Updated: June 27, 2003

Responses to the Video Games article 

I have to admit that these responses are better than my original article. Taken together, they provide a fairly complete—and rather depressing—view of the video game industry. They also have information about individual video games. Depending on the letter writer’s reaction to my article, I’ve categorized the letters as PRO, MIXED (on the next page), and CON (on the page after that).

—— PRO (well, mostly PRO) ——   

February 24, 2002
From: Glenn

Firstly, I’d like to say I’ve been in the game industry for over sixteen years and worked several fairly major hits including Populous, Magic Carpet and Dungeon Keeper.

When someone posted me the link to your article I expected to agree completely and do to an extent. I agree that the quest for realism is a major negative force on originality but a lot of your essay has little to do with that and is just bitching about games you happen not to like.

Personally, I find sites like Clickmazes and yours more fun than 95%+ of the big, story-based ‘epics’ I see. Like you, I have little interest in driving games but I’m prepared to acknowledge that the best of them achieve their ‘playability’ from getting the feel of the controls ‘right.’ This is a whole field that people coming from a puzzle perspective seem to find hard to appreciate.

You dismiss ‘twitch games.’ I would say that Quake for example has a control feel that, because of its very simplicity and focus on speed and immersion over complexity and depth, is a direct descendent of old 2D games you hark back to. A bigger problem is genre crossing: Quake is now old hat and the market is now flooded with games that are basically Quake controls mixed with deeper puzzles and ‘well developed plot lines.’ Nothing breaks a puzzle game more than having to stop and fight every few minutes and nothing breaks an action game more than having to work out if you should be looking for a puzzle.

You blame Programmers and artists because they don’t work with game designers. The problem is, they often do have ‘game designers’ in the form of script writers. These guys, who all seem to be frustrated novelists or screenplay writers, are more to blame for the current state of the industry than almost anyone. It’s far easier to sell plot or character to publishers than pure game concepts, I know, I’ve tried...

These people then mix with the real industry low-lifes, marketing people who don’t even play games but know that ‘a half life clone with a matrix rip off plot’ is going to sell in quantities that get them the new Porsche quicker than some geek talking about obscure puzzle ideas or a great new control feel...

December 7, 2001
From Rigo Ordonez

I thoroughly enjoyed your article on video gaming today compared to what it used to be. It was decently well written and thought out. But I do have one problem with your article. Although games today are mind numbingly dumb and realistic, there are a few games that shine and even a console with a slew of great games. I speak of none other than the ill-fated SEGA Dreamcast.

The Dreamcast, or DC as I call it, had games that were fun and reminded me of how it used to be. Most DC games, like Sonic Adventure 2, were solid games and were actually fun, some on par with retro games, some not, others nowhere close. Games that are of today I find generally just too short and easy, but on DC I was challenged to decent points. Games with much innovation like Jet Grind Radio deserve recognition.

Realistic games of today tend to be really dumb, but a DC game I played, that was simply brilliant, was extremely realistic. The most expensive game to date, at a rumored 65 Million big ones, Shenmue, is one of the most breath-taking experience I have ever had. Try it out sometime.

At $50 the Dreamcast is a great buy and well worth it, with new titles like Phantasy Star Online Ver. 2 and Bomberman Online, and oldies at under 20 bucks like Shenmue and Jet Grind Radio, you can’t go wrong. Do yourself a favor and pick one up.

Thank you for your time,

Rigo Ordonez

February 6, 2002
From Allen Corcorran


I really enjoyed reading your perspective on video games. You seem to share a lot with me along those lines. No matter how ‘realistic’ a game is, it comes down to the intrigue of the game to make people want to play it. I’ve been sorely disappointed with many of the modern games. I’ve said repeatedly that games of the 80s etc. were great because the designers had to rely on playability rather than graphics and sound.

Anyway, just wanted to let you know I agreed with you. Now I have to confess to my ulterior motive. About three years ago, some friends and I designed a game and tried to market it. Sadly, our ‘marketing’ did not go so well, but I still am quite proud of the game and I think it would sell if we found the right market. It’s been compared by many to Chip’s Challenge which I noticed you approved of

So...I wanted to point you at the website. If you get a chance, download the demo and let me know what you think. It’s called Rich Diamond and can be found at www.coregames.com (just click on download). We got some very positive reviews, including one from GAMES magazine.

Hope you like it!
Allen Corcorran

I appreciated these comments because the writer is knowledgeable about graphics (he works at Walt Disney Feature Animation).

