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February 19, 2008 12:46 PM   Subscribe

The Wager: "I'll bet you that video games will never become a significant form of cultural discourse the way that novels and film have. I'll bet you that fifty years from now they'll be just as mature and well-respected as comic books are today," posits game designer Steve Gaynor. Responses and rebuttals.

Aristotle wrote, "most important of all is the structure of the incidents. For Tragedy is an imitation, not of men, but of an action and of life, and life consists in action, and its end is a mode of action, not a quality. Now character determines men's qualities, but it is by their actions that they are happy or the reverse." Literature and cinema have attempted to follow these ancient rules of story since their inception, and in the industry's infancy, some games embraced a form of second person narrative in which the player was acknowledged as the central character. But as the industry has matured, the focus has shifted to storyless worlds or tournament games whose open-endedness was precisely their selling point. (However, see also Portal (spoiler!)and System Shock 2)

Does the interactive medium of video games inhibit the "structuring of incidents" requisite to form a cohesive narrative? Is the open-endedness in games precisely that which prevents their evolution into a culturally relevant artform? Or is the art-form "too new", the application of those time-honored rules to video games still being worked out?
posted by Pastabagel (140 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
He can collect on that bet right now.
posted by empath at 12:58 PM on February 19, 2008


In a world in which rigid linearity is a feature of nearly every game being made, how does anyone question whether games "inhibit the structuring of incidents"?

Anyway, this is nothing more than absurd medium snobbery. Comic books have Sandman, Watchmen, and the like, and video games have Deus Ex, Portal, and so on. On the other side of things, your average novel is just as inane as any Superman comic, and your average film is no more deep nor insightful or literate than Unreal Tournament. Rigging the game so that the highest-minded and most expressive books and films are compared to the average video game or comic is just as dishonest and stupid as comparing the highest-minded video games and comics to the average novels and films.

Or to put it more succintly, let's switch things around and compare Deus Ex to any Danielle Steele novel. Look how stupid these books are!
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:05 PM on February 19, 2008 [29 favorites]


All I know is that if you gave me a choice of spending an entire evening reading Aristotle's Ars Poetica or playing Team Fortress 2, I would opt for the one with flamethrowers 'n shit.
posted by Avenger at 1:06 PM on February 19, 2008 [8 favorites]


I don't think modern audiences have a long enough atte*gets bored and switches to youtube tab*
posted by fleetmouse at 1:07 PM on February 19, 2008


I think the problem is that people are trying to transfer the wrong things from novels and movies to games.

What makes games interesting isn't necessarily the quality of the narrative, but the quality of the simulation, and the quality of the rendering of the simulation

This is also not very much different from a good novel -- a good novel is ALSO based on a good simulation, even if's a simulation that only exists in the mind of the author. If the author doesn't build his world on a realistic model of the real world, then it doesn't feel 'right'. Even an arts-y novel like Portrait of An Artist as a young man is really a simulation of consciousness. Joyce is saying -- this is the world as it is. Another attribute is of course the quality of the rendering - the detail. Even if everything and every character in the novel behaves appropriately, it's not a well written novel unless the author accurately captures the environment -- sights, sounds, smells, emotions, thoughts.

Another difference is, of course, one of agency -- game designers are working with a different emotional palate than novelists. You yourself feel guilt, accomplishment, fear, etc, instead of feeling empathy for someone else -- embarassment, nervousness. It's connects to more primal, and potentially animalistic emotions when it's you yourself acting instead of watching someone else act. You don't need to read the thoughts of the other character to interpret the events and act on them, you have your own.
posted by empath at 1:14 PM on February 19, 2008


You want games as art? Try Knytt Stories. Just beautiful.
posted by Jpfed at 1:17 PM on February 19, 2008 [5 favorites]


Browse the racks of a standard comic shop, and the books on the mainstream shelves will be filled with flashy illustrations depicting laughable actions stories, absurdly-proportioned women, and superheroes.

This is different from a Blockbuster video in what way?
posted by Benjy at 1:19 PM on February 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


What a bizarre claim. 50 years? 50 years from now, who knows if the terms "video game", "movie" and "comic book" will have any real meaning.

The analogy isn't perfect, but this sounds a bit like an early naysayer saying that those wax recording cylinders are just never going to take off and become culturally relevant.
posted by gurple at 1:21 PM on February 19, 2008 [3 favorites]


This is an interesting question. My gut reaction was to agree that video games "will never become a significant form of cultural discourse the way that novels and film have." But that got me to thinking of the diverse potential of video games as an artistic medium. Whether it is something as simple as Passage or as complex as Spore, video games clearly have the potential to incorporate players into the unfolding of a 'narrative' in a unique way. I think that a more appropriate question, rather than if video games will ever be 'significant' compared to other media, which is vague at best, is how and through what narrative forms, technologies, and artistic modes could video games offer artistic insights with the same attention, scope, and symbolic depth as great literature and film? Video games are already 'significant,' and I think that the value of a comparison with other artistic media lies not in projective evaluation, but the delineation of certain creative possibilities. Of course, this second option is being explored as we speak in some of the links, so I suppose that the wager is just a clever starting point... on preview what Pope Empath of Gurple said.
posted by farishta at 1:23 PM on February 19, 2008


1. "Significant form of cultural discourse" is essentially undefined here and needs to be much more rigorously specified before the question even makes sense. I'm not sure why you'd believe this kind of competitive medium-vs.-medium horse-racing was a desirable or meaningful endeavor, but if you're going to do it, you have to have some reasonable way of assessing who's winning the race, not just a half-assed set of adjectives like "significant" and "meaningful" that reduce to knee-jerk personal opinion dressed up as aesthetic judgement.

2. Artistic success does not necessarily depend on narrative. Tetris could be a work of art though it has no characters and no story. (This is true of literature and film, not just games, by the way: often this kind of games-can't-be-art piece ends up displaying an embarrassingly narrow and/or philistine conception of what makes a good novel, or a good movie.)
posted by RogerB at 1:24 PM on February 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


From the article (bolding the author's):
Mainstream comics feature vaguely lifelike renderings of idealized humans in action-packed situations (sound familiar?); they are drawings of movies, instead of being comics for comics' sake. Clearly the same applies to mainstream games, aiming for "realism" in visuals and juvenile coolness in character and story, trying to be "cinematic" without understanding that the real value of a video game comes from being uncinematic, unrealistic; from embracing the otherness of the form and expressing human experience in ways that a movie never could.

I agree completely. The problem with present games is that they superficially mimic the narrative conventions of film and literature instead of creating their own. The very idea that games should be narratives is holding them back. That isn't to say that there is no place for narrative games, but ultimately a game no more needs to be a narrative than a painting or a musical composition needs to tell a well-defined story. Games need to take advantage of the strengths of their own medium.
posted by Pyry at 1:25 PM on February 19, 2008 [3 favorites]


Video games aren't trying to do what novels and film do. However, they have clearly supplanted such rivals as Monopoly and Chinese Checkers. Mission accomplished!
posted by kittens for breakfast at 1:27 PM on February 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


I think games trying to be narative art like novels and most film is not a good move. Paintings are art, Music is art, and ballet is art, and it doesn't matter that a story about a blind pinball player is stupid.

