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Video Game's Citizen Kane
June 19, 2013 1:49 PM   Subscribe

With this new video game coming out, we must finally ask: is this the Citizen Kane of video games?

Some context: Citizen Kane was a movie that came out a very long time ago.
posted by Greg Nog (160 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
The obvious endpoint.
posted by figurant at 1:52 PM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Rosebud is a lie.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:53 PM on June 19, 2013 [9 favorites]


Mother.
posted by fairmettle at 1:54 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


What with the recent Sight & Sound poll upheaval, shouldn't we now be demanding the Vertigo of video games?
posted by shakespeherian at 1:54 PM on June 19, 2013


I hereby demand the Blazing Saddles and the Airplane! of videogames.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:57 PM on June 19, 2013 [25 favorites]


"At the risk of sounding over-the-top, I think it's safe to say that we've finally found our Save The Last Dance of video games."
posted by Greg Nog at 1:59 PM on June 19, 2013 [12 favorites]


It could make a great game. Very diverse gameplay. Yell at your news reporters, collect art, put on an opera with your girlfriend.
posted by thelonius at 1:59 PM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is the Citizen Kane of MetaFilter posts. Not very exciting but important in a precedent setting way.
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Penis.
posted by charred husk at 1:59 PM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


The BloodRayne of video games.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:00 PM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wait.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:00 PM on June 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


Everyone knows that this is the Citizen Kane of video games.
posted by usonian at 2:03 PM on June 19, 2013 [11 favorites]


Sorry, Charles Foster Kane, but your childhood happiness is in another castle.
posted by obscure simpsons reference at 2:04 PM on June 19, 2013 [55 favorites]


I hereby demand the Blazing Saddles and the Airplane! of videogames.

Desert Bus?
posted by Hoopo at 2:04 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just assumed this thread was going to be about Last of Us because a few coworkers of mine have been lampooning (lovingly) the "They call it the Citizen Kane of video games!" line in a bunch of reviews. As in I've heard it about twice a day for the last week.

But now I kinda want to make "Citizen Kane: The Video Game" in Twine.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 2:05 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


At the end of The Citizen Kane of Games, after you'd won all the levels, it would tell you that you'd been searching for the wrong things and had actually lost everything important in your life. And then you'd drop dead.
posted by octothorpe at 2:06 PM on June 19, 2013 [26 favorites]


"...is this the Citizen Kane of video games?"

No.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:07 PM on June 19, 2013


Buy me Citizen Kane or go to hell!
posted by boo_radley at 2:08 PM on June 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


At the risk of sounding over-the-top, I think it's safe to say...

At the risk of sounding over-the-top, I would be unhealthily interested in finding the Over The Top of video games.
posted by MoonOrb at 2:08 PM on June 19, 2013 [13 favorites]


Tangentially: seeing this made me flash on a moment in a Whose Line Is It Anyway? episode. The setup was something like "classic movie lines as done by cartoon characters". Colin Mochrie delivers, in a perfect Snagglepuss voice, "Rosebud, even."
posted by Celsius1414 at 2:08 PM on June 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


Considering how specific some of the categories in that second link got, I was disappointed they didn't mention the Citizen Kane of Norwegian Zombie Nazi Movies.
posted by ckape at 2:13 PM on June 19, 2013


At the risk of sounding over-the-top, I would be unhealthily interested in finding the Over The Top of video games.

Not only does it exist, but it's even based on Punch Out!!, which is at least partially Rocky-inspired.
posted by zombieflanders at 2:15 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's not, not unless Citizen Kane borrowed the elements to four different works that were released in its genre only a few years before it wholesale (ie Children of Men's plot arc, The Road's characters and major theme, and 28 Days Later and The Walking Dead's settings).

Comparing the story in TLoU to a book like The Canticle of Leibowitz is pretty laughable. One makes a candid point about intellectualism in the hands of the military, taking the popular notion of its day (that technology would destroy us all) and refutes it on a smaller scale. TLoU is a decent action movie with a mature-ish plot and great gameplay mechanics but the message it sends is that I guess having a daughter is more important than the preservation of the human race? Because fatherhood rocks?

I dunno. It's not the Citizen Kane of games in the same way that Drake's Fortune wasn't. Games have yet to actually say something about our society at large that hasn't been said in other fictional mediums and that's usually the line that you draw separating the literary from everything else.
posted by dubusadus at 2:16 PM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think the beginning of Citizen Kane and the end of Chrono Trigger would be interesting bookends to, uh, something.

SPOILER ALERT: Schala was a sled
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:18 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd also like to see the Braindead, AKA Dead Alive of video games (level up to Lawmower Mode!).
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:19 PM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


He whispers "Nirnroot"
posted by Raunchy 60s Humour at 2:21 PM on June 19, 2013 [10 favorites]


Rat-Monkey
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:23 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I liked waxpancake's recent tweet on Citizen Kaning videogames
The Last of Us is being compared to Children of Men and Citizen Kane, but I don’t remember Clive Owen or Orson Welles mass-murdering extras.
Maybe I'm getting old, but both Bioshock: Infinite and The Last of Us are two great games and interactive stories that are totally debased by the need to make them an FPS game. Don't get me wrong, I like violent games, I'm still playing both Just Cause 2 and Saints Row 3. But in those games the combat is fun. In story games like Bioshock of Last of Us the combat is really not very interesting; it's the narrative and art direction that's the fun.
posted by Nelson at 2:26 PM on June 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


At the end of The Citizen Kane of Games, after you'd won all the levels, it would tell you that you'd been searching for the wrong things and had actually lost everything important in your life. And then you'd drop dead.

Shadow of the Colossus?
posted by Navelgazer at 2:26 PM on June 19, 2013 [23 favorites]


You know, calling it the Citizen Kane of video games seems overblown, but I really do think it's clearly earned the comparison and in some ways exceeds it.

...wait, we are talking about Serious Sam, right?
posted by jason_steakums at 2:28 PM on June 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


I call it the Citizen Kane of gaming,” he says. “It’s a really boring movie that’s incredibly important for movies.

This person has either never seen Citizen Kane, or should not be offering opinions on movies, because Citizen Kane rocks.
posted by JHarris at 2:28 PM on June 19, 2013 [20 favorites]


At the risk of sounding over-the-top, I would be unhealthily interested in finding the Over The Top of video games.

Not only does it exist, but it's even based on Punch Out!!, which is at least partially Rocky-inspired.
posted by zombieflanders 13 minutes ago [+]


Yeah, but can you turn your ball cap around?

It's like a switch that goes on.
posted by MoonOrb at 2:30 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I call it the Citizen Kane of gaming,” he says. “It’s a really boring movie that’s incredibly important for movies.

This person has either never seen Citizen Kane, or should not be offering opinions on movies, because Citizen Kane rocks.
posted by JHarris at 7:28 AM on 6/20


Seriously, that movie is basically RIVETING if you have even a shred of grown-up sensibilities.
posted by DoctorFedora at 2:32 PM on June 19, 2013 [11 favorites]


"Then last week, as it must to all men... death came to Mario the Plumber... in the form of a runaway Koopa Troopa shell."
posted by Atom Eyes at 2:34 PM on June 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yes. All true Scottsmen love that movie.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:34 PM on June 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


The Citizen Kane of video games.
posted by mazola at 2:34 PM on June 19, 2013


I want to see a Street Fighter II-style Citizen Kane game. Mr. Bernstein vs. Mr. Thatcher... FIGHT!
posted by starman at 2:47 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's a shame that every single film class on the planet forces students to watch Citizen Kane again and again, because it's made people forget how incredibly great it is.
posted by brundlefly at 2:48 PM on June 19, 2013


What, then, is the Michael Caine of video games?
posted by chavenet at 2:48 PM on June 19, 2013


I want to give a giant high-five to whoever wrote this one, which amounts to, "Much like Citizen Kane, Tony Hawk Pro Skater contains many visible objects."
posted by Copronymus at 2:49 PM on June 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


Zelda was the name of the princess...
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:51 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Heh, I saw the quote about Journey and thought they were talking about this Journey. And I laughed.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:53 PM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Copronymus: "I want to give a giant high-five to whoever wrote this one..."

"...every single shot is set to deep focus and delivers..." Were video games capable of anything other than deep focus in 2000?

chavenet: "What, then, is the Michael Caine of video games?"

Angry Birds: Blame It On Rio
posted by brundlefly at 2:59 PM on June 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


The Citizen Kane of video games was Id Software's Doom.

The significance of Kane is that Welles invented conventions that laid the the foundation for the next 50 years of filmmaking; there is a sharp difference in the look and feel of pre-Kane movies and movies made after he showed the way. Yes there are movies, many of them, that do the things Welles did in Kane better, but Welles did all those things together first.

