Angry Robot

Dangerous Gamer vs. Brainy Gamer


A sense of deja vu accompanied my reading of the Blow profile. I mean, we have been having the same discussion over and over again – hell, it even references the Ebert fiasco, which was the last manifestation of the games-as-art cosmic cycle.

But something about the whole form of the article itself seemed familiar, like it wasn’t the first time I have read a profile of the game world’s art saviour, and yeah, it wasn’t. It’s an easy formula:

  1. Bemoan the state of video games; easy targets: sequels, shooting, breasts, space marines
  2. Choose a champion artist-developer
  3. Ignore all other contenters
  4. Profit!

That we are looping through these tropes more frequently is probably a good thing. Many champions are entering the arena! Only one may leave— no wait, we want lots of them!

Will things get better once Indie Game: The Movie comes out maybe?

Press “A” to compare me to film

Good Lord have I done this a million times, compared games to film. And the industry as a whole does it a ton, whether bragging about opening weekends or demanding the Citizen Kane of games to stand up.

On that point, I’d say it’s the Birth of a Nation of video games we want, perish the thought. Cinema’s artistic potential was made manifest during the silent era by D.W. Griffith. He saw that editing was what made film unique, and developed the language of film. So yes, this bit Blow’s talking about:

Blow envisions future games that deliver experiences as poignant and sublime as those found through literature and film, but expressed in ways distinctive to games. “If the video game is going to be used for art purposes, then it has to take advantage of its form in some way particular to that medium, right?” he told me. “A film and a novel can both do linear storytelling, but novels are very strong at internal mental machinations—which movies suck at—and movies are great at doing certain visual things. So the question is: Where are games on that same map?” It’s a question Blow intends to answer.

Games have a different language than film: it’s not shot, scene, montage, mise-en-scene, but levels, rules, mechanics. So art games look nothing like art films – the language of games is too different. (Games are more like sports mixed with architecture, in This Reporter’s Opinion.) Those on the lookout for art games with a checklist they got from the film academy are going to be disappointed.

Or they are going to have to learn to like Metal Gear games.

Blame the Media

Seriously guys I am so goddamn excited by the potential for games to be art. It’s what either justifies or rationalizes – depending on where you’re standing – a cumulatively profound time expenditure. I turned this blog all-games, all-the-time for a couple years there. I have had powerful emotional experiences (Metal Gear, Silent Hill, Final Fantasy 7), engrossingly cerebral ones (Civilization, Sim City, a million strategy games), and marveled at an emerging generation of art games where game mechanics are used to expressive ends (yes, Braid, The Passage, Flower, Sleep is Death). I have seen magnificent systems that allow players to express themselves (Little Big Planet, Minecraft), or allow them to create new social entities that rival small cities (Halo, The Game Neverending, Glitch). I have seen beauty shine out through otherwise mercenary products of focus-testing and sequel-iterating (too many to mention).

So no jagoff in a fancy Atlantic jacket is gonna tell me games are dumb. It just reminds me of white people in the early 90s telling me that rap isn’t music. Maybe it isn’t, to you, yet.

But yeah, exhausted is really well said by Abbott. That’s what it is. It’s all gone on too long, this protracted, 30-year adolescence. And I think the culture around games has gone a little sour, and it turns off a lot of non-enthusiasts. Whenever they glance at games media it’s all screenshots and hands-ons of Space Breasts 6a: Sequel to the Sequel, and not a lot of finding the next Braid.

Articles like this profile don’t help, where a storied and cultured old media crow flies high and low and finds only the one shiny bauble worth keeping. Or this one that examines casual games and finds them “scary” and “stupid”. For someone not familiar with the games world the takeaway, the executive summary, is that games just aren’t ready yet. They are still teething.

I wonder if the coverage changed, if the core games media challenged and encouraged instead of shoveled, if the forays by the cultural elites reported back movement instead of starving artist in the wilderness, might we actually have a movement?

Or will cheap games via download platforms – Steam, PSN, Xbox Live, and above all iOS – make all this hand-wringing obsolete by routing around the Big Game Innustry and letting the indies run away with it all? I mean, this Braid guy is driving a Tesla.

Insert conclusion here.