Games should be art on their own terms as interactive experiences. Even videogames known for their great stories like bioshock have stories that if they were a novel would be sort of terrible. I know bioshock's story has to do with it's gameness so it is better than the story alone indicate, but really Bioshock stands for only being convulated and sort of dumb instead of completely generic and stupid. It is only low expectations that make it look good.

Portal is a work of art and the story while pretty good on its own has damn little to do with it. The art of portal is in the mechanics. The puzzles. The novel way tthat you can move through space and the sense of flow. I'm not saying that stories in games can't be good. I just don't expect stories in games to ever be as good as stories in movies because people expect games to go on for hours and hours and your decisions to matter. It is simply too hard to construct an hours long branching experience that is legitimately compelling and interesting. So writers make simple universal stories with arbitrary twists to keep it interesting.

Narative is something games try and do too. It is not there reason for being there. The art of the game is in the rules. Tetris is more of a work of art than 99% of games.
posted by I Foody at 1:28 PM on February 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


I just came in to point out that video games as a genre are already over 25 years old, and I remember this same type of debate raging 20 years ago.
I think I have to go see if anyone's on my lawn now.
posted by forforf at 1:29 PM on February 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'd say that games are already as cultural significant as comic books and that they give movies a run for their money. Right now, not 50 years from now. Just look at the sales figures. Look at what people of the younger generation actually talk about online. How many video games messageboards are there? How many comic book messageboards?

What's the hot topic in Academia? It isn't comic books.

It would be helpful for those of you dismissing games as a genre to mention the games they've played that have caused them to reach this conclusion. Because, to be honest, it sounds like some of you have no idea what you're talking about.

I'll just give one example of a pure game being as culturally significant and meaningful as any comic, or even a novel -- Shadow of the Colossus. Barely a narrative, barely any words even, but an incredibly moving experience to play. I felt crushed when I finished it. Not a typical feeling that one is left with after most games.

And anyone who hasn't played Portal cannot participate in this discussion.
posted by empath at 1:30 PM on February 19, 2008 [7 favorites]


Rigged wager with too many exceptions.
I’d posit that the infantilization of media is ubiquitous and mature film not made for adolescent fantasy is the exception not the rule.
“Jumpers” made a good deal of money; it’s not as though people are rushing to rent Fellini or Bergman films.

/I understand that Neil Gaiman was offered a movie deal for the Sandman series. One of the studio execs described a scene where armies were attempting to fight Morpheus and failing because, gosh, he’s just so powerful. I can’t imagine a worse understanding of the character and utter lack of perception and ignorance of the depth and wealth of background in the series.

And I would second Pope Guilty’s comments on quality literature versus pulp in contrast to quality in other media.

I absolutely agree with Marek’s sentiment that: interactivity in gaming would, and does, encourage broader social impact.

I would go further and say that interactivity is crucial to any social impact at all. Plays were taken very seriously in days gone by. The Greeks had a religious reverence for them. The middle ages, they were potent forces for reformation as well as religious prostelyzation. Audiences, although passive, felt an intimate connection to the story. Stories that very often reflected issues critical to their lives and spiritual beliefs. They were deeply considered by the public and their themes were taken so seriously and personally as to inspire riots.
Today: Cats!

Interactivity inhibits orthodoxy. Many mediums are rigidly controlled and/or marginalized and reviled when they first appear until their impact can be diffused and more orthodox thought can be injected into them, barring censorship or privilege of language of course. Examples abound from Gutenberg and Dante to novels to the early days of radio and television.
posted by HVAC Guerilla at 1:32 PM on February 19, 2008


2058 will be post-singularity. The entire universe will be a videogame.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 1:34 PM on February 19, 2008


2058 will be post-singularity. The entire universe will be a videogame.

2058 will be post-post-singularity. The entire universe will be Metafilter.
*shudders*
posted by farishta at 1:37 PM on February 19, 2008 [3 favorites]


And, frankly, I think there is a lot more cultural discourse about something like Halo than something like Waiting for Godot amongst a lot of age groups. Like it or not, today's average college grad is going to know more about, and talk more about, the exploits of Master Chief than they do about the collected works of Kurt Vonnegut.

The major problem with any particular video game having a long-lasting cultural meaning is how quickly they age. There are weird "humps" of knowledge about certain stories in certain age groups--kids from the 1990's may have a shared cultural knowledge of Goldeneye or Ocarina of Time that those who grew up in the 80's won't understand. Thus a book or movie that is seen by a few people of all age groups has a "universal appeal" that gives it credibility, but a greater total number of people in a very specific age range are going to be aware of videogame that is then classified as having "niche" appeal.
posted by Benjy at 1:38 PM on February 19, 2008 [3 favorites]


Or to put it more succintly, let's switch things around and compare Deus Ex to any Danielle Steele novel. Look how stupid these books are!
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:05 PM on February 19


I don't think the point is which is better, I think it's which is more culturally relevant. Films and novels obviously have cultural relevance, but do games? We all agree I think that the games listed here are some of the best ever, but are they culturally relevant? What is the statement that, say, Deus Ex makes about our culture now?

And more to the point, how does that statement square with the non-stop orgy of violence which dominates most of the game? I think that's the point of the article. Not that comic books can't be culturally relevant art, but that for the most part they aren't. The medium isn't used by the majority of its supporters for that reason.

Think of it this way - even blockbuster films make some attempt to build character and a story that is independent of the gee-whizzery that got you into the theater. Why did they make an effort in Jurassic Park to develop the male lead as someone who didn't like or want kids and then stick him with kids throughout the action of the film? Why did they write him scenes where he acts as a protective father? Didn't we come to see the stomping dinosaurs? Why in War of the Worlds did the first act of the film center on Tom Cruise being a lousy Dad out of touch with his kids?

The answer is that there is more tension in watching these character work through their admittedly pedestrian problems than in spending all of the time on the action. Without those scenes, Jurassic Park becomes Turok, and War of The Worlds is the last 7 levels of Half-Life 2. Something has to happen to the characters that changes them, because that is what's interesting and what Aristotle is saying - the story is representative of life, and life is marked by moments of change set off by events, but not the events themselves.

The problem I think the author is talking about is that games by and large have no story - they have a plot, but no story. Comics were the same way. The "adult themes" introduced in comic books in the early 90's were simply comics catching up to the where novels and films have always been - that people are interested in reading about real problem set against a fantastic backdrop more than they are interested in reading about the fantastic backdrops alone.

But I personally don't think it's the medium. I think that it's been so difficult just to build the games and get them to represent scenes and situations realistically that no effort has been put into story, though that seems to be changing. At some point someone will have to make a design decision that while the player could spend an hour in a creepy neighborhood dodging zombies, maybe it would be better for the story if he didn't, and did something else instead.
posted by Pastabagel at 1:38 PM on February 19, 2008 [7 favorites]


The very idea that games should aspire to being a form of cultural discourse seems peculiar to me. OK, so historically many forms of 'entertainment' have made a degree of transition into art, but this is by no means the case across the board. For instance, sport rarely aspires to be 'cultural discourse', and neither really does dining. Comics have begun to make that connection, as film has to a much greater degree. But there's no more reason to expect games to any more cultural depth than, say, hang-gliding. Is there?

