A Country For Old Men?

Max Payne from Max Payne 3 (he's getting older, too)

I have been playing through Assassin's Creed: Revelations and I love it, but I keep looking for an apothecary to sell me a Geritol potion for Ezio. The story puts him at over 50 years old, and for the Renaissance that's downright antiquated. He's not alone. In the last couple years some very high profile titles have come out with some very grizzled leading men. Even that bastion of juvenile humor, Duke Nukem, is over The Hill.

This trend been noted before by more people than me, but I always wrote it off to the vagaries of the particular story and society in general. I don't think The Expendables, for example, would have done nearly so well back in 1998. Or maybe this is just me self-selecting data due to my own encroaching need to tell people to get the heck off my lawn.

The characters may seem old and creaky to the whippersnappers’ end of the market, but in real life, I'd like to think that these characters aren’t really all that old. Snake's math-teacher-style lip ferret is iron grey, but his birthdate puts him four years younger than me. But him just being there and in the lead role — his mere presence — is part of a huge shift. Compare and contrast eight years before. While playing Final Fantasy X, supporting character Sir Auron catches all sorts of crap about his age in the dialog of the game. He's grumpy, but he didn't seem all that grey to me. Still, the 17-year-old snot-nosed lead refers to him as "old man" all the time. As you play through the story, you find out he's 35 (if you count the 10 years he's spent wandering around as an unsent ghost).

I decided this topic needed more, uh ... research. That's what the cool kids call “hanging off buildings and shooting things” nowadays, right? But as fun as it was to replay some of these games to get story information like dates and times, some good old-fashioned hitting the books came up with some intriguing indications.

I got out the heavy Google-fu, and it seems like the shift from the young punks to the old fogeys is following the age curve of their lead developer/producer/director. Back when the gang at id, Valve, and other influential houses were in their 20's, all our heroes were young. Now that those same men are pushing 40 and 50 (along with the average gamer),their leading men seem to be following suit.

In 2005, the International Game Developers Association put out a very useful report on the demographic makeup of the game industry. They list the average age of game industry developers at 31 (pg 16, fig 7). But that doesn't tell the whole story. The curve over time is skewed strongly to the left, peaking sharply between age 20 and 30 before dropping off nearly vertically before tapering into a long, thin tail off towards the older, right side. But add in hierarchical position to the numbers, and everything shifts. As a developer or designer gains in experience and authority in the industry, the average age rises. By the time you're running your own projects, it corrects to match the rest of the software-development industry average of 38, and often exceeds it. This is expected, and reflected across other technical fields. But outside of good old Clippy, Microsoft ® Office doesn't have a character to age. Games do.

All the big names seem to be aging right along with the rest of us. Here are just few examples of what I mean (where I could find the information publicly). Gabe Newell of Valve recently turned 49. Michel Ancel of Ubisoft just turned 40 in March. Ken Levine is 45. Heck, Derek Smart has a grey beard now (according to the pic on his Google+ Page. It's not just American developers; Peter Molyneux turned 52, Yoshinori Kitase is 45, and Shigeru Miyamoto turned 59 last year.

When you map the age of developers with the lead characters they've created (making sure to count in the date of the actual game story in your calculations), it starts to show a pattern pretty quickly. Here are a couple examples:

Metal Gear series

Character: Solid Snake
(born 6/12/1972)
Creator: Hideo Kojima
(born August 24, 1963)
Metal Gear Solid
(story set in 2005, game released in 1998)

Snake's Age: 33     Kojima's Age: 35

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
(story set in 2014, game released in 2008)
Snake's Age: 43     Kojima's Age: 45

Duke Nukem

Character: Duke Nukem
(born April 9, 1967)
Creator: George Broussard
(born May 31, 1963)
Duke Nukem
(story set in 1997, game released in 1991)
Duke's Age: 30 Broussard's Age: 35


Duke Nukem Forever
(story set in 2010, game released in 2011)
Duke's Age: 43     Broussard's Age: 48

I thought maybe it has to do with our growing tendency towards sequels. Particularly in some of the longer-lived series, the stories have been around long enough to get grey hair of their own. But even with some serious temporal gyrations, the correlations still seem to hold to a startling degree. Metal Gear Solid has bounced around in the timeline over the course of the series. In 2004, they went back to 1964 and then 29-year-old Big Boss (birthdate listed only as 1935) for Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. But for Metal Gear Solid 4, we came back to Solid Snake as he turned 43 on the game's launch day in 2008. That keeps him right in line, two years younger than Kojima.

