Went to GDC for a couple days this year, and attended a wide variety of talks, mostly design and writing-related. Good stuff, for the most part. Met a lot of interesting people (albeit briefly), and caught up with some friends from old jobs.
Over lunch, one of these friends and I were talking about what we'd been to, and he mentioned he'd gone to Jonathan Blow's "Design Reboot" talk, and that it was an inspiring talk about shaking up the status quo, but that it ultimately led nowhere. An inspiring call to unspecified action.
The Game Designer's Rant session, which I'd just gotten out of, had a similar call. In some cases, the desired outcome was more specific (Jane McGonigal, for instance, talked quite specifically about applying game design to the real world to make it better, and Clint Hocking called for games about things that matter (why isn't Medal of Honor about honor, or Call of Duty about duty?)), the overall message was "break out of the idea that games are limited to what games are now." The problem is fundamentally, I think most people want that, but there are obvious barriers.
When someone asked Jonathan Mak (Everyday Shooter's creator, whose rant was a couple minutes of interactivity - bouncing balloons with messages on them around while some upbeat music played - genius) how to break through those barriers, his response was, I think, incredibly naive - he said you just have to own it. Make the goal your own, and work towards that. That's how to get past the barriers.
I was surprised, honestly, that no one just stood up and said, "Money." The obvious answer to that problem is money. In any media, any brave artist can make something for just about nothing. You can write, and it costs you little, even if you want to experiment. You can write intensely non-commercial music, and there are ways to distribute it. You can make art-house movies, and be supported by offshoots of mainstream movie studios.
In games, part of the problem is that to make a game requires a lot of investment. Even if it's only time, making a game takes a tremendous amount of time and a wide variety of talents. Art, design, programming, audio... it's a lot of stuff, which translates to a lot of time, which translates to a lot of money. I hugely, hugely, hugely applaud Microsoft for allowing people to publish their Creator's Club games straight from XNA into Live Arcade. It's a great move on their part, and will undoubtedly pay off in spades. It does genuinely lower the bar to a mainstream audience in a way that's never been done before on a console. While XBLA allows small teams to get their games out to an audience, the barrier to entry (certification, etc.) is still quite hefty for a group of only a couple people.
The details for getting an XNA game published are still somewhat uncertain (at least publicly), but from what they've said, it sounds relatively straightforward (how they deal with QA is the big mystery to me). But I can't wait to see some of the stuff that comes out of this. We will see things that are going to break from the standard game mold. Things on XNA may not change the world, but when this generation began, I said to a couple people that the best game of this generation would come out of XBLA. I stand by that, and with this XNA initiative, the probability just got a whole lot bigger.
The only question I have to ask myself is whether I'll seize the opportunity or let someone else be the one to make that game...