Anyway, enjoy your Portal nonsense. I'm off to play Super Puzzle Fighter.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 1:40 PM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


This isn't about quality so much as cultural impact. There will be awesome games and Tori Spelling will still get work. I think games will have a greater degree of cultural impact than they do now some few years down the road, easily surpassing comic books. I do not think they will rival TV or movies, simply because they are much easier to both create and passively enjoy. It may be possible for games to develop some form of cultural impact via TV and Movies (like comics do now)- it seems a lot easier to create a decent tie-in movie for a game than a decent game, but so long as Uwe Boll draws breath this will have a hard time happening.

As for the barrier-to-entry stuff... Eh. We're in an age where it is unthinkable for a household in the main shopping target demographics to not have a TV. We'll soon be in an age where the same could be said of a game system of some sort.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 1:42 PM on February 19, 2008


Why do people worship Watchmen so much?

I have it here. The art is way sub-par far poorer than some mainstream comics. The story is fraught with cliché. The ending was IMHO, idotic. The only things cool is the sub-plot involving Tales of the Black Freighter and Doctor Manhattan. I suppose the structure of the narrative was interesting and the timing of when it came out. But over all it's not that good.

Anyway. Portal is a very interesting game. I think technology will eventually render this guys critique moot.
posted by tkchrist at 1:43 PM on February 19, 2008


I have a nagging fear that as games draw closer to photorealism, everything is going to start looking like one of those early-90s FMV games.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 1:43 PM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


Perhaps he is also missing the fact that in the real world computer gaming and simulations play a much more important role than entertainment when they are training our pilots, military, surgeons, etc. I'll take an interactive experience over a passive one anytime for quality. I also wonder by what metric he plans to measure this. Entertainment, also by definition, is a non-productive use of time, and as such, absent arguable, subjective artistic value, is almost irrelevant in terms of 'value to society' - even I might argue - counterproductive.

I don't think that its appropriate to generalize physical medium (eg books - which encompass textbooks and other educational materials) but rather limit the discussion to popular fiction, which is analogous to the video game, if you are going to ignore the educational simulation aspects of the interactive medium.
posted by sfts2 at 1:45 PM on February 19, 2008


So one generation creates the games. The next generation starts playing them in their youth, but they didn't exist before they were born. The third generation never knows a world without them.

Once the third generation begins to participate in the cultural exchange, video games are culturally relevant, because they are something that we share knowledge of as part of our culture.
posted by davejay at 1:46 PM on February 19, 2008 [3 favorites]


The problem with present games is that they superficially mimic the narrative conventions of film and literature instead of creating their own. The very idea that games should be narratives is holding them back.

This is a good point. Maybe then, as an interactive experience, the point should be to project the narrative on the player, in other words, to give the player the experiences in the game that will force the change in them that Aristotle was talking about. In other words, imagine a game in which you are force to kill a single person realistically, and watch the simulation of the aftermath of that violence.

In other words, force the realistic experience of tragedy in the game, to force the "character development" for real in the human player. Maybe it could be something as simple as raising a virtual pet only to see it age. Maybe instead of a grandiose story, perhaps videogames as effective art would be better served by narrowing and simplifying the scope of the simulation but rendering it considerably more realistically, so that the players experience of the simulation is that much more real.
posted by Pastabagel at 1:47 PM on February 19, 2008 [3 favorites]


Surely it's worth remembering that most people grow out of comic books and video games. But they don't grow out of novels and films? This might change. But it hasn't yet.

(Before anyone goes all squeaky on me, please not that I said most).
posted by rhymer at 1:49 PM on February 19, 2008


sorry note.
posted by rhymer at 1:50 PM on February 19, 2008


empath : What makes games interesting isn't necessarily the quality of the narrative, but the quality of the simulation, and the quality of the rendering of the simulation

I respectfully disagree. Certainly there are games where the simulated aspect; the sounds, visuals, controls, level design, and physics, are the selling point and can make or break the sales and reviews of a game (Gears of War comes to mind here, a beautiful and fun game that was pretty narratively empty...)

But that completely ignores games like Eternal Darkness: Sanities Requiem (to name one of many) where the engine is years old, it doesn't look nearly as polished as any other game out there, but is still astonishingly good. The story is what drives the game. I have forgotten most of the plot of any number of books and movies, but I remember each and every character and setting in ED:SR because it is a masterpiece, it's medium is irrelevant. If a skilled bard told me the story whilst sitting around a fire, it would still chill and entertain.

Sure, it's in a minority, as most games are all about the engines and framerates, but every year the number of really brilliant video games grows.

Pope Guilty: Or to put it more succintly, let's switch things around and compare Deus Ex to any Danielle Steele novel. Look how stupid these books are!

Totally. Every time I've read a Danielle Steele book, I kept waiting for one of the characters to upgrade her pistol with a silencer and accuracy mod. She never did it and kept suffering as a result. No wonder I enjoyed DEX more.
posted by quin at 1:55 PM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


Surely it's worth remembering that most people grow out of comic books and video games. But they don't grow out of novels and films? This might change. But it hasn't yet.

They don't really grow into novels and films, either, though. Film and literature (even if that starts with Elmo and My Pet Goat) are ubiquitous in our lives from the word go. Anymore, that's also just about true of video games.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 1:55 PM on February 19, 2008


everything is going to start looking like one of those early-90s FMV games.

You better put scare-quotes around the word "game" in that sentence, or by God I'm going to track you down like a mangy cur ... and, um, do some terrible things or somethin'.

Holy god those were some terrible pieces of work. They were games in the same sense that torture is a game; one of the participants is having way more fun than the other, and for all the wrong reasons.
posted by aramaic at 2:01 PM on February 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


I gave my mom (in her late 60's) a Nintendo DS and Brain Age 2 for her birthday, at her request. She won't read Sandman though.

My mother-in-law (in her mid 60's) is an avid Fate player. She's also been known to play Doom. As far as I know, she doesn't read comics either.

Nursing homes have Wii bowling tournaments, but good luck finding a copy of The Invisibles or Maus there.

There are no colleges that specialize in comic book design and development.


The amount of actual cultural significance something has bears no relationship to the amount of cultural significance snobs think it has.
posted by Foosnark at 2:03 PM on February 19, 2008 [4 favorites]


I don't think it can be linked enough, so here's an interview with one of Portal's writers, which gives some very interesting insight into writing and game creation.
posted by felix at 2:03 PM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


Shadow of the Colossus. Barely a narrative, barely any words even, but an incredibly moving experience to play.

I'd contend that Colossus's success depends on its narrative, on the context that gives meaning to its play. Imagine the game without the events in the temple, without the mossy corpses of the vanquished Colossi, the creeping physical corruption of the player character's body, the tellingly awkward way he swings his sword, the girl, the loss of the horse - without those, you're left with a series of beautifully rendered, awkwardly controlled boss fights. There is a story there - there is character, audience identification, consideration of weighty themes, and structure. What are these things, if not the elements of narrative?

But I think we can agree that games (or at least those games that pursue narrative excellence) must develop those narratives in different ways than in movies or books. Colossus and Portal are remarkable because they're creating new tropes that are unique to the medium instead of settling for direct imitation.
posted by Iridic at 2:06 PM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


The amount of actual cultural significance something has bears no relationship to the amount of cultural significance snobs think it has.

