I was once asked why I thought television was more popular than games. I have been thinking about an answer to that question, and I think I finally have one answer that feels sensible.
People-centricity. That is the key.
I might be speaking falsehoods (which should be an impossibility right now, since it is true in my mind), but films are simple to make. Take a camera, some dolts who can bear the thought of being filmed, some script and fire away. The technology is easy to use. Therefore, writers and artists who want to use film as their medium can imagine and experiment as much as they want. Since special effects are difficult to make, they will have to improvise and use human psychology as their tool. Therefore, there are lots of people making films about relatable things.
I thought about Transformers II. In my opinion the movie was excruciating, mostly because of the subplot with the lead going into college. Those scenes had no business being in a movie where giant robots turned each other into scrap metal. But while it was a stupid maneuver, I can understand why it was put there. Its purpose was to give the audience something they can relate to. Few people can truly understand what it is to be a huge transforming alien robot at war with traitor robots, but many can understand what it is to start college.
That’s the reason movies are more popular. Movies are about people falling in love, raising children, losing important people and whatnot. Stuff people can relate to. Stuff people who can relate to normal people have written.
Games are difficult to make. You need to know how to program, how to make graphics and how to make sound effects just to get a framework where to put writing and gameplay in. People who can do those things tend to not be the most relatable people, just by their profession. I know few programmers who can write decent fiction. Therefore, few games are about the fear, confusion and slight optimism of going into a big city college. They are about mechanical skill tests and graphical glory.
Analog games are not in a better position. Few analog games have touched big, relatable issues in their gameplay or theme, barring roleplaying games, who in turn suffer from the bad reputation media likes to give them. While the person, who asked the original question on the top of this post, is correct: Mankind has had games for millenia, I believe that common people who have worked the farms, fought in wars and explored the world, haven’t had time or education to enjoy the wonders of gaming. The word “play” means both to play a game and to play like a child, which reveals the attitude towards games from the general population.
A summary: Games are less popular than television, because the themes offered by moving pictures can reach a wider audience. I am loathe to use it as an example because I have not played it myself, but Heavy Rain seems to support my theory. The game is about protecting your child, among other things, which as a theme is as universal as they get. And it received critical acclaim and was a commercial success.