Last card. (computer games)
by Orson Scott Card
After more than four years of writing this column, I'm through. My goal was to write not reviews but criticism of games. I found this exhilarating, but it has one drawback: You're talking theory, not specifics. After a while, you start running out of theory. Instead of leaping into each month's column, excited to have a chance to write it, I find myself backing into it as if at gunpoint. It's time for somebody else to do this..
But I have this one last column. What do you put in your last column?
I could write about the need for upgrades of old games: I'm dying for a Windows version of LodeRunner, for instance.
Or I could tell about howl finally found America Online, which is doing everything right and nothing wrong. I've put my money where my mouth is, moving my whole family onto AOL for E-mail and starting upabulletin board on AOL called Hatrack River Town Meeting, where I hang out with the really nice people who show up to add to the conversation.
Or I could write a rave review of Robert X. Cringely's Accidental Empires, an opinionated and highly entertaining book which takes a jab at the personalities who created the personal computer industry.
Instead, l want to leave a simple truth with the gamewrights and publishers: You are not in competition with each other.
You talk about going after Sierra On-Line or shooting down Microsoft Flight Simulator. But this sort of thing is pointless and bound to fail.
That's because computer games are to business software as fiction publishing is to textbook publishing. Each computer user is going to buy only one word processor, one spreadsheet, onedatabase, just as each school system is going to buy only one seventhgrade English textbook. But computer gamers are going to buy as many computer games as look like enough fun to be worth the money. Just as fiction buyers will buy as many books as they think they will enjoy reading, as long as they can afford them.
Your competition isn't Sierra On-Line or MicroProse. Your competition is bicycling and board games, television shows and movies. And books. And just as there's plenty of room for three or four or six highly profitable movies in the same summer, there's plenty of room for a dozen or a score of hit games at the same time.
Stephen King didn't have to shoot down James Michener in order to become a best-selling novelist. Anne Tyler didn't have to steal away Judith Krantz's readers. Instead, they simply wrote the kinds of stories they believed in.
Art creates its own audience. I don't look at Stephen King's sales and think that somehow I've got to stop him so that my books can take the place of his. Instead, l look at his sales and think, "That wonderful man is teaching millions of people that reading a book can be better than any of the alternatives." He brings people out to the bookstores looking for an unforgettable experience. Some of them are going to pick up one of my books, and if I've done well, some might enjoy it and buy more.
You can't concern yourselves with what will be a hit or what will be commercial, because that will kill your art. You have to think about what you yourself care about and enjoy in a game, and then create a game which embodies that.
Just because you're not as rich as some other gamewright doesn't mean you've failed. That's the way Bill Gates keeps score, not the way artists keep score. You have to measure your success by the way your audience responds to your games. No matter how small that audience is, it's yours. Your game is part of the lives and the memories of those people in a way WordPerfect or Lotus 1-2-3 or Windows can never be.
So get back to work. I'm restless, and I want another game to play. I have no idea what that game should be like. You'll just have to make it up and show me. I'll know it when I see it. In the meantime, I'll read a book.