I think "cultural significance" was absolutely the worst possible label the guy who wrote the article could have placed on what he was actually talking about. I mean, Lindsay Lohan's breast implants surely have more cultural significance to most of the world than any movie, novel, OR video game. I think "the amount of cultural significance snobs think it has" is pretty much exactly what he's talking about here.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 2:07 PM on February 19, 2008


> I would go further and say that interactivity is crucial to any social impact at all. Plays were
> taken very seriously in days gone by. The Greeks had a religious reverence for them. The
> middle ages, they were potent forces for reformation as well as religious prostelyzation.
> Audiences, although passive, felt an intimate connection to the story.

"Feeling an intimate connection" hardly counts as interactive. They didn't and don't get to change the story, or the dialogue, or the sets, or anything. What ensures that games (or for that matter anything interactive in the way that games are interactive) will never attract artists of the highest calibre is that artists are control freaks and will not be willing to share the creativity with anybody. And the better the artist, the more certainly this is true because of how obvious it is that interference from the audience will, in 99.9999999% of the cases, worsen the work rather than improve it.

Ask Alain Resnais if he wants the movie audience to have "what happens next?" remotes. Next time Starry Night goes on tour, bring along your palette and brushes as you wait through the line and tell the guards standing beside the painting that you want to interact with it.
posted by jfuller at 2:10 PM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


Why do people worship Watchmen so much?

It depends on what you've read before you read Watchmen and when you read it.

If you've read decent superhero comics in the past 10 years, chances are, Watchmen's story will seem trite, mainly because it was such an inspiration to today's writers. When it came out, what, 20 years ago, it was a big wake-up call to what superhero comics could be, much the same as Portal or BioShock is a wake-up for console games today.

I admit that I don't feel the need to sit down and re-read Watchmen as much as I reread my Hellboy trades, but I still respect what went on there. It is sort of the logical conclusion to a superhero-laden world - if these people want to save lives, what would be the best course of action? To foil muggings or bank heists on a case-by-case basis, or to simply take over and create a world where that sort of stuff doesn't happen? This wasn't a new idea (see Squadron Supreme), but it touched off a revolution that has lead to the Powers, Planetary, and Invincibles of today, plus a whole mess of Big Name Events from Marvel and DC.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 2:14 PM on February 19, 2008


As of now, video games are not considered to be an important part of our cultural history that should be carefully preserved like any other medium. They're just silly, disposable entertainment.

However, if video games were ever to become considered culturally significant, or someday viewed in a different light, classic video games, (some of which are facing original & master copy data degradation, laserdisc rot, &tc) might meet the same fate as silent-era films that weren't preserved because they were seen as cheap, dsposable entertainment !
posted by ShawnStruck at 2:17 PM on February 19, 2008


For some reason video games don't seem to have much resonance outside their world. If you don't play them, it's quite easy to to be aware of them only inasmuch as they exist.

But I'll be a non movie-goer could easily name quite a few of the biggest movies of the year. A non gamer would really struggle to do the same. I don't know why this. But observationally speaking it seems to be the case.
posted by rhymer at 2:19 PM on February 19, 2008


Just the last levels of Half-Life 2? Nothing wrong with those, Pastabagel.

Also regarding tkchrist's critique of Watchmen: the reason it feels like cliche is the same reason Night of the Living Dead seems cliche.

One last thing to keep this comment on-topic: even crappy beat-em-up license-games like The Simpsons Game can approach art on some levels. (SPOILER) God does not play dice with the universe—but he does play DDR.
posted by infinitewindow at 2:19 PM on February 19, 2008


“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” - Alan Kay

So, let's spend less time blogging and more time designing, there, Steve-O.
posted by blenderfish at 2:20 PM on February 19, 2008


International Journal of Computer Game Studies
Game Studies Community
Serious Games Initiative
Enlightening Games Group
University Press books.

There are not enough comic book equivalents. What an easy bet.
posted by mattbucher at 2:20 PM on February 19, 2008


“In other words, force the realistic experience of tragedy in the game, to force the "character development" for real in the human player.”

No Country for Old Men: Combat Evolved
(Chigurh Chief with a captive bolt pistol)
posted by HVAC Guerilla at 2:22 PM on February 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


Hey there! I'm a dingus from the world of Theatrical Improvisation.

While I totally dig doing improv that is all 'Whose Line is it Anyways" and shit, I also like to do improvisation that focuses on character development, story telling and (sometimes) philosophical contemplation. I want it to be entertaining to an audience first and foremost, but I also want it to have some depth to it.

In top notch improvisation - and there is a surprising amount of it out there - narrative may or may not be a factor. What is always a factor is a sense of surprise, or at least discovery. Sometimes this has to do with discovering something about a character or a world. Sometimes it has to do with discovering something about life. In some improv (notably that of Augusto Boal) is has to do with discovering solutions to social problems.

It is not inconceivable that such a thing could exist in online interactive games. You can explore issues, create great art, and assemble fascinating, fully developed alternate worlds. Is story essential? Not necessarily. Does this preclude the possibility of significant cultural discourse? Absolutely not.

I propose that the biggest mountain that most games face is a variation on the troll article that was posted in the blue earlier today. If anyone can participate in a game, then there is always going to be some asshole whose idea of contributing to the world is spaming "SHOW US UR TITZ" over and over again. Or quoting Monty Python and Spinal Tap and reminding us how funny they are. Or trying really hard to be deep and thoughtful but basically being Otto from "A Fish Called Wanda." Know what I mean?

A good 'game master' and/or a bunch of like minded players, however, could create something with lasting meaning and personal relevence. Every group that played this game might have a different experience, but given some clever programing, a human game master and a way of approaching this work that is less linear and more, uh, experiential and you could have cultural discourse out the wazoo.

I'm not sure that such a game is in demand at the moment or, if it is, is economically feasible - and that's one of the biggest things that will make Mr. Gaynor's prediction accurate. Games are time consuming and expensive to develop. Developing the video game equivalent of even a top notch comic book is a buttload of work and expense and probably not worth it considering the small size of the audience it would attract.

That said, if some hot young gaming company wants, I could put together an awesome fantasy world using structures of improv and interactive theatre that would melt you socks off. With flamethrowers and social relevance but not bashing you over the head with anything. I have the interactive theatre background but no post-1987 programing aptitude. Call me, Mr. Gaynor. Our game would kick ass from here to Sosaria.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:35 PM on February 19, 2008


Why do people worship Watchmen so much?


Here's a review of Watchman that articulates its excellence.

(The author of the review, Adam Cadre, happens to be an excellent game designer himself.)
posted by Iridic at 2:36 PM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


Why do people worship Watchmen so much?

'Cause it's pretty awesome if your expectations aren't tampered with by the flood of (usually inferior, and often seriously fucking inferior) comics that it inspired. That said, it's weird to me the way it gets referenced so often in 2008 when it's something I read in its original publication...when I was about thirteen. Imagine if you will how it would seem to you if someone kept mentioning Encyclopedia Brown or one of the Babysitters' Club novels over and over as the high water mark of literature that all subsequent novels must dwell in the shadow of and you'll get some idea of how this seems to me. Admittedly, it's a good book to me as an adult in ways it couldn't have been to me as an eighth grader, but still.