I tried the demo of Rich Diamond and I thought it was pretty good. It has extensive graphics, but it retains the feel of the simpler puzzle games like Chip’s Challenge. It uses an angled 3D view from above. I especially liked the monsters (they move in very predictable manners) and the rolling boulders (you position obstacles in advance and then start the boulders rolling).

March 12, 2002
From Peter Seebach

I loved your article, which I saw linked from the discussion site www.kuro5hin.org. I particularly liked your comments about battlechess. I actually picked it up, for the simple reason that it was sort of fun to watch, but it rapidly became clear that it was an abysmal chess program. I once set it to playing against itself. It fought down to K+R on each side, moved the rooks around for about five turns, and then one side conceded the game. Wow!

I think there are games which really benefit from the “greater realism,” or at least the nominally greater depth, that modern systems can provide. However, 99% of them don’t. One of my favorite games of all time was a video game called Dungeon Master on the Amiga. It was a simulation that cheerfully said “this far and no farther” — but the resulting world was CONSISTENT, and that made the game interesting. It was, furthermore, an exceptionally well-designed game; it was a standard dungeon crawl-style game, but you could play through the entire game without getting damaged. Not by using “cheats” — but by paying VERY close attention, and thinking ahead, and by being cautious. It was a great game.

As an example of a game that, I feel, has become less fun through complexity, I offer Nethack, a great-great-grandchild of Rogue. Rogue was a brilliant game. Hack was, in some ways, an improvement, but was sometimes frustrating because of its complexity. Nethack started getting a little too complicated, early on, and current Nethack is simply way too large a game for me to want to spend time learning it. By contrast, Angband (son of Moria) is a much simpler game, and is still fun.

Thanks again for writing that article, which helped crystallize a number of things I’ve been toying with for ages. I write about usability, and I used to believe that video games were, necessarily, paragons of usability — because no one would bother playing a game that wasn’t easy to use. That’s not as true now as it was when I first thought of it, and I think you’ve explained why.


February 28, 2002
From John

Hi I just found and read your essay. I agree with most of the points you make — it reminds me of a somewhat similar post I made a few years ago — if you’d like to read it:


- John

That post was interesting. It’s good to find others who were thinking along these same lines.

March 1, 2002
From: Justin Wright

Well after reading your article I have just one word for you: Genius. You’re the only person really to grasp the meaning of games today and all of your writing proves it. Anyone giving negative criticism towards your work needs to maybe identify the facts first before letting the shit hit the fan with his lame ass words of nonsense. I, being a respected gamer and veteran of all types of games (hehe), know what’s a good game and what’s a really shitty game.

I’m a senior in high school and graduating in May. I hope to do something with games one day and be very prosperous. I had the perfect idea for an online game and it incorporates your 2D standards as well as many other fans of 2D standards: my idea was a game like Zelda: a Link from the Past on the SNES but in online game style, with skill gain and character evolution. It could have a slight side view or a complete top-sky-high view. It would be very interesting to see this type of game be developed. I have more ideas on this type of game but just for now I just wanted to say I really respect your article and your words, I hope, make people think twice about producing pieces of shit games lol. Take it easy.

Dear Justin: Your career plans sound good. It appears that you can make a lot of money in video games. However, you probably will NOT be able to get anything good published. But you can always create good things just for yourself, or put them on your web site.

April 1, 2002
From Bob Harris

Howdy, Bob,

Today I stumbled upon your article titled “Video Games Are Incredibly Stupid!” I could not be more in agreement with you. Except that you left out a third inane video game format—the side view uber-kickboxing contest.

I designed a few of the classic games back in the early 80’s, though I can’t lay claim to having created anything as popular as the games you mention. Killer Bees for the Odyssey2, and WarRoom for the ColecoVision were my two most popular games.

Being inside the industry at that time, I saw two clear steps that led us to the sad state of video games that we have today (and which we’ve had for quite a while). The first step occurred in the mid 80’s: the licensed name game. Companies began creating, and heavily marketing, games based upon hot movie licenses. I believe it was at this point that game play became a secondary selling point. It was much more important for a game to have, say “E.T.”, on the box that it was for the cartridge to contain a challenging and interesting game.

The second step was that the video games in arcades responded to the home video game challenge by creating games that were more graphically intense/realistic. This was a natural thing for the arcade game creators to do, as they had to take advantage of what they could do that the home video games could not. Another difference between arcade and home video games drew emphasis. Arcade video games must have quick and repeated play to make money. An arcade game that rewards planning and long-term strategy was undesirable, from a design standpoint. The designers planned to kill off the player before that planning would be fruitful. No sense giving the player something to plan for, when you want the game to be over in 60 seconds so you can get another quarter out of his pocket.