A minor factor here is people realizing the main character couldn't have his professional pedigree and still be that young. When the original Deus Ex came out, the protagonist J.C. Denton was 23. When Deus Ex: Human Revolution came out, Adam Jensen (its protagonist) is 34. That's partly because before he came to his current job for Sarif Industries, he was a commander in Detroit SWAT, and you don't get that job right out of college.

Another factor is the ever increasing average age of the players themselves. Last year, the ESA released their traditional annual report on gamer demographics, and it details that the average gamer is 38 years old. That whole "I hope I die before get old" thing goes right out the window at a certain point, and the concept that the average gamer couldn't go take out the bad guys at their current age is far more likely to scorch egos than drive sales.

I was tootling along with my theory when I ran smack-dab into a couple outliers. You'll note that good old Ezio doesn't follow the pattern all that closely (though it takes some extra math to do the digging). Jade Raymond is 36 and took care of the first two games, and Alexandre Breault who took over for our really grumpy old version of Ezio in Assassin's Creed: Revelations is a similar age (33 if you do some math on his LinkedIn info). Splinter Cell: Conviction (story set in 2010) has a 53-year-old Sam Fisher (born March 25, 1957) for a lead, and he gets matched up with Ubisoft's Alexandre Parizeau, who just turned 36 on April 14th.

I found a common point pretty quick: All of my outliers came from Ubisoft. That started me looking at other factors to find a clue and that brought up another interesting twist — gender.

Oftentimes, when people decry the situation with minorities and women in games, people point out that there aren't many minorities or women doing the work, and maybe figuring out why and bringing more in would improve matters. This usually doesn't get anyone anywhere. It degenerates into volleys of discussion about how you don't have to be the same as your character to write about it. And that's the side of the church I tend to sit on, particularly on an individual basis when it gets down to specific cases.

But this is a more complex situation. Writing isn't the only telling factor. Producers, marketing, and other deciders are also part of the equation. And as they age, things are shifting. They're green-lighting projects with older characters in a way they never have before. And when women are in those positions, you get even more diversity. Whenever the topic comes up of good examples of games that broadened the demographic, Beyond Good and Evil bubbles up to the top of the list, and that's an Ubisoft property. Maybe Jade Raymond's effect on Ubisoft in general and the Assassin's Creed and Splinter Cell series in particular are more important than we think.

There is a lot more here than meets the eye, but there are other cases to study. It does make me wonder if maybe the strong characterizations of the female supporting characters in the Mass Effect series (and, in part, the percentage of gamers who prefer to play FemShep) may have a lot to do with the influential work of the female lead gameplay designer, Christina Norman. She just moved to Riot Games. I don't expect them to suddenly explode with diversity, but I'll be watching their next releases with a certain interest.

It's not simple causation by any stretch of the imagination, but this discussion isn't started from supposition — this is a look at the facts and figures to go along with what is actually happening. I'm not making any judgement calls on what I think should happen here, but I think this raises a question about the makeup of an industry, a question that deserves a closer look from people with more expertise and resources than I have.

Looking at the situation from the angle of age shows that there may be some factor in the makeup of development teams that affects the representation of the characters in concrete ways, like their age. That may also hold true for other metrics like gender. Or to put it simply: When you get more kinds of people in there in positions of authority, you really do get more kinds of characters. And I'm willing to speculate that if we could get more females and minorities in positions of leadership in the industry, maybe we'd start seeing more of that effect in other endeavors.