{end derail}
posted by kittens for breakfast at 2:48 PM on February 19, 2008


I don't view the original Night of the Living Dead as cliché at all. In fact despite some bad acting it holds up remarkably in ways that Watchmen just doesn't.

FWIW I read Watchmen when it came out in 1987. And, sure, I will agree that it had it's place in shaking things up. It's not just that I found it over-hyped and cliché - even at the time. But as a work of art it is clearly inferior to the Dark Knight books of the same period. The illustration in Watchmen is... well...it's pretty bad. I'm not a comics fanatic. And I had pretty much outgrown the genre by then anyway. It's that Watchmen in particular never struck me as all that good when it was showered with hype. I certainly don't think Moore deserves all this fan-boy worship for it and has done much better after. And SINCE then there has been a revolution of craft and artistry in comics that I find Moore really pales in comparison in general.
posted by tkchrist at 2:58 PM on February 19, 2008


in its original publication...when I was about thirteen

See. I was just out of college when I read it.
posted by tkchrist at 3:00 PM on February 19, 2008


Okay, I have to chime in on this. Dave Gibbons' art is 'way sub-par' compared to today's mainstream comics? What the fuck? What are you comparing this to? Granted he had to work with the garish colours of old comics, but his pencils are about as tight as you can get in the field. He's not a flashy artist, but he's rock solid.

Or am I just reacting to typical MetaFilter snarky hyperbole? Sigh.
posted by picea at 3:03 PM on February 19, 2008


What are you comparing this to?

I already said. It's not as interesting or inventive in it's Illustration and visuals as say The Dark Knight series. Anyway I'm not going to continue with the derail. Seems really have something invested in the comic that just don't.
posted by tkchrist at 3:05 PM on February 19, 2008


Seems really have something invested in the comic that just don't.

Seems "some" ...that "I"
posted by tkchrist at 3:06 PM on February 19, 2008


But as a work of art it is clearly inferior to the Dark Knight books of the same period. The illustration in Watchmen is... well...it's pretty bad. ...It's that Watchmen in particular never struck me as all that good when it was showered with hype. I certainly don't think Moore deserves all this fan-boy worship for it and has done much better after. And SINCE then there has been a revolution of craft and artistry in comics that I find Moore really pales in comparison in general.

I...I...I actually can't find a single clause of this I can endorse -- WAIT! Yes! yes, I can; From Hell, at least, is certainly better -- and must move away from this before my brain squirms out of my head and physically attacks the screen. That said, you are totally entitled to your opinion, tkchrist.

Your crazy crazy opinion from ultra mega super CRAZY LAND!
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:12 PM on February 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


World of Warcraft is a storyless world? Deus Ex is filled with mindless violence and the players actions have no implication on the story or the outcomes in the game, which itself has no broader context other than an "orgy of violence"? "Tournament" (read: multiplayer) games are inherently flawed because they don't tell a story?

Virtual orgasmic rape is just the push of a button away, but I keep pressing this thing and nothing seems to happen. Hope it's covered under warranty!
posted by prostyle at 3:14 PM on February 19, 2008


The art in Watchmen was mannered and precise, not flashy like Frank Miller.
posted by empath at 3:27 PM on February 19, 2008


The illustration in Watchmen is... well...it's pretty bad.
...
It's not as interesting or inventive in it's Illustration and visuals as say The Dark Knight series.


It wasn't trying to be, and if it had been it would have failed. The art style was unadorned, and yes, even simplistic. I think that was a conscious choice. And I think that choice led to moments that were simply sublime, whose stark expression would have been lost otherwise, but instead stood in sharp relief. I'm thinking of the scene where Dan's alone in the basement, specifically. I'd have more examples but it's been a while and I don't have it in front of me.

My first reaction was yours, but the art grew on me, until I noticed the attempt - sometimes unsuccessful - to find and bring out the latent cultural emotion hidden under the typical old pulp comic style, just like what they were attempting with the story.

Obviously we won't agree, and that's cool, but I just had to chime in to defend something that's still very dear to me.
posted by regicide is good for you at 3:40 PM on February 19, 2008


Or, what empath just said.
posted by regicide is good for you at 3:40 PM on February 19, 2008


Gibbons isn't as intrinsically exciting as Miller. (He wasn't married to an excellent colorist like Lynn Varley, either.) But he is the better draftsman, and that fact was crucial for Watchmen.

Moore's scripts were famously wordy, devoting paragraphs to minute descriptions of the clutter on a table, of the signage on a wall, of the tiniest elements of scenic composition. To justice to that all that detail, an artist like Gibbons was needed; a man who could communicate the intricacies and constantly shifting motifs in Moore's writing without telegraphing its subtleties, cluttering the frame, or showing off. He succeeded admirably.

(Or, what empath and regicide said.)
posted by Iridic at 3:41 PM on February 19, 2008


Man, you guys and your fanatical attachments to mere matters of taste. I will never understand. Never. Sigh.

I don't understand this guy. One thing that is technologically inevitable is the melding of interactive technology and cinema. Creating dynamic narratives is simply a cultural and technological hurdle that will be surmounted with time. Especially since there is so much untapped potential, creative energy, and talent out there in gaming that is seriously lacking in mainstream cinema. Market forces alone will hybrid the two. And I hope I am around to see it.
posted by tkchrist at 3:44 PM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


Obligatory Penny Arcade comment on this.
posted by juv3nal at 4:02 PM on February 19, 2008


“But as a work of art it is clearly inferior to the Dark Knight books of the same period.”

Watchmen has a symmetry to it and a craft in the storytelling nearly unparalleled. One can argue any matter of taste. Miller’s work on Dark Knight is evocative of myth and does generate great passion, it is brilliant, but comparing the two is akin to comparing Wagner to Bach.

Whether one likes the story or appreciates the art is not relevent to understanding and respecting what it is Moore achieved in craft. If Moore had resorted to the simple panel design or if Gibbons had arbitrarially drawn and figured the way he did I would agree it was an inferior work.
This is not so.
It was done with deliberation to illustrate the mirror image split between self and disseminated image, not as reviewers oft reiterate “deconstruction.”

Derrida might be there, but in shadow, not at the core. William Blake on the other hand runs through a great deal of Moore’s work. Watchmen happens to concern superheros, but in execution the work has characters and actions and backgrounds repeating themselves in symmetry while dialogue and plot elements play on the theme and the readers attention is focused on graphing the sequencing and divining meaning deeper than the dialogue and surface narrative suggest.

The violence, unlike other comics, Dark Knight included, is also formalized so for example the background to Roarschach attacking the police is reversed in a puddle on the ground as they drag him away and the Blake poem on the “Tyger” is excerpted at the end. Fearful symmetry, all that.

The symmetry shows in depth, and reveals, the underlying meaning just to be form, so the Jung quote as well. Not something that occured by accident. And it certainly isn’t something he can be faulted for not attempting to make the reader aware of.
Whether you enjoyed the work or not, one might not like Bach’s fugues, or like something else more, whatever other valid criticisms that can be levied against it, Watchmen can’t be criticized as being haphazard.