Now, the other half of the licensed name issue is that, pretty much from the start, the home systems would much rather do a copy of an arcade game than an original game. In fact, when I first joined the Odyssey2 team, I was asked by management “Which new arcade game do you think will be hot, so we’ll know which we should start copying now?” (The K.C. Munchkin episode didn’t do a lot to change the attitude, either.) Such a game was an easier sell. Keep in mind that we’re talking about selling the game to the guy in the leisure suit who decided which games went on the shelf at Toys-R-Us.

So, once the home system hardware caught up to what the arcade games could do, the natural attitude, for the companies producing games, was “Let’s do what the arcade games do!” Few companies had any interest in trying to exploit the advantage that the home systems had over the arcade games (the primary advantage being to give the player gameplay lasting more than 60 seconds). So by around 1990, if not earlier, the vast majority of the games on the shelves had (1) great graphics, and (2) limited gameplay.

By that time, the game companies had chased away whatever market there had been for video games that required some intellect to play. Up to that time I personally was a pretty avid video game player. But I got more and more frustrated trying to sort through the crap on the shelves, trying to find something interesting to play.

That’s my take on what got us to the sorry state of video games we have today.

The saddest part is that this was all the right thing to do from the standpoint of making money. The fast-paced, no-thought-required games don’t really hold the buyer’s interest very long. After a month or so, that hot game is under the bed and the buyer has forked out more cash for the next game. This is what drives the industry.

One of the ‘con’ responses you have posted at your site pointed out that many of the early games were ‘twitch’ games, too, and used Robotron and Defender as examples. What that writer may be missing is that those games had more gameplay in them than most of today’s games do. To play well at Robotron you had to develop good strategies for avoiding and destroying particular adversaries. The strategies were not obvious; the best strategies often took quite a lot of creative thought. This was true in many other fast-paced games of the era (for example, consider Centipede).

Not only were the strategies not obvious to the player, they weren’t obvious to the game designers! We didn’t sit down and map out what we wanted the player to do; we didn’t just create a story line that the main character was forced to follow. Rather, we threw interesting aspects/capabilities into a cauldron and created games in which the whole was more than the sum of the parts.

Bob Harris

Dear Bob Harris: Great analysis! One note about licensing: It destroys any creative endeavor it touches. It destroyed the equipment game industry. Themes, especially licensed themes, are now applied to almost everything—even food! I can understand children wanting their breakfast cereal to have a story, but adults will go to a place like Planet Hollywood. Why? Do they think they will be part of a movie or they’ll be hanging out with Hollywood celebs?

December 17, 2002
From John

Dear Mr. Abbott,

I think your article “Video Games Are Incredibly Stupid!” is right on the money.

I’m 38 and I have “battled” my 17 year old high school son at a few army-type maze video games on Play Station 1 where we each have a hero view and shoot at each other. His hero (usually he selects a bad character) almost always beats mine. This would most likely appear to be due to his greater skill at video games and I’m certain that he’s certain that it is the reason he beats almost all the time.

While he is younger and his reflexes are no doubt better and he plays games more and that may explain why he wins more than I do, the truth be told, I’m bored stiff by such games. Completely and utterly bored. We move, we shoot, we pick up ammo, we move, we shoot, we pick up ammo, ad nasuem. The “action” is slow moving for the most part, and the views are constrained and annoying. The experience is, well, a snore and a bore. And don’t get me started on those dam game controllers. Those aren’t joy sticks my good man, those are pee-wee sticks. Lame. Can’t hold a candle to a real arcade game controller.

I’d love to face up against him on a real Williams Robotron 2084 arcade game. Some would say I wasted a good portion of my senior year in high school and my freshman year in college on Robotron, Quix, Missle Command, StarGate, Defender, Joust, and other non-stop action, top-view or side-view games. I think I was helping my brain continue to build nerve paths and critical, quick thinking skills (high honors in graduating both high school and college are my only proof), all while I was “in the zone” for hours.

The tunnel-view experience of today’s games would not serve him well in the top-view games of yesteryear. Too much all out action where a lot of information must be processed almost at once and that changes nearly every level. I’m not sure kids of today would fair too well with the all-out assault on the stick figure hero human in a Robotron Hulk-Grunt-Tank-Enforcer-Prog-Quark-Brain-Seeker wave 300 at game difficulty 8. They’d have a hard enough time getting out of their first grunt-wave at wave 9, never mind wave 300.

