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Intelligence and imagination vs a light show for cattle
May 23, 2011 6:36 AM   Subscribe

Hollywood shuns intelligent entertainment. The games industry doesn't. Guess who's winning?
posted by Artw (254 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 
Increasingly, it seems that Charlie Brooker is the only one out there with something intelligent to say.

I highly recommend his TV critic shows Screenwipe and Newswipe as well as the obscene, brilliant mocumentary Nathan Barley, chronicling the life of the eponymous lead character, a "meaningless strutting cadaver-in-waiting". It'll blow your socks off.
posted by dunkadunc at 6:42 AM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


I was all aboard until: "About once a month there's a film actually worth bothering with..."

Maybe the problem is you spend too much time trying to wring entertainment from movies and not enough from other sources. Like books. There are millions at your local library.

How often does a really good game come out? He mentions two. One came out mid-April, one mid-May. I.e., one per month.
posted by DU at 6:43 AM on May 23, 2011 [6 favorites]


So he cherry picks two of the best current games and compares them to a caricature of popcorn movies to prove that games are more intelligent than movies? And one of those games is basically a rip-off of a movie? Pretty thin argument.
posted by octothorpe at 6:45 AM on May 23, 2011 [14 favorites]


I'm afraid that Sturgeon's Law applies to video games just as much as it does to movies.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:50 AM on May 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


How often does a really good game come out? He mentions two. One came out mid-April, one mid-May. I.e., one per month.

The Witcher 2 is pretty fantastic, also -- better than A Game of Thrones, so far.
posted by empath at 6:52 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ok well a game has probably 100 or so hours to develop a story and keep you engaged. A movie has 90 minutes. Also, Hollywood is not movies. Some rectangles are squares, not all rectangles are squares.
posted by spicynuts at 6:54 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wait, La Noire? That game that seems (from the commercials at least) to be a blatant, shameless ripoff of LA Confidential?
posted by nathancaswell at 6:54 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hollywood, presumably?
posted by orthogonality at 6:56 AM on May 23, 2011


Luckily, Holllywood isn't the only place to look to for movies. There's plenty of excellent and intelligent movies coming from various countries. Even in America, smaller, smarter films are available, just not at the multi megaplex.

Frankly, with the there's a dizzying amount of choices and it's one of the best times every from someone who loves smart movies.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:56 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


LA Confidential, the movie that was a shameless rip-off of Chinatown?
posted by empath at 6:56 AM on May 23, 2011 [9 favorites]


Disappointingly short on invective from Charlie. I prefer him at his vitriolic best.
posted by londonmark at 6:57 AM on May 23, 2011


Who's winning?

Fast Five had a $125mil budget, and has pulled in $186mil domestic and $320m overseas in 3 weeks, for a rough profit margin of $381m and counting.

Exact figures on LA Noirce aren't readily available yet, aparently, but 4.5mil sales seems a reasonable number, which would put it about the #6-7 best selling game of all time, roughly $270m gross on maybe a $100m budget.

Factor in that LA Noire took years of development while Fast Five was probably shot in a few weeks, with a few more weeks of post development and special effects, and Hollywood is still cleaning up without even trying. They're light years ahead of any videogame company while literally taunting their customers.

Exec 1: "Ha, watch this, I bet we can make the same movie we made in 1999, call it the same thing, cast the same actors and add in The Rock and these idiots will still make it the #1 opening movie!"
Exec 2: "No way, theyre not that stupid, we just made this same movie last summer!"
Exec 1: "So? We've already got Pirates 4 in development, you got a better idea?"
Exec 2: "Nah you're right, hell, these morons paid to see Green Lantern and I literally wiped my ass on that script!"
posted by T.D. Strange at 6:57 AM on May 23, 2011 [10 favorites]


Can we talk about Green Lantern, btw? I watched the trailer, and I'm completely baffled at how that got the go-ahead. I can't imagine that anybody would want to watch it.
posted by empath at 6:58 AM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Can we talk about Green Lantern, btw

No, we can not talk about crap.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:59 AM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Green Lantern is out already? Or do you mean Green Hornet?
posted by londonmark at 7:00 AM on May 23, 2011


I'd rather talk about Super 8. No, actually, I'd rather watch it. Hurm.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:00 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


For me, games (at least the big ones that are constantly being touted as "must play") and movies suffer from the same lack of imagination. Primarily, it's the de rigueur crutch of constant violence that keeps me far, far away from both mediums anymore.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:01 AM on May 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


The demographics are different. The average gamer is older than the average cinema goer.
posted by jaduncan at 7:02 AM on May 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Thorzdad, check out Portal 2. Almost completely non violent.
posted by empath at 7:03 AM on May 23, 2011


Chinatown, the movie that was a shameless ripoff of An Affair To Remember?
posted by shakespeherian at 7:03 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thorzdad, I haven't tried Portal 2 yet, but you should try Portal. Not to mention Minecraft.
posted by DU at 7:04 AM on May 23, 2011


T.D. Strange: also theatrical revenues of movies typically account for less than one-fifth of total earnings, so comparisons of box-office to game sales flatter the games industry.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 7:04 AM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Or do you mean Green Hornet?

Let's pretend I said Daredevil. Or Wolverine. Or The Incredible Hulk. Or Hulk. Or Ghostrider.
posted by T.D. Strange at 7:05 AM on May 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


Also, as mentioned in a recent post, smart screen-writing is currently working on long form TV narrative such as the Wire or the Sopranos.
posted by jaduncan at 7:06 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


An Affair T Remember, that was a ripoff of Ogg and Gogg Fall in Love?
posted by papercake at 7:07 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Let's look the Metacritic top list for the first 5 months of this year. Discounting rereleases and iPhone games, there are 7 games so far this year with a score above 90% (Universal Acclaim). For last year's list, there were 15 over 12 months.

Game review scores are inflated (the average is way higher than 50%), so according to Metacritic, a movie needs a lower score of 80% to attain Universal Acclaim. So far this year there have been 17. Last year there were 42.

There are plenty of great movies out there, but very few of them play at my small-town multiplex.

Maybe it's unfair to compare the artforms in this way. A great game takes up a lot more time than a great movie.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 7:07 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Portal 2 rocks. I'll play Starcraft II one day.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:09 AM on May 23, 2011


"No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public."

-HLM
Don't think much as changed.
posted by umberto at 7:11 AM on May 23, 2011 [6 favorites]


The video game industry needs Hollywood to keep occasionally turning out good product, so that they have something to emulate. (and vice versa, I suppose)
posted by ShutterBun at 7:13 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, and also Steam is an open distribution system that reaches directly out to the majority of PC gamers. Indie film studios would kill for that.
posted by jaduncan at 7:13 AM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


The problem with the article is that he says "Consider two of the biggest video games of 2011 thus far" without mentioning that there will only be 1 or 2 more games that good released this whole year, and if he wrote this a few months ago, the biggest releases would have been Crysis 2 and Dragon Age 2
posted by Cloud King at 7:13 AM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Film has always sort of been top of the food chain in the sense that anything good or interesting, fictional, real or whatever, was eventually made into a film - while original films only rarely got transmuted into other forms.

But games are looking a bit of a competitor in this respect, because you can make anything into a game, especially films. I know films have bitten back in few cases, but not with any conviction or success. Could games end up the new top predator?
posted by Segundus at 7:17 AM on May 23, 2011


Zynga does not count as intelligent gaming. Zynga does however suggest the games industry has vastly more room for growth, ditto Korea.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:18 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Jenga, however...
posted by shakespeherian at 7:20 AM on May 23, 2011


...while original films only rarely got transmuted into other forms.

You've never seen a movie novelization? That's how I "watched" The Exorcist, E.T., Fantastic Voyage and countless others.

They are generally terrible, granted. But then so are novels made into movies.
posted by DU at 7:24 AM on May 23, 2011


I'm not entirely certain LA Confidential could get made now. Chinatown certainly couldn't.
posted by Artw at 7:24 AM on May 23, 2011


Let's look the Metacritic top list

Let's not. The vast majority of games critics are awful.
posted by empath at 7:25 AM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Winning what, exactly? What was the point of that article? If it was some sort of neener-neener to Roger Ebert's "video games can't be art," he's about a year late with his rebuttal.
posted by Gator at 7:28 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


DU-- they adapted The Exorcist into a book after it had already been adapted from a book?
posted by shakespeherian at 7:30 AM on May 23, 2011


So he cherry picks two of the best current games and compares them to a caricature of popcorn movies to prove that games are more intelligent than movies?

I think an important part of this article is the fact that Portal 2 and L.A. Noire have blockbuster mass appeal and are making truckloads of money. There are plenty of fine foreign and independent films out there but the majority of them target a much smaller and more sophisticated audience.

I think the author is using this comparison to suggest that wanting to make money is no excuse for not being able to produce engaging movies because these two goals aren't mutually exclusive. I do agree though that he hasn't properly accounted for all the other mindless and derivative crap that the rest of the games industry expels.
posted by quosimosaur at 7:30 AM on May 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Let's not forget that right now is the summer blockbuster time in Hollywood - movies designed to draw and entertain a wide audience, especially teenagers

The releases would be different if we were approaching the 'Oscar' period
posted by Cloud King at 7:30 AM on May 23, 2011


This struck me as written by someone who hasn't played a game since 1996. He's amazed at the graphics, the performances, etc. And I ask, have you not seen any other games in the last five years?

It's worthwhile to point out that there are really, really great games out there. But it really is comparing apples and oranges. And, while I sympathize with feeling like there's nothing worth seeing at the cineplex (cause my small town only has one, and never the ones I want to see), one movie a month seems like an abundance of riches to me. I generally only find a movie worth going to see 2-3 times per year.

(Oh, and anyone who is impressed by L.A. Noire should check out Heavy Rain. Story-driven gameplay, multiple story paths, good acting, fantastic graphics.)
posted by threeturtles at 7:31 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm sure there are great games out there, but generally, for the big platforms (as opposed to iphone games) there are no small niche (indie??) games. In other words, as a film lover, I can easily find pretty much damn near anything I'm in the mood for if I look - artcore, absurdism, documentary, rom-com, political, dense/impenetrable, action, experimental, japanese, chinese, korean, aizerbaijani, bollywood, you name it. Where is that range of choices when it comes to video games on PS3, Xbox, etc? It doesn't exist. So I still think 'film' is winning, as opposed to Hollywood.
posted by spicynuts at 7:40 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


DU-- they adapted The Exorcist into a book after it had already been adapted from a book?

Oh, you are right that it was a book first. Although I absolutely have definitely seen book->movie->book stuff going on. Night at the Museum, for instance. And others, possibly including Exorcist.
posted by DU at 7:42 AM on May 23, 2011


How often does a really good game come out? He mentions two. One came out mid-April, one mid-May. I.e., one per month.

Unlike good movies and books, good video games last. The bad video games don't last, but those are the ones that come out in between the months and they don't matter, since a good video game comes out every month, and a good video game can stay good for years or until a sequel comes out, it doesn't matter how often they come out, it matters how long they can be played.
posted by andykapahala at 7:45 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


You've never seen a movie novelization?

Yes, granted, but I regard those as basically merchandising. A flea may live off a tiger, but that doesn't normally entitle it to be regarded as top predator.

I'm surprised you don't think films based on novels are generally any good. I'm not saying novels are typically well treated in the process, of course, but then in terms of the analogy I'm persisting with, you wouldn't expect that.
posted by Segundus at 7:46 AM on May 23, 2011


I'm surprised you don't think films based on novels are generally any good.

Why would you be surprised to hear me say something everyone has been saying for like 50 years?
posted by DU at 7:48 AM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]



Unlike good movies and books, good video games last.


Huh? A good book or movie doesn't 'last'? What does that mean? People are still reading The Iliad and watching Metropolis. If people are still playing Ms. Pac Man 1000 years from now...
posted by spicynuts at 7:49 AM on May 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


Can we talk about Green Lantern, btw? I watched the trailer, and I'm completely baffled at how that got the go-ahead.

Blackmail, I'm thinking. It's the only way. (Talk about deeep huurting ...)
posted by octobersurprise at 7:50 AM on May 23, 2011


Where is that range of choices when it comes to video games on PS3, Xbox, etc? It doesn't exist. So I still think 'film' is winning, as opposed to Hollywood.

That is equivalent to asking 'where is the range of choices when it comes to movies at the multiplex cinema?' You won't find as many indie games for consoles because developing for the PC is much easier. A few do exist though (Braid, Little Big Planet).
posted by quosimosaur at 7:53 AM on May 23, 2011


Favorite bit of Charlie Brooker lately has got to be his How TV Ruined Your Life, which features some truly excellent rants, reinforced by painful bits of the boob tube.
posted by markkraft at 7:57 AM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm surprised you don't think films based on novels are generally any good.

There are several exceptions, of course, but generally the best film adaptations are from shitty books, so.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:57 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Games vs. movies is a weird comparison, but I agree with something he's saying: mainstream gaming celebrates intelligent entertainment in a way mainstream cinema no longer does.

LA Noire is also a freakin' masterpiece. The acting, the voice work, the facial animation are all really impressive, a significant advance of the medium. I'm a little tired of it as gameplay, myself, it's not interactive or open enough for my tastes. But it's a beautiful bit of interactive fiction and well worth critical attention.
posted by Nelson at 7:58 AM on May 23, 2011


DU-- they adapted The Exorcist into a book after it had already been adapted from a book?

It would not be the first time. In the early '90s, there were film adaptations of Frankenstein and Dracula and accompanying novelizations, which were sold alongside the actual novels themselves.

I went to Wikipedia just now to see if I could track down the authors of these adaptations so I could crack wise about Alan Dean Foster's Kenneth Branagh's Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. No luck, but I did learn this about the Frankenstein movie:

Other media

The movie also had a pinball table made based on it, as well as a Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis game (the latter of which was by Sony Imagesoft), following a platform-style format. A Sega CD game was also produced by the same company that had a more adventure-based format that would sometimes switch to a fighting game.


Whatever faults the Branagh film had, I am sure it was better than the pinball game.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:59 AM on May 23, 2011


LA Noire is also a freakin' masterpiece. The acting, the voice work, the facial animation are all really impressive, a significant advance of the medium. I'm a little tired of it as gameplay, myself, it's not interactive or open enough for my tastes. But it's a beautiful bit of interactive fiction and well worth critical attention.

This game is a terrific movie! The game part is pretty bad, but the movie part is excellent.

That's also my main problem with this article.
posted by codacorolla at 7:59 AM on May 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


I can't comment on the two videogames mentioned thought they might be very good. I do know that many critically acclaimed games like Red Dead Redemption and Bioshock and Grand Theft Auto have stories that are sort of dumb and poorly paced. They can be very good as games and I think the act of participating and exploring can create a level of immersion that makes the story seem more compelling than it would be in film. But on some level they feel like activity books. You get some narrative and then you have to put your targeting reticule on moving things. Or you get a piece of the puzzle and then have to race around.

I think there is a temptation to compartmentalize the story just so that it includes the interesting parts but really the story of grand theft auto includes a lot of killing more random dudes than the most violent movie and barely noticing it. The story of bioshock isn't twist endings and objectivism rebuttals. It is the story of mowing down a lot of barely distinguishable mutants in ways that are largely indistinguishable from each other.
posted by I Foody at 8:01 AM on May 23, 2011 [7 favorites]


Whatever faults the Branagh film had, I am sure it was better than the pinball game.

YOU STRANGLED A LITTLE GIRL

MULTIBALL!!!!
posted by shakespeherian at 8:02 AM on May 23, 2011 [23 favorites]


I think there is a temptation to compartmentalize the story just so that it includes the interesting parts but really the story of grand theft auto includes a lot of killing more random dudes than the most violent movie and barely noticing it

You can't really play GTA IV without pretending that the game and the story are in two entirely seperate alternate universes.
posted by empath at 8:05 AM on May 23, 2011


andykapahala nails it.