I’d suggest The Annotated Watchmen
posted by HVAC Guerilla at 4:06 PM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


>Films and novels obviously have cultural relevance, but do games?

Obvious to whom exactly? To me Danielle Steel is Super Mario. Neither is fine art or claims to be fine art. Its a distraction. There's more shit fiction out there than shit videogames. The idea that any published story is a superior to any videogame reveals a strong bias with strong opinions, not some general statement.

This also intersects with the "i dont watch tv" crowd. Fine, kudos to you, but reading shit fiction is on the same level. Perhaps lower because while you were at the bookstore you probably passed some gems on the way to the sci-fi, romance, and book of the week area.
posted by damn dirty ape at 4:13 PM on February 19, 2008


Just so there's no confusion, I've since come home and looked at the pictures, and -- hey! Why, those aren't implants at all! Moving on....
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:24 PM on February 19, 2008


To those who think that video games can't succeed or have merit just based on their story, and that there is no room for traditional narrative I would encourage you to look at games like Baldur's Gate 2, Fallout 2, and Planescape: Torment. All are considered prime examples of art in gaming, and all (but especially Planescape) involve a considerable amount of dialogue, description, and character development relative to the amount of "action." While Portal and Bioshock are definitely great games as they incorporate the narrative right into the action, there still is a place for more traditional storytelling in video games.

The problem is, the kind of people who would typically choose video games over a good book as a mode of entertainment are going to be the least likely to pick up the aforementioned games. So they get a lot less attention than they deserve, at least in mainstream circles.
posted by paradoxflow at 4:32 PM on February 19, 2008


This reminds me of conversations where people fall all over themselves to argue that Magister Ludi (or 1984 or whatever) is not science fiction, because, you know, it's just a future where they've had a nuclear war and then recovered enough to develop a technology of philosophy. Just come out of the closet and admit you'd like a jet pack.

Besides, what the hell does culturally relevant even mean? If someone could unequivocally prove to me whether or not King Lear was more culturally relevant than Citizen Kane this discussion would feel a lot less like describing ink blots.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:38 PM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


The violence, unlike other comics, Dark Knight included, is also formalized so for example the background to Roarschach attacking the police is reversed in a puddle on the ground as they drag him away and the Blake poem on the “Tyger” is excerpted at the end.

Watchmen is fairly dry and intellectual. It rewards repeated reading, note taking, discussion about themes and plot points.

What can you really say about Dark Knight, except stuff along the lines of "It was fucking cool when superman fought batman!"
posted by empath at 4:45 PM on February 19, 2008


I'm so sick of people bringing up Ico and Shadow of the Colossus as proof that games can be art. Yes they were novel games, but frankly both were only interesting if you were already steeped in the language of games. Give a newbie game player a controller and put on SoC and he will not have the visceral reaction that so many game geeks have. So why do those two games get considered art, but not say Katamari or GTA or Final Fantasy or Guitar Hero etc etc? What makes a game art?
posted by aspo at 5:07 PM on February 19, 2008


There have been, and will continue to be, various 'watershed' titles that incrementally expand our appreciation of what video games can do. Final Fantasy VII was one. I mean, I know it's no Hamlet*, but it messed around with player expectations and had a broad cast and basically introduced a whole bunch of features that, a decade down the line, nobody raises an eyebrow at.

*Although the image of Aeris about to get pwned by Sephiroth (and various cosplay recreations) is eerily similar to the traditional staging of Hamlet preparing to stab the praying Claudius. Then she goes in the water, and gets all Ophelia and shit. Deep.
posted by RokkitNite at 5:10 PM on February 19, 2008


Mainstream comics feature vaguely lifelike renderings of idealized humans in action-packed situations (sound familiar?); they are drawings of movies, instead of being comics for comics' sake.

Okay, granted, Sturgeon's Law does apply here, but no, mainstream comics are not movies on paper. Seeming linearity is not linearity - by their very nature, all comics which tell a narrative play with space and time in multiple ways, conflating dimensions and cramming consecutive events into simultaneity. That we read these stories as coherent narratives is part of the beauty of the genre's inner logic, and that the author doesn't recognize that ... doesn't speak very well for his understanding of it. Eisner and McCloud covered this already, jeez!


Er, and while we're on the subject, Brian Bolland ties with Dave Gibbons >>>> Frank Miller, but my favorite artist right now is Stuart Immonen.
posted by bettafish at 5:11 PM on February 19, 2008


Balder's Gate II had a sort of stupid story about an ex elf mad man. It was fun but if someone recommended a book to me that had story telling as strong as balders gate I would never take any literary recommendation from them again. Watchmen is boring and silly too.

I did like Shadow of Colossus' story telling though because the fact that you were a participant in the story mattered. If it was just some story about a guy who fights big things to bring his love back it would be dull but the fact that it sort of subverts the linearity of the artificial feeling of freedom in the video game genre to sort of make the player feel responsible for ethical concerns is interesting. Bioshock tried to pull a similar stunt only it had a number of ludicrous conceits heaped upon it and a 'moral dilemma' that didn't end up mattering.
posted by I Foody at 5:15 PM on February 19, 2008


Returning to this old question, I think that many games rely too much on repetitive, visceral stimulation of the autonomic nervous system and reward systems of the brain for their buzz. The other art forms against which video gaming is being compared tend not to rely so much on hormonal wins. Well, blockbuster spectacle movies will do this with the rumbling and the jump cuts to stimulate the limbic system. Games can do this at a much higher frequency.

The temptation to go straight for the quick hormonal win makes it difficult and unattractive to attempt to build a discursive narrative within the game beyond simple devices. Immersion becomes not cerebral and storied, but instinctual and non-complex. Games are porn.
posted by meehawl at 5:26 PM on February 19, 2008


Think of it this way - even blockbuster films make some attempt to build character and a story that is independent of the gee-whizzery that got you into the theater. Why did they make an effort in Jurassic Park to develop the male lead as someone who didn't like or want kids and then stick him with kids throughout the action of the film? Why did they write him scenes where he acts as a protective father? Didn't we come to see the stomping dinosaurs? Why in War of the Worlds did the first act of the film center on Tom Cruise being a lousy Dad out of touch with his kids?

In Half Life 1 which is almost 10 years old now we spend the intro of the game setting up Gordon Freeman as a regular guy on his way to work. The gameplay would be the same if he was an member of the SAS or something, but the game would be different. We spend the first third of the game desperately trying reach the surface where we are told that help is on it's way. Again, there is no reason to do this, the individual fighting would play out the same way, isn't that what we are here for? Then you finally reach the "help" and they open fire on you. They've been sent in to clean up the "loose ends" not save a anyone. Character is built, story is developed that is independent of the FPS gaming we are there for.
posted by markr at 5:28 PM on February 19, 2008


Surely it's worth remembering that most people grow out of comic books and video games.

Back that up, or you look like one of those whining that the new generation of "25 y.o. man-children" are not properly growing out of video games to spend their time on such adult entertainments as the television.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 5:30 PM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


What can you really say about Dark Knight, except stuff along the lines of "It was fucking cool when superman fought batman!"

I will only return to address this comment.

I was speaking specifically of the visual elements and visual style of Watchmen in comparison to Dark Knight and others. Yes DK was "flashy" but as a designer and artist my self IMHO it was much more compelling and better crafted visually. through out that series and some others of Moors later work visually there many more risks taken.

