Mark Sorrell tells Edge Presents: “Games need to be as good to watch as they are to play”

Following Tadhg Kelly’s opening talk this morning at Edge Presents: Changing The Game,  Hide&Seek development director Mark Sorrell discussed the game industry’s failure to conquer the living room. While consoles have long sat comfortably under the TV, by focusing on the screen and not the room itself, developers – even Nintendo – have come up short, Sorrell believes.

Pulling no punches from the off, Sorrell opened by saying games could be “completely impenetrable bullshit. Games don’t do very well in the living room. They might do well in yours, but Call Of Duty is not what my sister wants to see on television when she’s finally put her tiny, screaming children into their night sacks.”

Sorrell went on to explain that, for people like his sister who don’t play them, games are predominantly horrible to look at, weird and don’t make any sense. He compared watching Call Of Duty to watching a TV show in which hundreds of people are killed one after the other.

Of course, Nintendo’s success with Wii came from its focus on social living-room experiences, encouraging physical interaction with the console’s games that proved more immediately understandable than explaining that the right trigger kills the next soldier. But even Wii Sports and Mario Party focus players’ attention on the screen, and ignore the players themselves.

Sorrell drew comparison with sporting events, pointing out that he can’t think of a single article written about a great sporting achievement that was about the technique or rules of the game – the real story is in the individuals who compete. Games, then, should stop trying to be more immersive and instead take more of a back seat.

“Games need to be as good to watch as they are to play,” he said. “Lots of people who watch games online are just learning how to play them. That’s not entertainment, unless you speak the particular language of the game. The amount of information you need to enjoy X-Factor is precisely zero – you just turn up and think, ‘Ugh, awful people…’”

Sorrell said that Vita title Frobisher Says is a great example of a developer embracing that ethos, because it’s all about making the player look a little bit silly. He described a man he saw playing the game on a station platform, trying to locate a bug in an AR minigame that requires the player to move the Vita around frantically. Another requires the player to dry Frobisher’s unfeasibly long dachshund by vigorously rubbing each side of the device.

“The game understands that people don’t want to watch a game,” he explains, “they want to watch someone’s mum jerking off an unfeasibly expensive piece of consumer electronics.”

And the key benefit of thinking about games in terms of the space in which they will be played is that others can quickly learn how to play just by watching – a design aspect that has diminished as the arcade scene has faded from prominence. There aren’t enough low impact games, Sorrell complains, that “can sit happily in the front room without being too intrusive.

“There’s an argument that for games to become more accepted they need to become richer and more complicated – but that’s not true. They need to become the exact opposite, because people don’t understand what games are right now.”

Image courtesy of Dan Griliopoulos