Jade Raymond is a bit of an anomaly. In 2009, at a mere 33 years of age, the producer for the popular Assassin’s Creed series became a top executive at one of the largest video game companies in the world. Now serving as Managing Director of Ubisoft Toronto, Raymond (pictured above with her team) oversees the development of the major Tom Clancy franchise Splinter Cell. In other words, she’s a female leader in an industry that profits and blooms out of alpha-male, slash-and-hack, shoot-em-up entertainment.
But surely there is more to life than this. In a recent interview with Eurogamer, Raymond made it clear that she thought it was time for mainstream games to “grow up”:
“I don’t know when we decided as an industry that in order to sell five million copies of a game you have to make a Michael Bay film. There are other options.”
Raymond expressed her interest in exploring how we might explore the problems of our real worlds through our virtual ones — describing a “meta-gameplay loop” that she reckoned “could easily be brought into a game.”
Why is it that so many topics that are dealt with in other media are off limits or taboo in video games? Why can’t we deal with the things that matter? I can think of so many examples of topics that could be interesting, issues that could be addressed in games or that could be integrated into existing big IP if we don’t want to make them the centre of the experience. It’s our responsibility; doubly so for people like me who can make a difference, or push for something getting funded.
Raymond is not blind to the fact that there’s a market to think about. In video game entertainment, it’s tough to deviate from a formula that’s been proven to work, especially for AAA titles that are putting big bucks on the line.
But we might look at older forms of media, and point to books and movies that have managed to both thoughtfully address real world topics and draw large audiences. How might the game industry nurture its own New Wave of designers? Recall how filmmakers like Scorcese, Coppola, and De Palma came to the forefront — producing some of their most innovative and provocative work from within the studio system.
And what what lessons might be in store for those working on the non-profit and educational end of game development?
There are, of course, the problems shared with our cousins in entertainment: those like scalability and sustainability. But learning games introduces a new, often all-too-influential variable: assessment. Grades become the currency we traffic in. How do the games connect to a curricular and assessment framework? How do the students perform after they play the games?
In-game drills and quizzes—tests masquerading as play—are the Michael Bay explosions of learning games. These are our worries.