Comments

Demyx wrote:
I was playing and reading about Final Fantasy XIII lately and the one character that is pretty much universally liked in that game is Sazh. He's a likeable everyman, and his most important goal in life is not saving the world or thwarting some terrorist threat, but saving his son. It's an instantly sympathetic motivation and one we don't see often enough.

Actually I think a middle-aged male protagonist trying to find their child or spouse is rather frequent these days, though the only two that come to mind at the moment are Alan Wake and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories.

I think an interesting take would be a middle-aged woman trying to keep her children safe through a disaster of some sort, but considering that would require building a game out of one giant Escort quest it could go either way. In addition, you're still tying a middle-aged woman's "identity" to being a mom, and when you can only develop a character through archaic gender roles, well, there's still a bit of an issue.

That is, unless you can explore it right, but that requires faith in modern games writing, a sort of faith I don't have.

Though similar: I forget who I was speaking with, but when I was telling them Aliens: Colonial Marines looked awesome at PAX, they just sighed because it was another shooter and we don't need another one of those in the Aliens universe. It got me wondering what other sort of game you could make, and I pondered the concept of playing an Aliens game where you play a character similar to Newt in the second film. Or perhaps you could play as Newt herself throughout the disaster of the colony. More stealth based where your options are limited to hide and run away, similar to Silent Hill: Shattered Memories.

Maybe it would be easier to think of broader demographics in our protagonists if we could think of more experiences than Jump-and-Shoot-Man for our games.

Larry: You should know by now that yes, I do know how to translate "oyaji". This is not in any way limited to Japan or games. It's common usage in the US Navy to refer to your CO as "the old man" (and in the case of a friend of mine, his female CO is neither of those things). And it's not new; my father who was also in the Navy does the same thing. But I have to distill the 40 hours of general ageist disdain this boy shows for Auron over the course of the game as tightly as possible to fit it into a 2000 word article where this is a supporting point, and do it for a general audience who may not know. I had thought of using some of Duke Nukem's snide comments from the first game in the same place, but when I tried to replay to get them I made the depressing discovery that my old disks will not install anymore.

Demyx & CY: Sazh is one of my favorite characters, too. That's another can of worms in stories and games, just a few down from the whole row that this issue has lined up. Having real relationships like that be a heavy story point is a hard thing (Sam Fisher and his daughter would be another example for both good and ill). A lot of the time it just gets defaulted to a motivation point. And it a powerful one; you can't deny that. People will do just about anything for their kids.

What I would love to see is a game where they work together rather than have one used as a stick-mounted carrot to drag the other through the story. Maybe as the decider's kids grow and they see the way the relationship between a parent and a grown child can work from the other side we can see something like that, too.

ccesarano: You are a gentleman and a scholar and I would like to subscribe to your newsletter! That's one of the things I loved about "Catherine". Talk about a completely different slice out of life. Now we need about 30 more.

ccesarano wrote:
Though similar: I forget who I was speaking with, but when I was telling them Aliens: Colonial Marines looked awesome at PAX, they just sighed because it was another shooter and we don't need another one of those in the Aliens universe. It got me wondering what other sort of game you could make, and I pondered the concept of playing an Aliens game where you play a character similar to Newt in the second film. Or perhaps you could play as Newt herself throughout the disaster of the colony. More stealth based where your options are limited to hide and run away, similar to Silent Hill: Shattered Memories.

A game like the first movie, Alien.

Awesome article, momgamer!

Quintin_Stone wrote:
ccesarano wrote:
Though similar: I forget who I was speaking with, but when I was telling them Aliens: Colonial Marines looked awesome at PAX, they just sighed because it was another shooter and we don't need another one of those in the Aliens universe. It got me wondering what other sort of game you could make, and I pondered the concept of playing an Aliens game where you play a character similar to Newt in the second film. Or perhaps you could play as Newt herself throughout the disaster of the colony. More stealth based where your options are limited to hide and run away, similar to Silent Hill: Shattered Memories.

A game like the first movie, Alien.

