Objects Versus People

I had an interesting realization the other day. I was in the middle of a discussion on GEnie about "obstacle stories". These are stories presented on computers in which the player must solve a puzzle or otherwise jump through a hoop before being permitted to experience the next portion of the story. This is a popular form of computer story these days; a number of successful products use the format.

I was arguing that obstacle stories represent a dead end. I don’t believe that most people will enjoy such stories. I likened them to books with the pages stuck together; who wants to fight the book when all you want to do is read the damn thing? My interlocutors defended the form, arguing that it integrates the puzzles into the story, "just like real life".

The reference to real life astounded me; I felt that in fact the exact opposite was the case, that no normal person in "real life" would appreciate the use of puzzles as obstacles to the story. And then it dawned on me: in real life, there are people who appreciate such puzzles, and there are also people who don’t appreciate such puzzles.

It is instructive to divide people into two groups: "object-people" and "people-people". The first group loves the problems of the physical world, while the second group prefers to live in the social universe. Object-people prefer to focus their attentions on problems of a physical nature; they see the world as a fascinating collection of puzzles to be solved. People-people are more interested in the human condition; they tune into the fine shades of meaning of human behavior.

You can really tell the difference between object-people and people-people by their attitudes towards computers. Object-people think computers "fascinating"; people-people think them "intimidating". Now, we can all agree that computers are difficult to use and one must master a great deal of information to handle them. But object-people regard this as a challenge. An object-person believes that the computer is really very easy to master, if you just take the time to figure out its details. A people-person thinks that the computer is frighteningly complex; all those details are a huge collection of rules, any one of which can trip the unwary. A really intense object person prefers DOS over Mac, whereas a people person will surely prefer the Mac if given the choice. Object-people often become engineers or computer programmers. People-people concentrate in more socially interactive jobs.

This realization explains a great deal about the market for computer games. After all, people-people don’t buy as many computers as object-people, so most computer owners are object-people. And the people-people who do have computers tend to treat them the way I change the water filters under my house: I get in, do my work, and get the hell out of there. People-people don’t regard their computer as their friend and they certainly don’t regard it as a promising source of entertainment.

The people who do play with computers are object-people, and they prefer "objecty" entertainment, such as puzzles, resource management, strategy, spatial reasoning, and so forth. That’s why computer games now are so "objecty". Their idea of a good story is something with a good puzzle or a mystery or something that can be analytically solved. Plot? Character? Let’s not get mushy!

Thus, object-people prefer obstacle stories.

But there are still plenty of people-people out there, and their tastes are different. In the early days of personal computing, object-people made up the vast majority of computer users, but with each passing year we see more and more people-people entering the market, and they will have no interest in objecty entertainment. This implies a growing market potential for interactive entertainment that does not emphasize objecty elements (strategy, puzzles, resource management and the like), but instead emphasizes such things as character development and plot.