be waved away lightly. What Games Are attempts to find what is worthwhile, noble and aspirational. In writing it, and the blog, I am stating that not only are games an art, they are a vital art right at the heart of who we as a species are, and that their influence educates and changes the world for the better. However we need to understand what that art is, if only to be able to make better examples of it for the players of tomorrow.
The book will be released formally next year, but I've started the blog now to get some of my ideas out there and discussed, to help vet them in public. The blog is my way of speaking to the community and getting feedback, tips and ideas for further research, and the book will in many ways be a condensation of those ideas, creating a coherent argument. It will initially be released as an ebook and, if appropriate, a physical book to follow.
I really hope that you enjoy both the book and this blog, and will return often to help continue this important conversation. It matters.