A movie: 1. put popcorn in mouth. eat. watch. go home. talk in car about film. mention on Monday morning at work. Maybe see it again if it was really good. Wait 5 months and buy on DVD or whatever media you prefer.

A game: 1. pre-order game to get nifty extra item. install. play first chapter or whatever learning tutorial. play for a while in your free time. If its good enough, make free time to play the game. Play with friends. Play next week. Play next month. Play for 6 months. Continually learn. Use the game for some Sandbox time and learn what the boundaries of the game are.

Sure, very few people today playing the latest incarnation of Medal of Honor ever played Wolfenstein 3d, but many people who played Wolfenstein 3d are playing Medal of Honor.

Heck, I still have original media for several great games I have played since the mid 80s. I'm even willing to spend an hour piddling around with Zork. I've killed weekends recently replaying WWII via Sid Mier's: Crusade in Europe (which puts current RTS games to shame in many ways). Civilization I stands up to Civilization V - albeit not in terms of graphics or breadth, but in terms of there still being the core game present. I have old system emulators just so I can play some of the games that I truly loved. (Wasteland, for instance stands the test of time - despite non flashy graphics, not much text, and a pretty insane amount of difficulty getting into Las Vegas / surviving the Sewers ).

A Book: 1. get book. read book. talk to friends about book. If book was written by JK Rowling or Stephen King wait for her/him to write another book. Talk to friends about waiting for book. Disect book, etc. Read book again. Find authors or subjects like the book... Repeat.

I'll agree, a book has some replay value - right up there with games...

Movies and Television? A lot less so.
posted by Nanukthedog at 8:08 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't know anything about video games but this:

Screen three: a rom-com so formulaic you suspect it was created from a template on Moonpig.com.

and this:

Screen six: a lightshow for cattle

are pure, primal Brooker.

I still use his classic 'aimed at people with head injuries' to describe some reality TV shows.
posted by Summer at 8:08 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I went to Wikipedia just now to see if I could track down the authors of these adaptations


I don't think there was a novelization of Frankenstein, but Fred Saberhagen wrote the Dracula novelization.
posted by empath at 8:09 AM on May 23, 2011


I'm having a hard time wrapping around my head that LA Noire cost $100MM to make, especially since it seems they used the Red Dead / GTA game engine. I'm sure there's still significant work to be done, but how much of that budget is marketing and voice actors? It just seems that $100MM can buy a lot of programming talent and graphic designers, there seems to be some Hollywood accounting going on here.
posted by geoff. at 8:11 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


It just seems that $100MM can buy a lot of programming talent and graphic designers, there seems to be some Hollywood accounting going on here.

Art assets are far more expensive than the engine. Creating an entire world isn't cheap.
posted by empath at 8:13 AM on May 23, 2011


Could games end up the new top predator?

I sincerely doubt it.
Most of the people I know don't play games, and if they do, it's a quick game of something on a phone.

In contrast, I'd bet all of them have watched a movie in the past year. Not necessarily at the theater, but they've watched a movie.

This may be less due to the relative merits of each genre than it is to the passive/active nature, but games still have a long way to go to replace movies as a cultural force.
posted by madajb at 8:18 AM on May 23, 2011


A Book: 1. get book. read book. talk to friends about book. If book was written by JK Rowling or Stephen King wait for her/him to write another book. Talk to friends about waiting for book. Disect book, etc. Read book again. Find authors or subjects like the book... Repeat.

Holy shit...

Try not to take this the wrong way, but I don't think you're really the best source of literary criticism based on this sentence.
posted by codacorolla at 8:19 AM on May 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


empath : check out Portal 2. Almost completely non violent.

Though there is a bitterly sarcastic potato and some very sad turrets.
posted by quin at 8:19 AM on May 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


TV is where the "intelligent" entertainment is--movies are mass market. And I completely believe LA Noire cost that much--it's been in development for years. In 2006, I worked on a Discovery series on the history of video games and Rockstar was pushing it then. I think they scrapped their first motion capture experiements and started over.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:21 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


He's amazed at the graphics, the performances, etc. And I ask, have you not seen any other games in the last five years?

Heh, I haven't played video games since I was a kid.

Every now and again I come across a screenshot for the latest hotness, and my reaction is generally "Holy crap, we've come a long way from E.T. on the Atari"
posted by madajb at 8:22 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think there is a temptation to compartmentalize the story just so that it includes the interesting parts but really the story of grand theft auto includes a lot of killing more random dudes than the most violent movie and barely noticing it.

This is something LA Noire improves on tremendously, happily enough. You're a cop, not a god-picked nobody with a million guns and no apparent moral imperatives. There are a handful of confrontations throughout the game that devolve to shootouts whether you like it or not, but most arrests don't get any more violent than a fistfight or a car chase.

And you're not running around on the streets in the mean time shooting up pedestrians for lulz. Even reckless driving is discouraged, and the game outright chides you if you start putting pedestrians directly at risk.

Whatever criticism applies to the game, it does a pretty good job of answering that long-standing issue with the GTA games, for which I am deeply grateful. My GTA IV game has been stuck in place for a good long while now because I'm both annoyed with and failing to do a good enough job at murdering people in a trio of unrelated "hey, go kill some people because I said you should" missions that Nico the otherwise-allegedly-sort-of-thoughtful immigrant is just like OKIE DOKE about. And IV was itself a big step up for the franchise in terms of giving any shred of moral complexity to its trademark Take Over The City By Being A Completely Willing Tool For Everybody plot.
posted by cortex at 8:23 AM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm sure there are great games out there, but generally, for the big platforms (as opposed to iphone games) there are no small niche (indie??) games.

That box you're using to post to MetaFilter? It's also the big indie games platform (having a much larger install base than the Xbox and PS3 put together).
posted by straight at 8:37 AM on May 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


Completing the homicide desk in LA Noire was probably the most engrossed I have been in a game since, maybe Arkham Asylum. I just had to see what would happen next. I think they did themselves a favor by not adding a million distractions.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:46 AM on May 23, 2011


> Huh? A good book or movie doesn't 'last'? What does that mean? People are still reading
> The Iliad and watching Metropolis. If people are still playing Ms. Pac Man 1000 years from
> now...

At one level you're completely right. In terms of number of people to come ito contact with these works movies and literature have much greater longevity, whereas a shifting 'state of the art' and the whims of the gamers gives games a relatively short lifespan.

If I ever sit down and make a list I'd probably find about half of my top ten books will be by Faulkner, who people have already enjoyed for several generations and will do so for many more to come. When I first discovered him I became obsessed, and within the year I'd read every novel he'd published. I've read some of them at least three times now, and a couple of those will be re-read at some point I'm sure. Maybe he'll be usurped at some point when I discover someone who resonates as well with me as he does, but for now there's no artist I've had as much 'value' from as Faulkner.

The time I've put into my favourite books and films though pales into insignificance compared to the time I've been playing the Combat Mission series of games. The series is ten years old now, and they're all similar enough to count as one game really. The mechanics are pretty much the same, and the concept of the game is such that every future release is going to be near identical in terms of the experience for the person playing. I must have thousands of hours logged playing against human opponents and usually have two or three email based games (it's turn based, and so requires sending turns to each other by email) at any one time.

I've been playing essentially the same game for ten years. There's enough depth in the game for anyone interested in tactical war games to keep going for a very long time, and there's a very active community making new maps all the time. Playing the same map against a different opponent makes it enough of a different experience for it to still be interesting. The latest iteration came out last weekend, and I am a very happy little boy indeed.

The right game for the right person has lots of longevity. Far more than any individual artwork does. Whatever the art work is I'm compelled to be a passive consumer of it. It doesn't diminish the work itself, but it does, for a given individual, limit the number of times it can be enjoyed.
posted by vbfg at 8:47 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hey, the metal gear solid line of games is another example of this. Although, I like the metal gear games despite the integration of story-telling and game play. I think the real artfulness and blockbustery-ness of a videogame lies not in a big world or the actual narrative but the depth of the experience and the details. Rockstar and Kojima really put a lot of little details and give the player lots of ways to interact with the world.

Any game can have a narrative and be a cinematic experience but I think the world-building is what makes the difference.
posted by fuq at 8:47 AM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Highest-grossing films of 2010
1 Toy Story 3
2 Alice in Wonderland
3 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
4 Inception
5 Shrek Forever After
6 Eclipse
7 Iron Man 2
8 Tangled
9 Despicable Me
10 How to Train Your Dragon

Top-Selling Video Games of 2010
1. Call of Duty: Black Ops
2. Madden NFL 11
3. Halo: Reach
4. New Super Mario Bros.
5. Red Dead Redemption
6. Wii Fit Plus
7. Just Dance 2
8. Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
9. Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood
10. NBA 2K11

I'm a big video game fan, but I'd have to say Hollywood comes out ahead on intelligence and imagination in that contest.

(Also note, sequels: Hollywood: 5/10, Video Games: 8/10)
posted by straight at 8:49 AM on May 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


That box you're using to post to MetaFilter? It's also the big indie games platform (having a much larger install base than the Xbox and PS3 put together).

It's also the box I use to find the niche movies I'm talking about. It's not the multiplex and neither is it Xbox.
posted by spicynuts at 9:00 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


The right game for the right person has lots of longevity. Far more than any individual artwork does. Whatever the art work is I'm compelled to be a passive consumer of it. It doesn't diminish the work itself, but it does, for a given individual, limit the number of times it can be enjoyed.

That's just ludicrous and the perfect example of extrapolation your own experiences to the general. After the first run through of Red Faction (one of my favorite games) I'm not going to play it again because I know what's around every corner. On the other hand, the number of times I find myself in an emotional state or life quandry that directly relates to something Shakespeare wrote and for which his advice/perspective is comforting or illuminating are legion. I don't pretend to apply that belief to the entire universe though.
posted by spicynuts at 9:04 AM on May 23, 2011


(Also note, sequels: Hollywood: 5/10, Video Games: 8/10)

Tangled and Alice in Wonderland are both straight up iterations of specific classic stories; How to Train Your Dragon is a charming but utterly cookie-cutter animated kids story with the dial turned to Viking; Despicable me is another animated kids flick, though I haven't seen it and perhaps it is jarringly clever and praiseworthy.

Of that list, the only thing that's a non-franchise film aimed at adults is Inception.

Which, mostly what we're saying here is high-grossing games tend to be the product of relatively conservative planning where franchise or setting is concerned. A film that does well gets a sequel; a game that does well, likewise; barring franchise work, a film or a game that can trade on a well-received idea gets money behind it.
posted by cortex at 9:07 AM on May 23, 2011


Not to mention the fact that the number of times I think about a book I've read and try to figure out what it means (even short stories... I'll think about Murakami stories all of the time) doesn't even rank when compared to videogames. The only video games I replay aren't ones that I'm replaying for the story, and in fact, I'll usually skip story segments if I'm replaying a game.

Good movies and books stay in your head forever. I feel sorry for you if you can say the same thing about Red Dead Redemption.
posted by codacorolla at 9:10 AM on May 23, 2011


though I haven't seen it and perhaps it is jarringly clever and praiseworthy.

There are a lot of very charming moments in it. And although I wouldn't hold it up as an example of why video-games are better or worse than movies, it's probably worth checking out.

If for no other reason than to add the phrase "It's so FLUFFY!!" to your vocabulary, although holding up a cat when screaming this is purely optional.
posted by quin at 9:14 AM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


The first sentence wasn't very clear. I mean that I rarely think about videogames, outside of maybe planning what I'm going to do with a character that I'm building when I'm bored at work. I never sit back and think about the deeper meaning behind Masterchief in Halo.
posted by codacorolla at 9:15 AM on May 23, 2011


Your problem is that you aren't playing very good games.
posted by empath at 9:17 AM on May 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


spicynuts, I still think indie games come out ahead of indie films in terms of easy availability. Few people can watch the types of indie films you listed as they were intended to be seen, on a big screen. But indie games written for PC can be played as intended by more people than own Xbox consoles. And there's nothing like Steam for indie movies. Xbox gets the big flashy blockbusters, but in terms of ubiquity, PCs are more like the multiplex than an Xbox.
posted by straight at 9:18 AM on May 23, 2011


Every now and again I come across a screenshot for the latest hotness, and my reaction is generally "Holy crap, we've come a long way from E.T. on the Atari"

You could look at any game made before E.T. and say the same thing.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 9:18 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Screen two: a 3D superhero theme park ride that thinks it's King Lear.

I was with him until he started talking shit about Thor (unless his complaint was merely about the 3-D-ness). That movie was surprisingly much, much better than I was expecting.
posted by FatherDagon at 9:18 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I feel sorry for you if you can say the same thing about Red Dead Redemption.

Because you don't connect with the storytelling format of video games, people who get some narrative or character or emotional resonance from them are to be pitied? That's a pretty crappy thing to imply.

I have favorite books and films and albums and games, and all of them have their own stickiness for their own reasons. The story and setting of e.g. Silent Hill 2 have stayed with me more firmly than half the Stephen King books I've read. It doesn't mean I'm throwing out older media, it just means that older media doesn't have a monopoly on affecting storytelling or emotional communication.
posted by cortex at 9:21 AM on May 23, 2011 [7 favorites]


When I watch a film like Seven Samurai, I like to pause and look at interesting scenes, or sometimes I rewind to re-watch certain moments, savoring their goodness. In a game like Deus Ex I will replay the whole game because I want to try a new angle on the narrative, on the role that I've created in my head. I don't create roles for myself when watching a movie or reading a book, but I do when I'm playing a game.

Do you see what's happening here? This article (like the ones before it, like many more to come) is yet another manifestation of a collective desire that many gamers share. It's a desire to express something about video games. They're not quite sure how to say it. Words like "art" and "serious" and "intelligent" get tossed around a lot, but end up holding little traction. Similarly, comparisons to other media like film and literature are made, but they don't stick.

What they're really trying to express is this:

For many gamers, gaming as a form of entertainment is more engaging, more challenging and more satisfying than most television, movies or books. They hardly watch TV or movies anymore, because they like playing games so much more.

They want this to mean that games are "art" or that the gaming industry has figured out what Hollywood hasn't, or that the entertainment value on a game is more efficient than a book or a film.

What they (usually) fail to realize is that a game can't possibly compare to a book or a film, and that the value of a game is not wholly in the finished product, but in fact the value of a game is only manifest in the playing of it.

It is participatory media, more akin to street theater than the silver screen. There's a communal aspect, especially nowadays. All games are simulations of something: a set of boundaries and an opportunity to test those boundaries. Each player inhabits and defines these game worlds in significantly different ways, and that becomes an important part of the experience.

For a movie or a book, the world is basically complete. There are no boundaries to test because that's not how these things work (unless you end up writing fanfic). In a film or a book you observe. In a game you also observe, but then you act, within the media itself. This is pretty unique to games, and perhaps some of the more ambitious performance art/gallery space.

In short: apples and oranges. It just turns out that there's a larger group of people who have really come to prefer oranges and believe that oranges are now the future. This comparison does nothing to elevate oranges or to reduce the importance of apples in the future.
posted by jnrussell at 9:21 AM on May 23, 2011 [18 favorites]


Good movies and books stay in your head forever. I feel sorry for you if you can say the same thing about Red Dead Redemption.

