Finding The Spike Lee Of Video Games
Joseph Saulter, the African American video game entrepreneur and educator, wants to see a gaming industry that reflects its customer base - not to mention the country.
Few industries are as disconnected from their customers as the video game industry. Gamers are disproportionately African-American or Hispanic, according to a survey by the Kaiser Foundation. Yet these are precisely the demographics that are underrepresented within the industry itself: both among the developers of games, only 2% of whom are black, and among the characters presented in the games they make. Most game protagonists are white males, and a USC survey revealed that a measly tenth of characters were black, and most of these were either athletes or gangsters.
Joseph Saulter wants to change all this. The entrepreneur behind Entertainment Arts Research, Inc., which Ebony Magazine recently singled out as one of the first black-owned publicly traded gaming companies, has made it his quest to make the gaming industry more reflective of its audience.
Now is a big moment for Saulter, whose company is set to release a major game in July (a parkour game for iOS, discussed below). Several other ambitious projects are in the works, including a game that takes place in Chicago’s South Side in the mid-20th century. “It’s a history of the black community, it’s a history of jazz, it’s a history of the arts and of the revolutions that went on in that period of time,” Saulter says of the game, Bronzeville Etudes & Riffs, a project of artist Philip Mallory Jones, who based much of the material off of oral histories with his mother.
Fast Company caught up with Saulter to learn more about his vision of the future of video games, and what it will take to launch a “Spike Lee of video games”—a black game designer who’s also a household name.
Undoubtedly, some of the people who see the Sex Invaders photo exhibit at Hionas Gallery in New York this month, will be hard pressed to say which is a bigger turn-on: the bikini-clad models or the images of Storm Troopers and Donkey Kong. The collection of eight photographs is the latest installment from the “Ultravelvet Collection,” the work of LA-based couple Eric Hajjar and Meredith Rose. Their work is a fusion of two popular but unrelated subjects, in this case, video games and erotica. In some of the pictures, images of bikini-clad women are overlaid with scenes from Space Invaders and Pac Man. In others, the models appear to be wearing Darth Vader masks.
Before Asteroids, there was Lunar Lander, a simple arcade game released by Atari in 1979 in which players had to pilot a landing module on a jagged lunar landscape. Seb Lee-Delisle isn’t sure if he encountered the original as a youngster—he was only 7 when it came out—but after discovering an emulated version of Lunar Lander a few years back, he quickly fell in love—and set out to faithfully re-create the game for the web, first in Flash and then in HTML5. But his latest project might be an even more impressive ode to the original. For a video-game-centric exhibition at the Science Gallery in Dublin, Lee-Delisle set up a machine that draws players’ progress through the game on a wall-size canvas in real time, transforming the accumulated runs into a dense, swooping thing of beauty.
Historically, video-game-themed movies and adaptations are the second-class citizens of cinema, frowned upon by critics and audiences alike. But “Wreck-It Ralph” worked. Last weekend, it became the biggest opening for Walt Disney Animation ever, topping the box office with $49.1 million. Does the critical and box office success of “Wreck-It Ralph” spell the beginning of a new era for video game films?
At Rovio HQ in Espoo, Finland, we get a sneak peek at “Bad Piggies,” where the egg-gobbling (now likable) swine rule the roost and not an Angry Bird is in sight. “We consider this the launch of a new franchise,” Rovio’s Petri Jarvilehto tells Fast Company.
The swine are stranded on a desert island and have to build vehicles and contraptions to make their way to the delicious eggs that they can’t seem to get enough of. Though there is a three-star mechanic at work, there are no birds in sight, and the pigs are bouncy, jovial, and downright likable—a far cry from the snorting, antagonizing characters from the Angry Birds installments.
"We want playing our games to entertain people on many different levels. Deeper down, I want to make a connection with the player, and it’s the way, to me, of saying to the person playing the game that they’re not alone in the world."
This behind-the-scenes interview with the brutal legend of video game design proves that listening to your customers can pay off in unexpected ways.
"The premise of the game is rooted in what’s going on today," says Jason Norcross, partner and creative director at 72andSunny. "If you look around, it seems as if our armed forces are becoming more and more filled with drones and A.I., painting the picture of ‘what if’—what if things go bad with the direction we’re heading."
The campaign for Activision’s highly anticipated Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 uses a faux documentary starring Oliver North to posit a near-future nightmare war scenario.
How to SuperBetter your life with Epic Wins the way Jane McGonigal does.
From Nike+ to The Email Game, McGonigal is at the forefront of a movement intent on making it fun to reach everyday goals. Grab yourself a power-up and listen in.
The new SimCity will let you take control of a city’s environmental destiny:
"You start your city without any money, and you could exploit the coal seams underneath the city and start digging coal out of the ground and make a city that’s pretty filthy, one that’s built on burning coal for power, might have a lot of coal-sustained industries around it and would make me a ton of money as a player. In the long term that would sort of blight the prospects of the city." In that coal-dependent city, there would be little natural beauty and excessive air and ground pollution, not to mention citizens suffering from coal-related health problems.
Alternatively, players could opt for other sources of energy—gas-fired power plants, solar panels, wind turbines, or nuclear power. All of these sources have their drawbacks. Solar panels, for example, take up a lot of space and produce less power for the money when compared to coal…
On December 20, BioWare will release Star Wars: The Old Republic, its most ambitious project yet. Bigger than all of its previous games combined, it could be a monumental success—or a titanic failure.
Nintendo re-created some of our favorite levels from Super Mario Brothers this weekend in Times Square (warp pipes, power ups, breakable blocks). Here are some of the memorable wipeouts from that super playground.