After the impressive technical feat of just getting a FPS implemented on 80286 hardware with Wolfenstein 3D, Doom made the leap to a full set of tropes and richness of play that's still familiar today. Every FPS ever released owes an enormous debt to Id for showing how it's done. In fact, I'd say anyone seriously interested in games should play through at least one level each of Wolf 3D and Doom just to see the difference. Wolfie is a parlor trick -- one that was impressive in its day, but one that got thin around level 6. Doom is a recognizably modern game, with few differences separating it as starkly from modern fare as separate it from Wolfie, much less the absolute vacuum that preceeded that.
posted by localroger at 3:01 PM on June 19, 2013 [47 favorites]


What we're really all looking for is the 2006-Wicker-Man of video games, I believe.
posted by Navelgazer at 3:02 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


The old Citizen Kane or the 3D remake staring Tom Cruise?
posted by Artw at 3:04 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


The old Citizen Kane or the 3D remake staring Tom Cruise? Johnny Depp in a fright wig
posted by shakespeherian at 3:06 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


What we're really all looking for is the 2006-Wicker-Man of video games, I believe.

Angry Bees
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:07 PM on June 19, 2013 [11 favorites]


With Andy Serkis playing a mo-cap version of Joseph Cotten.
posted by brundlefly at 3:07 PM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's pointless to compare anything to Citizen Kane. There's Citizen Kane, and then there's everything else.
posted by ogooglebar at 3:10 PM on June 19, 2013


I am still trying to figure out why we are arguing about which video game is most likely to have enraged William Randolph Hearst. How does that even make sense?
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:12 PM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Kane was on TCM over the weekend. Was probably my second-bajillionth viewing. The damned thing never fails to impress. Gregg Toland's camera work, alone, stands as a master class.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:15 PM on June 19, 2013


I was kind of *shrug* about this whole "The Citizen Kane
of this, the "Cadillac of that", etc. until I remembered
that I vaguely thought to myself once, "Hmm, this TV show Lost is like the Myst of television", and I was abashed at my own callowness. And it is being callow!

It's like the Who's The Boss? of similes!
posted by Chitownfats at 3:15 PM on June 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'm not nearly as interested in knowing what the Citizen Kane of video games is.

I want to know what Citizen Kane is the benchmark-of-an-unlike-artform of. The Mona Lisa of film? The Laocoön of film? The Beethoven's Fifth of film?

And what is the referential benchmark of that other particular art?

Can we trace this back to an ur-artwork from which all great art derives?
posted by ardgedee at 3:16 PM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Citizen Kane is the Las Meninas of Film.
posted by empath at 3:19 PM on June 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Assuming for the moment that can can relate the development of movies and video games in this fashion - could we meaningfully say that we're due, or overdue, or too early for the CK of VGs? Let's cherrypick some milestones:

1879: Eadward Muybridge (born 1830) debuts his zoopraxiscope.
1888: Louis Le Prince (b. 1841) directs the Roundhay Garden scene, the oldest film still extant.
c. 1902: Georges Méliès (b. 1861) and Edwin Porter (b. 1870) rack up a number of innovations and syntheses in camera work, editing, and production design. Film narratives begin to evoke wonder, emotion, and identification.
1941: Orson Welles (b. 1915) directs Citizen Kane, broadly considered the Citizen Kane of film.

...

1951: Computers capable of hosting NIM, tic-tac-toe, and checkers appear.
1961: A team led by Steve "Slug" Russell (b. 1937) produces Spacewar!, the first game designed expressly for a digital computer with a graphical interface.
1985: Steve Meretzky (b. 1957) designs Planetfall for Infocom. Infocom's advances in interactive narrative culminate in the heroic death of Floyd the Robot, a scene which leaves many players in tears.
....: ____ ________ (b. ????) creates {}, the Citizen Kane of video games.

It should be obvious, then, that {} is due out this very year!

It's also due in 2014 and 2024. Its creator was likely born in 2002, and again in 2011.
posted by Iridic at 3:19 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


It should be obvious, then, that {} is due out this very year!

I'm calling it.
posted by shakespeherian at 3:24 PM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I thought we already knew which game was going to be the citizen kane of games.
posted by empath at 3:26 PM on June 19, 2013


Does this mean the Super Mario Bros. of gaming is E.T.?
posted by RonButNotStupid at 3:26 PM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Looking at the video game today, it’s enjoyable and still playable, but it’s not really that big of a deal. It’s the same thing with Citizen Kane in which it’s a good movie with a pretty nifty twist ending, but it’s not like it’s anything new. However, at the time that both of these came out, they were near revolutionary."

Citizen Kane: it's not like it's anything new.
posted by painquale at 3:28 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's pointless to compare anything to Citizen Kane. There's Citizen Kane, and then there's everything else.

It's no A Touch of Evil.
posted by Artw at 3:28 PM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Games have yet to actually say something about our society at large that hasn't been said in other fictional mediums and that's usually the line that you draw separating the literary from everything else.

Sort of an odd goalpost, but:

Fate of the World made me think about global warming and the different ways in which humans might react to it and what the possible consequences might be. Nonfiction has sparked contemplation on some of the same topics, of course, but there's a difference between reading about what might happen in 30 years and feeling directly responsible for the extinction of the polar bear.

Katamari Damancy said something to me about greed and acquisition and how satisfying desires only leads to greater desires, ad infinitum.

These both sound trite when you write them out, but, well, that's why they work better in game form, for me.
posted by IjonTichy at 3:39 PM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


" there's no trick is getting a lot of EXP, if all you want to do is get a lot of EXP."
posted by The Whelk at 3:41 PM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm just waiting for this
posted by Strshan at 3:41 PM on June 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


SORRY. YOUR CHILDHOOD SLED IS IN ANOTHER CASTLE.
posted by .kobayashi. at 3:41 PM on June 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


Seems like "it's the Citizen Kane of _________" connotes at least three different things depending on who's saying it. The first and most precise is how localroger used it above -- recognizing the film as an exemplar of artistic innovation that changed the medium. The second is simplistic shorthand for "destined to be a classic". The third meaning is how I hear it referring to many videogames -- "I was expecting to just run around shooting stuff but found instead a Work of Art", another reductive and lazy analogy.

That third connotation, lazy and inaccurate as it is, is still significant, though. It's an attempt to describe the moment when a player puts down her controller and engages with the game as an aesthetic object instead of a ruleset to be poked at. We are still delighted by this. We have not yet come to expect it. So rather than wince at a bad analogy I take some joy from it.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:46 PM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


" I'm not overdressed."
"Of course, look your death claw gauntlet."
posted by The Whelk at 3:46 PM on June 19, 2013


It's no A Touch of Evil.

Exactly.
posted by ogooglebar at 3:48 PM on June 19, 2013


After all it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? Big Rigs: Over The Road Racing.
posted by jquinby at 3:49 PM on June 19, 2013 [16 favorites]


The first and most precise is how localroger used it above -- recognizing the film as an exemplar of artistic innovation that changed the medium...That third connotation...is an attempt to describe the moment when a player puts down her controller and engages with the game as an aesthetic object instead of a ruleset to be poked at. We are still delighted by this. We have not yet come to expect it.

These two things often do come together. Citizen Kane may seem slow and linear by today's standards but in its day it was a revelation. Another example, I think it is reasonable to posit Star Wars (it wasn't ep 4 in 1977, dammit) as the Citizen Kane of science fiction movies. It fits the film critic's criterion, having created a set of tropes which endure to this day, so that Avatar has much more in common with Star Wars than Star Wars did with anything that preceeded it, even fairly good movies like Forbidden Planet and Silent Running and 2001.

But there was also the experience of OH MY GOD just letting it wash over you, realizing that you are seeing something that you have never seen before, that has never existed before, a totally new and unexpected kind of experience.

While Doom benefitted from a better 3D engine than Wolfenstein and somewhat faster hardware, that was the point where the Id auteurs were free to lean back and think about actual game play in this virtual 3D world. Battlezone had been impressive as hell in its 8-bit day but had hardly any game play at all; Doom was arguably the first actual first person game that demanded strategy, puzzle solving, and delivered a steady helping of novelty as you progressed through its levels.
posted by localroger at 4:10 PM on June 19, 2013


As long as we can agree that Uniracers is indisputedly the Breaking Away of video games.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:12 PM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Avatar has much more in common with Star Wars than Star Wars did with anything that preceeded it...

Give me a break. Star Wars took the practical effects from 2001 and used them for action scenes, which audiences loved. Other than that, it was a pastiche of 30-year-old sci-fi tropes. It's well executed, but derivative as hell.
posted by mr_roboto at 4:24 PM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Avatar has much more in common with Star Wars than Star Wars did with anything that preceeded it

Naw, Star Wars shares a lot with the old serials.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:25 PM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


This tumblr was much needed to show not only the backruptcy of game journalists but the paucity of game narratives. Though you could do something with the TONE of Citizen Kane in the Scarface mode - your standard GTA/Saints Row/sandbox game where you've come so far but in the end you actually have nothing.