You've obviously never played 'Wasteland'. Or 'Beyond Good and Evil'. Or 'Geometry Wars', when dosed to the gills on acid and playing Pendulum's 'Slam' in the background.
posted by FatherDagon at 9:22 AM on May 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


The easiest solution to the conundrum of which is better, games or movies is only see good movies and only play good games.
posted by Keith Talent at 9:22 AM on May 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Movie novelizations can be quite good - the novelizations of the Star Trek films (or at least 1-5, which are the ones I read) are from the original scripts before all the plot/interesting background stuff was sliced out, and are pretty solid novels. Not great works of art, but better than most pulp fiction, and 1,3 and 5 are all better than the actual movies. (Okay, especially in the case of 1 and 5, that's not hard. I just rewatched 1 and realized that there is a reason that the model artists all had higher billing than the actors - that film really is about "look! we can film models!")

it's very hard to compare games and other media. Some games do have story elements, but even then the story is only part of the experience -- there is still the "game" part. I tend to play non-story computer games myself, as I prefer those adapted from board games - Carcassone, Settlers, Dominion and Ticket to Ride online. And sure, I've spent more hours playing each of those than reading or re-reading my favorite novels. But that's like saying that I've spent more hours bicycling or doing the dishes -- they aren't comparable activities. One is essentially all content, all story - the novel - while the other is an activity. Better to compare all reading to all gaming.
posted by jb at 9:24 AM on May 23, 2011


I'm not entirely certain LA Confidential could get made now. Chinatown certainly couldn't.

You mean "Wouldn't get green-lighted by a major studio". I've no idea if that's true, especially given how many more majors exist nowadays (though they have a tendency to disappear at a higher rate as well), but surely a much wider variety of movies are being made now that the costs have dropped to the point where you don't need a studio.

Basically, I refuse to imagine a world without Chinatown.
posted by yerfatma at 9:27 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


apples and oranges is a good comparison. Or even more like soup and bread. Soup is great, but it will never replace bread, and vice versa.

The relationship between films and books is interesting - especially how both are essentially linear, story-based media. I think that books became more film-like with the advent of the novel (long before films), because they became about telling a story by immersing the reader in the environment, often as realistically as possible - as opposed to the epic poem or pre-modern play which are much more stylized.
posted by jb at 9:30 AM on May 23, 2011


Good movies and books stay in your head forever. I feel sorry for you if you can say the same thing about Red Dead Redemption.
posted by codacorolla at 12:10 PM on May 23 [+] [!]


I feel sorry for you if you think this makes you sound like anything other than an insufferable snob.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 9:30 AM on May 23, 2011 [10 favorites]


Even the most intellectually devoid game will make you think more than an average movie by nature of being a game.

These games won't be big sellers for long, as shown up in this thread, the top 10 games are crap.
Gaming used to be fairly exclusive(excluding arcades), often played by alternative groups, as such they were massive hobbies, people expected epic games to immerse themselves in.

Today gaming has turned into a consumer item for the mass market, this is okay it just means games that sell are more on the side, a fun distraction.

Great games like Portal 2 will always exist but the amount these great games sell will be more hit and miss, much like movies today.

I postulate that the only reason these great games are throwing around with the Maddens is due to us still being in a transitional stage between a group that has gaming as a core part of their lives and a group that sees it is some light fun, of course sometimes a great film will come out that will also sell, but once again gaming will look more like movies in terms of content and selling.
posted by Zemoth at 9:38 AM on May 23, 2011


DU-- they adapted The Exorcist into a book after it had already been adapted from a book?

I remember reading Emma Thompson's journal about making Sense & Sensibility. There was at one point a plan to do a novelization of her screenplay based on the Jane Austen novel. She said no.
posted by not that girl at 9:44 AM on May 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


That's just ludicrous and the perfect example of extrapolation your own experiences to the general. After the first run through of Red Faction (one of my favorite games) I'm not going to play it again because I know what's around every corner.

I still play the walkthrough version of Halo: Combat Evolved.

I still play Rebel Strike II for the Game Cube.

I still re-watch movies, re-listen to songs, revisit art pieces in a museum and go see theatre shows I've seen before.

Good is good and worth re-experiencing.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:53 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Aren't every single one of the top ten games sequels? Is Wii Fit Plus original? That's the only one that I'm not sure about. Red Dead Redemption is a sequel to Red Dead Revolver.
posted by The Lamplighter at 10:02 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cortex, questions of what counts as a sequel aside, I still think there's a little more intelligence and imagination in the most popular movies than there is in the most popular video games. And I also think the best movies are smarter and more imaginative than the best games.

So while I think Brooker is right that there's some amazing creativity to be found in video games, I think he's wrong to say games as a medium are surpassing movies.
posted by straight at 10:05 AM on May 23, 2011


For many gamers, gaming as a form of entertainment is more engaging, more challenging and more satisfying than most television, movies or books.

Stated this way, on the other hand, I agree completely.
posted by straight at 10:07 AM on May 23, 2011


Guess who's winning?

I also don't think there's a direct competition here, and if it is, it's among the violence-seeking set, i.e. action movies vs. war-based FPS games.

here's what's on at your local multiplex.

Don't tell me what's on my movie theaters ... Here's what's playing at the three closest multiplexes:

Bill Cunningham New York
Bridesmaids
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Forks Over Knives
I Am
Incendies
Jane Eyre
Meek's Cutoff
Queen to Play (Joueuse)
Something Borrowed
Source Code
The Beaver
Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls

Bridesmaids
Fast Five
Jumping the Broom
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides in Disney Digital 3D
Priest
Rio
Thor
Thor 3D

13 Assassins
Everything Must Go
Hesher
Win Win


I don't follow movies super closely (small children), but I see at least 6-7 movies there that I would gladly sit through ... so who's up for babysitting?

This article read pretty juvenile to me. It sounds like someone who just realized "hey, video games are really cool!" and "man, popular Hollywood movies suck!"

I realize that there is perhaps a bigger story here in regard to commercial cinema and international markets (the "Taken" model), but video games vs. Hollywood? No.

It's a little like saying "hey check out the NYTimes best-seller list ... the publishing industry is really kicking Hollywood's ass in terms of quality!" Apples and oranges ... not to mention all the various types of movies and games.

How many enjoyable pornographic video games have you played?
posted by mrgrimm at 10:08 AM on May 23, 2011


Jane Eyre was a great adaptation, and I highly recommend it for everyone who likes things that are goodly.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:13 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


This week I bought Monkey Island 1 and 2 for my iPhone.

I played them both through for maybe the thirtieth time since I first played them, aged 11.

I have bought at least 4 different formatted copies of it, it's something I continuously go back to because of the fact that I still laugh openly at the sword fighting jokes - "You fight like a Dairy Farmer! - How appropriate, you fight like a Cow!"

I can't exactly foresee myself doing the same with Killzone 7, or whatever schlock they're banging out this week.

There are gems in every format, sadly there is also crap.
posted by rudhraigh at 10:16 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm fairly certain Charlie Brooker has either finally lost his mind (which would be tragic) or wrote this in order to expose how both the mainstream videogame industry and Hollywood films are relentlessly promoted and discussed with breathless hyperbole, but are actually usually very dull and hackneyed works, by getting everyone else to do the overblown fawning for whichever side of the imaginary fence they like.

I am hoping for the latter, even if it's somewhat cruel and without any point that I can see, because I have enjoyed his wit for a number of years and would miss it quite a bit.
posted by byanyothername at 10:19 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Jane Eyre was a great adaptation, and I highly recommend it for everyone who likes things that are goodly.

Yeah, but the gameplay balance was pretty skewed - once you unlocked the Hell-Sons Burning Blood Punch, most of the boss battles seemed like a cakewalk.
posted by FatherDagon at 10:20 AM on May 23, 2011


It's also the box I use to find the niche movies I'm talking about. It's not the multiplex and neither is it Xbox.

But discounting the PC as a game platform is naive in the extreme. Just because a game isn't on XBLA, WiiWare, or PSN doesn't render it invalid as a choice or representation of niche games.

Remember that the PC was a gaming platform before any of those consoles existed.
posted by cmgonzalez at 10:22 AM on May 23, 2011


Am I the only one here who likes shooting games? There is always a focus here towards games like Portal 2, Braid, Fallout series etc. Anybody looking forward to GOW 3 or even Arkham City?
posted by Ad hominem at 10:25 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Do they actually make light shows for cattle? Is there some animal welfare regulation that requires domesticated animals to be entertained so that they don't suffer boredom (also mandating robotic cat toys and snout-operated video games for pigs), or is this some new ethical-farming fad ("All our hamburgers come from cows who have had a stimulating life")?
posted by acb at 10:26 AM on May 23, 2011


Though there is a bitterly sarcastic potato and some very sad turrets.

"I'm different."

Still gives me chills.
posted by Pendragon at 10:27 AM on May 23, 2011


Who's winning?

The video game industry has been bigger than the movie industry since 2007. Twilight pulls in $72 million in one day?

GTA:IV pulled in $310 million. In one day. MW2 pulled in similar numbers. When you're selling at $60/copy you only need to sell 5 million copies between the 100 million current generation consoles there are out there.

The movie going public has been decreasing and only increasing ticket prices are keeping Hollywood a running horse in any sort of race.
posted by Talez at 10:31 AM on May 23, 2011


Cortex, questions of what counts as a sequel aside, I still think there's a little more intelligence and imagination in the most popular movies than there is in the most popular video games.

Along which artistic dimensions? In terms of traditional narrative execution only? How does the failure of film to engage at all with the idea of agency or interactivity make this at all an apples-to-apples comparison?

I think film is a much more mature medium. There are a tremendous number of solved problems in film that people making a movie don't have to muddle with, which is great news for film-makers who have an actual idea because it means they can spend less time inventing wheels to cart it along on and more time just making it happen. Big, big advantage to film right there, and to some extent it means creative independent filmmakers can get something made and into distribution channels more easily in a lot of ways than an indie game maker.

But if we want to talk mainstream lazy pop media, films and games are right on par with each other: a lot of money gets spent on unremarkable safe-bet iterations on established-as-successful ideas within either genre. I'm not inclined to argue if the latest Call of Duty is more or less intelligent or creative than the latest by-the-book romantic comedy; they're both expensive, they're both reliable moneymakers, they're both not what most people are talking about when they get excited about either medium's potential as a home for creative and intelligent work.

Stepping away from big-money blockbusters and you can find a lot of interesting, creative work in both worlds, though.

Booker is a professional sass, his column here in particular favors a provocative premise over a careful and sober consideration of both fields, and so it's maybe not a very good basis for an argument either way.

And I also think the best movies are smarter and more imaginative than the best games.

I don't think there's an objective way to settle the question of relative bests, though, again, film's had a fantastic headstart and so racking up historical masterpieces is going to be a lopsided game. Some games, and some moments in games, rank among the most significant media-consumption experiences I have had, along with some films and books and albums and works of visual art and so on. They all have their strengths, and they all manifest creative strength and intelligence in different ways. The best movie-like game will never beat the best movie at doing what a movie does, nor vice versa, but that's a whole different and more complex subject.

Maybe more to the point, the best games are far smarter and more imaginative than the great bulk of competent-but-nothing-special films, and vice versa. There are very good games being made, games that I'd rather play than watch a mediocre film if it was gun-to-head time. Thankfully, guns rarely point to heads where media consumption is concerned so instead I can play very good games and watch very good films and like that there's such strong creative work being done in both mediums.
posted by cortex at 10:37 AM on May 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


No, Ad hominem, though most FPS games aren't entering the discussion of games as art so much or get enough quality criticism. Which isn't to say that they don't deserve some of that. I'm pretty confident that all genres are represented with at least some fans around here.
posted by cmgonzalez at 10:39 AM on May 23, 2011


This guy is complaining about something akin to turning on Top 40 radio and being upset that "absolutely no good music is made anymore". He's just not looking in the right place.

The difference is, these days, if you have a laptop and a musical inclination, you can make a record and release it any way you want. You may not make money off of it, but seriously, there is PLENTY of awesome music out there. I am so backlogged on "things I need to listen to" that I'm going to need something like 5 straight days with no bathroom breaks or sleeping time to get through it all.

The same goes for movies. There are probably 5 awesome indie movies for every "Big Blockbuster: Part VII" that comes out. I finally just saw "Primer", a movie made on a $7,000 budget. It was amazing, thoughtful, and immediately made me want to watch it again to try to figure out what exactly happened throughout.

The same does not go for games. For every 15 "meh" games, there's maybe one Portal 2, or Red Dead Redemption, or Heavy Rain. In this sense, I think movies are winning, but music is beating the crap out of them both, hands down. Especially with the ease with which one can acquire music (either illegally or legally) and its low storage space requirements relative to games and movies, music is definitely the winner in the entertainment realm.

I think what games have over movies, music, and books is that when a game is good, it's really good. Super engrossing. Spend 30, 40, 50, even 60 hours playing it. Music I can listen to while doing other things, so even if I listen to the new Holy Ghost record 15 times, most of that time I'm in my car, making dinner, or cleaning. For a movie, I have to sit still, pay attention, and watch, but it's still only 90 or 120 minutes of my time. For a book, it really requires undivided attention. I can't read a book and drive to the supermarket at the same time.

I think I'm starting to meander here, but my point is that there is good art in almost any medium. You just need to know where to look.
posted by King Bee at 10:45 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


The same does not go for games. For every 15 "meh" games, there's maybe one Portal 2, or Red Dead Redemption, or Heavy Rain.

Portal 2 and Red Dead Redemption aren't analogous to Primer-- they had huge budgets and came from huge game studios. The analogue to Primer is Minecraft.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:47 AM on May 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


I challenge anyone to find a single film as good as this game.

Go ahead. You can't do it. Can't be done.
posted by empath at 10:57 AM on May 23, 2011


Jesus, empath, now you're just trolling. But I'm not sure who!
posted by Nelson at 11:19 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: No, we can not talk about crap.
posted by homunculus at 11:23 AM on May 23, 2011


Good movies and books stay in your head forever. I feel sorry for you if you can say the same thing about Red Dead Redemption.
posted by codacorolla at 12:10 PM on May 23 [+] [!]


When I was a kid, I played a game called Starflight, and it's stuck with me for the past 20 years. The game ends with one of the most impressive reveals I've ever seen - the kind of plot twist that makes you re-evaluate the whole story. As a result of this revelation, you're left with an impossible moral choice - commit genocide, or let your homeworld be destroyed.

This ending comes after hours of exploring the galaxy - negotiating with hostile aliens, narrowly escaping natural disasters, having the crew members you hand-picked get injured and die. The reason it sticks with me after all these years, just as much as some of the best books I've read, is that it happened to me. That's what games offer that books and movies can't - a feeling of agency, the sense of personally driving the story. Sometimes increased agency comes at the cost of a more superficial story or a less structured narrative, but sometimes that cost is worth it.

There are other games that have done this well - Deus Ex and System Shock 2. When games get it right, they offer a form of storytelling that simply hasn't been possible until now.
posted by heathkit at 11:27 AM on May 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


If you've never played a game, or you think you hate them – but my description sounds vaguely appealing, give it a spin.

What Brooker forgets, as do all my gamer friends, is that this is completely impossible.

I didn't grow up playing games, so if you sit me down in front of Portal 2 or LA Noire they would be impossible for me to enjoy, because I would never be able to get out of the first room, or -- and I've experienced this in several recent games -- even be able to make my game character move properly. This means I spend ten minutes banging into walls, and hand the controller back to whichever gamer has persuaded me to have a go. If I have someone patiently explaining 'press there to go forward, then press the blue button to pick up that gun', I can just about manage, but that requires so much concentration that it I don't have any brain power left to solve problems or appreciate the environment of the game (and it drives my co-pilot completely batty).

This does my head in, because Brooker is obviously right that these are long form, collaborative, interactive works of art and I've watched other people playing games that I dearly wish I could play. I'm thinking especially of a recent-ish game set in a sort of abandoned hotel that's flooded and lit with lots of flickering neon, and you only catch glimpses of your enemies, which include horrid children with knives - can't remember the name, but hamfistedly attempting to play that for ten minutes was an experience on a par with any recent horror flick.

