Developing video games: What it takes and what it teaches us in return

The value of video games lies in their cultural and societal impact. To play is to engage in one of humankind’s most fundamental ways of learning and expressing oneself. And this is even more relevant when developing video games for adults.

As per recent ISFE data, 22% of today’s adults (45-64) in Europe are playing video games. Market research also shows that adults are inclined to play video games that are adaptations of non-digital games they used to play. However, after closer investigations and when given enough introduction, adults are just as diverse in their video game preferences as any other age group.

Video games can provide mental stimulation for adults. But it is not the only benefit adults are after. They are also looking for video games that help them express themselves. Once video games are accessible, my research identified six motivators adults have that are not as common for younger generations:

  • They want to connect to people that they are close to (connectedness),
  • They like to contribute to something bigger than themselves (contribution),
  • They prefer video games that allow them to be contemporary (contemporaneity),
  • They enjoy games that tie into their own younger selves (conduit to the past),
  • They are looking for games that add something meaningful to their lives (cultivation), and
  • Some of them are looking for video games that allow them to replace activities they can no longer do (compensation).

As video game designers and publishers, combining these motivators with non-age-specific motivators is a good start towards creating games for an older audience, especially if you collaborate with them.

Video games help us teach empathy.  

Realism in video games is not only about graphical fidelity. It is also about the experiences video games bring when they aim to teach. I learned that recently when I set out to create Brukel, a video game about my grandmother’s childhood. The goal is to help people understand what it was like to grow up in the 1930s and have a war taking place in your backyard.

In the video game, players can look at different facets of realism to aid their understanding. As a solo developer, I decided to do a first-person account to ensure the player was transported into the 30s, living my grandmother’s childhood. In Brukel, my grandmother tells her story and her voice brings her story to life. Bringing additional technological and creative aspects into Brukel has not mattered. Recently, a player in Russia recommended the game and shared, “The story is [expletive] scary due to the fact that it is real.” As a video games designer whose objective is to help players empathise with a given situation, such responses help you see that realism can be brought simply through someone’s voice and their story, and not necessarily only through creative visual representation.

Lastly, video games are also helping adults, and more so seniors remain socially connected and cognitively sharp. When we play, we are not confined to our countries’ boundaries or our continents. We play with people from all over the world, and we suddenly see the world through each other’s eyes. Different Games, a collective that supports marginalised voices or the Gamesforchange.com list gives a good glimpse into how we are opening up. There is still a lot of work to be done, but I am very hopeful about the future.

Author(s)
29/03/2021

Bob De Schutter

Associate Professor of Game Design, Miami University | Creator, Brukel Game 

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