I attended the Austin Game Conference this week. There, I met a few fellow Texans and a lady from LSU, but most of the attendees I spoke with were from out of the state...usually California or Canada. That was predictable, of course, but it led me to a saddening notion.
The South, particularly the Gulf Coast, my cultural homeland, doesn't seem to have been the setting of any game I've played in 20+ years. Sure, GTA was once set in Miami, but that's hardly Southern culture, right?
It's not that this demographic has been completely ignored. We are, afterall, typically big sports fans, and there has never been a great shortage of decent sports titles available. Military games usually include someone with a Southern dialect, though his dialectual culture rarely enters into the equation. But is the industry really so young that games with settings equivalent to those of movies like Big Fish and Just Cause are understandably non-existent?
This doesn't only apply to the South, of course. Midwestern culture also seems to get lost in the shuffle. I had to raise an eyebrow when I found out that the midwest was producing a high-publicity game, but that game would be a GTA copycat!
Then there's the most stunning lost demographic of all...Baby Boomers!
As my retiring 58-year-old father pointed out to me, after being scolded by me for not being into video games, the Baby Boomer generation is moving into retirement. They've seen many affluent years, they've got a lot of money stashed in their pockets, and they've been conditioned to sit around and watch TV all day long. Conclusion? They're bored to tears and practically begging the game industry for something their style.
But what has the industry offered them? They like the simple arcade games on Yahoo and MSN, but how about something more depthful? Destroy All Humans is set in an era they could understand, but anal probes are not humor of their generation.
Look at the settings of Hitchcock, John Wayne, Cary Grant and Humphrey Bogart. Where are the Cold War games?
For some such games, a significant barrier is the industry's preference for combat-oriented games, as Damion Schubert pointed out at the AGC. For others, the barrier is the nature of our combat systems, which Peter Molyneux has determined to highlight in London. But these barriers can be overcome and, if they are, millions of new consumers await.
We should not let the goal of cross-cultural game design blind us to the desire of current and potential gamers to embrace the comfort and inclinations of their own culture.