Of course, I could fix this by playing games for thousands of hours, but I think I'll wait until games have an interface that allows me to start enjoying them straight away - this has happened with stuff like the bowling game on the Wii and Rock Band, both of which I absolutely love, and can happily play for hours. Presumably the Kinect has brought gaming for untrained gamers a bit closer, but AFAIK I can't yet hook it up to a game like LA Noir and use natural gestures and voice commands to enter the game world.

None of the above is a criticism of games - I had to put thousands and thousands of hours into being able to appreciate novels or music or films to the extent that I do, but I had a massive head start in that I didn't have to learn how to see and hear. Given that kids now start playing games at the age I learned to read, it seems reasonable to suppose that games will be seen as another branch of the arts in a generation or less.
posted by jack_mo at 11:27 AM on May 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


MetaFilter: a lightshow for cattle.
posted by Splunge at 11:28 AM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


I didn't grow up playing games, so if you sit me down in front of Portal 2 or LA Noire they would be impossible for me to enjoy, because I would never be able to get out of the first room, or -- and I've experienced this in several recent games -- even be able to make my game character move properly

It doesn't take THAT long to get acclimated to it. You need a game that doesn't have any time pressure for learning it like Portal.
posted by empath at 11:31 AM on May 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


The analogue to Primer is Minecraft.

Braid, surely? :)
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 11:42 AM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, bad analogy. I meant to compare awesome thing to awesome thing, but I should have taken budgetary constraints (and mainstream appeal) into consideration to make the analogy work.
posted by King Bee at 11:45 AM on May 23, 2011


It doesn't take THAT long to get acclimated to it. You need a game that doesn't have any time pressure for learning it like Portal.

It really does. I've tried to play games, off and on, since I moved in with a hardcore gamer flatmate in the '90s. Part of the problem is consistency. I bet I could still manage to last five minutes without being killed in whatever version of the Lara Croft game he was into on whatever Nintendo system he had at the time - but if you hand me a controller and expect me to play, to take the most recent example I've had a go at, Call of Duty: Black Ops, I will just bang into walls until I get shot.

You need a game that doesn't have any time pressure for learning it like Portal.

That's a really good point, and I'll defo give Portal a go.

I still think there's a huge hinterland of knowledge that gamers don't acknowledge when persuading novices how to play a game, though.

Aside from the ability to control a character on the screen, there's this whole load of grammar, symbolism, &c. that I don't know. It might be obvious to a gamer that I should, say, try moving a box to a different position so that I can jump up to a ledge and swing across to a platform, but that whole process is alien to me, and I have no way of knowing that the box is an interactive game element rather than a piece of scenery.

It's sort of like learning to touch type and learning the language you're typing in at the same time.
posted by jack_mo at 11:53 AM on May 23, 2011


Braid, surely? :)

Nah, Braid is pretty.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:04 PM on May 23, 2011


I still think there's a huge hinterland of knowledge that gamers don't acknowledge when persuading novices how to play a game, though.

It's definitely a thing. More of a problem for some games than others, and varies from person to person, but there's no question that there's both skillset and language-of-game-design issues that can stand between an interested non-gamer and a satisfying game experience.

Portal 2 is fairly gentle on that front; there's no getting away from having to successfully walk about and aim your viewport (be it with gamepad or mouse+keyboard), but Portal isn't spitting bullets at you as you get acclimated so that's not too bad.

LA Noire really isn't so bad either, actually. Most of the game is moments that can idle indefinitely; you wander around a crime scene, take your time pressing an investigation, drive at the speed of traffic if you like (or make your partner drive if you'd rather not bother!), and so on. It's got action sequences, and those might challenge a gaming novice, but none of it is particularly challenging and there's not a whole lot of unspoken assumptions involved in those idea, especially if you've ever seen a car chase or a gun fight in a film. And the game will let you skip those sequences if they're giving you trouble. It really is among the more accessible blockbuster games in a while, far more so on a basic gameplay level than the GTA games it shares so much superficial heritage with.

I've got a friend who hasn't really gamed since the NES, and we've been getting together now and then to play games for the last couple of years, and it's a combination of occasional frustration (for him having to learn, from me having to handhold him through) and really, really fantastic. Modern games are this huge fantastic grin-inducing event for him, I love just watching him get a kick out of stuff because it reminds me of how much outright Wow, This Is Great love there was when I got into gaming in the first place.

We play Left 4 Dead in split screen coop, and he's for shit at shooters but L4D on easy isn't too punishing so it works out. He's slow and sloppy with aiming but the gaming forgives that; I can watch his back during nasty bits, and the computer players help out as well. And so while he apologizes fifty times an hour for getting lost or fumbling with the controller or forgetting how to duck or for saying "where are you?" as if I could say anything other than "there, on the screen, where my name is", he also has a hell of a time.

And then we play Excite Truck for three hours and that's just the greatest thing ever.

I don't know if there's a a good, quick general solution for the problem of helping non-gamers get fluent in gamings mechanics so that the great but less-accessible games become viable. Not every game does a great job on that front, and not everybody has a gaming tutor buddy available to ease them in, and for a lot of folks the frustration of that learning curve may just outweigh the returns on enjoyment. But there's definitely room for being selective in what games to try and climb that curve with, and neither of LA Noire or Portal 2 are particularly bad choices.
posted by cortex at 12:12 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


For a movie or a book, the world is basically complete. There are no boundaries to test because that's not how these things work (unless you end up writing fanfic). In a film or a book you observe. In a game you also observe, but then you act, within the media itself. This is pretty unique to games, and perhaps some of the more ambitious performance art/gallery space.

I agree with the conclusion that you reach, but I disagree with this particular part of it.

Books especially, but even movies, require imagination by the reader. A book is by no means a finished product. I'm reading And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie at the moment, and she describes one character: "The reptilian old man, known in the press and the courts as a 'hanging judge,' had the blkood of countless prisoners on his hands. How many of them were innocent?" I start the book with a certain image in my mind that Christie has helped me to form, but that is ultimately my own creation. As the book progresses my image of this character, as I construct the scenes in my imagination, changes and fluctuates. I have to imagine how he talks, and what he's wearing, and a whole host of other things. In a movie, as the scenes jump time and location, you have to piece together the gaps. It applies less to movies, but books are far from 'complete'. There's still a lot that the reader has to do to make the story play out effectively in their mind.

I think that, in a well made movie or book, there is even interaction. Good stories are open to interpretation, and don't reveal everything. You can walk out of a movie wondering what motivated a character, or what happens next, or what the real truth was to a certain scene. The linger effect of a good book, which I mentioned above, is driven by these ambiguities, where the reader becomes so much a part in creating the story as the author is.

But I agree: it's apples and oranges. Games provide a more direct form of interaction, so people seem tempted to declare them better or worse than established media, at least in part, because gamers feel so embattled. They feel as though their hobby is mocked as being childish, when really gaming is just starting to come in to its own as a form of expression. That's why a lot of modern games make me so mad - they try to be movies with interactive elements instead of being something new entirely. This idea of "winning" out over other media is frustrating... I can read, listen to music, watch movies, watch TV, and play games. I may be portioning out my time differently than my father or grandfather did, but I'm still engaging in a wide range of human expression. Why does this have to be seen as a contest?
posted by codacorolla at 12:15 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


LA Noire really isn't so bad either, actually. Most of the game is moments that can idle indefinitely; you wander around a crime scene, take your time pressing an investigation, drive at the speed of traffic if you like (or make your partner drive if you'd rather not bother!), and so on.

Thanks cortex - that sounds great, and like something a game-fluent friend and I could enjoy together.

Are there any games that are interactive in the simple sense that you can move around in them, and your position in their geographic/temporal landscape affects the way that a narrative unfolds?

I suppose I'm after an interactive audiovisual equivalent of B.S. Johnson's The Unfortunates, which is a novel that comes in chapter-sized chunks in a box, invites the reader to shuffle all but the first and last chapters, and works perfectly however the chapters are ordered. Or a version of The Waste Land as Hypertext where lines of the poem unfold topologically, or according to decisions you make, or associations you make.

I get that I'm effectively asking for a game stripped of the gaming elements, but the reason I want to be able to play games is the atmosphere, the tension, the way a narrative unfolds according to your actions, &c., so if there's something out there that a novice could play on their own by wandering around, I'd like to play it!
posted by jack_mo at 12:43 PM on May 23, 2011


Anybody looking forward to GOW 3 or even Arkham City?

A week or so before Portal 2 was released, my wife asked me what games I was looking forward to this year. I said something like "Hmm... I'm super-psyched for Arkham City, but it doesn't come out until October, so I dunno..."

She looked at me and asked "Portal 2? LA Noire? GoW3? Skyrim?"

I responded "Well, yeah, those should all be pretty great, too."

Seriously, I'm so excited about Arkham City that I totally forgot that any other highly-anticipated games were even being released this year. October can't get here soon enough.
posted by owtytrof at 12:48 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I get that I'm effectively asking for a game stripped of the gaming elements, but the reason I want to be able to play games is the atmosphere, the tension, the way a narrative unfolds according to your actions, &c., so if there's something out there that a novice could play on their own by wandering around, I'd like to play it!

You may like some of these games

I particularly liked Looming which just barely qualifies as a game, but has great atmosphere and story. You can easily search up a walkthrough for it, which makes it even less of a challenge, but will get you past some of the more obtuse parts.
posted by codacorolla at 12:50 PM on May 23, 2011


Really, we're talking about adventure games as a genre at that point, and the big problem is that it's just not a genre that's been anywhere near the limelight for years and years so pickings are kind of thin. There are a lot of games that are heavier on atmosphere and tension than they are on twitch/combat elements but not so many that really abandon those elements entirely.

For example, I enjoyed Alan Wake as a sort of navelgazing meditation on pop horror writing and authorship and such, and if there was a way to just turn off the combat on that game I'd recommend it as a low-literature romp for people who like the horror genre. But I wouldn't recommend it to someone who doesn't feel comfy running around shooting things, because that's a constant throughout.

There are some fun investigate-and-interrogate games for the Nintendo DS; they don't have the same level of cinematic atmosphere as LA Noire, say, but they're wordy games that get away with being all about looking and thinking and catching people in lies and so on. Phoenix Wright is a lawyer franchise; Hotel Dusk is a private dick game that I liked better.
posted by cortex at 12:54 PM on May 23, 2011


The next Narbacular Drop?
posted by Artw at 1:06 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well hrm. I'm thinking about Portal 2 and Dragon Age 2 a lot more than I'm thinking about Thor, The King's Speech, or even Source Code, which was a perfectly good take on PKD science fiction up to the completely unnecessary saccharine ending. Portal 2 was a collection of brilliant puzzles mixed with a handful of surprising clunkers, and a beautiful job of darkly comic storytelling mixed in. Dragon Age 2 suffers from having an asston of literary pretentions tied to unworthy game mechanics and design. But still, it inspired a surprising degree of hatred in me for one particular companion character in the end.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:15 PM on May 23, 2011


Interesting point. In fact even games like Quake or Starcraft require significant cognitive engagement to play well, even if the plots aren't amazing. And the video game industry has always outsold hollywood. But part of that has been the $50 price tag on games.

If you look at the true mass market games like Farmville and stuff, you're seeing a lot of stuff that's not really all that intellectual.
posted by delmoi at 1:16 PM on May 23, 2011


If comparing movies and games/interactive fiction as a form of art, the style and delivery of games have the potential to create a much more immersive effect on the participant. Even taking game complexity out of the equation, this seems to be true. For example, games and "choose your own adventure" books can accomplish roughly the same thing, where the actions of the participant contribute to the outcome of the story.

It's not so much that games and interactive fiction are superior to movies intellectually, it's more that interactive fiction and games put more responsibility on the participant for the outcome of the story. You cannot simply sit back and watch an interactive game or story unfold, you have to do something for it to progress. You have to invest your emotions and rationalize the consequences of your actions, whether good or bad. Zoning out or becoming detached like you would on a movie, would only make the story halt in its progression.

This does not necessarily mean that you would feel more connected to a protagonist in an interactive story than one from a movie however. That, in my opinion, is still entirely related to the quality of storytelling as a whole.

By making a story interactive however, more thought is required on the presenter (developer/director) on keeping logically progressive mistakes out. This is where a problem lies within movies in my opinion. A director or producer of a movie can be somewhat lazy on this aspect when it comes to the story's progression making logical sense, as they feel that the "good feeling" of the story's flow or the bedazzlement of special effects can distract enough from those types of flaws. With games and interactive fiction however, you have a participant more deeply involved and conscious of the details, many of which are needed to move forward. The experience becomes somewhat cerebral as you not only have to account for the story's flow, but also the various logical outcomes that could occur (within reason) when the participant makes a mistake. Sure flaws or inconsistencies will still crop up in a game aside from the technical, but on a level of greater story complexity due to allowing a human to make the decisions.

(In other words, instead of the participant screaming at the TV "Don't go up those stairs!" in futility, they may have an option of just simply not going up them...but great, the game may force them to go up those stairs anyway for the main story to progress...what alternate storyline could unfold if they do not?)

I really think however, with any type of art form, that success comes down to the story's, imagery's or song's ability to immerse the participant into the alternate reality or state of being the art form represents. Games may have an upper hand for intellectual entertainment, as they have the potential to tie all forms of art together into an alternate, yet digitized, reality. But you don't need a game to have a good piece of art, a great movie, or a kick-ass song. In the end, all forms have their rightful and well needed place...even the dumbed down action flick that doesn't need to explain itself. There's still a need for those....
posted by samsara at 1:29 PM on May 23, 2011


Really, we're talking about adventure games as a genre at that point, and the big problem is that it's just not a genre that's been anywhere near the limelight for years and years so pickings are kind of thin.

Yeah, I suppose I'm after a contemporary gloss on text adventures or those awful books you used to get in the '80s where you had to roll a dice to see which chapter to read next. It seems like it should be possible to bring the immersive nature, high production values, and simpler gameplay elements of contemporary games together to make a modern game-ish novel-adventure, but I guess no gamer would want to play it and no non-gaming novel-reader/art-lover/film-watcher would own the console to play it on.

The only things that come close to that are ARGs, but they lack the immediacy and immersion of games, and can only be played in/at a particular place/time. I was once mistaken for a character in an ARG I was playing, and I suppose that's the feeling I'm after in a computer game...
posted by jack_mo at 2:04 PM on May 23, 2011


I've played plenty of games that have had excellent narratives, great story reveals, wonderful characters and inventive plots.

But I've never played a video game that has given me the insight into the human condition that a great novel or great film has.

LA Noire looks wonderful, but it's not Gatsby or the 400 Blows, and right now I can't see how a game ever will be.
posted by ciderwoman at 2:06 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


LA Noire looks wonderful, but it's not Gatsby or the 400 Blows, and right now I can't see how a game ever will be.

Nobody knew that the novel could produce a Gatsby until Fitzgerald.
posted by empath at 2:08 PM on May 23, 2011


Oh, OK, I've not found a game that's Wuthering Heights. Or King Lear. Or the Laxdaela.
posted by ciderwoman at 2:13 PM on May 23, 2011


GTA: San Andreas was, for me, a revelatory experience. I don't have the capacity to really articulate why, but it drew me in the way a good novel can. Maybe it's that the same basic elements were in place: strong, well-written characters, a compelling story, a vividly realized setting. Not to mention the kind of expansive breathing room that a long novel has -- ample space to devote to sub-plots and interesting moments of meandering that don't push the plot forward but add texture to the story. There aren't a lot of crime movies (except maybe Sonatine?) where the main character can just hang out for days, thinking about stuff. And the crazy thing is, I'm the character doing the thinking!

