It is becoming more and more apparent that the games industry has come to a crossroads. The Guardian Games Blog has a fantastic interview with Jon Hare, the creator of Sensible Soccer, who is evidently more than used to dealing with the same mainstream publishing problems as veteran adventure game designer Ron Gilbert describes in this recent interview.
Currently, there are many fascinating and potentially industry transforming interaction ideas coming out of graduate programs and indie development studios - but the gap between a brilliant proof-of-concept or prototype, and a mass marketable game is still huge. It will take more than an engaging and innovative interface or interaction model to penetrate the mass consumer consciousness. What is missing from the present generation of games is any kind of deep emphasis on strong narratives, stories that really engage people.
The accepted wisdom is that the audience doesn't care about the story - that it's just filler, a background canvas for them to realise their development of the game character, or move through a series of action puzzles. The rise of 3D technology has led to a tendency towards defining game worlds in terms of an outer world of spatial architecture rather than a socially engaging and thought provoking inner world. This is where literature has centuries of a head start.
The success of the GTA series, built on relatively backward and mundane graphics technology indicates just how compelling a culturally immersive experience is for a mass audience. But to move forward from the crossroads, the synthesis must involve a new formulation of the character's socially situated role, exploring a balance between open ended personal freedom of expansion, and the touch of a great story behind every possibility in the game world.
Game designers aiming to shatter existing moulds must treat creative writing with the same priority as graphics and programming.