LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Jenova Chen and Kellee Santiago, two of video gaming’s hottest independent developers, are tapping new emotions with their games in a bid to give their industry the range to rival Hollywood films.
The duo is off to a strong start. They sold their student game “flOw” -- a soothing title where players guide an aquatic creature as it eats and evolves to the beat of ethereal background music -- to console giant Sony Corp. (6758.T)(SNE.N), which also has the first crack at their next two projects.
“Right now video games are focused on releasing anger and stress...that’s really limited. If you want a deeper understanding of life, you aren’t going to get it from a video game,” said Chen, 25.
He and Santiago, 28, arrived on the scene in time to ride a wave of technological change that’s made it easier for hobbyists to create games and share them via the Web.
Not long ago, “it was more prohibitive to make a game than a film,” said Jamil Moledina, the executive director of the Game Developers Conference, a trade event.
He noted that independent game makers now have an opportunity to leave their mark without being part of a $20 million team.
Moledina described “flOw” as engrossing and calming and said the game is an example of how the video game business is expanding beyond the genres of shooters, racers and puzzle games.
“They are part of a growing breed of independent developers who are challenging what games are supposed to look like,” Moledina said.
The industry’s biggest players are supporting such efforts, giving independents a way to showcase their work.
Sony offers “flOw” on the PlayStation 3’s new online service, which rivals Microsoft Corp.’s (MSFT.O) Xbox Live gaming platform and Valve’s Steam online download service.
While “flOw” and its predecessor “Cloud” are focused on the Zen end of the emotional spectrum, Chen thinks games should probe the light and dark sides of human emotion.
Knocking the widely held, but scientifically unproven, theory that violent games create violent children, Chen said games give players an emotional outlet not available in day-to-day life by letting them laugh, experience an adrenaline rush, or work out aggressive and violent feelings.
Earlier this year, Chen’s team and other finalists pulled out of the Slamdance Guerrilla Gamemaker Competition to protest organizers’ decision to cut “Super Columbine Massacre Role Playing Game” from the list of finalists.
Players of that downloadable game, which uses simple graphics reminiscent of the early arcade era, adopt the roles of the teens who killed 13 people and then themselves at Columbine High School nearly eight years to the day of this week’s shooting rampage at Virginia Tech.
Chen said the game is “disturbing,” but wondered whether it would have faced the same hurdles if it had been a film.
“It’s like a new style of documentary,” he added.
Danny Ledonne, creator of “Super Columbine Massacre,” predicted that artists will tackle the Virginia shootings in a variety of ways.
“I do not believe the medium of interactive electronic media should be excluded from exploring the sorrows and challenges of the human experience,” Ledonne wrote on his site.