Bridging Demographic Gaps

A couple of weeks ago, Kim Pallister and I were chatting about a particular video game. Kim mentioned that it would be nice if the game included a “little kids’ mode” — i.e. one in which the player can’t actually lose and doesn’t even need to follow any “rules” per se; he/she can just experiment with the controls and have fun within the virtual environment. (I believe the comment was inspired by the exploits of Kim’s two-year-old twins.) In essence: open the game to more members of the household (in this case, very young children) without much additional cost.

Shortly thereafter, I read a post on Ben Mattes’ blog exploring a related theme; offering “little brother” co-op mode in hardcore games, so that experienced gamers can more easily invite less dextrous family members and friends to play along. A quote:

My wife occasionally likes to watch me play action adventure games where she can get into the story — Resident Evil 4 was a favorite for a while — but when I put the controller in her hand she was petrified and hated every second of it…

And another quote about a “little brother” control scheme:

…the AI could still control the movement of the support character, ensuring she was always following behind the ‘main’ player but would not do any forms of attacks — those would all be under the control of the second player. The “Little Brother” could feel engrossed in the gameplay and story simply by pressing the attack button at the right time, allowing him to participate much more actively without slowing down the progression of the game.

Kim and Ben are effectively saying the same thing: why not enhance games in simple but effective ways so that anyone can enjoy them, not just the “primary” customer? This is an especially appealing notion to me. All too often, games are perceived in very stark terms: for “hardcore” gamers – or – for “casual” gamers. The result is that any game targeting the whole family ultimately gets pigeonholed; i.e. it must have extremely simple controls, must avoid “hardcore” themes (like that of Resident Evil), etc. The market definitely needs games like that, but there’s probably room for something in the middle. Thinking about kids’ modes, family-friendly co-op, etc, might help us figure out what that “something in the middle” looks like.

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