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.