Skyrim is the Citizen Kane of games: In the end you're wandering around an empty, useless world.

But it also illustrates that game journalists don't watch enough movies and don't know what makes Citizen Kane great. To quote Tim Rogers, "Games don't rise to the level of art. Most of them barely rise to the level of entertainment". And i say this as somebody who's probably put in around 400 hours in games this year alone.

And I need to stop quoting Something Awful, but this post gets it:

"Steven Speilberg, who ought to know better, once called Chuck Jones One Froggy Evening 'the Citzen Kane of animated film'. Thinking about it a bit, I think it would make a shitload of sense to call ostensibly seminal video games 'the One Froggy Evening of video games', since they're usually all song and dance one minute and just a big dumb frog going ribbit the next".
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 4:44 PM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


If video game reviewers are using Citizen Kane as the yardstick, they are way behind the film snobs. You can't win snob points any more by saying Citizen Kane is the best film. If you want the cool points, you'd have to go with something like Renoir's The Rules of the Game or Ozu's Tokyo Story, but I don't know if video game designer could match Renoir for depth of field and humanist character development. Similarly, you couldn't make an Ozu of video games, because most gamers wouldn't sit still for anything that contemplative and slow. Citizen Kane even lost the 2012 Sight & Sound poll to Vertigo. Maybe you'd someday get a video game as personal, eerie, and obsessive as Hitchcock's Vertigo, but frankly, you'd be lucky if you could get the North by Northwest of video games.
posted by jonp72 at 4:49 PM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


but frankly, you'd be lucky if you could get the North by Northwest of video games.

I dunno, I've spent way too much time being chased by things behind me as I run toward the camera. Thanks, The Warriors and that Suda51 demon killing game.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 4:51 PM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Reporting in from the video game music front:
If I had a dollar for every time I have seen a composer quote some press blurb that declares them to be "the John Williams of Game Music" I'd be set for life, and would not have to compete with like a thousand John Williamses.

Until recently I was all set on being The Vince DiCola of Game Music, but apparently Uncle Vince is actually DOING game music now, so there's that plan ruined.
posted by jake at 5:18 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]



If I had a dollar for every time I have seen a composer quote some press blurb that declares them to be "the John Williams of Game Music" I'd be set for life, and would not have to compete with like a thousand John Williamses.


bombastic action music that frequently imitates itself? at least game composers know their limits and nobody is claiming to be the Ennio Morricone of game music (though that Calexico side project that did Red Dead Redemption, kinda counts)
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 5:20 PM on June 19, 2013


The Citizen Kane of video games was Id Software's Doom.

I'd say there are different 'Citizen Kanes' for different genres. DOOM is great and I still have it on my computer, but it's just as easy to make the case that Mario 64 provided the blueprint for every third-person 3D game. Doesn't detract from the importance of either game.

Super Mario Bros is of course the Battleship Potemkin of video games.

I think the beginning of Citizen Kane and the end of Chrono Trigger would be interesting bookends to, uh, something.

I never replayed Citizen Kane to find the other 18 endings.
posted by ersatz at 5:43 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


You're missing out. If you get the best ending (the one in which he lives), then you can start a New Game Plus mode that lets Kane equip Rosebud throughout the whole movie!
posted by painquale at 5:51 PM on June 19, 2013 [12 favorites]


I don't know about Citizen Kane specifically. But I do know that, while the ending was just as bad as everybody said it was, on three separate occasions during Mass Effect 3, I started crying *listening to NPCs talking to each other in the background*. (The salarian's awesome new armor being the one that hit me hardest for some reason.) People emotionally invest differently into games, but if people want to snicker about the fact that games should be taken that seriously? Bah.
posted by Sequence at 5:53 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Closer to the PBR of video games.
posted by Pudhoho at 6:03 PM on June 19, 2013


I'm kind of relieved Roger Ebert didn't live to see this.
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:10 PM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wait, I think I found it! CITIZEN KA- Oh.
posted by FJT at 6:20 PM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


These two things often do come together. Citizen Kane may seem slow and linear by today's standards but in its day it was a revelation.

Slow and linear are not bad things! Seriously, MTV hasn't really shown music videos for decades now, why the hell are music video sensibilities still infesting our movies?!
posted by JHarris at 6:42 PM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


The significance of Kane is that Welles invented conventions that laid the the foundation for the next 50 years of filmmaking; there is a sharp difference in the look and feel of pre-Kane movies and movies made after he showed the way.

By that logic isn't Super Mario Bros. more influential, though? For all the FPS games there are today, I'd say more people are familiar with platformers, and platformer mechanics have been taken over to pretty much any style of game.

Then again, I'd say that Metropolis also marked all films after it as well, if not always as obviously.

Mario 64 provided the blueprint for every third-person 3D game

I wish this were true but it's really not. After the N64, how many games have you do different missions in the same 3D locations while keeping it interesting? Mostly it's just like the 2D Mario games - one location, one objective, clear it once and you're done.
posted by 23 at 6:46 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I dunno, I've spent way too much time being chased by things behind me as I run toward the camera. Thanks, The Warriors and that Suda51 demon killing game.

And every fucking Naughty Dog game. We get it: you made Crash Bandicoot. Now please stop having Nathan Drake run toward the TV, away from trucks, swarms of spiders, tidal waves, fire, collapsing tunnels, etc.
posted by Amanojaku at 6:47 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wait, I think I found it! CITIZEN KA- Oh.

Sometimes I forget that game exists, and I'm always glad when I'm reminded it does. But I can't really play it any more, because I want to remember it as better than it is.
posted by 23 at 6:50 PM on June 19, 2013


I notice that nobody makes claims about any video game being the Birth of a Nation of video games. Wonder why that is? It's not like there aren't any horrendously racist video games out there.
posted by Rory Marinich at 6:55 PM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Pong
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 7:09 PM on June 19, 2013


I'm so sick of video games developers that secretly want to make movies. Who cares about the Citizen Kane of video games? I want the Parthenon of video games, the Angkor Wat of video games, the Pieta of video games.
posted by straight at 7:14 PM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Mad Magazine Fold-in Cover of video games.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 7:23 PM on June 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


What with the recent Sight & Sound poll upheaval, shouldn't we now be demanding the Vertigo of video games?...

I hereby demand the Blazing Saddles and the Airplane! of videogames.


This combined sounds kinda like the High Anxiety of video-games?

(which would make for an interesting video-game).
posted by ovvl at 7:29 PM on June 19, 2013


At the end of The Citizen Kane of Games, after you'd won all the levels, it would tell you that you'd been searching for the wrong things and had actually lost everything important in your life. And then you'd drop dead.

So, it's Braid, then.
posted by jbickers at 7:36 PM on June 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


In all seriousness, everyone name some landmark videogames up to this point.

Criteria -- it has to be exceptionally good on at least 2 of the following axes, preferably all 3:

1) Technological and/or gameplay innovation
2) Emotional and/or intellectual meaningfulness
3) Aesthetic appeal

I'll start:

Portal
Journey
Braid
Red Dead Redemption
Heavy Rain
posted by empath at 7:54 PM on June 19, 2013


Empath, I'd add L.A. Noire and Bastion to your list. And if your criteria are based on the time in which the game was released, I'd add Adventure for the Atari 2600 and Ultima IV (which I would argue was the first game to meaningfully add player ethics and morality as a fundamental gameplay aspect).
posted by jbickers at 8:00 PM on June 19, 2013


"Seriously, that movie is basically RIVETING if you have even a shred of grown-up sensibilities."

And the dude was in his mid-twenties when he made it. What the fuuuuuuuck.
posted by archagon at 8:08 PM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Empath, I'd add L.A. Noire and Bastion to your list. And if your criteria are based on the time in which the game was released, I'd add Adventure for the Atari 2600 and Ultima IV (which I would argue was the first game to meaningfully add player ethics and morality as a fundamental gameplay aspect).

LA Noire (and from what I've heard, Heavy Rain) fails as a game. In terms of storytelling, it rises to the level of a TV cop drama. By the time I finished LA Noire I was ready to finish it out of spite.

The great games use the medium in a skillful way and express it to evoke a perfect flow state, not try and imitate movies. I'd say Dark Souls, at least one Platinum game (maybe Bayonetta), Doom...
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 8:09 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]



I notice that nobody makes claims about any video game being the Birth of a Nation of video games. Wonder why that is? It's not like there aren't any horrendously racist video games out there.


Resident Evil 5?
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 8:10 PM on June 19, 2013


Empath, I'd add to your list:

Myst
Doom
Minecraft
Will Crowther's Adventure / Colossal Cave
posted by straight at 8:19 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


LA Noire (and from what I've heard, Heavy Rain) fails as a game. In terms of storytelling, it rises to the level of a TV cop drama. By the time I finished LA Noire I was ready to finish it out of spite.