So it's not even really like a novel, where you're spending time inside someone else's story -- you're actually driving much of what happens, and your experiences and thoughts while playing are actually part of the narrative itself. There are little things, too, like your character periodically needing to eat food and hit the gym. And it's not like a film, even though it has a similar focus on visual action. I spent a few weeks as Carl "C.J." Johnson, just living his story, and at the end I felt like I had experienced a story in a way that felt familiar from movies and books, but also didn't feel like either.

I haven't experienced this very often in games I've played since. The first Fable game came close, and L.A. Noire definitely has potential. I wouldn't say that these games are better or worse than a good movie or book, but they offer a different kind of narrative. Maybe it's nothing more than the ability to play "pretend," but with vastly higher production values.
posted by Pants McCracky at 2:15 PM on May 23, 2011


But I've never played a video game that has given me the insight into the human condition that a great novel or great film has.

Well this is what I find interesting about games-- the protagonist is yourself, which means that games have the ability to give you insight into yourself, directly: How do you feel when you have to choose between two awful choices, and which do you choose, and why? I don't know that that insight is more valuable than the sort of generalized insight into the human character that, say, 'Macbeth' gives, but I don't think it's less valuable.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:19 PM on May 23, 2011


Oh, OK, I've not found a game that's Wuthering Heights. Or King Lear. Or the Laxdaela.

I've never read a book that's a Minecraft, either. It seems like a silly comparison. And really, it's getting to the point where this (not you in particular, this games vs other media) debate is going to be rendered meaningless. If you want to talk to someone under the age of 30 about shared cultural experiences, you're going to talk about video games, for the most part.
posted by empath at 2:20 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well this is what I find interesting about games-- the protagonist is yourself

Not always. Your role can sometimes slip between something author-like and something protagonist-like, I think. Some games have an abstract avatar that you can project yourself into completely (ie Minecraft, Portal), some of them somewhat distance you (ie, The Witcher, Red Dead Redemption).
posted by empath at 2:23 PM on May 23, 2011


Oh, OK, I've not found a game that's Wuthering Heights. Or King Lear. Or the Laxdaela.

In fairness, though, literature has had a pretty big head start. Pong is about 40 years old. I don't know where English literature was at that point, but maybe we should give video games another 100 years or so before making qualitative comparisons.
posted by Pants McCracky at 2:24 PM on May 23, 2011


I don't know where English literature was at that point

Beowulf, I suppose. A cliche-ridden action adventure story with piss-poor plotting and characterization.
posted by empath at 2:26 PM on May 23, 2011


But I've never played a video game that has given me the insight into the human condition that a great novel or great film has.

I'd never read a poem that gave me the insight into the human condition that a great novel or great film had, until my Sixth Form Eng. Lit. teacher handed out a photocopy of The Waste Land.

Which is why I want to learn to play computer games - it seems pretty bloody likely that a Wuthering Heights or Lear will appear in that format before I die, and if I can't 'read' it, I'm fucked.
posted by jack_mo at 2:27 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you want to talk to someone under the age of 30 about shared cultural experiences, you're going to talk about video games, for the most part.

C'mon. If you want to talk to anyone under the age of 80 about shared cultural experiences, you're going to talk about television.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:28 PM on May 23, 2011


We should come up with a curricula of "Games You Must Play Before You Die".
posted by empath at 2:28 PM on May 23, 2011


Not always. Your role can sometimes slip between something author-like and something protagonist-like, I think.

That's a good point. Also, certainly not all games present you with moral choices or any choices that provide insight or whatever, but the same can be said of any number of paintings, pieces of music, poems, etc.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:28 PM on May 23, 2011


C'mon. If you want to talk to anyone under the age of 80 about shared cultural experiences, you're going to talk about television.

Not as much any more. A lot of people aren't even getting cable.
posted by empath at 2:29 PM on May 23, 2011


I've never read a book that's a Minecraft, either. It seems like a silly comparison. And really, it's getting to the point where this (not you in particular, this games vs other media) debate is going to be rendered meaningless. If you want to talk to someone under the age of 30 about shared cultural experiences, you're going to talk about video games, for the most part.

Not at all, the discussion has for a large part of the thread been a list of people saying they've got as much, if not more, insight from games over books or films, and I think if that's the case you're reading the wrong books or watching the wrong films (as Brooker obviously is). The Iliad isn't just Gears of War with swords. LOots of things can provide a diversion, like Minecraft, sports, drink, but not everything can provide me with insight, debate or any of the other things a great work of literature can, and, as I said before, I don't think, because of the nature of gaming, that a video game ever can. How can you make the confusion and ambiguity of the 400 Blows in a standard reward video game?

And while we're at it, I LOVE video games, so please don't think I'm coming at this from kind of anti games angle. I just don't believe they can ever compare with books or films for insight.

(and on review - if you think Beowulf or any of the viking sagas are "cliche-ridden action adventure story with piss-poor plotting and characterization" then I think you're missing quite a lot)
posted by ciderwoman at 2:29 PM on May 23, 2011


That's a good point. Also, certainly not all games present you with moral choices or any choices that provide insight or whatever, but the same can be said of any number of paintings, pieces of music, poems, etc.

I wonder... can we just define games as 'art that gives you choices?'
posted by empath at 2:30 PM on May 23, 2011


That seems like maybe the best definition I've come across, barring whatever caveats smarter people are about to raise below me.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:31 PM on May 23, 2011


How can you make the confusion and ambiguity of the 400 Blows in a standard reward video game?

How can you evoke the feelings of guilt that something like Braid evokes in the player in a movie?
posted by empath at 2:33 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well this is what I find interesting about games-- the protagonist is yourself, which means that games have the ability to give you insight into yourself, directly: How do you feel when you have to choose between two awful choices, and which do you choose, and why?

That's what I find interesting about the GTA games -- sure, you can do all kinds of horrible things, but you're not actually compelled to. You can even skip all of the missions and still experience much of what the game has to offer. So it's interesting -- at least for overthinking types -- to examine why you make certain choices in the game, versus the choices you make in real life.

Also, Fable -- at least in the original version of the game, you had to make a choice between ultimate power and your own humanity, and live with that choice. I tried the ultimate power option once, and was surprised at how nauseated it made me, once I went back out into the world and interacted with people. The loneliness, guilt, and isolation I felt when villagers avoided me, ran away when I approached, and muttered things like "How could you do that?" actually caused me to act more vicious and cruel, which gave me a lot to think about.

Obviously, not everyone who plays Fable is experiencing it this way, but I'm impressed by the fact that it's even possible.
posted by Pants McCracky at 2:35 PM on May 23, 2011


(maybe guilt isn't the right word. Braid drew out a complex set of emotions and thoughts in me when I finished it that I would have difficulty putting into words, and definitely would be very difficult to bring about through any other artform).
posted by empath at 2:37 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I just don't believe they can ever compare with books or films for insight.

But why? What's the fundamental limiting factor? What is the specific thing not just exclusive to any other given specific medium but exclusive of video games as a medium?

No video game is King Lear. No movie is Silent Hill 2. No stage play is 2001: A Space Odyssey. These are different works in different genres with their own strengths and weaknesses, and absolutely there are kinds of things that work better (or are more easy to make work well) from one medium to the next, but it's a far step from that to "x won't/can't achieve y".
posted by cortex at 2:37 PM on May 23, 2011


But how do movies and video games compare to go-karting and playing stickball?
posted by davejay at 2:38 PM on May 23, 2011


You can even skip all of the missions and still experience much of what the game has to offer. So it's interesting -- at least for overthinking types -- to examine why you make certain choices in the game, versus the choices you make in real life.

Very true. At one point I wanted to just screw around in San Andreas and not do anything criminal, but of course in order to unlock 3/4 of the areas available you have to complete missions, which necessarily involve doing criminal things. Which I promptly did, because I had a goal and reward in mind-- getting access to Vegas and San Francisco (which are way more fun than LA). But look how quickly I cheated on my stated principles for a reward: What the fuck is wrong with me? And where do I do this in real life, as well? Because it's the same me.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:39 PM on May 23, 2011


One of the issues with establishing a "games canon" is that the medium obviates itself every few years. In order to play classic games, you have to find an old console, hack your computer to run old versions, or wait for someone else to provide an updated compatibility version. It therefore becomes difficult (not impossible, obviously, but difficult) to relive classics or provide them broadly for general cultural consumption.

Not at all, the discussion has for a large part of the thread been a list of people saying they've got as much, if not more, insight from games over books or films, and I think if that's the case you're reading the wrong books or watching the wrong films (as Brooker obviously is).

I can't speak for anyone else, but I'm pretty well-versed in the literary canon and I'm pretty sure I'm not reading the wrong books. Conversely, visual art and photography do almost nothing for me, but it would be asinine of me to theorize that therefore those mediums can't possibly convey the depth and insight that can be gained from literature, simply because they don't convey depth and insight to me. Obviously those mediums speak to a lot of people, as a lot of people here are saying games speak to them. It's possible that games just don't do it for you in this way, which is fine, but it hardly means that it's impossible for games to do it for anyone ever.
posted by Errant at 2:40 PM on May 23, 2011


Which is why I want to learn to play computer games - it seems pretty bloody likely that a Wuthering Heights or Lear will appear in that format before I die, and if I can't 'read' it, I'm fucked.

Here's a question: what's the difference between playing a game and watching someone play a video game? I'm not sure there is much difference (at least not yet). If you identify with the character does it matter if you are controlling her vs. kibbitzing (or helping).

Not as much any more. A lot of people aren't even getting cable.

Most of those people (including myself) download shows or watch them on Netflix/Hulu. TV is still king. In terms of amount consumed/hours spent, I doubt it's even close.

'art that gives you choices?'

You could say the same thing about baseball. Or ballet. Oh, you mean consuming art ...

I enjoy video games of all (or most, I suck at RTS and Civ-style games) sorts very much and spend much more time playing them than watching ballet. I also think, like jack_mo, that, like any medium, there is potential for artistic greatness. But there's also a difference in the medium, and I'm really at pains to describe what it is...

Like ciderwoman, video games have not provided me with the sort of personal or cultural insights that books, movies, performances, and visual art have. I have played many of the games mentioned, and yes, some of them have stuck with me for a long time. But I don't think about them and consider them the way I consider ideas from books and other conventional art forms. I am not sure why.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:42 PM on May 23, 2011


Here's a question: what's the difference between playing a game and watching someone play a video game? I'm not sure there is much difference (at least not yet). If you identify with the character does it matter if you are controlling her vs. kibbitzing (or helping).

In the case of linear, heavily narrative games, I don't disagree with you. In the case where games have meaningful choices that effect the outcome of the story, then obviously there's a huge difference.
posted by empath at 2:44 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cortex, I agree with everything you said. All I'm saying is that by the criteria Brooker seems to be using for saying what's great about Portal and LA Noire, he's wrong that games are clearly more imaginative and sophisticated than movies. It's not a slight toward games nor do I (unlike Brooker) really think it's very worthwhile trying to compare games and moves.

I think it makes much more sense to compare video games with things like architecture and sculpture.
posted by straight at 2:45 PM on May 23, 2011


It might be obvious to a gamer that I should, say, try moving a box to a different position so that I can jump up to a ledge and swing across to a platform, but that whole process is alien to me, and I have no way of knowing that the box is an interactive game element rather than a piece of scenery.

Yeah, this causes problems for a lot of us gamers too because the language tends to change based on the decisions of the designers, the budget of the game and the technology available at the time. It can be frustrating when to advance the story you need to use the explosives in your inventory on the metal door, but there are invulnerable wooden doors throughout the game. Some of this is anything but clear, unfortunately.
posted by ODiV at 2:45 PM on May 23, 2011


I wonder... can we just define games as 'art that gives you choices?'

Hrm. Is it a game if there are no success/failure states?

How can you evoke the feelings of guilt that something like Braid evokes in the player in a movie?

Make an incredibly pretentious indie movie, thereby making the viewer feel bad for buying the ticket? ZING!
posted by Amanojaku at 2:46 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


And in games where there IS no story (my favorite kind of game), it makes all the difference in the world. I think the 'games as art' focus of recent years has really set back a particular kind of game -- 'twitch' games, that are pure mechanics and visual design, which at their best are as pure expressions of art as any Picasso painting. Playing something like "Rez" or "Tempest 2000" when you're just at the edge of your ability to keep up, when everything clicks together is as pure bliss as any art form could possibly produce.
posted by empath at 2:47 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hrm. Is it a game if there are no success/failure states?

Sure. Lots of games don't really end and will let you play more or less indefinitely. Minecraft on peaceful mode, for example, is clearly a game, but you can't die and can't win.
posted by empath at 2:49 PM on May 23, 2011


LOots of things can provide a diversion, like Minecraft, sports, drink, but not everything can provide me with insight

"In vino veritas" KILLED IT
posted by Pants McCracky at 2:51 PM on May 23, 2011


I wonder... can we just define games as 'art that gives you choices?'

All art gives you choices. I choose to look at a sculpture from a particular angle, I choose to imagine that a novel's protagonist has green eyes, I choose to suppose that a film's hero was mistreated by his peculiar uncle, &c..

In a game, a choice is much more powerful - it can decide whether or not there is a sculpture in a room, or whether the hero is at home on the day his peculiar uncle comes to visit.

Here's a question: what's the difference between playing a game and watching someone play a video game? I'm not sure there is much difference (at least not yet). If you identify with the character does it matter if you are controlling her vs. kibbitzing (or helping).

Seriously? As I've made clear in this thread I know fuck all about playing computer games, but if there's one thing I know playing, being the protagonist is what it's all about. That's true of Tetris (a game I can actually play a bit): the thrill of spinning a piece so that it fits is thrilling, watching someone else do it is sort of fun. Speaking as a reformed coke head, it's the difference between watching someone else roll up a note and doing a line
posted by jack_mo at 2:54 PM on May 23, 2011


I think the 'games as art' focus of recent years has really set back a particular kind of game -- 'twitch' games

This is why I constantly compare Tetris to Mondrian paintings.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:54 PM on May 23, 2011


No video game is King Lear. No movie is Silent Hill 2. No stage play is 2001: A Space Odyssey

I wouldn't compare King Lear to 2001 and try to say which is better, but I would happily say they were both more insightful than Silent Hill 2, on so many levels, and I freakin' loved Silent Hill 2.

As I said before, I love video games, play them all the time, in fact I'm off to play Darkest Hour (the wonderful Red Orchestra spin off) right now. It can be a stunningly moving experience, but it still hasn't some close to making me think about the horrors and ambiguities of war that Ivans Childhood has.
posted by ciderwoman at 2:58 PM on May 23, 2011


I think it makes much more sense to compare video games with things like architecture and sculpture.

I completely agree. Way, way too much of the discourse around the merits of games (comparative to other art forms) is concentrated on narrative. And as far as I'm concerned, that's missing the point entirely. If you want narrative, you go to the media that excel in that department -- the written word, sequential art, and film. Let's face it: even the games with the best stories -- Metal Gear Solid, Bioshock, Heavy Rain, Red Dead Redemption, etc -- don't fare well compared to books or movies. And it's not because gaming is an immature art form -- it's because narrative isn't the thing that makes a game a game -- the mechanics are.

So yes, I think story in games is largely unnecessary outside of providing some context, in much the way that the story of David is unnecessary to appreciate Michaelangelo's sculpture.

It's why things like Super Mario Galaxy or Plants vs Zombies or Street Fighter or Call of Duty (multiplayer) are still fantastic games, in spite of lacking hours and hours of cut-scenes, voice over, or journal entries to find.
posted by Amanojaku at 2:58 PM on May 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


What is the insight quotient of Mahler's 4th Symphony?
posted by shakespeherian at 3:00 PM on May 23, 2011


Here's a question: what's the difference between playing a game and watching someone play a video game? I'm not sure there is much difference (at least not yet). If you identify with the character does it matter if you are controlling her vs. kibbitzing (or helping).

