As time oozes by by like a slug fired from a railgun, it becomes more and more apparent to me that "games", as we know them, are doomed. Doomed!
Some of you are nodding your heads, some of you are thinking I'm being alarmist. But, really, nothing stays the same for long, aside from military doctrine. The games we have today - the goal-driven, challenge-based games - are a dying breed. Even though these dinosaurs don't know it, the meteor has hit and the dust is obscuring the sun. Sure, they'll continue to survive on the dying foliage, but a thousand "dino-years" from now, they'll be dead, aside from a few tiny birds as their distant descendents.
And a thousand "dino-years", measured in terms of a game's lifespan, is only a matter of decades.
We're seeing it already. The most popular games are the ones in which goals are secondary, or even wholly nonexistent. Games which allow players to play with each other, games which allow players to make their own media.
We've been calling these games "toys". We are wrong.
These games are "tools".
We could easily call Halo 2 and the Sims 2 "middleware". The fact that they can be played is largely irrelevant to their true power: to gather hoardes of players to produce dramas - both grand and quite tiny - through the algorithms they provide. Every team battle, every silly new costume, every boring tale of familial exploration: these are the things which make the games grow, and these are the things which give the games eternal life. At least until the next generation comes out.
When you sit down and play a game which tells a story, you are not playing a game. You are doing a bastardized event in which playing and story-watching are both required, but neither is closely related to the other.
The game world is starting to glide to a final conjoining of watching and playing. Games in which the playing is creating the watching, or the watching is creating the playing, are becoming more common. And in twenty years, there won't be many games in which the playing and watching are both pre-defined.
Define one, let the player define the other. That's the way it'll be.
Of course, this lets players define the other, and they'll distribute that to the other players... and you have something quite similar to a modern game.
Except you have TEN THOUSAND of them. Because you're releasing a TOOL, not a game.