Good Timing: Mapping In-Game Ideas to Real-World Situations

At GDC 2012, we attended a talk called “It's Dangerous to Go Alone! Take this Historical Study with You: In-game Objects in Japanese RPGs” by Zoya Street. Zoya is a superb historian, and an excellent writer. Her talk focused on the weapons in Final Fantasy games, and how they related to the culture of Japan at the time of the game’s creation. The talk inspired thought about not only in-game economies, but also about how games can hook an audience through the relation of real-world situations.

We’ve seen this before, and we should learn from it. There’s never a better time to release a game-based-on-a-movie than right when the movie is starting to become popular. We saw a huge influx of terrorists in American FPSs after 9/11, and games like Counter-Strike reaped the benefits. A player’s culture is a huge influence on the kind of games they play. It is influences like these that drive lower-middle class moms to play facebook games like Farmville: to be more successful than they are in real life. Yes, this is a core concept of a lot of games, but Farmville was released at a time of economic downturn and despair. Millions of people looked to their friends and family for support as they grew their empire in this simulated world, and they felt economically empowered by the constant profit their farms produced.

It’s the age-old trick being applied to games; turn rags into riches; feed off of people’s fears, hopes, and dreams. But we don’t have to be soul-less or evil to get the upper hand on a situation, we simply have to look at our current culture and find out what drives the people around us. The entertainment industry has changed since the 1920s, and while movies, plays, and books constantly adapt to every generation, game developers need to adapt too.