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What Jenova Chen doesn't like about video games
What Jenova Chen doesn't like about video games Exclusive
May 18, 2012 | By Staff

May 18, 2012 | By Staff
More: Console/PC, Indie, Design, Exclusive

In a new Gamasutra interview, Thatgamecompany co-founder and Journey creative director Jenova Chen shares the major weakness he sees in the industry's approach to its audience.

His biggest complaint about games? "They are not good enough for adults," says Chen.

"For adults to enjoy something, they need to have intellectual stimulation, something that's related to real life. Playing poker teaches you how to deceive people, and that's relevant to real life. A headshot with a sniper rifle is not relevant to real life."

The issue, he believes, is one of depth. "Games have to be relevant intellectually," he says. "Can games make you and another human experience an emotion that's deep enough to touch adults?"

He approached this goal with Journey's collaborative multiplayer, and he says that he will continue to pursue it: "Making emotional games and making them intellectually relevant; making games where people can connect and come together," he says, is what he plans to continue to do.

In the new feature, he discusses the future of his studio, his other creative drives, and whether he'd ever consider building a game with a big team -- and it's live now on Gamasutra.

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Tom Yu
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Please don't make ridiculous/biased assumptions. Where did he imply Go and chess was not for adults? And please point out in the article where he acts "entitled"?

If you can't be the kind of person that respects the opinion of others, I promise you noone here gives a damn about what you think.

David Lindsay
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I'm going to just comment on something that interests me: The word "emotion".

Which emotion? Is is something only an adult can feel?

It really depends HOW you want to stimulate emotion. To create a game that stimulates emotion, there are many paths. Zombie games stimulate me to disgust, often moving me from my seat after a while. The best and biggest RPGs have all succeeded at bringing a tear to my eye, and some games will just make me feel thoughtful or hollow for days after.

All of these games succeeded because I was willing to respond emotionally to the game.

But also... When I score a headshot on my friend and observe his grief, I am emotionally stimulated. We laugh, he swears to take revenge, we chat, taunt, etc. It's fun! We all rejoice and EA makes another billion dollars.

My point is: The user will decide whether or not they will be affected by your game, sometimes even before they install it.

Steven An
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Yeah it's just his personal taste. I don't really agree with it, but I'm glad he's out there doing what he wants to do.I just hope no one reads this article and stops making their zombie head shot game. Because you should just make what you wanna make and not worry about what others think - even Jenova Chen or Jon Blow - as long as you can keep making your games.

David Lindsay
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But I also did really enjoy my brief foray into Journey. My friend recommended it so I was already well prepared to be affected by it.

k s
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I hate when people talk about the human condition like it's something interesting, I play games in large part to avoid it.

Mike Murray
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I don't me, Jenova's comments just reek of arrogance. He says he didn't put arms on the player avatar because we'd want to pick up a weapon? Really? I have played games where no combat is involved, but the avatar still had his arms.

I agree with Maciej in the sense that it seems like Jenova hasn't played many games if that's what he really thinks about the industry. You can experience a wide range of emotions while playing games. Has he even considered the emotions that people feel when playing a game together in the same room? I hate that Jenova and Jonathan both think they're the solution to a problem that doesn't exist. They have a narrow-minded view of gaming, and I hope more people realize that.

Adam Bishop
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The problem may not exist for you, but it does exist for others. I've never played a game that made me think like Crime & Punishment did. I've never played a game that engaged my emotions the way American Beauty did. Other than the admirable but clumsy attempts in the Metal Gear Solid series, I've never played a game that made an attempt to provide any real insight into how our world operates socially and politically. If you aren't interested in playing games that do those things (or if there are already games that do those things for you) then that's totally cool, I have no desire to take that from you. But for some of us games are still coming a long way short of the impact that other media have on us, and I'm glad there are developers out there who feel the same way and are trying to find ways to do those things.

And for the record I didn't even think Journey was an especially interesting or moving experience, but I appreciate the reasons that it was made as it was.