Alien... Alien... Oh, that's the one that starred a woman, only had one alien, and didn't have any shooting whatsoever. That's not going to happen.

ccesarano wrote:

I think an interesting take would be a middle-aged woman trying to keep her children safe through a disaster of some sort, but considering that would require building a game out of one giant Escort quest it could go either way. In addition, you're still tying a middle-aged woman's "identity" to being a mom, and when you can only develop a character through archaic gender roles, well, there's still a bit of an issue.

I would actually love a video game where you play a mom with her children. The issue of developing a character through traditional gender roles would not be an issue if we had many female characters in a wide variety of roles. As with all stereotypical roles, the problem is not when you depict some characters in those roles, the issue is when you depict all characters in such roles.

There are various ways you could avoid it being an escort mission. You could have the kids absent except in cutscenes, like with Sazh. You could have older children who are actually helpful and not a burden. Or, you could actually implement an escort game correctly -- if you think it's impossible, then go play Ico

Though similar: I forget who I was speaking with, but when I was telling them Aliens: Colonial Marines looked awesome at PAX, they just sighed because it was another shooter and we don't need another one of those in the Aliens universe.

That was me >_> I just thought that that game looked really generic and too similar to other shooters in the market.

Maybe it would be easier to think of broader demographics in our protagonists if we could think of more experiences than Jump-and-Shoot-Man for our games.

Definitely. I like a good shooting game, but I think it's clearly a problem when such a large percentage of games involve shooting.

Like, I play the game Glitch, and one of the complaints/comments I frequently hear about it is, "how can there be an MMO without combat?" Well, plenty of great games don't involve combat, and there's room for a lot more! The focus on combat as a necessary component of games is a detriment, like if we expected all movies to be violent action flicks and considered those that aren't to be artsy or deviant.

Gravey wrote:
Awesome article, momgamer!

Quintin_Stone wrote:
ccesarano wrote:
Though similar: I forget who I was speaking with, but when I was telling them Aliens: Colonial Marines looked awesome at PAX, they just sighed because it was another shooter and we don't need another one of those in the Aliens universe. It got me wondering what other sort of game you could make, and I pondered the concept of playing an Aliens game where you play a character similar to Newt in the second film. Or perhaps you could play as Newt herself throughout the disaster of the colony. More stealth based where your options are limited to hide and run away, similar to Silent Hill: Shattered Memories.

A game like the first movie, Alien.

Alien... Alien... Oh, that's the one that starred a woman, only had one alien, and didn't have any shooting whatsoever. That's not going to happen.

The problem with the first Alien film is that it's a lot harder to create a game on a space ship with only one antagonist that everyone is actively hunting down while simultaneously trying to avoid being hunted down.

This is actually why I went more for the Newt angle. I honestly think Alien and Alien 3 are better films, but creating a larger environment like a Colony with a large number of Aliens to avoid is easier to work with and turn into a stealth game.

That said, I've always dreamed of a survival horror game that takes the Nemesis component a bit further. Instead of him possibly coming out of nowhere, make him a constantly wandering monster that is capable of locating your tracks and hunting you down. Most of all, make it invincible so that the player can't simply kill it, but instead has to be resourceful in order to survive.

momgamer wrote:
ccesarano: You are a gentleman and a scholar and I would like to subscribe to your newsletter! That's one of the things I loved about "Catherine". Talk about a completely different slice out of life. Now we need about 30 more. ;)

It's games like Catherine and Harvest Moon that cause me to cringe every time Keiji Inafune or some Capcom executive says the Japanese games industry is behind the times and needs to catch up with Western games. Catherine and Harvest Moon, to me, are shining examples of how Japan can make a game out of anything while we're stuck making games revolving around destruction of some sort, or more obvious forms of conflict.

Of course, the two cultures have very different approaches to games. It feels like Japan knows where games belong in their culture, that it's a perfectly fine story-telling medium, and that anyone can play games. We're still debating whether cut-scenes should be in games or not, as well as whether it's art.

It feels like the West is completely stupid when it comes to games and that Japan is ahead, which is a damn shame because there's a lot of Japanese games that should be selling much larger numbers (and, truth told, are probably a lot more accessible to people that don't play games than Western games are).