Sure. As far as narrative sophistication, you bet, I agree Watchmen is infinitely deeper than it's contemporary super-hero peers. I thought I made that clear. Like I said I had out grown the entire genre by that time, anyway.

Fundamentally for me Watchmen just didn't live up to the extreme hype (then or now). Nor has it survived it's rather dated clichés.

As far as story and style I'm more of a Jason Lutes Jar of Fools type anyway.
posted by tkchrist at 5:33 PM on February 19, 2008


I've played the arty, narrative, epic type of games for a while now and I've finally decided-- admitted?-- that it's not the world at large's fault for failing to be impressed. Some attempts at it are better than others, but to borrow a quote, it's still like dancing about architecture. Oh, games are awesome at inspiring emotion-- just not any old emotion. I don't know about you, but the most significant experiences and strongest memories I have from gaming are of fear. The whole point of the game format is that it takes things that would, in a book or a movie, happen to someone else, and makes them happen to you. And so you turn around and make up this elaborate character, who isn't you, for it to happen to? Fail.

No, so far, what games really excel at is making you feel threatened. Frustration, panic, all those primal things-- when they're good, man, they're good. For me, the awesomeness of (say) Shadow of the Colossus wasn't in the story or whatever, it was in being made to feel, over and over: That thing is big, and it sees me. All other things being equal, 'I'm in danger' trumps 'S/he's in danger' every time.
posted by jinjo at 6:15 PM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


Super Columbine Massacre RPG is art.
posted by jcruelty at 6:28 PM on February 19, 2008


Video Games = Comic Books?

Yes, and it is quite a nice comparison but he could have said the whole thing in a single paragraph.

Listening to people compare the plot lines in video games to literature is like listening to a second grader trying to convince his teacher to allow him to read a comic book for his book report.
posted by caddis at 6:39 PM on February 19, 2008


Games as art? Look no further than Barkley: Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 6:55 PM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


Videogames will never be art, as long as the critical theory and thought process behind the creation of videogames is nonexistent, or limited to "hey, let's make a game that's awesome!".

Ive played Shadow of the Colossus, and I understand the awe and amazement that people are talking about, but that's it: the enjoyment of the videogame consists only of a "WTF that's HUGE" reaction. Granted, this reaction is somewhat akin to of the sensation of the transcendental and the sublime depicted in 19th-century landscape paintings (Turner, etc), but that's only because the perceptive of scale is grand, not because of the specific style of interactivity or aesthetics.

Since we're talking about Art (with a capital-A, as current society knows it), if videogames really wanted to become art, it should really take a page from art theory/history. For example, what if there was a videogame that only consisted of those elements of videogames that are unique to videogames? -- the exact same way Kazimir Malevich, for example, creates abstract planes of color to create painting that is pure, or the most 'supreme'. (Personally, I'm not Greenbergian; I don't believe in the notion of autonomy/purity in art, but that's another topic.) Art, as we know it, is (unfortunately) a specific institution; if we wish for videogames to fit within this institution, then it should hold some theory, some thought process behind it.

What are videogames? Why are videogames what they are? How are plot/style/interactivity/visual elements in videogames utilized to create effect? Which elements of videogames create meaning? and so on.

I would strongly, strongly urge anyone interested in the critical theory of videogames to take a look at McKenzie Wark's Gamer Theory. There are analyses of Katamari Damacy through the myth of Sisyphus, etc..
posted by suedehead at 7:05 PM on February 19, 2008


Totally. Every time I've read a Danielle Steele book, I kept waiting for one of the characters to upgrade her pistol with a silencer and accuracy mod. She never did it and kept suffering as a result. No wonder I enjoyed DEX more.

That's because even Danielle Steele knows you can't put a silencer mod on a pistol. Yeesh.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:06 PM on February 19, 2008


listening to people compare the plot lines in video games to literature is like listening to a second grader trying to convince his teacher to allow him to read a comic book for his book report.

I think the problem is that this is an apples-to-oranges comparison; using plot to justify the artistic value of games is like using plot to justify the artistic value of a painting or music. What's the plot of the Mona Lisa, or the Moonlight Sonata? Games can affect the player in ways that movies or novels cannot.
posted by blenderfish at 7:06 PM on February 19, 2008


There are analyses of Katamari Damacy through the myth of Sisyphus, etc..

I'm pretty sure that makes Keito Takahashi cry.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:09 PM on February 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


all you need for great art is great artists and a medium

a great artist will use videogames as a medium in 50 years - i don't even know why people would doubt this

and i don't even PLAY them
posted by pyramid termite at 8:27 PM on February 19, 2008


There are analyses of Katamari Damacy through the myth of Sisyphus, etc..

How about Mario as Jesus?
posted by blenderfish at 8:28 PM on February 19, 2008


"What can you really say about Dark Knight, except stuff along the lines of "It was fucking cool when superman fought batman!""

Well...it was. And Miller has his own style which draws more from pop reference which doesn't invalidate the work at all. Wagner isn't deep. He's blood and thunder and simple but rousing archetypes. Still works.

Moore. Well, if you tire of the Watchmen you tire of Blake. It is the difference between an innovator and a supreme stylist. Who is the best guitar player of all time is debatable. But there is only one Hendrix.
Moore, like Blake does not develop and refine with varying emphasis a single interpretation of reality. Blake changed his interpretation of reality as radically as any figure in the English language. Moor, similarly, redefined the narrative. It is difficult to think of any other poet
that approaches Blake in that; Chaucer, Spenser, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Yeats, are mild in contrast with Blake's satire and reinvention of reality.
Moore too, incises and skewers in even the most minute detail and reiterates it. It appears hackneyed only because what was being satarized was hackneyed.

That is has become trite and well worn doesn't change the radical innovation that occured.

One does not have to like, say, "Manic Depression" to recognize the experimentation with the limits of the instrument and the reinvention of what is acceptable in sound.

But that is one of the points relevant to the main issue. When experimentation within a medium begins to push the boundries of what is possible and reinvent what is acceptable there are always groups that feel alienated from it.

By the same token, if they reuse the familiar tropes, much like games are being accused of doing here, they're accused of stagnation and unoriginality.

At some point a game will come and bridge the gap between the two. Light the way for the future while incorporating familiar themes from the past. Much like Watchmen.
posted by HVAC Guerilla at 9:04 PM on February 19, 2008


I'm so sick of people bringing up Ico and Shadow of the Colossus as proof that games can be art. Yes they were novel games, but frankly both were only interesting if you were already steeped in the language of games.

Right because you can hand Nabakov's Pale Fire to any Joe off the street and they'll love it.

