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The Cold Hotspot
Written by Beiddie Rafól

The Cold Hotspot: A critique of the state of adventure games

The adventure game is not sacred or written in stone and needs to own up to it! There, I said it. Sue me, but you'll be doing so more out of spiteful denial than charges of defamation. The truth is, the adventure game genre, as we all know it, has long been suffering from obscurity, lack of progress, sheer banality, isolation (surprise!), and, simply, from the garden variety of dullness. And everyone - developers, publishers, the media, and yes, we gamers ourselves - is guilty of creating and fueling this suffering. The apparent sources of my grievances, viewed top-down, are obvious, but some are less so. As I delve deeper, I'm finding some intriguing and inherent contradictions, fallacies, and redundancies that add to this muck. As devoted supporters and partakers of the adventure game, don't we all want to see it move ahead and reach a bigger audience and be restored back to its former glory as it was during the days of Lucas Arts and Sierra and -- Stop right there!! You see? That's what I mean! You didn't catch it, did you? Read on.


Because these two games don't necessarily follow the accepted idea of what adventure games are supposed to be, does that make them any less so? Left - Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon. Right - The Last Express.

Written in stone?

"You can't teach an old dogma new tricks." - Dorothy Parker

What exactly is an adventure game? This question is pretty loaded, and the answers you may give could easily be cagey or ambiguous, certainly not final, if you really muse over it. Where was it written in stone that an adventure game has to be this or that? The age old question has been debated within the gaming communities to the point where it's become pure tautology, and yet the genre remains static on many levels and poor in marketability. Oh yes, we can argue what it is, we can and have argued for pages and pages of forum postings, but where has that gotten the genre in terms of moving forward, reaching a much needed wider audience, and becoming more commercially successful and competitive with other game genres like first person shooters, RPGs, and sports games? I mean, is the genre any better off for it? If anything we know what it is not - twitch or reflex oriented, action focused, stats management and level-up-centric, and so on. Ironically, the grandfather of all adventure games, Adventure, was not an 'adventure' as hardcore adventure gamers categorize it today. It was merely a 'game' involving exploration and discovery, its creator never considering a categorization. One devoted gamer who was discussing the notion of categorization, stated:

"…why do many adventure gamers need to hold on to this vague thing called 'genre' so badly? I understand the [desire] to still have the same kind of adventure games being produced in the future, and I don't argue against that, but why would it be such a bad thing to broaden the genre label 'adventure' to include also other games that maybe take a few elements from other genres, but still essentially remain adventures. Yet often we hear being said that such games would not be adventure games any more."

Evan Dickens, former Editor-in-Chief of AdventureGamers.com, in an amusing topical post in the site's forum, quoted U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart (on his 'definition' of pornography in 1964): "...perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it...". Fair enough, Evan, and I won't spank you for it, no matter how cagey you are.

But therein lies the wrinkle. It is ultimately not the definition (whatever that may be), but in actually how it is defined - by us and by the industry and the media. Jack Allin, Editor-in-Chief of AdventureGamers.com, and adventure game writer and reviewer, tactfully pointed out that he "...prefer[s] to use the word 'description' rather than 'definition'. The former is used to explain what IS, and the latter is too often used to demand what MUST be." This makes good sense, because it places the emphasis on the genre's behavior rather than the 'categorically correct' perimeters within which it is expected to stay, allowing for some flexibility. But what happens when an adventure game begins to behave differently than usual yet still moves within those perimeters? Is it still an adventure game? Or can we now expand or modify whatever that 'description' or 'definition' is to encompass this seeming mutant? I'll explore this further possibility in a bit.



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