Adult Games Needn’t Be Profane

I am looking with great anticipation to the new MMO game, Age of Conan, by Funcom. What truly intrigues me about the game is review after review that paints the game as aimed at adults or designed for a mature gamer.

Before I get too much into my philosophy on this, I want to clear the air on what I think is an Adult Game. Many, I believe, think adult games mean lewd, profane — often pornographic, and to some lesser extent extreme violence. Although, these descriptions fall into Adult Games, I do not believe they paint a complete picture of what I hope Funcom, and others in the game development community, mean by this.

To me, Adult Games, are those that are created for gamers who have the ability to concentrate and analyze complicated systems and revel in adult themes. Adult themes does not necessarily nudity and violence, though they could. What I mean by themes is character mortality, character achievements, and ultimately character Resolution.

In Character Mortality, I think we need to seriously look at the death of a character. In a fantasy world such as AoC (Age of Conan), death can be permanent but there are always options for a player to bring his character back to life. This resurrection process, however, needs to be lengthy (as in time out of the game) or difficult (either incurring expense in ingame money or quests [performed by subordinates]). We must put into the game the obvious threat of death — and not a death that simply plops the character to an entrance zone with some minor debuffs. As “Adults” we must understand and quantify the dangers of adventuring and fighting. This would accentuate combat and make each battle more meaningful. Death would be less common, but mean something to each player.

Character Achievement also needs a hand at bringing it into more adult themes. Instead of the simple “Candy Reward” after each quest or mission, we need to accentuate long term growth of our characters in the world with long term results — land, status, marriage, children — simply put a legacy that matters in the course of history in the game. As long as we simply give “candy” in items or titles without engaging our characters into the day to day activities of the world, we are playing like children.

And ultimately, we need to address Character Resolution, or ending our character’s career — and not just ending it when we get bored or our subscription to the game runs out. One adult theme that we need to seriously look at is time in the game — the worlds of MMOs run at a much accelerated time than ours, but our characters are ageless and the world does not change. This is a serious flaw in common MMOs today, and must be addressed with adult themes of time, aging, seasons, family, heads of state, governance, and geopolitical fluctuations.

I also think that adult-centric games are those that have robust and complicated character generation systems and physics.  Games such as WoW are definitely not adult games, even though I think they play on the scantily clad female elves and the profane violence of the evil side. I often think that Vanguard, initially, had an adult themed physical world, with a rich sense of character generation and development.  I hope that in future MMOs, designers will think less of showing skin and gore when experimenting with adult games, and concentrate more of complicated game systems with rich and powerful scripting language — to allow greater freedom and breath in the game.

These are the real “Adult Themes” in games. I am more concerned with that others think are the “Adult Themes” which are simply nudity, sex, and abject violence. I hope the people at Funcom see an adult game as more than that.

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6 Comments

  1. All I’ve seen so far is ZOMG BLOODZ and BOOBZ so… somehow I think Funcom still thinks games are for kids, despite the M rating they’re aiming for. Junior High kids world-wide might be drawn to it, but I don’t know about “adults.”

  2. Adults are a broad church. Some never progress past shootemups, some don’t like thinking at all, some revel in sex and violence, others revel in creativity and social aspects of gaming. Some reject games completely.

    So, whilst the topic is a good one, I don’t think you’ve scratched the surface.

    I think the answer is possibly in books and films. There are defined children’s book and adult books – children would find an adult book a bit boring or too hard to understand, an adult would find a children’s book to “fantastic”, banal or simplistic.

    With films, some children’s films are incredibly slow moving and repetitive for adults, whilst adult action movies have often very limited appeal to children, because they don’t understand the plot.

    Games may have other nuances to them. For instance I think you address the whole issue of interactivity, which you don’t (currently) get with films and to a lesser extent books. In games you have an avatar, so one must discover what an adult would want to do with that avatar and what would a child want to do? What differences are there?

    Children are protected from sexual themes and nudity rightly, but they certainly have a different type of interest in these subjects. Children go to school and learn and improve, adults go to work and some do the same thing for 40 years+. Adults have many more decisions to make and “life-balancing” than children, but children are much more impacted by good and bad things that happen to them emotionally.

    So what does all this mean? There is clearly a distinctiveness – a market – between mature adults and children, then adolescents and young adults.

    In the immature world of gaming, though, I don’t think it’s been addressed yet. Probably because the industry gurus are, in the main, immature adults, who have never grown up, which may not be a bad thing:)

    Lastly, the rather interesting niche market of boardgamers is almost exclusively mature adults, 90% men too. Does this teach us anything about MMO or videogames?

  3. Troy you are going to play AoC ?! Great news ! I have been listening to all of your podcasts starting with the first ones you did for Virginworlds.

    We would be honored if you would take a look at The Oldtimers Guild ( http://www.oldtimersguild.com/ ) and perhaps join us in AoC 😉 I would join you on whatever server you choose in a second but I have been playing with OTG since beta of DDO and made some great friends 😉

  4. Ouch you did *not* just mention DDO on Troy’s own blog? It’s a good thing he doesn’t read his comments very often. He went off on a pretty good anti-DDO rant awhile back in guild chat.

    *teases Troy*

    I’d consider joining myself but… damn… do they have to call it “Old Timer’s” guild? I’m an adult and all, but… “old timer?” Not by a longshot…

  5. This sounds like what the creator of Fable had in mind when he was designing that game. Though of course the final product was probably modified to be easier to understand and to play for the final audience.

    Either way when first selling a game like this to an audience, communicating how all of this complexity will still make for a game that’s fun and rewarding might prove difficult.

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