Chris Crawford in The Escapist
Well, that's a bit of an oversimplification. He admits to not playing games much anymore. He is still talking about his Erasmotron virtual-person simulator and has nice things to say about the interactive story Facade. His disillusionment dates from the time that Computer Gaming World said that his educational decison making game Balance of the Planet was artistic, but not a lot of fun.
Crawford is squarely in the games are serious business camp. They should be used to tell us more about ourselves and our world. Look at his classic flop Trust and Betrayal - it's all about human dynamics in a system of imperfect information. Lots of game theory stuff in it, actually. Balance of Power was about how attempts to press an opponent into a corner could lead to mutual annhiliation.
Crawford is one of those game analyst/philosophers that I'm not sure how to approach from the vantage point as a gaming enthusiast. It's all well and good to say that games shouldn't just have to be fun, but they should at least be compelling.
As much as he thinks Facade is a step forward, I think it's a step sideways. The game is still programming likely responses to a range of player behavior; it's not really dynamic interaction and as a story, it's not very interesting. I can appreciate the technology and programming involved in Facade and how it might lead to gaming as a story telling device, but it's not close yet.
His complaints about the critical reception to Balance of the Planet underscore what, I think, Crawford's position on games as entertainment is:
Here we have an acknowledgement that Balance of the Planet is some kind of art, yet the review refuses to endorse it because it isn't fun! ...perhaps our reviewer would react to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony like this: "Gosh, Mr. Beethoven, your symphony made my heart soar in awe at the majesty of the universe, but you know, it's just not fun. We need some tunes we can dance to, or catchy jingles we can snap our fingers to.
I take issue with anyone who doesn't think that Beethoven's Ninth is one of the most fun pieces of music ever written, but I think this comment from a 1997 essay by Crawford suggests that, for him, games are supposed to be good for you. Uplifting, thought-provoking, soul-touching things. Where games are, like most music, disposable culture to the extreme, Crawford wants them to be more.
All I can say is "Ecce ludi". Behold the games. They are all around you. The Sims touches my heart on a regular basis, even when I am making them do something naughty. Has there ever been a role playing game as uplifting as Planescape: Torment? There is all kind of meaningful story telling going on in games, but you just have to look to see it.
Crawford is falling for the old trap that because something is not dressed up as a SERIOUS EXERCISE it cannot have serious consequences. A game can be "fun" (whatever that means) and still instruct or inspire.
This assumes that instruction or inspiration are goals that games can achieve. I know no one that isn't touched by the beauty of Beethoven's Ninth, but lots who can't (or won't) identify with the everyday problems of Sims, or who think Baldur's Gate a silly place no matter how many demands are placed on a demigod. Because of the interactive nature of games, it is very difficult to gauge how people respond to them. Games have proven uneven teachers of content and, in my experience, if you allow outrageous behavior then players will do it, whether it be wiping out thousands of animals with no penalty in Oregon Trail or tower rushing your "ally" in Age of Empires.
In sum, I'm not sure what Crawford wants. His self-imposed exile from the industry (I'm sorry I never got to see his now legendary "Dragon Speech") has, I think, led to a stasis in his thinking about what games are for. Were he to attend the Serious Games Summit in Washington, DC next month, I think he would see that simulations and decision trees are being put to good use in institutional circles. Even a guru has to stay current. Sometimes you have to leave Walden.