Thursday, February 16, 2012

Do games make you violent?

Let's see what common sense tells us about games making us violent.

Being a game designer, I am often asked these questions...
Do games make people violent?
Do games have an adverse effect on kids?

The game development fraternity will expect a NO for an answer. Others who know that I am part of that fraternity would expect a NO from me as well. And looking at how I've started this article, I am sure you are already expecting a shocker that I am going to claim otherwise. But let's read on before we jump to any conclusion... ;)

A few days back, I was 'following' an argument on a game developers forum about how random journalists who don't know what they are talking about, make wild and unfounded claims that games make people violent. Their stories, at times, backed by the equally clueless armchair academics with statistics to back their claims. I know for a fact that 80% of such stats are conjured out of thin air. (Got it :D) Anyway, once such an article is published, it is customary for the game developers to waste no time to pounce on that article and the writer to show how wrong and malicious that research is. And that something must be done to save the games industry from these 'enemies of games.' On such forums you dare not contradict the protectors of the games industry.

The most favorite defense of game developers is to pass the buck on to the most logical victim (victim of all victims) - the movie industry. 'Why blame the games when movies have been making people violent for over a century?' I really wish to see how the movie fraternity reacts to that!

The other favorite defense is to make everyone play Portal (A First Person Spatial Puzzler). Kids become bright after playing that game, is their claim.

I agree that opinionated journalism is a bane but, believe me, games are not the only victims. Also, whenever someone puts a real bullet in someone's head, the attitude of searching through his games library first and then, if required, checking out his hidden weapons inventory and criminal record as optional corroboratory exhibits is nothing short of a gimmick to grab the headlines.

So what's my take? 

On games
- Anything (including games) that entertains possesses the power to influence your thoughts.
- The extent and the kind of influence depend on the malleability of that person's mind.
- If a game can influence you positively (like most puzzle games), it can affect you in a negative manner as well.
- That most games, by themselves, aren't good or evil.
- Games can definitely trigger certain behaviors (I usually prescribe a couple of games as a suppository whenever people on my team suffer from a creative block. It works like magic :)  )

On people and them not allowing children to play video games 
 - I have a feeling that most game developers and journalists tend to think of their customers/readers as people with sub-par intellect. So much so that they believe that reading articles about how good or how bad games are, can tilt the balance in either direction.
- People, in my opinion, can very well decide if they want to play games or not and which games to play.
- People also know how to best bring up their child. The games industry should refrain from patronizing parents about how playing video games will or won't affect their child. After all, we aren't taking the responsibility of that child, are we?

Do games (video games specifically) make people violent?

Can they make people violent?
Yes they can (especially if the person has a violent disposition). Also it will be a great exercise for the game developers to dig deeper into why and how games were invented and for what purpose. I am talking about absolutely ancient games.

Can people be made violent by factors other than games?
As a trial, just try to mouth, 'You should be given an award for your great traffic sense', to a passing motorist. Point a finger at him if possible and see how he reacts.

So does the debate over whether games make people violent or not, holds any water?
No. It's a pointless debate.

- regards,

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Interview: Pratik Murarka (Club Rare and Raring)

Pratik Murarka is now a member of Rare and Raring. Here's the interview.

Pratik Murarka

Rare and Raring proudly welcomes Pratik Murarka to the Club!

Pratik’s a brilliant game designer and is responsible for mentoring some of the best game designers in the Indian gaming industry. He started out in the QA team at Indiagames Ltd., and went on to become a Studio Head in a matter of 3 years. He’s currently heading Idealabs Interactive, which he co-founded in 2007. Without further ado, let’s begin with the interview!

R&R. You've been one of the pioneers in game design in India, tell us more about how you got into design.
Pratik. “You don’t choose your passion, your passion chooses you” – Anonymous
I joined the Gaming industry in 2003, quite by accident...
When I joined Indiagames, they didn’t really know what to do with me. Though I was a programmer by education, I had no desire to work as one! And so, I was placed as a Beta Tester and spent my first few months playing video-games, to find bugs.
Somewhere in the first year of my job, I started designing games and eventually put together the company’s (and possibly India’s) first full-time, full-fledged game design team.