Stanley de Bruyn
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Well it say Jenova believes, so its just his opinion. But bit short sighted. So it might sound bit arrogant to gamers like me.
He doesn't look manly, more like a nice guy.
Gamers differ and have wide preference. Devs to. So it doesn' matter what games he played. He has a preference of emotional games. A gamer but also devs have there favorite kind of games. So every gamer his favorite games. This dev play games he like.
But to call all other preferences like wrong direction.
That's the arrogance.
But I have no problem with that, he just might feel strongly about it.
Might be out of frustation.
Well my preference.
Some time " I just want to shoot all day down" onrail shooters.
Sometimes I want to get chalanged a milsim game.
Some times I want some gore, soldiers of fortune games.
some times I want to compete, online FPS.
Sniper my favorite class. In casual shooters to milsim.

Lots of choice in those games.

So I just a very different gamer, this dev sertenly not dev for.
Not my dev and I am not his audience.

Wat the problem is, not al gamers get there games they look out for. There are mass markets and niche audiences. And some don't have there games.
while others have so many choice and no time to play them all.
I had to choos between COD BF3 and there replacement already lurking on the horizon.
with pauses of Masseffect3 and X3 Albion Prelude in between..

Journey wel read about it, but totaly not my thing. But might be there arent much of those games people not like me are lookin out for.

For me I also like Space combat exploring genre. Also a niche market that isn't that strong.
As a Scifi fan I mis a decent choice of some big modern space games.
while other mis those so called "emotion" games.

Also intellectual stimulation, well that works for some but not the most of all the gamers.
Sniping has for lots of the more manly gamers a lot of satifaction. There are even game focusing on this. With a bullit cam feature. It has a huge coolness factor other gamers can't apperently cant relate to.

Joe McGinn
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Getting really tired of these "everyone else is doing it wrong" poser auteurs. First Blow, now Chen.

There's is such diversity in games and gamers, anyone saying this is basically just publicly sh*tting on other people to boost their own ego. Not impressed.

Dave Hoskins
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Play Angry Birds then immediately play the original Halo. Then you'll relax and understand that adults are both obsessed with getting things right, and having an adventure. It's all about story, whether it's made up in the players mind or presented in their faces.

Russell Carroll
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Adults play less games than adolescents.
It's a fact, not an opinion.
I like that Jenova Chen shares a reason he thinks that is happening, he may be wrong. Notably, I don't think he ever said that his opinion was anything more than his opinion. There seems to be a fair amount of negative reaction to his thoughts here, which is curious.

I'm not sure I agree with his premise, even though my friends, who are nearing or into their 40s now reflect the typical trend. They are not playing console games anymore, and outside of the Wii, they haven't played them for many, many years.

However, they have started gaming again, playing on phones & tablets, which is interesting if nothing else. It's anecdotal, but it also fits in directly with what has become common in the marketplace.

So the more interesting piece for me is the 'intellectual stimulation' line. If those adults were looking for more intellectual stimulation than they get from a FPS, why did they choose phone games, which by nature are short and simple?

I'd guess there are many elements causing people to step away from gaming as they age, and honestly the biggest one might be theme. As people age, especially males as testosterone levels drop, violence becomes less palatable. It is possible that Jenova's desire for more intellect is more a desire for less violence than a desire for more intellect, but it definitely sounds better calling for 'smarter' games.

As I get older I look more and more for games that are interesting, different, and meaningful, and increasingly I find myself disappointed that it is hard to find those things video games (especially as the so-called 'console wars' play out with juvenile taunts and closed minds). I personally long for something that resonates with me in a more impactful way than the average shooter (though I enjoy those too from time to time). I essentially want something that moves me the way that music, books, and movies often do. Just reading the weekly issue of Time often opens my mind to the world and makes me think about those who struggle to survive on a daily basis.

Honestly, I'd like my games to do more of what those other mediums do for me. I enjoy games for taking me out of the world (I play more than I should!). Maybe it is just too much to ask of games as a medium to have them make me better appreciate, understand, or want to engage the world around me, but I appreciate it when developers try to do that, and I guess I agree with Jenova on this topic b/c I too wish there were more games that did it.

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I think this guy has a point. FPS has become a playground for anti social behaviors. Perhaps that's the goal of the development teams that work on these types of games.