Arnold Schwarzenegger, in the beginning of his movie carreer, took acting lessons and strived to be an accomplished actor. In Stay Hungry, one of his very first movies, he even won a Golden Globe. But soon he realized that to be a superstar he had to be an icon – and dropped nuanced acting and challenging scripts for more… challenged scripts. The movies he acted in from that point mostly consisted of action, and were simple and one-dimensional tales.
And he did become a superstar. Arnold would be the greatest actionhero of Hollywood for decades. But the truth is that few of his movies made much money. They were expensive to make, and didn’t attract the box-office audiences the studio executives hoped for when they signed him.
His most successfull movie? Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Was it a simple movie? Sure, if you look no further than the surface. But just as with most great (and successfull) movies, it is multi-layered in that it explores several themes and storylines.
Terminator 2 can be seen as a movie about guns and explosions and exciting chases. But if you look just an inch further, it asks questions. It asks if fate determines history and our lives. If it is right to kill a man to prevent the death of many more. It asks what it is to be human.
Unfortunately, afterwards Arnold continued to make the simple explosion-fests he knew and mastered so well, and from that point his movie carreer went downhill.
The game industry is, and has been for quite some time, moving from complex games to simple games. It is the distinction that appeared between “hardcore” and “casual”, caused by the belief that going casual will sell more boxes to a wider audience. Which it probably does.
But casual players are not stupid. They’re just not interested enough in games to deal with a steep learning curve, to spend more than a little energy on learning how to interact with the game. It is not the complexity – it’s the presentation of said complexity.
Bioshock, although it sheds some of the versatility of its ancestor System Shock 2, has quite a bit of complexity. But, just as with good movies, it is a multi-layered experience, and that is one of the reasons behind its critical acclaim and financial success. If all you seek is a shooter with awesome visuals, that is as deep as you have to go. But if want to, you can ponder the criticism against objectivism, use the environments to your benefit, evolve your character and make moral choices.
The choice we have now is if we want casual to mean “stupid” or if we want it to mean “accessible”. Stupid is accessible, but accessible doesn’t necessarily have to be stupid. Most people are not dumb, and appreciate not being treated as if they were.
Let me repeat myself. It is not the complexity – it’s the presentation of said complexity!