This raises a distinction that is very interesting to me, and it's possibly a semantic one: that is, don't use the word "game" and instead think about these things as "experiences" and see how your mileage then varies.

For instance: Kotaku recently linked to a six-hour video that was essentially, just the story of The Last Of Us, with all the optional stuff removed. It's just the campaign story. Well, there's no way in hell I would watch that - I have a hard enough time watching a two-hour movie without getting interrupted. Something would have to be VERY special for me to watch a six-hour movie of it. But I'd play it for 20+ hours, because the act of me moving the story along creates an experience that is memorable in a different way. That's why I don't think the comparison to, say, a TV cop drama is a helpful one - I wouldn't watch the cop drama either, but I'd go out of my way to play it.

Now, does it work as a "game" in the traditional sense of the word ... no, probably not. Is the game aspect of L.A. Noire anywhere near as fun as, say, busting out our boxed copy of Ticket to Ride and playing it on the kitchen table? Or, for that matter, huddling around multiplayer Peggle? No way. But it's a different experience, and awesome in its own way.

Going back briefly to the notion that the writing in many of these games is on the level of mediocre TV: I think that's right. Red Dead Redemption, for as much as I loved it, is indeed on literary par with a bad western movie. So for that acid test, I go back once again to Braid and Bastion, two games whose writing rise to the level of poetry for me, so smart and so elegant and so in a world of their own. (It also happens to be the case, IMO, that both of those also succeed as "games" in the traditional sense of the word discussed earlier.)
posted by jbickers at 8:30 PM on June 19, 2013


The thing is, though, since most games fail at storytelling I'd rather they focus on what they are good at. Film didn't really mature as a medium until it stopped trying to be stage plays. TV worked when it also stopped trying to be stage plays. Games' watershed moments are when they work AS GAMES - as kinetic experiances you move though. Why should I pick up The Last Of Us instead of, say, The Road? Whereas with something like Saints Row or GTA, the emergent gameplay and feeling of motion if what seperates them from a cop drama.

Going back briefly to the notion that the writing in many of these games is on the level of mediocre TV: I think that's right. Red Dead Redemption, for as much as I loved it, is indeed on literary par with a bad western movie.

I disagree, since that lets you experiance the feeling of freedom as you ride through the West and Mexico. When YOU ride out to vengence or break a horse, thats powerful.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 8:37 PM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Video games are at their best when they embrace their interactivity and the fact that they are games. You never hear chess players argue whether or not chess is art because it doesn't need to be. The best videogames aspire to be chess, backgammon, Settlers of Catan. The worst want to be some awkward Candyland where every so often you watch part of a SyFy original movie.
posted by Strshan at 8:55 PM on June 19, 2013 [13 favorites]


This blog is the Citizen Kane of Tumblrs!
posted by Green Winnebago at 9:06 PM on June 19, 2013


If we're making lists, I'll throw Persona 4 out there.
posted by yellowbinder at 9:06 PM on June 19, 2013


My list would be:

Portal 1 and 2
The Walking Dead
Miasmata
The Binding of Isaac
Grim Fandango
Minecraft
Fez

And that's being a little generous: it's really only the Portals and The Walking Dead that I have no reservations about letting represent the best of the medium. I'm tempted to add Fallout 3 and The Mass Effect games, because I love them so, but they're just good pulp.

Video games are at their best when they embrace their interactivity and the fact that they are games.

Back when cinema was invented, it was derided as a mere method of recording. Artists wanted to prove that film could be artistic, and so argued that films could do things that photographs and theater couldn't, and that led to people claiming that films were at their best when they embraced their features that were essentially filmic. (Then, of course, there were debates about what made a movie especially filmic: the Soviets claimed it was the use of editing, the French claimed it was in the ability to capture action as the eye sees it, etc.) That might have been a waypoint in the development of cinema, but now that we all accept that films can be works of art, we no longer think that being especially movielike is something that makes a movie good.

Video games are in the place that films once were in. There is pressure on video game makers to embrace interactivity in order to defend the medium. However, there's no reason to think that a successful video game should be especially gamey. Developers should use whatever tools they have to make whatever experience they want. The Walking Dead and Minecraft are two of the best games that there are, but both come under attack from people who say they aren't really games: The Walking Dead is novelistic and only moderately interactive, and Minecraft is more of a sandbox toy than something with a goal. But they are two of the best games that exist precisely because they didn't feel constrained by the essence of the medium.
posted by painquale at 9:15 PM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Walking Dead is a Choose Your Own Adventure book that you can't (easily) turn the pages back to see what else would have happened.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:37 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


This raises a distinction that is very interesting to me, and it's possibly a semantic one: that is, don't use the word "game" and instead think about these things as "experiences" and see how your mileage then varies.

I think that would be even more damning, because everything from books to roller coasters are "experiences," too, and video-non-games would suffer mightily in comparison.

But they are two of the best games that exist precisely because they didn't feel constrained by the essence of the medium.

Well, let's be fair: it's not like The Walking Dead was especially innovative mechanically. It's really just a polished version of previous games from Telltale, like the Back to the Future or Jurassic Park. The Walking Dead is highly regarded because it's way better written than almost anything else in the medium. That being the case, I'm really not sure why anyone who wasn't already predisposed to playing games would pick The Walking Dead (game) over The Walking Dead (show) or The Walking Dead (graphic novel), if not for the interactivity. If all you want is "well written," other media do it better.

I don't want to over-champion interactivity per se, because just slapping some yes/no choices at the end of some DVD chapters doesn't really make for much of a game, but I do think that mechanics are a game's primary aesthetic allure, and no novel or film can replicate that.

The Walking Dead is a Choose Your Own Adventure book that you can't (easily) turn the pages back to see what else would have happened.

I'd say it's more like trying to write a story with a paintbrush on a single canvas: you're just left trying to explain how the meager story you managed to get down is good enough for it to qualify as a great painting.
posted by Amanojaku at 9:55 PM on June 19, 2013


[Red Dead Redemption] lets you experiance the feeling of freedom as you ride through the West and Mexico.

I stopped playing this game when, upon riding past a settlement on hill, an enormous intrusive dialogue box appeared which shouted at me "YOU ARE NOT READY TO ACTIVATE THIS MINI-GAME THING YET" (paraphrasing). I did not feel very free at that moment.

Anyway, games (or, in some cases, interactive electronic media things) that I've found aesthetically interesting, for a variety of reasons:

Tetris
Katamari Damancy
Galatea
Photopia
Shadow of the Colossus
World of Goo
Knytt Stories
Proteus
Thirty Flights of Loving
Minecraft
Fez
Portal
Machinarium
Hotline Miami
Stalker
posted by IjonTichy at 10:07 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Walking Dead isn't a great 'game', per se, but it is a great interactive experience. I'd definitely put it up there with the best of the best. It's hard to describe the feeling I had when I realized that I hadn't actually had to kill one of the characters I had killed and seeing Clementine's reaction, but it's not a feeling that can be evoked in movies or books.
posted by empath at 10:08 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'll compost a list, eventually, but it'll take a while, and some of the games on it you might not have heard of. (For instance: Ribbit King, an utterly absurd and charming obscure Gamecube title where the player plays "Frolf," which is Golf With Frogs. This exists, it got released in the US, and it's awesome.)
posted by JHarris at 10:49 PM on June 19, 2013


Moon is a great nonlinear game that subverts the standard RPG premise of a hero saving the world by killing mosters. You also get a bad end unless you choose to go outside and stop playing video games at the end.

Sakura Taisen is a story that doesn't work in a linear form and which uses multiple game mechanics in a consistent and connected way to create tension without providing a lot of dead ends. The time-limited decision conversation style has also become very common.

Kirby Superstar's games are collections of fun and discovery with just enough challenge that you have to try.
posted by 23 at 11:53 PM on June 19, 2013


website that exposes the ridiculousness of calling something "the citizen kane of games" results in earnest argument about what is really "the citizen kane of games"

oh metafilter, never change
posted by speicus at 12:21 AM on June 20, 2013


Henry Jenkins has a very good, if now slightly old, article about this old saw: Games the New Lively Art
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 1:13 AM on June 20, 2013


A quote:

"Readers then were skeptical of Seldes’ claims about cinema for many of the same reasons that contemporary critics dismiss games – they were suspicious of cinema’s commercial motivations and technological origins, concerned about Hollywood’s appeals to violence and eroticism, and insistent that cinema had not yet produced works of lasting value."
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 1:15 AM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


That being the case, I'm really not sure why anyone who wasn't already predisposed to playing games would pick The Walking Dead (game) over The Walking Dead (show) or The Walking Dead (graphic novel), if not for the interactivity. If all you want is "well written," other media do it better.

