It's time once again to step into the mind of Apple engineer Don Norman. The book that put him on the literary map, The Design of Everyday Things, argued that form should be function and function only; the book I recently read, 2003's Everyday Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things, argues that - hey, did you know? - design can also aim to satisfy other needs, such as pure aesthetics or the consumer's desire to make a statement about themselves. That's the initial premise, anyway; later on, Norman rides a side tangent about how anthropomorphism can make machines more likable into an exploration of how AI must be furnished with emotions to improve their learning routines and, eventually, an argument on how we should and will embrace our eventual functional replacement by superior robot & AI. "Learn 2 code" for the 2000s. (I wish Norman had spent that time exploring why some products spark certain emotional reactions and going deeper on the promise of his book's subtitle. He's clearly capable of more extensive dissertations, but his treatment of his subjects in the two books of his I've read remains surface-level. There's no point in pulling in an Apple engineer for glossy overviews any Atlantic reporter can handle.)
Anyhow, Norman's wanderings once again bring him to the world of games, as he talks about the challenge of designing for disparate audiences:
Though Norman wouldn't know it, the experiment he proposes regarding promoting a gaming console as a "learning and educational tool for people of all ages" inevitably brings to mind the CD-I, which would have been released...in 1991, wow. (Norman's ideas for console marketing seem very much taken from the early CD-ROM period - his dreams of putting consoles in heavy-duty environments with fire and sparks and hot oily liquids and other things very much not suited to the long-term survival of delicate CPUs and mobos echo the dogged insistence of ad campaigns from the era in putting PCs in the kitchen, to emphasize how user-friendly PCs were now and how much they could add to your everyday life.) There are a number of obstacles to Norman's proposal of which he wouldn't be aware given his lack of familiarity with the market: the greater returns demanded by the increased cost of creating for more advanced platforms, which an edutainment title might not support; the relatively short window during which a given console is supported vs. the slow process of conceiving and designing an educational title (particularly for the smaller studios typically willing to produce edutainment, which typically aren't as experienced or well-oiled as more commercially-minded firms) and it gaining wide acceptance among educational institutions, plus the long length of time hardware tends to stay in an educational environment; the barrier controller operations present to some folks (Norman actually touches in this in a paragraph I cut); the fact that PCs are both better-suited to this work and more "acceptable" as a professional tool. I do agree, though, that leveraging the learning process inherent to games to teach actual marketable skills has been underutilized to this day, despite the usage of gamification in stuff like Duolingo - the only game that's enjoyed widespread commercial success and actually teaches a skill is Rocksmith.
Norman finds more success with his second major suggestion, that consoles be aesthetically tailored to a variety of audiences. This started with handhelds first, reaching as far back as the Play It Loud days of the Game Boy Color, but probably started taking off in earnest with the DS and the release of a baby pink gaming machine in the U.S. (A bit of a "the Frogurt is also cursed" development: we got a gaming machine in a color that in previous eras would be considered untouchably delicate and traditionally "feminine," but in a period where genderizing products had gotten so out of hand that an entire book was written about how kids started thinking anything that wasn't pink couldn't be for girls.) Designer handhelds are now big business in every market. While console designs have matured a bit since 2003, they still remain largely untailored...but customization has snuck in by way of controllers - the part of the system with which you spend the most time physically interacting, as opposed to the box that sits below the TV.A bonus puzzle: in other discussion, Norman mentions that "[i]n The Medium of the Video Game, Mark Wolf identifies forty-two different categories" of video game:
What is "Utility"?