Demyx wrote:
ccesarano wrote:

I think an interesting take would be a middle-aged woman trying to keep her children safe through a disaster of some sort, but considering that would require building a game out of one giant Escort quest it could go either way. In addition, you're still tying a middle-aged woman's "identity" to being a mom, and when you can only develop a character through archaic gender roles, well, there's still a bit of an issue.

I would actually love a video game where you play a mom with her children. The issue of developing a character through traditional gender roles would not be an issue if we had many female characters in a wide variety of roles. As with all stereotypical roles, the problem is not when you depict some characters in those roles, the issue is when you depict all characters in such roles.

There are various ways you could avoid it being an escort mission. You could have the kids absent except in cutscenes, like with Sazh. You could have older children who are actually helpful and not a burden. Or, you could actually implement an escort game correctly -- if you think it's impossible, then go play Ico :)

I know a lot of other people cringe, but I actually really dig Resident Evil 4's method of escort mission. When people complain that Ashley was stupid and didn't know how to take care of herself, I cannot comprehend how they were playing the game. She's always behind Leon, ducking if she's in front of him, or hiding in a dumpster like you commanded.

I...don't know how you can be so bad at the game that she somehow screws all that up.

But thinking more on the mother game, I actually think a game with children of varying ages might be pretty cool, and could even open up co-op experiences. A teenage son that has more strength than the rest of the group, a six or seven year old daughter that can fit into smaller spaces and get items or switches...

That also reminds me that I'd actually like to see more emphasis on a Son/Father relationship, with the son trying to live up to his Father in some way. I find that even as I grow older, I'm still seeking my father's approval. We have a lot of games about Fathers and daughters, but there seems to be little exploration of fathers and sons (only one that comes to mind off the top of my head is Heavy Rain). Yet still, it's from the perspective of a father and not a son.

Though similar: I forget who I was speaking with, but when I was telling them Aliens: Colonial Marines looked awesome at PAX, they just sighed because it was another shooter and we don't need another one of those in the Aliens universe.

That was me >_> I just thought that that game looked really generic and too similar to other shooters in the market.

Yeah, at the GWJ meet-up at PAX Certis asked me if the game looked good for someone that's not an Aliens fan, and... I still don't know if I can answer that question without bias. Even if it turns out to be a B+ shooter that does nothing amazing, it's a B+ Aliens themed game which automatically makes it an A++ for me.

It occurred to me that I might have a blog entry relevant to this discussion. Before Duke Nukem Forever came out Randy Pitchford casually spat out the concept of maybe doing a female version of Duke, which I brainstormed into a theoretical Daisy Dukem. It's one of the few posts I've made where my readers were vocal about enjoying, so maybe I'm onto something with that one. (EDIT: After going back and rereading it, there's a few ideas I'd change, actually. Ah well.)

ccesarano wrote:
The problem with the first Alien film is that it's a lot harder to create a game on a space ship with only one antagonist that everyone is actively hunting down while simultaneously trying to avoid being hunted down.

This is actually why I went more for the Newt angle. I honestly think Alien and Alien 3 are better films, but creating a larger environment like a Colony with a large number of Aliens to avoid is easier to work with and turn into a stealth game.

That said, I've always dreamed of a survival horror game that takes the Nemesis component a bit further. Instead of him possibly coming out of nowhere, make him a constantly wandering monster that is capable of locating your tracks and hunting you down. Most of all, make it invincible so that the player can't simply kill it, but instead has to be resourceful in order to survive.

Oh for sure, I was just being facetious regarding what video games usually are. Apparently you have a newsletter that momgamer wishes to subscribe to. I would also like to subscribe, for the Nemesis/Alien game.

We have a lot of games about fathers and daughters, really? I can't think of any off the top of my head, especially where that's a central focus (there are some RPGs that have a side quest like that).

The aforementioned Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is one...damn, I'm trying to remember others. I just remember hearing about a game where the protagonist was trying to find their daughter, and I couldn't help but sigh and think "Another one?".