No way: the show is bad, the comic is fine, the game is transcendent. It's heartwrenching. After the final episode came out, all the video game podcasters I listened to were sheepishly asking each other if they cried. Compare Lee and Clementine's relationship to Rick and Carl's; there's really no comparison. And although yeah, the success of the game was largely because of the writing, it was also because of the mechanics. The final few minutes of that game do three super clever things that blend narrative and interactivity to generate really strong emotional response. The game isn't just a Choose Your Own Adventure.
posted by painquale at 1:34 AM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


The final few minutes of that game

See, this is why I don't take people seriously when they say Braid had a good story.
posted by 23 at 1:37 AM on June 20, 2013


Braid was more of a poem than a story.
posted by empath at 1:46 AM on June 20, 2013


I've had 4 mind-blowing moments of OMG, I never imagined games could do that!

1. Watching someone play a text adventure game for the first time, in a store, on a TRS-80. The person typed, "LOOK ROOM" and got a description of a room, then typed "LOOK MIRROR" and the game responded with a description of the player. It was like the computer could see me (or the person who was actually playing). I was amazed at the concept of not just reading about a place, but somehow being inside of it.

2. Seeing someone play Mario 64 on a big monitor in a store. The freedom of movement, the sense of there being an actual physical world rather than just a two-dimension picture of one.

3. Watching someone play Doom for the first time in a tiny window on a Linux box. The fluidity of the movement in a 3D space made it qualitatively different from anything I'd ever seen a video game do.

4. Replaying one of the outdoor levels in Unreal after installing my first 3D video card (a Voodoo 3). It was like getting glasses and seeing the world in focus for the first time. All the objects seemed impossibly crisp -- how could my computer be doing that?!?
posted by straight at 2:15 AM on June 20, 2013


The final few minutes of TWD were the culmination of a good story. Braid only had a good story in the final few minutes. (The little interstitial books were terribly written, I thought.)
posted by painquale at 2:16 AM on June 20, 2013


I'm coming in basically to +1 painquale here. As a game designer who's made successful games with and without stories, I've never agreed with the normative suggestion that games much embrace interactivity to the max; that Minecraft, SimCity, Civilization, and Tetris are the heights that we should aspire to with games, and that the likes of The Walking Dead, The Longest Journey, etc, are effectively throwbacks.

Certainly, interactive simulations are something that games can uniquely handle, and I love playing them. But just because that's the case doesn't mean it's not possible to make affecting and engaging art that is more narrative driven. It's OK to like both, and it's also OK that other people like things that you don't. I'm not trying to be fighty here - I'm not addressing this at anyone specifically in this thread, it's more at a general sentiment that I see in places like RPS and Ars Technica where you often see columns from people saying, "Why Bioshock Infinite's Story Fails" when what they really mean is, "Why I don't like stories in games"
posted by adrianhon at 3:32 AM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


games much embrance = games *should* embrace
posted by adrianhon at 3:44 AM on June 20, 2013


"Why Bioshock Infinite's Story Fails" when what they really mean is, "Why I don't like stories in games"

I kind of think that's the opposite of what most critics said. If I remember correctly, the most common complaint was that the compelling story and beautiful world-building was dragged down by nonsensical game-mechanics and pointless, repetitive, needlessly violent combat sequences.
posted by empath at 4:14 AM on June 20, 2013


The reason it's such a stupid comparison is that nothing a video game does is anything remotely like what a movie does. Citizen Kane wasn't brilliant because it "broke away from stage plays" or anything like that, it was brilliant because it simultaneously advanced the technique of film making in multiple ways whilst simultaneously using all those new techniques to tell a story that hadn't ever been tellable before.

We aren't at the point yet where game developers are sophisticated enough to pull off a feat like that. Even the best titles in gaming—Portal, Fez, and Shadow of the Colossus are the only three games I think could possibly deserve the comparison for their multiple advances at once—are so conceptually rudimentary compared to what Orson Welles did with Kain that it's ridiculous to point at any of them and say, "THIS ONE DOES IT ALL!" I do think that Fez's Phil Fish is one of the first developers I've heard speak who has a genuine understanding of how games work on a deeper level, and he's somebody I'd watch closely; Team Ico and Valve are both great, but they're not operating on nearly complex enough a level. I'd compare them to Griffith non-facetiously: pushing the envelope technologically, concerned with telling new kinds of stories, but not quite detached enough from the history of game development that they can play with the idea of what a game is. They each make relatively straightforward games that break technical rather than conceptual rules.

I've done a lot of thinking about what a Citizen Kane of games would have to be, comparatively speaking. The game I've spent two years of my life attempting to write about, an obscure Russian horror game called Pathologic, is nowhere near enough to be a Kane, but it's something of a Rosetta Stone (tortured metaphor forgive me) in that its developers thought long and hard about what a game consists of, what its layers are, and then they built something that was intended to convey all these layers to a slightly more casual audience than "myth-and-high-art-obsessed Russian academics". The result is insanely dense and convoluted, but if you spend enough time/sacrifice enough of your good health/personal life, you start to form an interesting take on exactly how games fit together.

The simplest method I've worked out of defining a game that takes into account the complexity of modern games is that it consists of searching for some kind of outcome within a world. The outcome is what drives us/what "ends" a game; the world is what defines our options and outcomes; and our independent choices are what create the one out of the other. (There. Two years of research and writing spoiled. Buy my book plz.)

The Pathologic developers articulated three layers of subtlety that flesh out the importance of worlds, choices, and outcomes. Specifically, they said that outcomes must be challenging or even stressful to achieve, or else the player's just manipulating a game without being properly involved; choices must be restricted by chronology, so that each of your choices changes the world permanently, and forces you to live with the consequences of your actions; and a world must be chaotic, rules-based but random enough that the specific circumstances a player runs up against is never quite the same. This is what creates depth in a world: it forces a player to think not of mechanics, but of purpose, and suddenly you can create a game whose themes don't just fly by overhead the way they do in Bioshock or even in Shadow, but which must be grappled with DIRECTLY, as in "if you haven't thought about this stuff before, you won't be able to beat the game."

Which is what Pathologic achieves for the rare dumb idiot who's willing to play through it not once but three times (from what I can tell fewer than a dozen or so people were foolish enough to do this): in the final run you're thinking less about survival mechanics or narrative mysteries and more about this astonishing existential philosophy of why people depend upon other people, why they're fettered by their own ignorances, and how you might do something about it. And depending on how well you develop your internal philosophy, the ending of the game changes. And it's not a "which of these philosophies are correct" multiple choice window or anything: you're given a set of complex riddles whose answers mean totally different things based on your worldview, and only one particularly complex way of looking at the world will lead to your making the right decisions. And as sucky as much of the rest of the game frequently is, the ending stuff all works. It's heady shit.

But see, that's not a Citizen Kane. If anything, that's a single scene. That process is what ought to happen in a single scenario within a game, on a lesser scale of course: the stress, the chaos, the feeling that whatever choice you make, after you make it you can't go back. And then your choice is made, the world is different, your objectives have changed, and the choices you'll get to make from now on are different.

The game I think captures the emotional feeling of maneuvering a set of choices best is Adam Cadre's Photopia, which if you haven't played you really ought to; it's a free interactive fiction title that takes half an hour tops to complete. The irony is that Photopia only has a single ending; it makes you feel like you have a choice then it takes all choice away. But its real emotional power hits you the SECOND time you try to play it: when certain choices you didn't understand at first, choices with dire consequences, suddenly make perfect sense to you, and now you're trying to figure out how the game's gonna let you somehow change everything and make it all better. But nothing you try works. It's inevitable. And then you're asked to make choices during a formerly sweet scene that now seems heartbreaking and pointless and what do you do? Do you accept the futility of trying and not even bother trying to make something wonderful happen? Or do you try, try again, and succeed, even knowing that your success here will not be enough?

Every game should be a puzzle, but the puzzle should occur on a higher level than it does today. Heavy Rain tried to make its narrative into a puzzle but got way too bogged down in thinking its story wasn't a piece of shit, spent all its budget on pointless graphic effects, and forgot the interesting thing it was doing. A game with a story SHOULD be a puzzle: you should always be wondering, the way you do in good books and movies, "What if...?" Except that your what-ifs should sometimes be doable, you should sometimes be able to make certain things happen if you get how the world works in a thorough enough way that you see why your what-if isn't. But sometimes you can't, and the game's choice of when to tell you "no" is one of the ways it evokes something in you. That's what players mean when they refer to FFVII as a powerful story, even though FFVII's story is near-total bollocks. The moment when you lose Aeris is a moment when your freedom to play the game is revealed to have its limits: you will lose certain things you cared about, and there will be no recourse. A single smart moment in an otherwise generic game led a generation of players to declare it a masterpiece.