This is actually why I got L.A. Noire to play at home with the wife -- because a great deal of it involves collecting information that you use when interrogating witnesses, it's the rare game that isn't cooperative but (I think) can be enjoyed nearly equally by the person holding the controller and the person watching. One person uses the controller, the other takes notes, and we discuss whether or not the suspect's lying or what choices to make.

Portal is similar, with the trying to figure out what the solution is to each room. Not really co-op play, but more like collaborative play.
posted by Pants McCracky at 3:02 PM on May 23, 2011


What is the insight quotient of Mahler's 4th Symphony?

I don't know, that's probably why I didn't mention music and just talked about books and films.
posted by ciderwoman at 3:03 PM on May 23, 2011


Sure. Lots of games don't really end and will let you play more or less indefinitely. Minecraft on peaceful mode, for example, is clearly a game, but you can't die and can't win.

Yeah, clearly I didn't think that over for too long.

It's why things like Super Mario Galaxy or Plants vs Zombies or Street Fighter or Call of Duty (multiplayer) are still fantastic games, in spite of lacking hours and hours of cut-scenes, voice over, or journal entries to find.

I actually should have said "still fantastic art" not just "games." That's the point I was trying to make there.
posted by Amanojaku at 3:03 PM on May 23, 2011


empath: If you want to talk to someone under the age of 30 about shared cultural experiences, you're going to talk about video games, for the most part.

I guess taking the long view, this isn't going to be a historically new phenomenon. During the American Civil War, soldiers and guards bonded at Fort Pulaski with baseball. Memphis Minnie wrote songs about boxing. Medieval priests used chess metaphors in sermons. Jane Austen documents card games as a central part of her society. There's a whole mythology based on the symbolism of early woodcut playing cards.

We're already living in a culture where Shigeru Miyamoto's character designs rival those of Walt Disney and Warner Brothers in terms of recognition. Critics have dismissed (often rightfully) both comics and popular music as intellectually trivial. But people outside of fandom seem to care when Superman renounces American citizenship and sing along to 100 years of popular music.

I'm not convinced that 'art that gives you choices' really works because neither of the Portal games really offers you much in the way of a choice and most CRPGs only offer the illusion of choice between two trivially different outcomes.

But I'll agree that the whole "games as art" thing has gone off the rails. First because it seems to make narrative a primary focus. Secondly because "great art" was almost always supported by dozens, if not hundreds of tiny little works. Beethoven wrote at least a dozen little things for every completed symphony, and very little of it can be called "narrative."
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:05 PM on May 23, 2011


I think it makes much more sense to compare video games with things like architecture and sculpture.

Architecture, painting, dancing, music, narrative, novels, poetry, comic books, cinema. You name it, it's all part of what games are capable of. You're creating a world. It's bigger than any other art form.
posted by empath at 3:10 PM on May 23, 2011


the mechanics are.

Which takes us back to what I was saying upthread - non-gamers are fucked, in the same way that an illiterate is fucked when you hand her a copy of King Lear.

I suppose the 'problem' with games is that there's no way for someone who can enjoy King Lear to 'read' a computer game beyond the level of Tetris. If the mechanics of a game are more important than the narrative, I'd love to play one that used the latter to develop my skills at the former.

You name it, it's all part of what games are capable of. You're creating a world. It's bigger than any other art form.

Simultaneity isn't superiority.
posted by jack_mo at 3:16 PM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


For me, it's helpful to think of games in terms of "play" rather than specific aspects like problem-solving or hand-eye coordination or narrative, because it's fundamental not just to games, but to all the arts. If you think of painting, music, poetry, literature, films, etc. as all, to some extent, springing from the common fountain of play, it's not such a stretch to accept videogames into that family.
posted by Pants McCracky at 3:17 PM on May 23, 2011


It's bigger than any other art form

Wow. Really? I guess I'm going to bow out now because, much as I love 'em, I will never agree with that statement. In Cold Blood will always be better than GTA for me.
posted by ciderwoman at 3:21 PM on May 23, 2011


I didn't say better.
posted by empath at 3:25 PM on May 23, 2011


jack_mo: Well, personally as a person who comes at games from the ludic perspective, Tetris is one of the best examples of the form. Sure, Portal 1 and 2 have a nicely developed caveman science fiction plot delivered in the form of monologues and dialogues that you only marginally participate in, but the beauty of both games is how they gently walk you through the mechanics of the portal system through a series of progressive logic puzzles. That said, Portal has a less-than-graceful turning point where every idea from the previous levels is thrown at you at once with a fair amount of twitch timing.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:29 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


For me, it's helpful to think of games in terms of "play" rather than specific aspects like problem-solving or hand-eye coordination or narrative, because it's fundamental not just to games, but to all the arts.
Well, what we'd do is just sit there and wait for someone to have an impulse to do something. Now in a way that's something like a theatrical improvisation. I mean, you know, if you were a director working on a play by Chekhov, you might have the actors playing the mother, the son or the uncle all sit around in a room and do a made-up scene that isn't in the play. For instance you might say to them: all right, let's say that it's a rainy Sunday afternoon on Sorin's estate and you're all trapped in the drawing room together; and then everyone would improvise, saying and doing what their character might say and do in that circumstance. Except that in this type of improvisation, the kind we did in Poland, the theme is oneself. So, you follow the same law of improvisation, which is that you do whatever your impulse as the character tells you to do, but in this case, you're the character. So there's no imaginary situation to hide behind. And there's no other person to hide behind. What you're doing in fact is you're asking those same questions that Stanislavsky said the actor should constantly ask himself as a character: "Who am I? Why am I here? Where do I come from? And where am I going?" But instead of applying them to a rôle, you apply them to yourself. Or to look at it a little differently: in a way it's like going right back to childhood where a group of children simply come into a room, are brought into a room, without toys, and begin to play. Grown-ups were learning how to play again!
posted by empath at 3:32 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


(and of course Valve has something to say about art in games in the first few minutes of Portal 2.)
posted by empath at 3:35 PM on May 23, 2011


Seriously? As I've made clear in this thread I know fuck all about playing computer games, but if there's one thing I know playing, being the protagonist is what it's all about. That's true of Tetris (a game I can actually play a bit): the thrill of spinning a piece so that it fits is thrilling, watching someone else do it is sort of fun. Speaking as a reformed coke head, it's the difference between watching someone else roll up a note and doing a line

Hm. I am a long-time gamer and I don't really care too much about being the protagonist.

I dunno. I watched a friend play most of RE2 (I played some of it as well, we were taking turns, but it was his game), and it was probably just as fun as playing it myself (maybe that's because it wasn't a great game (though it had some nice moments).

In the case of linear, heavily narrative games, I don't disagree with you. In the case where games have meaningful choices that effect the outcome of the story, then obviously there's a huge difference.

But if we were essentially making the choices "together," e.g. "should i go in there and check that room or go out back?" ... "should i be a fighter or a mage?" ... "should we kill this dwarf or let him join the party?" etc.

I dunno. I really enjoy console and RPG games but I have just about as much fun watching someone else play, especially if I'm allowed to contribute, "Oh don't do that you stupid fuck" and then gloat when I can get past the "hard part" for them.

I suppose we all take our "art" in different ways. ^_^
posted by mrgrimm at 3:46 PM on May 23, 2011


I'm sure there are great games out there, but generally, for the big platforms (as opposed to iphone games) there are no small niche (indie??) games.

PC. XBox Live Arcade. XBox Live Indie (not available in Australia). All have heaps of indie games.

I think articles like this do a disservice to games. Games are not movies. They should be about MECHANICS, not story. The perfect movie for games to imitate is The Warriors. Simple characters, great setting, and a compelling reason to get from A to B.

LA Noire is okay, but there's no real freedom and I feel like I'm guessing what the game wants me to do. The last JRPG I played to completion was FF7. The last WRPG was Baldur's Gate 2.
The best game of last year was Bayonetta, because the mechanics were so finally tuned. The story was mostly trash but the feeling of control over Bayonetta and the way she fought was stunning. In a great game even just running is compelling.

Red Dead Redemption wasn't just great because of the story. It was great because it captured the moment in Ocarina of Time when you first enter Hyrule Field. Every time I see a Western noe my hands itch to be back in control of John Marston.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 3:48 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


You're creating a world. It's bigger than any other art form.

Literature (or any art form) is just as expansive. James Hampton didn't create a world?

Games are perhaps virtually bigger worlds, but every art form contains worlds.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:49 PM on May 23, 2011


OR: if you took away the story and memes and went back to Narbacular Drop than Portal would still be fun.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 3:51 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Games are perhaps virtually bigger worlds, but every art form contains worlds.

I think what makes -- or rather, can make -- game worlds "bigger" than, say, literary worlds, is the freedom to move freely about them. Literary worlds can be vast, but you're basically limited to those parts of them that the author allows you to visit. Middle Earth is enormous, but it's not like you could just ditch Frodo and Sam and check out what was happening in Minas Morgul. Not that most games allow that kind of freedom, either, but the capability is there, is the thing.
posted by Pants McCracky at 3:57 PM on May 23, 2011


Well, there's also the fact that you can drop an entire novel into a game at any point (or as portal points out, throw a painting on the wall). I'm playing the Witcher 2 right now, and only a few hours in, the amount of text in the journal entries is enormous, it's practically a novel on its own. If novels or paintings were genuinely more meaningful than the game that contains them, I'd spend all my time reading them instead of playing the game, but I barely spend any time at all reading that stuff-- only to clarify what's happening in the game if I don't remember what I'm supposed to be doing.
posted by empath at 4:12 PM on May 23, 2011


To be fair: the "Lestrygonians" chapter of Ulysses includes a fully-playable version of Burgertime.
posted by flechsig at 4:25 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


If novels or paintings were genuinely more meaningful than the game that contains them, I'd spend all my time reading them instead of playing the game, but I barely spend any time at all reading that stuff-- only to clarify what's happening in the game if I don't remember what I'm supposed to be doing.

Are you seriously saying that because the shitty plot-dump novels in Witcher 2 aren't compelling then all novels aren't compelling, or am I misreading that?
posted by codacorolla at 4:31 PM on May 23, 2011


No, I'm saying that if you have something to say artistically, which can only be conveyed through text, for whatever reason, you can include that within a game. If you tell me that there are certain ideas which can only be gotten across by a novel, you can include an entire novel in a game. There's nothing stopping you from doing it. And that goes for every other form of art. If you are telling me that there are things which can only be conveyed by film, you can include it in the game in as a cut scene. If you can only dance it, you can have a character in the game dance.

But the reverse is not true. There are a whole set of feelings around personal agency (pride, guilt, frustration, etc) which can only be brought about by giving the player control over the outcome of the game, which are simply not possible in any other art form that I'm aware of. And there's a whole set of complex ideas having to do with counterfactuals and interacting with complex systems that can't be conveyed well in any other modem.
posted by empath at 4:41 PM on May 23, 2011


(modem=medium)
posted by empath at 4:42 PM on May 23, 2011


To be fair: the "Lestrygonians" chapter of Ulysses includes a fully-playable version of Burgertime.

I knew I should have actually read that fucker in college.
posted by Pants McCracky at 4:43 PM on May 23, 2011


Are you seriously saying that because the shitty plot-dump novels in Witcher 2 aren't compelling then all novels aren't compelling, or am I misreading that?

They're not shitty, they're actually fairly well written recapitulations of the events of the game that are updated as you progress, and I'll give you just one example of how text in a game can evoke feelings that text on its own can't:

Early in the game, I ran into a bunch of mercenaries before a battle. They told me that the new guy had made a bet with a knight that he'd survive the battle even without wearing armor. They thought he'd survive because they had found a magical trinket that would protect him in battle. I asked to see it, and based on what they told me, I decided to tell them that I didn't think it would protect him, and that he really should just pass on the bet if he valued his life.

Hours later, I bumped into him outside of the castle as I was escaping from jail (long story), while he was on guard patrol. He explains that the only reason he had survived the battle was because I had told him that the trinket wasn't valuable, and that in return, he'd help me escape, but warned me that if I drew the attention of the guards, he would have to fight me as well.

I agree to the plan, and because I was in a hurry to finish the level, I wasn't as stealthy as I could have been, drew the attention of the cards, and killed them to the last man.

I didn't realize what I had done until I saw that a quest had been completed, and read the associated journal.

It retold the entire story of meeting these young men, how I had helped them, how he tried to repay me, and then said that because the Witcher was careless, he struck down the young man whose life he had saved just days before.

I'm not saying that I was devastated by grief, but the twinge of guilt and sadness I felt reading the journal was different than any story in a novel, because it could have been different and because I caused the character to die because of my own poor decisions. It's just a dramatically different emotional palate than is possible with the novel and film, and we're only scratching the surface right now of what can be done with it.
posted by empath at 4:55 PM on May 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


I get most of my game criticism from Action Button and Select Button and what I like about them is they criticize games AS GAMES. Not movies or books, but games. I find myself watching fewer and fewer movies now because, in terms of action, games just beat them hands down.

The plotting is still dumb, though, but that's as it should be. Plot shouldn't even be necessary. I was playing Dead Rising, and the fun of just killing zombies with improvised weaponry was interrupted by a really tasteless, creepy boss scene. I sorta want to remove a lot of that creepiness and stress and just focus on the action.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:00 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm having a lot of fun with L.A. Noire at the moment. Easily better than anything else I've played for the past couple of years. It can be tricky and a little frustrating, questioning your suspects, as the procedure can sometimes seem a little arbitrary, and a couple more cues about which order to tackle locations in could be helpful, but otherwise it's a pretty solid adventure game with the added benefit of basically being Mafia 2. There's not a whole lot to do in free roam apart from find landmarks (I know nothing about LA so don't know what's considered a "landmark" or not, which basically means I'm driving around aimlessly), discover secret cars, and solve street crimes, so it's go nowhere near the scope of GTA IV or whatever, but it's ambitious and fun and engaging and just a top game, and well done to Team Bondi, who actually made it, rather than Rockstar, who just published it.
posted by tumid dahlia at 5:10 PM on May 23, 2011


I feel like the "video games are kicking your dinosaur ASS, books/movies/Parcheesi" article is gaming's own "Biff! Bam! Pow! Comics Aren't for Kids Anymore!" I mean, seriously. Isn't there a new version of this article once a month? I'm not sure why gamers can't just be happy with their thing without trying to convince the larger world that their thing is the best thing. But I guess this is kind of like asking why comics people can't be more emotionally mature, and I should just stop talking now.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:11 PM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure why gamers can't just be happy with their thing without trying to convince the larger world that their thing is the best thing.

But is anyone actually making that argument? I mean, certainly there is an argument being made that there are games out there now that surpass films like Fast Five or Just Go With It as artistic works. But I don't know of anyone saying that video games are the superior art form, and all others are #2 or lower. Just that (a) video games as a medium can produce real art, and (b) the best of that art is better than much of the dreck Hollywood is shoveling into theaters at the moment. I don't think that's a terribly outrageous assertion.
posted by Pants McCracky at 5:37 PM on May 23, 2011


In fact, after having some time to think about it, really there's little you can get in terms of gameplay from "A-list" titles with high-production art and voice acting that you can't get from independent, casual, and older titles. So my recommendations for non-3D-shooter games:

Tetris and clones: A classic design.

Torchlight: A nice RPG that hits all the basics: health, mana, only four stats to worry about, and forgiving skill selection on easy and normal.

Kill Monty: Mac-only. A gratuitously gory and cartoonish Robotron with a two word plot laid out in the title.