Well, that’s enough of my rant. I’m glad my son enjoys and wins at the video games he plays, but I secretly think he’ll never know what it is to play the very best video games ever created. And maybe worse, even if he got to play one, he might think it was a silent movie comedy.



January 20, 2003
From Eq Tetrachloride


Your site on logic mazes is fascinating.

I tend to think of logic puzzles as massive finite-state automata that would take a vast amount of time to solve without the appropriate heuristics.

Since you like Chip’s Challenge, you might be interested in a Windows puzzle game I wrote called Mushroom Man. There are no random events and no time limit. The game can be found here.

Your diagnosis of modern video games is also quite an entertaining read, and I agree that realism does not always enhance games. I don’t think that games players are much younger than they used to be, though. In the early days, there was less of a fixed demographic for this because the technology was new and interesting. Today, computer games are omnipresent, and there are plenty of adults who consume them the same way they would consume a Hollywood film, however vapid: games provide a believable alternate world for a few hours of escapism.


This guy’s web site is a lot of fun. I especially enjoyed the geeky (deliberately geeky) picture of him and his goth (or “notagoth”) girlfriend.

I also think Mushroom Man is pretty great and I’m currently up to level 45 (password: SBUZ). The basic elements of the game are not new, but these elements are put together to create very intricate mazes. The graphics and the sound effects are excellent and even the music is good (that is, unless you’re annoyed by minimalist music). Plus the game is free.

I think what I really liked about Mushroom Man is it’s played on a two-dimensional grid. I had let myself get talked into the idea that the 3D angled view of a grid is good. It allows you to use 3D graphics and it displays as much information as you get from a 2D grid. Well, even though it displays as much information, it is hard to put that information together. And because the information is hard to understand, the games have to remain very simple.

Let me put this another way: chess problems are always done on 2D grids. Now, you could show a chess problem with an angled view of a chess board, and you could have interesting 3D renderings of the chess pieces. The solver would have all the same information as is shown in a 2D diagram, but it would be almost impossible to solve the problem under these circumstances. And it’s hard to explain why it would be so hard.

June 19, 2002
From Jeremy Holliday

Dear Mr. Abbott,

Immediately after reading your article I was appalled at how you attacked the gaming industry today. However, after mulling over your essay for a few days I came to find that in most respects I agree with you. I do think that realism in graphics and sound is over-prioritized. I also believe far to much emphasis is placed on following tried and true formulas in the design and marketing of games today. I would love to see a revolution of original, fresh material that could stimulate one’s mind as well as one’s senses. Sadly, we live in a capitalist society, and taking great risks with one’s income and financial future is not always looked upon as the intelligent thing to do. This kind of risk is exactly what such a revolution would take, not only from a single person but from many sources. None of this is likely to happen in the near future.

One of the few points I disagree with you on is that games are not used to escape reality by mimicking it. I don’t look at a game as a piece of visual art but as an experience more akin to that of reading a book. I read books (and play games) to escape the boredom of a normal life. I believe this is what all games are made for. They are not made to escape reality itself but the monotony that comes along with it. I believe realism in games helps make them more exciting. If you look at a game as you look at a book, as I do, you can see that realism can make an experience more enthralling. The best authors have a way of making what they write about come to life. A game would not have to look like the world around you to seem real. One of the games on your site, “Theseus and the Minotaur,” provides realism not in graphics or sound but in pitting the player against an opponent. By adding an opponent you have turned a maze into a game. There is nothing real about wandering around in a maze, but in evading an opponent there is a sense of danger. This element of danger makes what is in reality two dots on a screen, one of which isn’t even human, seem like a struggle between two beings and thus adds realism and excitement. Players begin to make the game more real for themselves by building around that struggle in their own minds a world in which they are pitted against this opponent and must out-think it. I think games are used to escape at least a part of reality, and making a game more realistic makes the transition from reality to game easier. It could take hours for someone to really get into a game like “Theseus,” but to get into a game that looks and sounds real is relatively easy. That is why games are made to look real. The average gamer no longer has to create his own world, it’s done for him. He only needs to interact with it. To more sophisticated minds, this seems restrictive and it becomes a thing of loathing. The more intelligent would rather create their own worlds than have them forced upon them by someone else. I think that is why people like yourself think that graphic and audio realism detract from the overall experience of a game. Perhaps you just don’t like the world they have created for you.

Thank you for your time,


To the MIXED responses

To the CON responses and Closing Remarks

Back to "Video Games Are Incredibly Stupid!"

To Robert Abbott’s Games

To Logic Mazes