I've found that you can use the world-choice-outcome model of thinking to explain, in very effective terms, what makes the best games of our generation so good. But you can also use it to explain just how shallow each game is. Journey is great at building a world where every place you visit changes the way your controls seem to affect the world; it gives you a silent other player who changes just how your playthrough happens every time, and becomes a character you fall in love with. But it doesn't ask you to make significant choices, not really. Its world is navigated mostly as a linear series of choices, which are occasionally difficult enough to prevent you from immediately going forward, but there's no significant choice or challenge.

Minecraft gives you an enormous amount of choice, an enormous world full of options to explore, but its gameplay challenges end in the first stage of the game: once you're no longer scared of creepers, there's no challenge to constructing whatever you like. No architectural dilemmas to work out, no particular thing you can build that'll change the nature of the game you play. Mods give you more tools to build in the later game, but they don't build meaningful worlds around those tools. There are no structured objectives, only experiments.

What's brilliant about Fez is that it structures its puzzles in a way that requires you to put different kinds of effort into them to solve as you go on. Early puzzles can be solved by jumps and rotates. Later puzzles require you to decipher languages, manipulate the world in unexpected ways. There's a theory that a third layer of puzzles exists and just hasn't been solved by a years's worth of gamers. But Fez doesn't place any stake on your choices. That's what makes it so fun and lighthearted, but it also denies it propulsion. Many gamers give up between the first and the second set of puzzles, because there's no real transition between the two. They're two separate games, in a sense, with little common ground between them.

A real Citizen Kane game, if we're going literally by what Kane did that was so breakthrough, would create chains of these worlds-with-outcomes. Maybe it wouldn't have you playing with the same mechanics in each scene; maybe it would structure your path throughout the game such that various paths would take you to various options for playing it. Understanding how the paths work would be the game you play with the Kanegame, not the first time you play it, or even the second, but the tenth or the hundredth. In the meantime you're put into different situations that put you through different kinds of stress tests, ask you to make different kinds of choices, show you different consequences for what you've done.

I'd compare that ideal game less to Citizen Kane, actually, than I'd compare it to Breaking Bad or The Wire. Both are masterpieces in telling a story through choices and worlds; The Wire is all about the gradually increasing complexity of its world and Breaking Bad is all about the gradual evolution of Walter White based on his choices, but each comes close to what an ideal game ought to be thinking about. How do you put a single character through a gauntlet of challenges which are subtle and surprising and constantly take them by surprise? How do you build a world whose pieces are so interwoven that any freedom you have in one place, as one person, is checked and denied by all the other pieces, all of which are denied other kinds of agency? These are the interesting questions which game developers are only just starting to ask.

None of these questions make the games we have today any less fun or moving. But they reveal, hopefully, that games are too simple today to make the comparison to Welles that critics long to make, that we haven't even worked out the ground rules for how these necessary interactions ought to happen. The Citizen Kane game isn't the one that plays with one of these rules and reveals it, or even the one that reveals them all the way Pathologic does. It's a game that's built from the ground up understanding that these methods of game design exist, that they're how a complex game ought to be built, and it develops a new design model that takes variation along these lines into account and creates a fun, gamelike structure around them, subtle enough that you can't see all its pieces on multiple playthroughs, entertaining enough that it doesn't matter. And then game designers will study it avidly and realize they were thinking way too narrowly about this stuff, and then we'll see a renaissance of game development, and then a hundred years from now critics will look at that game and say "THIS is the one that showed us what games could really do, THIS is the one that freed us from two thousand years of notions about what a game ought to be."

But critics won't notice that game. They'll describe it as "frustrating", its mechanics as "unnecessary", and probably critique its graphics.
posted by Rory Marinich at 4:32 AM on June 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


Certainly, interactive simulations are something that games can uniquely handle, and I love playing them. But just because that's the case doesn't mean it's not possible to make affecting and engaging art that is more narrative driven. It's OK to like both, and it's also OK that other people like things that you don't.

There's a lecture (in Russian, unfortunately) by Pathologic's lead designer where he simultaneously compliments and critiques simulation-style games in a way that I really liked. He said that sims do a better job of handling complex, multifaceted worlds than most games even attempt, but that by denying you a body or a character, they remove you from the true consequences of the world you've built. You don't have to live with the paradox of abstraction, which is that the choices which make the most sense in the abstract are often the ones that are the least satisfying and most damaging in reality.

If you create a barbaric, illiterate world in Civ, you don't have to live amongst illiterate barbarians. If you raise crime rates in Sim City, you don't suddenly walk to work knowing that you might get mugged on any street corner. There's no tension between the simulation and the simulated, which is a shame because I think that would be a really fun way to make a game. Spore should have done this, but then Spore should have done a lot of things it didn't do. Fucking Spore.

In Pathologic, the meltdown of the city you're living in is depicted by a subtle increase in how frequently various types of 'enemy' characters appear. So at first you might see a burglar walking around the street alone, on day five two burglars might be fighting the town guard, and on day nine there are five of them and three arsonists, the town guard is dead, and the military forces are breaking formation and running. None of it is pre-planned, it's just a simple simulation with some chaos and randomness thrown in, but it is absolutely one of the most immersive situations I've ever found in a game, and it is utterly tied to narrative and story in a way that makes the game's story even more satisfying. It's a shame that Pathologic is such a terrible game, because it is really brilliant and satisfying on levels that other video games simply don't know exist.
posted by Rory Marinich at 4:41 AM on June 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Mods give you more tools to build in the later game, but they don't build meaningful worlds around those tools. There are no structured objectives, only experiments.

I plug this mod alot, but you should try Better Than Wolves. The recent changes force/encourage a lot of exploration and the building of very specific kinds of structures and even specialization in multiplayer. Just a simple example of a change he made -- sand, grass, dirt, etc, slow down your walking speed, which basically necessitates building roads. Another example -- he changed food, animal and mob behavior so that A) you require much more food to survive and B) Crops are much harder to grow and find seeds for and C) zombies, wolves and skeletons hunt wild animals. All of which forces you to create working animal farms and grow crops to feed them.

The end result of all of his changes is that if you don't build roads, fortifications, farms, windmills, and other automated systems, you will starve to death or be killed in a matter of in-game weeks or even sooner. It basically turns minecraft into the hardcore dwarf-fortress-like losing-is-fun game that a lot of people hoped it would be when they first saw it.
posted by empath at 4:52 AM on June 20, 2013


Yeah, I've heard nothing but good things about Better Than Wolves, and I'm excited to try it. I just finished Antichamber, so maybe the next time I get on a games kick I'll make BTW my go-to thing.
posted by Rory Marinich at 4:55 AM on June 20, 2013


Antichamber was pretty good, but it was too derivative of Portal, and missing a lot of what made Portal great. And good lord was getting lost ever annoying.

More people here should be citing The Binding of Isaac. It's really off-putting at first, but it's actually a unique experience. No other medium could better capture the experience of being an innocent and uncomprehending toddler from an impoverished and abusive household. Could you make a novel about that, or a film? I doubt it. What gives Binding of Isaac its effect is its letting you (as Isaac) treat the few objects of your miserable existence (like pennies, the Bible, your mom's underwear) as playthings in a game. The game itself is Isaac's coping mechanism: a protective delusion against a scary world. It's intense and unsettling, and much deeper and richer than the common grimdark video game.
posted by painquale at 5:26 AM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Mario 64 provided the blueprint for every third-person 3D game

>I wish this were true but it's really not. After the N64, how many games have you do different missions in the same 3D locations while keeping it interesting? Mostly it's just like the 2D Mario games - one location, one objective, clear it once and you're done.

Think of the realised, open 3D world, the freedom of movement in it and the first signs of interactivity (trees, wall jumping). It was a paradigm shift.

Anyway, I'm reminded of how photographers tried to mimic paintings initially. Every art form has to find its way.
posted by ersatz at 7:54 AM on June 20, 2013


painquaile, and its mechanics are tip top (if only it didn't have flash slowdowns at times).
posted by ersatz at 7:57 AM on June 20, 2013


This is the Plan 9 from Outer Space of video games.
posted by jfuller at 9:13 AM on June 20, 2013


you often see columns from people saying, "Why Bioshock Infinite's Story Fails" when what they really mean is, "Why I don't like stories in games"

Most of the articles I've seen have been talking about what's wrong specifically with the story: a cluttered plot that tries to do too many things and doesn't hold together or make sense, ham-handed treatment of race and class issues, a cliche twist that doesn't make sense, characters whose motivations don't make sense, etc.

PC Gamer UK did a podcast talking about the game in depth and their consensus seems to be that the plot doesn't make sense and the story-telling doesn't always work, but the symbolism and the spectacle work really well. The individual moments and suggestive ideas work well enough to carry the experience even thought the narrative doesn't. And they liked the combat.