Minecraft: Brilliant sandbox construction game. Can be played on pacifist mode if you don't want to deal with monster spawns.

The Sims: A nice priority/time management game. Many people like Sims2 over Sims3. Can be played in pause mode.

Plants vs. Zombies: A tower-defense game with progressive abilities and difficulty.

EV Nova: 2D space combat/mercantile game with storyline missions you can (mostly) ignore. Easier than EVE Online, and probably more fun unless you invest in an awesome corp in EVE. (Although if game lore is your thing, EVE Online has some of the best short-story writers in the business.)

Darwinia: An amazingly beautiful real-time strategy game.

Geneforge 4 and 5: If you can get past the dated graphics, Spiderweb delivers a turn-based RPG system with rich plots and moral ambiguity. The mandatory pause with each turn may or may not annoy the heck out of you.

Most of the above are shareware with substantial demos. Braid comes highly recommended but I've not played it yet. But if the whole idea of moving around in a first-person or over-the-shoulder perspective doesn't work for you, there's plenty of alternatives.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:07 PM on May 23, 2011


My brain hurts too much from the people who claim they can't even manage to hold a controller in their hands foaming that video games could never tell the stories other media can.

There is an incredible lack of writing, scripting and voice acting talent among games because the costs of development and marketing alone can commonly stop a studio from being able to afford this talent, and they'd rather get something playable and graphically flawless shipped. Don't mention the fact that a lot of them are forced to port to other platforms, which just end up negating a lot of the efforts put into playability and graphics anyway. There's a reason so many rely on already-successful franchises, and it isn't because the studios want to create those games, they're pretty much forced to if they want to make any sort of money to even begin to think about making their dream game.

Rockstar has been able to set the bar for theatric games because they put more money into what people enjoy about movies over their graphics. Even with LA Noire, I am disappointed in the way it looks, but with all Rockstar games, I have a hard time putting it down and going to bed at the end of the day. Red Dead Redemption is absolutely stunning, though, and I cannot even believe someone above tried to say the story was lame. Did you even play it?

It takes a lot to make a game. And a lot of people are often wearing a lot of hats in order to keep in-house costs down. You're putting a lot on the line every time you start development. If that game flops -- that game that took you and your comrades 60 hours a week for two+ years to make -- your confidence deflates and your dev team moves on to other endeavors, often creatively drained and at the loss of family and friends.

Interaction design is still a huge mystery to a lot of people. To make truly enticing games takes a lot of psychology, a lot of programming, a lot of QA, a lot of user testing, a lot of teamwork, a lot of patience, a lot of edits and re-writes, good designers, good artists, and good managers -- both in dev and design leads and project management.

And that's hoping your story is interesting and original. And that's hoping you can even find the basic talent you need. And that's hoping your team even works with compatible tools (you want to get game designers to talk to you about 3D software - even between Max and Maya alone, both now owned by the same company?) And that's hoping that you have the budget for all of those things. And that's hoping that other companies see value in this game enough to back it and help ship it.

The argument that games don't live up to movies is stupid and almost incomparable. There's so much more effort that goes into game development that some of you don't even seem to comprehend. Once we've spent as many years making games as we have acting and producing films, you'll be kicking yourself. This is just the beginning.
posted by june made him a gemini at 6:17 PM on May 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


I didn't even manage to bring up the cost of hardware, hardware failure and subsequent downtime.
posted by june made him a gemini at 6:19 PM on May 23, 2011


There is an incredible lack of writing, scripting and voice acting talent among games because the costs of development and marketing alone can commonly stop a studio from being able to afford this talent, and they'd rather get something playable and graphically flawless shipped.

I reckon if your cutscenes and story are crap just cut them out. Most people will skip them anyway.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 6:20 PM on May 23, 2011


the sort of producer who habitually cuts corners to ship good-enough product will also pad said product with fetch-quests, backtracking, and cutscenes
posted by LogicalDash at 6:22 PM on May 23, 2011


First off, if this is someone's baby, why would they cut a scene they felt it necessary? How many movie scenes have you watched and been like "Oh god, what is this, this is so embarrassing. I can't believe I took my mother to this. Holy shit it's getting worse!"

Even blockbusters have these scenes. For whatever reason, they weren't scrapped. For whatever reason, there were too many cooks in the kitchen. The benefit of video games is the ability to skip past it and get to the good stuff. I personally love watching cut scenes even if they're cheesy. Insofar it's been the only way a studio can really show what they're capable of as far as renderings go. I'll gladly put it on mute and watch it play out just to be able to smile at the technology and creativity at play.
posted by june made him a gemini at 6:23 PM on May 23, 2011


...drive at the speed of traffic if you like (or make your partner drive if you'd rather not bother!)...

Oh, yeah, being able to get your partner to drive is like a massively awesome thing. The city is gigantic and the traffic and pedestrians annoying, so being able to just skip to a location (while still retaining the option to drive there yourself, or just drive anywhere at all) is a very cool feature.
posted by tumid dahlia at 6:23 PM on May 23, 2011


I'm not saying games don't have potential, I just think it's ludicrous to try to gauge mediums against each other in a "better-than" mindset. Games will always have both advantages and limitations that other, more establish mediums, won't. There's enough room at the table without having to kick anything to the curb.
posted by codacorolla at 6:25 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


What limitations could games possibly have that movies don't? Games are more interactive, are going to end up looking better than real life, are you unaware of how many special effects go into movies beyond Michael Bay explosions? Those are people who would probably rather be working in games but the money in film is more secure. Any of the big special effects studios could put out outrageous games, but they don't, because there's a lot more to it.
posted by june made him a gemini at 6:29 PM on May 23, 2011


*Not better than real life, but on par with it. >.>
posted by june made him a gemini at 6:30 PM on May 23, 2011


What limitations could games possibly have that movies don't? Games are more interactive, are going to end up looking better than real life, are you unaware of how many special effects go into movies beyond Michael Bay explosions? Those are people who would probably rather be working in games but the money in film is more secure. Any of the big special effects studios could put out outrageous games, but they don't, because there's a lot more to it.

Games imply a winning condition and rules. This severely limits the ability to tell certain types of stories, at least in my opinion. If you don't have winning conditions and rules then you stop having a game and start having a virtual world, or simulation, which retains elements of a game, but isn't quite the same thing.
posted by codacorolla at 6:40 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


What limitations could games possibly have that movies don't?

It's expectations. I play games for a specific reason. I DON'T WANT a compelling story from my gaming. I don't want great dialogue or well-designed characters or emotional depth. I want to relax and become someone or something else for a few hours.

There's also length. A game can't be two hours. A movie can.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 6:42 PM on May 23, 2011


If you don't have winning conditions and rules then you stop having a game and start having a virtual world, or simulation, which retains elements of a game, but isn't quite the same thing.

Sim city?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 6:42 PM on May 23, 2011


XBox Live Indie (not available in Australia)

For, literally, absolutely no valid or sensible reason whatsoever.
posted by tumid dahlia at 6:43 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's also length. A game can't be two hours. A movie can.

Of course a game can be two hours. I'm enjoying the hell out of Tiny Wings on my iPhone, and that lasts for about two minutes.
posted by Rory Marinich at 6:44 PM on May 23, 2011


I don't know where English literature was at that point

Beowulf, I suppose. A cliche-ridden action adventure story with piss-poor plotting and characterization.


But a perfect RPG plot with a great ending.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 6:45 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you don't have winning conditions and rules then you stop having a game and start having a virtual world, or simulation, which retains elements of a game, but isn't quite the same thing.

There are many games which don't have win conditions, and all novels have some, even if they're only in the author's mind -- for example, all of the characters in a realistic novel have to obey the generally known laws of physics.

And there are plenty of games which aren't at all competitive, and which are only simulations or 'play spaces'. Even not counting computer games -- there is pure 'make believe', the way that children play.

If you think about it, novels and movies are just a sophisticated development of a child's game of make believe, and as such, can be considered a subset of single player games which lack interactivity.

The characters are tokens that the author moves around to achieve some win condition, which she established at the outset. The reader is merely a spectator to her game of make believe, rather than an active participant, the way a game player is.
posted by empath at 6:54 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


('all novels have some rules', i meant to say in the first sentence)
posted by empath at 6:55 PM on May 23, 2011


There's also length. A game can't be two hours. A movie can.

There's a zillion flash games that just take a few minutes to get through.

Passage is a perfect little poem of a game that takes about 5 minutes to play...
posted by empath at 6:58 PM on May 23, 2011


This isn't necessarily my favorite game, though it is one of them, but if I were to make an entry into the "Games You Must Play Before You Die" list, mine would have to be Final Fantasy Tactics. It's entirely menu-based, and even the navigation of those is (in an initially frustrating way) counter-intuitive to veteran gamers. It is immensely complex, but that complexity reveals itself over time, and in a way fully in keeping with the tone of the story.

And lord, what a story. I myself prefer the original, highly flawed translation from the Japanese, but more accurate translations exist in later pressings. Essentially, you are a young noble named Ramza (by default; you can change this) leading battles for your brothers, who are manipulating the politics and wars in your world in ways which you don't understand at first, and don't fully understand by the end, but your motivations change. The entire gameplay mechanic consists of chessboard-style battle strategy, in many different locations, but becomes naturally richer and more nuanced over time that (if you're like me, at least) the "chess pieces" become like real people to you, with real strengths and weaknesses which you've led them to use for their greatest potential.

By the end, you're left with one of the most beautiful and unexpected endings a video game has yet to offer, and it is fully earned, in it's own, weird way. But the game is also totally accessible to non-gamers should one actually take the time to learn it. You can take all of eternity to figure out what you're doing, and just need to remember to save after each battle. All you need is the patience for games themselves (and maybe a gamer friend to help you get through the first part and understand everything. But it shouldn't take too long.)

Someone at IGN or somewhere wrote that FFT is like "if Shakespeare made a game." He is not wrong.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:04 PM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'd just like to chime in with another positive remark on Witcher 2, and mention that it is a fantastic thing to play immediately after watching the latest episode of Game of Thrones, as it's like adding a pinch of magic and hopping right into the same kind of universe.
posted by nightchrome at 7:05 PM on May 23, 2011


The characters are tokens that the author moves around to achieve some win condition, which she established at the outset. The reader is merely a spectator to her game of make believe, rather than an active participant, the way a game player is.

Haha, ok. Time to click "remove from activity". See you gamers later.
posted by codacorolla at 7:10 PM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'll also just explain why exactly it is that I prefer the shitty original FFT translation to the "better one. First, it's the one I first encountered. That's not rational, but there's bias there.

Secondly, and more importantly, the original translation isn't incomprehensible or anything. In fact, it's more just vague and often chooses the "second cousin" of the word it's looking for, as Twain would say. In a game where you are playing a half-insider-half-outsider to nefarious political intrigue, it's an amazing, though accidental, touch to have the story told in such a way where you almost, kind of, get it, but you don't really. You can't quite grasp what's going on in the details, but get it in the broad strokes, and really, really want to understand, but everybody who knows anything is talking in a way that's just above your head.

It's really a unique experience.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:16 PM on May 23, 2011



The characters are tokens that the author moves around to achieve some win condition, which she established at the outset. The reader is merely a spectator to her game of make believe, rather than an active participant, the way a game player is.


Stephen King, despite being a genre writer who you assume would focus on plot, just writes his characters and sees what they do.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:18 PM on May 23, 2011


We remain confused about what we mean when we talk about "games". Actual "game theorists" would refer to many of these as "toys" due to the lack of a win condition. Big commercial games tend to follow a sort of "maze" model in that there's one path you have to follow to win, and finding that path is the objective, but you have various options for how to go about it and what of the neat extra stuff on the side you want to explore. Minecraft isn't like that at all; you can build that type of game in Minecraft, and it's encouraged, but talking about Minecraft as a "game creation toolset" doesn't seem to work. I guess we call it a video game because it uses the same technological format as the popular entertainments sold as "video games".

Perhaps a better question would be: What's the artistic potential of computer programs used for personal entertainment? If Minecraft counts, then so does Mario Paint, and for that matter, Layer Tennis.
posted by LogicalDash at 7:24 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Navelgazer: I like what you wrote about the original translation FFT. I feel the same way about the original English dub of Akira.
posted by BeerFilter at 7:30 PM on May 23, 2011


Stephen King, despite being a genre writer who you assume would focus on plot, just writes his characters and sees what they do.

I do the same thing when I write stories. It's still playing a game of make believe.
posted by empath at 7:36 PM on May 23, 2011


I'm not convinced that 'art that gives you choices' really works because neither of the Portal games really offers you much in the way of a choice and most CRPGs only offer the illusion of choice between two trivially different outcomes.

This comment raised an interesting point, for me. When I think about "games as art" and "making choices", I think about Planescape: Torment (as do a lot of people, or so I hear). It's not graphically beautiful, but the text (and there's a ton of text) is brilliant; it's a really gripping interactive novel, really.

Anyways, there comes a point, late in the game, when you are finally asked to give the answer to a question which has been brought up repeatedly throughout the game: "What can change the nature of a man?" And you have something like ten or fifteen different options to choose from - things like death, immortality, time, love, hate, nothing, or just refusing to answer the question. It's huge question, and the game, to that point, has asked you that question over and over while showing you all kinds of extreme ways people can change, or can fail to change, including (especially!) you, the protagonist. And now, finally, after all those hours, the game demands that you pick the right answer. What the question boils down to, it really ends up being, "What was the moral of this story, for you?" or "What have you learned from all that you have seen?" It's a helluva question to ask, and the first time I played that game, I spent a good long while pondering the answer. I was nervous as hell when I finally picked one and hit that number.

[SPOILER WARNING]



It doesn't matter. In the game, it doesn't matter at all. The guy you're talking to responds exactly the same way no matter what choice you pick. It is not even the "illusion of choice between trivially different outcomes", it's the illusion of choice between a bunch of absolutely 100% identical outcomes. And yet, I'm not sure that cheapens it at all. It's still, in my mind, one of the prime examples of something a game can do that no other, less interactive medium could ever manage - to stop you, right before the end, and ask you "What have you taken away from all this?" Even on replays, now that I know it makes no difference at all - the very fact that there isn't any difference, in the gameplay, makes me treat the question with more consideration than I would if there were and I knew that picking answer X would get me +2 Con and a +5 MacGuffin, and answer Y only gets me +1 Dex and 50 gold, and the other answers get me nothing. (Planescape has a fair number of choices like that, too.)

So...I guess what I'm getting at is that in a well-constructed game, the game can force you to make choices that have immense artistic impact, even if the difference between outcomes, in strictly gameplay terms, is trivial or nonexistent. Maybe it's actually easier to not try to marry the two. But I think games are a mixture of gameplay and art, and saying "art that gives you choices" is probably a good way describing the unique potential of the art that is part of that mixture, even if it doesn't really suffice as a description of the whole medium.
posted by mstokes650 at 8:09 PM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also, to the article: I feel like the problem with mainstream movies and mainstreams games, both suffering from sequel-itis and a lack of original ideas, is that they just cost too much to make these days. The innovations, the really weird ideas, the Primers and the Minecrafts, they can afford to take big risks because they're cheap; not so much is lost on a flop. I wish producer-types, of both major game companies and major film studios, would spend $10 million on ten different, more original ideas rather than spending $100 million on Mega-Blockbuster: the One Where We Stop Numbering The Sequels Because We're Slightly Embarrassed, but I can understand why they don't; the same reason most people with $100 million to spend on the stock market make mostly "safe" investments rather than a ludicrously diverse portfolio of penny stocks. Risk is scary, and people are bad at evaluating it, so you know, they just try to avoid it instead. I'm really not sure what the hack to work around that is.

