This morning I have mostly been playing a brilliant little game called A Game About Game Literacy. It's a... I reckon you can figure it out. And you too can play it here.
|Please play this game, it's superb...
Literacy of the audience, in any medium, is a problem for those that create in the medium: You can't sell a novel to someone who can't read. To pick up and play a video game you need to know how to read it and how to write to it, i.e. how to understand what's going on and then use the controller to respond to it.
All good games have some level of tutorial that helps the player to learn the controls. Which is just as well, because learning and remembering a control scheme is a difficult experience for most new video game players. Regular players (and I include game developers in this) rarely understand this problem, because games of the same genre often have similar controls.
A good example of this are 3rd person games, like Uncharted and God Of War. In these games the character is moved with the left stick, the camera can be swung around with the right stick and the character controls are always relative to the camera. This last point is important, because the camera in these games is always dynamic, often moving around to frame the action. If the player wants to run in a straight line then they have to compensate for the camera as it moves. Equally, the player can just push in one direction on the left stick and manually move the camera with the right stick, changing the direction the character is running in that way. It takes some getting used to. Then, on top of this there are all the buttons, like jump, punch and shoot.
Generally, games pile on the control options quickly. That all adds up to a lot of learning, which (again), is tough on a player who's new to the genre. Bear in mind that your average human can only really learn about three things per hour! So, the more game literate the audience, the easier it is to make games for them.
And that's why most games are made for quite a small percentage of the population, the game literate. For the most part the most expensive games are made for a slice of the population that's probably no bigger than 20 million people.
I think the AAA console game makers need to address this and they need become as ambitious as the social and casual games makers.