I think the Bioshock devs are great at creating settings (with amazing visual and audio design and artistry) and having big ideas, but they're not great or particularly thoughtful writers or story-tellers.
posted by straight at 10:52 AM on June 20, 2013


empath: "Braid was more of a poem than a story."

But the thing is, Braid really isn't a poem or a story. It's a game. That's what's so great and revolutionary about it. All the really interesting and evocative stuff is right there in the gameplay itself, and in the artwork and design of the levels, and even in the music. The text is just a nudge to get you looking at the symbolism in the gameplay mechanics and seeing possible connections to other things. Tim's--I think situation might be a better word than story--Tim's situation is conveyed through the game, the encounters with the dinosaur, and the final level even if you never read a word of the books.
posted by straight at 11:00 AM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Copronymus: "I want to give a giant high-five to whoever wrote this one, which amounts to, "Much like Citizen Kane, Tony Hawk Pro Skater contains many visible objects.""

The latest Idle Thumbs podcast (which has long ridiculed the whole Citizen Kane of Games cliché) has a fun discussion prompted by this website. Jake points out that that example is maybe the only legitimate use of the comparison, because it's taking about how Tony Hawk used depth-of field effects at a time when most games just used distance fog, so it's specifically making a comparison to Citizen Kane's cinematography, rather than just a cliched way of saying, "This game is revolutionary."
posted by straight at 11:07 AM on June 20, 2013


"THIS is the one that showed us what games could really do, THIS is the one that freed us from two thousand years of notions about what a game ought to be."

I think it's silly to expect games to converge on one particular aim when it seems obvious that there's a huge variety to the things we call "games" in what they aim to do, and what we, ideally, can get from them.

Super Hexagon, Tetris, Cart Life, Minecraft, StarCraft, DOTA, DOA, Guitar Hero, Spelunky, Myst, Skyrim, Dark Souls, Super Meat Boy, FIFA 2014, Unreal Tournament, Civilization, Flight Simulator X, Euro Truck Simulator, Grim Fandango, Journey, World of Warcraft -- it's ridiculous to claim that each of these is an imperfect version of the same thing, each falling short of the thing you describe as being "what a game ought to be."
posted by straight at 11:37 AM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, I was probably a bit too inspecific when I talked about 'Why Bioshock Infinite's Story Fails'. There are indeed many valid criticisms of the plot and I was certainly thoroughly fed up with the combat by the end - however, I was thinking of this Ars Technica article when I wrote that comment. My fault for not linking to it originally.

Bioshock aside (and I do think it had a wonderful atmosphere and setting and ideas), a 'game mechanics vs. story' article is published pretty much every day on the web. It's a great subject to talk about but I'm still flummoxed by the weird distaste against stories in certain corners.
posted by adrianhon at 12:39 PM on June 20, 2013


adrianhon, I think the distaste comes from two things:

1. Most video game stories seem awkwardly and artificially attached to the game.
2. Most video game stories are bad.

It's like if every time you went for a bike ride, your bike would read aloud to you from The DaVinci Code, and then every mile you had to stop and watch a 10 minute clip from the movie before you could ride any further.

I like stories fine, if they are good stories, but I don't particularly need to hear one while I'm riding my bike, and I definitely don't want my bike ride continually interrupted by a bad story.

("But how can you just ride your bike if you don't know anything about your character or what your motivation is for riding? How will you even know where you're supposed to go on your bike?")
posted by straight at 1:20 PM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Rory Marinich: " The game I've spent two years of my life attempting to write about, an obscure Russian horror game called Pathologic, is nowhere near enough to be a Kane, but it's something of a Rosetta Stone (tortured metaphor forgive me) in that its developers thought long and hard about what a game consists of, what its layers are, and then they built something that was intended to convey all these layers to a slightly more casual audience than "myth-and-high-art-obsessed Russian academics". "

I smelled that post coming a mile away.
posted by Samizdata at 1:26 PM on June 20, 2013


I haven't seen Citizen Kane since I was basically a kid, and am not able to either agree or disagree whether it's a useful example to compare potentially artistically groundbreaking games to. So I'll leave Kane aside.

I've said this before, but I actually consider Dwarf Fortress one of the few games in which some significant part of established traditions of art is expressed using means that are unique to games -- namely how classical tragedy is built in to how the scenarios in the game often play out, how the greed of the society that sent out this expedition ends up, in one way or another, nullifying all its efforts and driving it into madness and death.
posted by Anything at 2:50 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know about the Citizen Kane of games, but the first game that made me really think was Fallout 1.

(Spoilers follow)

I played Fallout 2 first, so I knew the ending of the first one. But it was only when I picked up the first and played through and got to the ending is when I understood the significance. If anyone recalls, the ending after you beat the boss and save your home (a large and isolated bomb-proof shelter that was forced to open up after 70 years and send you out to find a water purification device) is that you return to your shelter and find the leader of the shelter standing at the entrance. He meets you, congratulates you, but tells you that you have to leave. And the game ends with a shot of my character with his back turned, head bowed, and walking into the wasteland.

This was big to me. Because most games I played had not very nuanced endings. I mean, there's good endings and bad endings and they kind of foreshadow ending types so you're rarely surprised. Even when an ending is bittersweet, like heroic sacrifice, the hero actively makes a decision to do it. So, this was different. I had been playing the game through, trying to make good decisions and befriending people I meet, and being pumped when I defeated a group of raiders or got a nice new piece of armor. But little did I know, all these changes would just be more evidence to the leader that it wasn't safe to let me back into the shelter. That I would corrupt the society and make them want to see the outside world, thereby critically endangering the cohesiveness of the society itself.

It's still a game ending that I think about from time to time. It's almost like a Greek tragedy (you set out to save something, but yourself become a threat to that thing), it feels organic, and it manages to involve indirectly some of the mechanics of the game itself.
posted by FJT at 3:34 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


If it's a game that makes you think, then I'd nominate Starflight. Those who've finished it know what I mean.
posted by JHarris at 4:00 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know about the Citizen Kane of games, but the first game that made me really think was Fallout 1.

It was a good ending. I mention Fallout 2 (too) often here because apart from its open-ended game mechanics and missions, it has well-written, funny and characterful NPCs, its quests explore some interesting themes of being an outsider, allocation of resources and might makes right while it mostly affords you the freedom to handle things as you see fit. Someone should mod it into a newer engine because it's one of them slightly overlooked gems.
posted by ersatz at 5:26 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Think of the realised, open 3D world, the freedom of movement in it and the first signs of interactivity (trees, wall jumping). It was a paradigm shift.

I completely agree, but my point is that most 3D games since, even those with platforming elements, don't share that sense of freedom at all. I feel like very little has lived up to it.

After the Banjo-Kazooie series, what 3D platformers have been inspired by Mario 64? Other Mario games, Sonic? Maybe I'm just not playing the right games.
posted by 23 at 6:35 PM on June 20, 2013


Often, when it proves to be difficult to answer a question, it's because it's not been wellOkay, so, what does it mean to say a "Citizen Kane" of video games?

If it's a revolutionary tour-de-force of creation largely driven by a single (or a small number of) visionaries that brings astounding new things to the field, then the obvious answers are Super Mario Bros. first, Doom second. But this treats Citizen Kane mostly as a monument, divorced from its content. Everyone knows "It's Terrific!" but for most people, that's all they know. Which is why so many people name-check it as a prototypical great work of art and don't look any more closely at it than that.

If it's a strikingly modern story and means of storytelling, then there is no comparison. Even the best game stories do not measure up. Storytelling isn't something that games do very well anyway, at least not explicit stories written by a scenario author. At their best they imply a story, or apply individual revelations, rather than tell a sequential narrative.

After the Banjo-Kazooie series, what 3D platformers have been inspired by Mario 64?

Any game in which a 3D on-screen character moves relative to the perspective of a dynamic, free-moving camera, rather than based off of a "true north" (as in isometric games) or relative to the character himself (as in FPSes or games with tank-like controls) owes a debt to Super Mario 64. To my knowledge, it's the first game to offer this. Furthermore, it's the game that proved that 3D platforming could not only work, but work extremely well. Tomb Raider had 3D platforming, but it's a lot more precise and methodical; in Mario 64, you just run and jump and it works. Both approaches are valid, but Tomb Raider's is a lot more puzzle-like, about using the right move at the right place at the right time.

SO, a lot of people have taken this as their excuse to give lists of games they admire. I've been thinking about this lately for a possible series of blog posts. Here's some selections:

KIRBY AIR RIDE: A tremendously underrated game. First seems like it'll be another Mascot Kart Racer, but it has no "Grand Prix" mode! Instead it offers the wonderful City Trial, basically a kind of timed adventure game on vehicles, sort of like Grand Theft Kirby. Players compete to build up their machines' stats high enough in a limited time, then compete at a random event; whoever wins the event wins the match. Masahiro Sakurai's last non-Smash Bros. game for Nintendo, and contributor of some key ideas to Melee and later games' asthetics, most notably Brawl's checkboard of secrets and unlockables, which was lifted directly from Kirby Air Ride.