R&R. You’ve an establishment of your own. How has your role changed over the years? Do you still find time for game design?
Pratik. My partners and I started Idealabs Interactive back in 2007.
Business development and marketing are my primary responsibilities at Idealabs. Given this, and the nature of our work (making apps & games) I continue to be involved in the design of all of our projects.
Handling both marketing and design has provided me with a unique perspective – what the client wants v/s what we want to put in v/s what might really be required!

R&R. What are the kind of challenges and advantages you've faced while setting up a start-up in India?
Pratik. Given that we started-up during the recession, prospective foreign clients were hesitant to explore our capabilities. Also, the Indian market found it hard to understand how our capabilities could be applied to their advertising or training requirements.
Initially, we created several technical demos to showcase our abilities, as well as produced functional concept-level work for free. This involved significant time and effort, leading to an extended period of major expense interspersed with piecemeal income.
It was only after smart-phones, Facebook and their associated applications & games started making headlines, that the Indian market woke up to the possibilities. That’s when we started getting calls from people we’d met (sometimes more than a year before) requesting us to come in for a discussion on what we could develop for them.
Since then, there’s been no looking back! We’ve applied our combined knowledge and skills and developed a vast range of content – No two of our projects have ever been the same! This makes our work challenging and fun.

R&R. What kind of game or game related projects does Idealabs Interactive cover?
Pratik. Apps, Games, Widgets and more! Idealabs Interactive’s mission is to use the power of interactive technology to create distinctive content. We’re platform agnostic, developing apps & games for Facebook, smart-phones, websites, Windows-based kiosks and computers.
As long as it is digital, we’re game for it!
Visit to see our expanded services, our recent work, or spend some time on a trippy game of Pong!

R&R. Would you share the most memorable event in your career as a game designer?
Pratik. It’s tough to single out any one event as being the most memorable, till date.
I’ve enjoyed the process of developing each and every game I’ve worked on. Whether it was the first time I designed a game in a particular genre, or it was the first time I designed a game for a brand, every experience has been new and memorable, in one way or another!

R&R. What according to you is a rule that a game designer should follow while pursuing this career?
Pratik. A lot of game designers design their games for themselves... And a lot of game designers design their games for the market, based on facts, figures and statistics.
In both cases, the industry has seen successful, as well as not-so-successful games.
I’m currently of the opinion that your game should be designed such that the game-play is something you believe in and enjoy playing. But while doing this, you should feed on any available, relevant market data to ensure that the end result is open to a wider audience.

R&R. The most favorite game you’ve designed and why is it your favorite?
Pratik. Disney’s W.I.T.C.H.
Given that W.I.T.C.H. was one of the first commercially developed games I ever worked on; it’s probably not very well designed. However, it remains my favorite for two major reasons:
Being one of the first large-scale, from-scratch projects my (then) employer worked on, I was given complete creative freedom on the game.
We ended up designing a side-scrolling action-adventure game, with game-play fuelled significantly by the fantasy interactive short-stories I wrote in my childhood!

R&R. Your most favorite game till date and why?
Pratik. Prince of Persia.
I’ve been a fan of the series since Jordan Mechner first dreamt up the original DOS version!
Adventure and romance (and in recent installments – time warping magic) set in mystical Persia. Add a dash of awesome platforming and puzzles... What more do you need? :D

R&R. Where can the readers of rare and raring reach you? (Twitter, Blog, Linkedin)

It did me a lot of good, listening to what he had to say, when I was an aspiring game designer. It shouldn’t be any different for the current generation of designers either. I thank Pratik for accepting the invite to be a part of Club Rare and Raring and wish him all the best!