Off the top of my head, Nier would be good example of one of those, and Splinter Cell is another. In both cases, the father is driven to protect/find/help a daughter.

momgamer wrote:
But that brings up another point. When do we get a female "regular Joe"? I'd like to see perhaps a female cop who didn't look and act like a Bond girl after two Roofie-coladas.

I thought Emily in Deadly Premonition fit that bill pretty well. She's pretty, yes, but not a Bond girl by any means, and I'd guess she's in her 30s. Then again, Deadly Premonition is chock-full of characters who are intentionally average with fairly boring, normal lives. Just one of the many things I love about it.

ClockworkHouse wrote:
momgamer wrote:
But that brings up another point. When do we get a female "regular Joe"? I'd like to see perhaps a female cop who didn't look and act like a Bond girl after two Roofie-coladas.

I thought Emily in Deadly Premonition fit that bill pretty well. She's pretty, yes, but not a Bond girl by any means, and I'd guess she's in her 30s. Then again, Deadly Premonition is chock-full of characters who are intentionally average with fairly boring, normal lives. Just one of the many things I love about it.

Good. That's another vote for me to take a look at that game.

But that begs the question as to when can we get that to not be weird?

momgamer wrote:
Off the top of my head, Nier would be good example of one of those, and Splinter Cell is another. In both cases, the father is driven to protect/find/help a daughter.

Ah, yes. And to think I was actually pondering Splinter Cell: Conviction this morning driving to work, and how disappointing it was as my first Splinter Cell experience as a whole.

Nier was just delightful, though.

I love this site.

I feel like one part of the equation that we've only really touched on tangentially is how the nature of games as an entertainment medium has evolved.

Yes, the developers are aging, and yes, the audience is aging, but the medium itself has been evolving too, and there's a big linkage between those.

What do I mean? In the 80s, games were predominantly toys for kids. Kids don't want middle-aged protagonists. As we moved into the 90s, that started to change, and we find ourselves now at a point where games aren't just targeted at kids. Honestly, I'm not sure I see that as a reflection of the aging of developers as much as the industry expanding to fill a vacuum. 40 year-olds buy games, so it makes great marketing sense to target games at them.

beeporama wrote:
I've seen characters in their thirties called "old man" in a lot of Japanese games, and I'm wondering if it is some title or honorific that doesn't have a direct translation.

momgamer wrote:
Larry: You should know by now that yes, I do know how to translate "oyaji".

OK, well, I learned something tangible today!

I know you'd said that earlier, but it got buried. I'm sorry. Yeah - that's the rude/familiar form of address for an older man. Used the same way we would use "Pops", or as a sneer by a young punk who just got told to get off someone's lawn. Just don't Google it willy-nilly though, because it's also used to refer to a style of yaoi anime that involves older men (English equivalent of "bear" gay pron).

Duke Nukem
(story set in 1997, game released in 1991)
Duke's Age: 30 Broussard's Age: 35

Duke Nukem Forever
(story set in 2010, game released in 2011)
Duke's Age: 43 Broussard's Age: 48

In 1991, Broussard would have been 28.

MechaSlinky wrote:
Duke Nukem
(story set in 1997, game released in 1991)
Duke's Age: 30 Broussard's Age: 35

Duke Nukem Forever
(story set in 2010, game released in 2011)
Duke's Age: 43 Broussard's Age: 48

In 1991, Broussard would have been 28.

Yeah, he was 35 in the year the game was set.

34, actually. But his age in the second example is the year of release. Just like Kojima's ages are based on the year of release.

A bit late in reading this, but great article momgamer. Very interesting analysis and I think there's a lot of other things to look on. Some of my favorite games articles are about how developers inject a little of themselves into games. Things like Papa & Yo is based on the designer's experience with an alcoholic father, or Miyamoto's inspirations for his titles.

I think it's a good trend to see more games featuring older characters, and I hope it continues. If anything it'll help people reconsider the notion that games are "for kids" which still persist to this day.

Demyx wrote:
I would actually love a video game where you play a mom with her children.

We have that now....

If I'm remembering right, Offspring Fling was the product of a game jam on the topic of "motherhood" or "parenting" (I'll try and find the article when I get home).