RIBBIT KING: Mentioned above. Originally "Kero Kero King" on the Playstation. Golf with frogs on huge, interesting courses littered with traps and gimmicks. It's weird mascot-like visuals are sharpened by excellent and hilarious script writing. The Gamecube version comes with an entire second disc containing nothing but unlockable cut scenes!

MOUNTAIN KING: An old 2600/5200/Atari 8-bit game, one of the earliest true platformers. (People call Pitfall! a platformer, but although you can run and jump it's not really a good example of the genre.) Its low-res visuals actually enhance the evocative mood, it uses music and sound well, and it plays with visibility in interesting ways. Lots of fun to play even now, although it takes lots of practice to get used to its jumping mechanic (press diagonally, in one motion, to jump).

PIKMIN: There's a sequel coming out, but I think the original game will still probably be the best. Unlike many other modern games, it's possible to lose at Pikmin, and finishing it in the minimum possible time (9 game days) is very challenging, and ultimately satisfying, to pull off. Also along those lines: The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, if played as a six-day time attack, which is just barely possible. (The Japanese version counted the number of times you saved, so it was slightly more obvious that this was intended as an achievable goal there.)

SUGORO QUEST: I wrote about this fan-translated Japan-only Famicom release before for GameSetWatch while it was still active. I'm still endlessly impressed with this single-player RPG/board game hybrid, which manages to transcend both categories. There are characters that are good at fighting monsters but terrible at the board game; there's a character that gets a spell that lets her decide what the movement die rolls, but is only middling at the fighting. Making due with what you've got is the key to getting through. Got a sequel, but it turns out to be a multiplayer game.

TODD'S ADVENTURES IN SLIME WORLD: I also wrote about this Lynx/Genesis for GSW. Comes with seven game modes, all using the basic engine, but each playing very differently from each other. Easy, Exploration and Action are progressively harder adventures in a large, very dangerous world with loads of secret areas. Suspense is a timed adventure where you're constantly searching for mushrooms that extend the clock. Logic takes away your main weapon. Arcade gives you one life, but also ramps up the difficulty! And combat is a free-for-all battle game that, on the Lynx, supports up to eight players. Sadly, only a handful of people in the whole world have ever experienced this, as it requires 8 Lynxes, 8 copies of the game, and cables to connect them all. And probably 32 rapidly-draining AA batteries.
posted by JHarris at 7:51 PM on June 20, 2013


Any game in which a 3D on-screen character moves relative to the perspective of a dynamic, free-moving camera, rather than based off of a "true north" (as in isometric games) or relative to the character himself (as in FPSes or games with tank-like controls) owes a debt to Super Mario 64.

Ah, I was not thinking so generously, and that is certainly reasonable. I'm sad that the open-world model is rarely used as well as it was in Mario64.

To my knowledge, it's the first game to offer this.

I thought maybe Nights did this, but it looks like it was released a month or so after Mario64, so there you go.

Kirby Air Ride was a really stupendous and underrated game.
posted by 23 at 8:07 PM on June 20, 2013


After the Banjo-Kazooie series, what 3D platformers have been inspired by Mario 64?

Psychonauts totally does the 3D platforming and exploring in levels that you revisit and unlock new areas or challenges. (And it did a whole bunch of the relative-gravity changing tricks a few years before Mario Galaxy.)
posted by straight at 8:29 PM on June 20, 2013


If it's a game that makes you think, then I'd nominate Starflight. Those who've finished it know what I mean.

I played this when it came out with my dad--I was 6 or 7 at the time. It must have made an impression on me, because I distinctly remember "playing Starflight" with my friends, pretending to collect minerals and negotiate with aliens and engage in Space Battles. In some small part it might even be responsible for my interest in science. I never managed to finish it, it lay somewhere in the back of my mind for years, and then I finally returned to it in college.

I waited 13-14 years for that plot twist. Would that be possible today? To remain unspoiled for 14 years, and then find out something that puts 14 years of nostalgia in a different context entirely? Probably not, which is sort of a shame. I don't think I could have found a better way to play Starflight.
posted by IjonTichy at 9:32 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I thought maybe Nights did this, but it looks like it was released a month or so after Mario64, so there you go.

I've not found the opportunity to play the original Nights (only the Wii version which is much changed and by all accounts inferior), but from what I've read of it, the free-walking mode plays such a small role in that game that I'm not sure it should even count. (Flying mode is basically a 2D game, so it definitely doesn't count.) Plus, I don't think the camera is all that dynamic in walkabout mode.
posted by JHarris at 10:37 PM on June 20, 2013


One observation in the relation between other art forms and games as a potential art form which I have actually not come across on the internet, but which to me seems fairly interesting, is that there is in fact one art form* which shares with games an absence** of distinction between member of audience and participant, namely, ritual. I think explorations into the artistic potential of games would do well to be combined with some study of the psychology and aesthetics of ritual.

If we accept that a significant aspect in the potential of games as an art form of its own lies in the uniqueness of the medium of computerized simulation, then I think the intersection of computerized simulation on the one hand and the psychology and aesthetics of ritual on the other hand should be a promising area to look into.

* I will take it as an art form

** Not accounting for any possible extra layer of outside viewers on top of those actually participating in the ritual, which is not really of interest

posted by Anything at 2:01 AM on June 21, 2013


Also, Rory Marinich, Pathologic sounds very interesting. I should read up on it at some point!
posted by Anything at 2:06 AM on June 21, 2013


If it's a strikingly modern story and means of storytelling, then there is no comparison. Even the best game stories do not measure up. Storytelling isn't something that games do very well anyway, at least not explicit stories written by a scenario author. At their best they imply a story, or apply individual revelations, rather than tell a sequential narrative.

A propos, I really like the graphics of David, but the storytelling is lacking.
posted by ersatz at 10:15 AM on June 21, 2013


I think explorations into the artistic potential of games would do well to be combined with some study of the psychology and aesthetics of ritual.

Anything, what you are talking about is the study of play in society. One way of looking at ritual is that is a form of play, and there are many more similarities between ritual and games than the audience participation elements. I'd recommend the book Homo Ludens to you (or others interested in this topic).
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 12:38 PM on June 21, 2013


If it's a game that makes you think, then I'd nominate Starflight. Those who've finished it know what I mean.

Oh man, Starflight. Exactly the thing 14 year old me needed at the time. I played that all day for six weeks during summer holidays. I still remember finding Earth. That was ~18 years ago. Yes, contemporary game narratives are kind of rubbish, but there are exceptional games all over the place that combine narrative and interaction into some kind of greater gestalt.

And now I can't decide whether I want to spend the weekend playing Starflight or Darklands.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 6:43 PM on June 21, 2013


there are exceptional games all over the place that combine narrative and interaction into some kind of greater gestalt

I don't think I can say KING OF DRAGON PASS loud enough.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 10:34 PM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


This long conversation between Peter Molyneux and Sean Vanaman, a head writer of The Walking Dead and one of the Idle Thumbs guys, is a great listen for those interested in game design.
posted by painquale at 9:23 PM on June 22, 2013


Back to the future: Preserving the history of video games
posted by homunculus at 1:18 AM on June 27, 2013


I just got this game. I haven't read this thread—yet. I just need a place to post, shit god damn mother fuck this game is amazing holy shit. Like seriously, what the mother fuck. I feel like I haven't been paying attention to video games and they have stepped up their game.
posted by chunking express at 4:14 PM on July 7, 2013


Also, I am talking about The Last of Us. What am incoherent comment.
posted by chunking express at 5:02 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just finished Spec Ops: The Line, which people are holding up as a high water mark of art to the point where a massive book was written about it. And while it was great, its 'art' was in service of making metacritical points about games and gamers and retelling Apocolypse Now, a film that came out decades ago. Which is a bit sad. But I'm also playing Superbrothers: Sword and Sorcery, which is a gentle little poem.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 5:04 PM on July 9, 2013


It's a gentle little poem with awesome music.
posted by JHarris at 8:19 PM on July 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


> the message it sends is that I guess having a daughter is more important than the preservation of the human race? Because fatherhood rocks?

I didn't get that at all, but then I'm not a father. For me, it seemed fairly explicitly to be about what horrible things you would do to survive, and also what you need to make it worth surviving. So the message I took away was almost the opposite, in that people have a need for partners, but that need can be dangerous. I think a few of the characters (like Bill) say something along those lines too.

Specifically, in the final fight [hovertext spoilers]. Then in the ending [hovertext spoilers]. I only just finished the game this afternoon though, so I may feel differently after a bit of reflection.
posted by lucidium at 10:03 AM on July 11, 2013


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