On a semi-unrelated note: you spend $100 million on a movie, it may be utter schlock, but assuming you kept Uwe Boll away from it, it'll look polished and professional - free from any major, glaring technical defects. Heck, I think that's one thing that makes those $100 million mega-blockbusters such a safer investment - audiences, for whatever reason, are more forgiving of crap writing/acting/plot/intellectual level than they are of camera gaffes and continuity errors and poor picture quality and amateurish crap like that. I wish video-game "blockbusters", even the truly dreadful ones, could be relied on to be similarly free from technical defects; even if you accept the article's premise that the movies could learn from video games to aim to be more intelligent, video games could learn from movies that shipping some clearly buggy product is just plain unprofessional.
posted by mstokes650 at 8:30 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Minecraft on peaceful mode, for example, is clearly a game, but you can't die and can't win.

So not true. I've died many, many times on peaceful mode in Minecraft. You can't make a truce with lava or gravity.
posted by straight at 8:43 PM on May 23, 2011


audiences, for whatever reason, are more forgiving of crap writing/acting/plot/intellectual level than they are of camera gaffes and continuity errors and poor picture quality

This is what I'd really like to talk about. Why is it that both movie and game makers will expend insane amounts of money and effort to make a movie or game look fantastic and then crap all over these beautiful creations with horrible writing, dialogue, plots, etc? And why are there so few of us who care?
posted by straight at 8:58 PM on May 23, 2011


This is what I'd really like to talk about. Why is it that both movie and game makers will expend insane amounts of money and effort to make a movie or game look fantastic and then crap all over these beautiful creations with horrible writing, dialogue, plots, etc? And why are there so few of us who care?

Because some of us aren't looking for good writing, dialogue, or plots from certain entertainment. When I watch a horror movie, I just want to be scared. When I watch an action movie, I just want action. I watch Supernatural every week despite it's bad acting and hilarious dialogue because, hey, urban fantasy on my TV!

I PLAY games. I want to relax, and I want to put my brain aside and take control of something else for awhile. I want to be immersed. I want to experience 'flow' - I want my actions to synch up with the game's and put me in a perfect trance state.

I played Batman: Arkham Asylum recently. The voice acting was amazing. But the reason I played it was that moment when I took out 20 guards in one fluid, 30 second sequence. The rest of the game could have been an adaptation of Batman and Robin and I still would have enjoyed it.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:06 PM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Stephen King, despite being a genre writer who you assume would focus on plot, just writes his characters and sees what they do.

King, like Shigeru Miyamoto, is a big fan of emergent gameplay.

Why is it that both movie and game makers will expend insane amounts of money and effort to make a movie or game look fantastic and then crap all over these beautiful creations with horrible writing, dialogue, plots, etc?

Because the ROI says they can. Big business stays big by following the money, and Make It Look Good is a pretty reliable moneymaker. Let's Have Really Great Dialogue, not so much. Which is maybe foolish considering how relatively inexpensive some good writers would be, but part of the problem with any big production is that you have to get the writing in place before you can film/animate it. Story content drives sets, actors read the lines that have been written, game assets are built to spec. It may not cost too much to write in the first place, but it might cost an awful lot to rewrite. So if you went cheap on the writing, maybe it's not cost effective to fix that mistake later on.

And why are there so few of us who care?

Because the people who get a bad taste and say "feh" and walk away from games aren't paying attention, and the people who shrug and say "eh, it's cheesy but the game is fun" aren't complaining. So the crowd specifically attending to the state of things, feeling bothered by it, and making noises about it is a narrow, masochistic wedge of the pie.
posted by cortex at 9:44 PM on May 23, 2011


Since I will never own a console and thus not get to play LA Noire (I assume), I've been watching the walkthroughs (first one here).

Making comparisons, in the case of games like this one at least, to movies is not at all off base. Leaving aside the narration of the guy playing it, it is indeed cinematic, and quite enjoyable to watch someone else play.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:48 PM on May 23, 2011


And why are there so few of us who care?

Because the people who get a bad taste and say "feh" and walk away from games aren't paying attention, and the people who shrug and say "eh, it's cheesy but the game is fun" aren't complaining. So the crowd specifically attending to the state of things, feeling bothered by it, and making noises about it is a narrow, masochistic wedge of the pie.


I do pay attention. I pretty much avoid any game or genre that sells itself on its narrative only. Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Heavy Rain - haven't played any of them. LA Noire is the exception.

What's 'masochistic' about preferring gameplay over story?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:50 PM on May 23, 2011


I had you more pegged for the who-cares-it's-fun territory than the feh-i-ignore-games camp. You're paying attention but it's not something that you find objectionable so much as something that's ancillary to what you want in games, so you're not one of the folks complaining about it. Which is fine. Everybody's got their druthers. I certainly play my fair share of games that are more about gameplay than setting or literary texture.

What's 'masochistic' about preferring gameplay over story?

Nothing. The masochists I was talking about are those of us dismayed by the state of storytelling in a lot of mainstream franchises but playing them anyway.
posted by cortex at 9:59 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


What's 'masochistic' about preferring gameplay over story?

Presumably you prefer gameplay over graphics as well, and yet I'll wager you'd vastly prefer a game with great gameplay and fantastic graphics vs. a game with great gameplay and crappy visuals.

I love the Portal gameplay, but the top-notch writing and voice acting push it from great to fantastic. It's a huge contribution to my enjoyment of the game. And then I ask myself, "Why is this so rare? Why do so many developers and gamers demand top-notch graphics but ignore the potential contribution of top-notch writing?"

I think the exact same thing when watching something like Avatar. "How utterly fantastic could this have been if they'd spent a tenth as much effort on plot and dialogue as they did on the visuals? Why does no one care about that?"
posted by straight at 10:33 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the exact same thing when watching something like Avatar. "How utterly fantastic could this have been if they'd spent a tenth as much effort on plot and dialogue as they did on the visuals? Why does no one care about that?"

I think the answer's pretty simple: they didn't need to. In fact, I'd take it further and say it's not the highest grossing movie of all time in spite of a barest drabs of writing, but because of it. The more "plot" there is, the more specific the story, the more clearly-defined the characters, and the less universally-relatable it all is.

If you're going for "appeals to everyone," you have to paint in broad strokes.
posted by Amanojaku at 11:35 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the answer's pretty simple: they didn't need to. In fact, I'd take it further and say it's not the highest grossing movie of all time in spite of a barest drabs of writing, but because of it. The more "plot" there is, the more specific the story, the more clearly-defined the characters, and the less universally-relatable it all is.

If you're going for "appeals to everyone," you have to paint in broad strokes.


I was thinking about this when I was playing Red Dead, and the same when I'm playing LA Noire. John Marston is a great character but there are heaps of Westerns where the main character's characterization is: "John Wayne/Clint Eastwood. Looks cool. Great shot". They could easily have reduced the story and dialogue and still been true to the genre.

Same with LA Noire. Instead of Cole Phelps I think I'd happily play 'Looks like Bogart. Snappy one-liners. Awesome trenchcoat".
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 11:39 PM on May 23, 2011


"Why is this so rare? Why do so many developers and gamers demand top-notch graphics but ignore the potential contribution of top-notch writing?"

Because it's not worth the effort, in general, for most games -- see Planescape: Torment and Psychonauts, which both bombed.
posted by empath at 5:14 AM on May 24, 2011


If you're going for "appeals to everyone," you have to paint in broad strokes.

Definitely part of it. Another part is that there's nothing even slightly subjective about the other stuff - a continuity error is a continuity error, with no room for debate (well, unless we're still talking about Primer). Bad writing is a lot more subjective; see peoples' wildly varying opinions about Thor.

Because it's not worth the effort, in general, for most games -- see Planescape: Torment and Psychonauts, which both bombed.


I wonder also if that's partly a market problem. Planescape: Torment is usually still on gog.com's best sellers list (got bumped off right now by the Witcher and Witcher 2; it's down to 7th best-selling rpg, while Psychonauts is their 7th best-selling action title currently) - but I don't imagine the original developers see much, if any, of that money; even if they do, the judgement on whether or not the game is a financial success or a bomb has long since been made. It's much the same with movies - deciding whether it's a financial success is mostly about sales on opening day, or in the first couple weeks; nobody bothers to consider whether people are still going to be watching or playing it ten or twenty years down the road. Good writing helps things have enduring appeal, rather than broad appeal, but the way financial success is viewed, broad appeal counts and enduring appeal doesn't.
posted by mstokes650 at 5:56 AM on May 24, 2011


I think playing for the 'long game' is economically viable as long as you keep budgets low enough that you can survive on a trickle of income until you get several games in the pipeline.

A single Planescape:torment or a Psychonauts might bankrupt a company, but a dozen of them will set you for life.

I think, for example, that Amnesia: Dark Descent, for example, is going to sell for a long, long time, and as long as the company doesn't go bankrupt in the meantime, they could start doing well for themselves if they can continue to release niche, quality games like that.
posted by empath at 6:02 AM on May 24, 2011


mskokes650: There are scene of ambiguity in Morrowind, which has one of the more mature approaches to history in a fantasy game. You're never given a canonical history, and in fact, you discover that the canon history of the previous game is that all possible outcomes happened in a magical singularity. What you're given instead, is a series of ideologically biased accounts of that history.

So there's two scenes that stick out in my mind. After you've spent a good deal of time getting groups to optimistically or cynically proclaim you to be the reincarnation of Nerevar, you confront the trickster God King Vivec who's one of three living eyewitnesses to Nerevar's death. But he ducks the question by saying, I'm a god, I don't need to answer to you, but there's my version, you can believe what you want. Then when you confront big bad he asks you, "are you really Nerevar?" And you can answer however you like.

Of course, literary works have done the same thing in inviting the reader to make a judgement with open-ended questions. But that's the exception rather than the rule in games.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:44 AM on May 24, 2011


Planescape: Torment is usually still on gog.com's best sellers list

The thing about GOG, and goodness knows I love them, is that their audience pretty much self-selects for "caring about game history, classic canon, and old favorites". By definition, they're all about providing fondly-remembered games to the people who fondly remember them, with a side helping of "and if you missed it the first time, maybe you'll like it now". But I'd wager a sizable sum of money that the majority of people who have bought the GOG version of PS:T are repurchasing it for nostalgia or because the discs don't work in Win7 anymore.

So, sure, it's selling well on GOG now, but I'm not convinced it's selling to new people any better than it did before.
posted by Errant at 9:39 AM on May 24, 2011


If you're going for "appeals to everyone," you have to paint in broad strokes.

Bad writing is a lot more subjective.


I don't think this is true. The success of Portal and Pixar are pretty powerful counter-examples.

Pretty much everyone agrees these are well-written and that the craft in the writing is part of what makes them enjoyable.

see Planescape: Torment and Psychonauts, which both bombed.


I think it's hard to make a case that these games bombed because the writing was too good. If they bombed because of something actually in the game (as opposed to poor marketing), it seems much more likely the weird visuals and niche gameplay that people found off-putting.
posted by straight at 11:38 AM on May 24, 2011


I think it's hard to make a case that these games bombed because the writing was too good.

I wasn't intending to suggest that, only that good writing is kind of orthogonal to sales success.

And I would also say that Valve concentrated more on writing than they really needed to, because Valve is full of people who care deeply about their craft.
posted by empath at 1:19 PM on May 24, 2011


It's expectations. I play games for a specific reason. I DON'T WANT a compelling story from my gaming. I don't want great dialogue or well-designed characters or emotional depth. I want to relax and become someone or something else for a few hours.

Which is cool, but it isn't a zero-sum game. There can be both types of games. I suppose many people also want to relax with a game, but find their immersion interrupted by bad characterisation and the like.
posted by ersatz at 2:45 PM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


yeah, i just realized how much I love Planescape: Torment because of the writing
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 6:19 PM on May 24, 2011


So, sure, it's selling well on GOG now, but I'm not convinced it's selling to new people any better than it did before.

I'd love to see the sales numbers, but I think that Planescape and other such old-but-good games also survive to a large extent on word of mouth. It originally came out 12 years ago, keep in mind - there are gonna be gamers playing it today who were like six years old when it was originally released, but have heard how awesome it was from their older friends and older siblings. I'm not suggesting that after X number of years, the well-written games suddenly "go mainstream" when they hadn't before, but like empath sad, it's a trickle effect - engaging a smaller subset of gamers for a lot longer time, versus engaging almost everyone for y'know, a month before you're totally forgotten about.

I really would love to see some hard numbers on the money made, though - for movies or games. I've always wondered how much money something like Casablanca has made, from release date to present, including all DVD/VHS sales, etc.

Bad writing is a lot more subjective.

Yeah, what I meant here was just that it's more subjective than stuff like continuity errors or having your game crash to desktop. Even when the difference between good and bad writing is pretty unambiguous, it's still not obvious the way a blue screen of death is obvious.
posted by mstokes650 at 6:35 PM on May 24, 2011


I find it hilarious that in all this analysis of literary concerns, of movies vs. games, and of passing samples around like so many petri dishes and squirting of substrates, no one has noticed:

VOOOOOOOOOOOM!!

The uncanny valley just jerked itself out from under our feet and vanished on the horizon.
posted by gorgor_balabala at 6:52 PM on May 24, 2011


I didn't grow up playing games, so if you sit me down in front of Portal 2 or LA Noire they would be impossible for me to enjoy, because I would never be able to get out of the first room, or -- and I've experienced this in several recent games -- even be able to make my game character move properly.

This is an important point, and it's a factor that is not only overlooked by gamers as you mention, but also a large proportion of researchers that study games, which is unsurprising given that they are also generally gamers. I could go on about this issue at length (and I have, in various ways, in around 80,000+ words or so elsewhere), but my take is that there is an important bodily dimension to playing videogames that makes it possible for experienced gamers to play 'through' the interface, rather than 'upon' it. Very much like touch typing in that sense.


Presumably the Kinect has brought gaming for untrained gamers a bit closer, but AFAIK I can't yet hook it up to a game like LA Noir and use natural gestures and voice commands to enter the game world.

I haven't checked it out myself yet, but one of my students told me earlier in the week that Kinect can be used with LA Noir, or they are at least working on it, would be cool if it is the case.

We remain confused about what we mean when we talk about "games". Actual "game theorists" would refer to many of these as "toys" due to the lack of a win condition.

As an actual game theorist I'm somewhat 'meh' concerning the desire to come up with an ironclad definition for 'games', it is just too broad a category. This is further complicated by some within the field being concerned with all types of games, while others are focused more specifically on videogames. I'm not saying that definitional discussions aren't important and/or illuminating though mind.

Someone upthread mentioned 'play' as a useful concept, and I definitely agree, but perhaps that's because I'm more interested in the experience of videogame play than whether, and why, or not example X or Y is a 'game'.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 8:17 PM on May 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Here's another genre of electronic games that's perfect for the iPad: the board-game adaptation. The iPad probably offers a better portable implementation than magnets and caged dice.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:28 AM on May 25, 2011


symmetry
posted by jeffburdges at 10:51 AM on May 25, 2011


I could go on about this issue at length (and I have, in various ways, in around 80,000+ words or so elsewhere), but my take is that there is an important bodily dimension to playing videogames that makes it possible for experienced gamers to play 'through' the interface, rather than 'upon' it. Very much like touch typing in that sense.

Can you explain this? I've found that when I try to play Wii I feel clumsy, while non-gamers take to it easily. OTOH when I use my XBox or Playstation controller I feel much more in control.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 12:29 AM on May 26, 2011


That's more or less his point. Gamers have trained themselves to a specific metaphor, in this case the controller, and so learning a new interface is difficult because of the gamer expectation that things should work in a certain way. Non-gamers don't have that expectation, and so comprehending a new metaphor or interface is not difficult, because they don't have an old one against which to compare.
posted by Errant at 12:38 AM on May 26, 2011


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