Ive played Shadow of the Colossus, and I understand the awe and amazement that people are talking about, but that's it: the enjoyment of the videogame consists only of a "WTF that's HUGE" reaction

I could not disagree more. As an artistic vision it was more than 'giant boss battles'. The designers made a lot of striking aesthetic decisions -- no characters, a vast desolate world, lots of silence, and they went for an incredibly difficult emotion to evoke in videogames, and in fact, difficult to invoke in any other medium -- 'regret'. After you take down a colossus, it doesn't feel like a victory. It feels like you just killed something beautiful, sad and lonely, and you're not sure why. And at the end of the game, it's not at all clear that you've done a good thing. I can't quite describe the feeling that I was left with after playing that game, but I can see it's not like any other feeling any other piece of art I've played has ever given me. You can only create an experience like that with a deep understanding of what games have to offer. It was the creation of a brilliant mind and a singular authorial vision and deserving of much more recognition than it got.
posted by empath at 9:06 PM on February 19, 2008 [5 favorites]


On the Dark Knight vs Watchmen thing -- you're comparing a Wachowski Brothers flick to a Hitchcock film. They're too different things.
posted by empath at 9:08 PM on February 19, 2008


I think there's an element here of critical engagement lagging behind the actual genre as is. Originality involves the bringing into being of something that hasn't existed before. If games simply tried to ape the tropes and experiences possible in film, literature, music or painting, then sure, they could replicate some of the effects of those disciplines, but they'd always lag behind. Is it reasonable to criticise music because it lacks the sophisticated intellectual dialectic of a novel? Well, yes, but only if you're positing a kind of 'Which of the Arts is Best?' cockfight scenario, otherwise the comparison is at best, unhelpful, at worst, ridiculous.

I suspect that some of you, like me, find yourselves feeling an odd mixture of defensiveness and guilt when questions like this come up. Much as I loved the immersiveness of Planescape: Torment, (and the way its premise trumped Momento by almost a year) I can't in good faith defend it as high art. There's actually not much that I've encountered whilst gaming that I'd feel comfortable holding up as terribly sophisticated or multifacted. And yet... and yet.

I feel stuff when I'm playing games. I've had all sorts of experiences that I can't get anywhere else. I've been engaged emotionally and intellectually. I've felt surprise, anger, fear, happiness. I've learned things. I've had my assumptions questioned. And I haven't been allowed to sit there passively. Games have engaged me, asked me to contribute. I've had to make ethical decisions. I've messed things up and faced consequences. I've indulged my wanton streak. I've shown mercy. Sure, sometimes I've just monkeyed around and blown shit up. But sometimes I've really cared, dammit.

That, for me, is the conflict that arises when these kinds of questions get asked. I don't want to have to defend gaming on rather pretentious intellectual terms, because I don't think it's an argument I can win. But I don't think games are junk, either. Maybe I'm wrong. I usually end up falling back on a fairly flimsy syllogism that goes something like: 'Look, I'm not a moron. And I like games. Therefore, games are not moronic.' Sigh...
posted by RokkitNite at 9:35 PM on February 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


Why does it have to be high art to be valid? "Non est actus reus nisi mens sit rea" to quote Sophocles. There is no guilty act without a guilty mind. See the play. Feel weird hanging out with mom later. You've been affected by it.
posted by HVAC Guerilla at 9:57 PM on February 19, 2008


jinjo: "[S]o far, what games really excel at is making you feel threatened. Frustration, panic, all those primal things-- when they're good, man, they're good. For me, the awesomeness of (say) Shadow of the Colossus wasn't in the story or whatever, it was in being made to feel, over and over: That thing is big, and it sees me. All other things being equal, 'I'm in danger' trumps 'S/he's in danger' every time."

I think this is partially true; video game designers have seemingly got the fear/threat response down. Other emotions are obviously more difficult -- which is not to say that they haven't been done in games, but just aren't done with as much reliability and frequency* -- because they're more complicated and require more setup.

But the potential payoff when they do hit the other emotional buttons is huge, because of the additional immersiveness the medium provides when used well. I don't want to rise to meehawl's whole "games are porn" bait, because I don't think there's anything inherently superior about provoking one emotion over another -- that's like saying that red is an inferior color to blue, when in reality both colors, like various emotions, are but parts of a palette -- but I do think that the medium of interactive games has a lot of growth potential away from the action genres.

If I had to pick two things that seem to be holding back interactive products, I'd say it's the lingering self-conscious emulation of other media, combined with the commercial considerations of preserving "gameplay" in a recognizable form. (Arguably these are two facets of the same problem.) I think both will be addressed in due course as more designers grow up steeped in, and thinking in terms of, the medium.

The current idea of what a 'game' is and should be holds development back. Most games are built for consumers that have fairly rigidly-defined expectations: they want to be able to solve or accomplish something via skilled manipulation of the controls, i.e. 'gameplay.' In certain genres, assumptions and expectations are even more straightforward: the Marathon and Halo series, BioShock, etc. all contain plots and interactive elements that wouldn't be necessary if the only goal was to let you run around and shoot things, but at the end of the day a lot of your time in any of those games is going to be spent running around and shooting things (or hiding from things that are too big for you to shoot, or solving puzzles, or any number of equally well-established FPS tropes).

Going further than that, the whole idea of a game having a "storyline" or "plot" is indicative of linearity, which are inherent to novels and movies, but not necessarily to interactives; I don't think we'll really start to see the medium come into its own until designers put down the storyboards and other tools inherited from the film industry and devise ones that are completely their own.

So overall, I disagree with those who claim that games aren't art, or aren't already legitimate venues for cultural discussion and criticism, but at the same time I think we're just scratching the surface of what computers can offer in terms of entertainment. In 50 years, I fully expect interactives to be defying comparison to any other art or entertainment form, except maybe hallucinogenic drugs. Of course, there will still be "games" in the way we think of them today, because people like light entertainment and they're fun. But I think there will also be computer-mediated experientials that involve you going into a room and sitting down, and coming out three or four days later, dehydrated and unwashed and starving, wondering how bad the flashbacks are going to be.

* I'd say the same thing for a lot of film, too; look at most B horror flicks you'll see they tend to reuse the same gags, because they work fairly well.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:00 PM on February 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


"you're comparing a Wachowski Brothers flick to a Hitchcock film. They're too different things"

Surely. I resist the term "better," but one can say there's a visual style that exists in one over the other. A certain emphasis in one area over another that one can compare and contrast and express a personal preference for.

The same can be said of the larger issue within the thread. And, as you point out, with the same respect to the variety that exists within the form.
One can't as if music is a significant form of cultural discourse the way that novels and film are without asking: "what music?" And even: "Who's music within what genre?"
Are we talking John Cage here? Beethoven? Or Charlie Parker? Or the local high school garage band?
posted by HVAC Guerilla at 10:33 PM on February 19, 2008


Having a controller and screen as the chief points of contact for the gamer dictate the limits of the gaming experience. It's why Nintendo are having a field day adding stupidly minor interactive touches that massively enhance player experience. The DS microphone is a great example of a sleeper interface that you forget's there, then suddenly a single interaction may allow you to use your voice, or blow, and your whole relationship to the gaming world shifts. All that laterally titting around in Metal Gear Solid where you swap the pad over and suchlike worked in a similar way. Sure, at first these things are just gimmicks, but over time we're building a strategy palette where game creators and players accrue an increasingly broad concept of what is possible, fair, or desirable.

I expect, as time goes on, we'll see games that contain genre shifts within the game, where one kind of gaming experience with one set of expectations is suddenly swapped for an entirely different framework. With innovations like the WiiMote, I think we'll encounter more games without manuals, where the player is expected to work out how to interact with the world around them step-by-step. Of course, these shifts will expand 'sideways', appearing alongside a continuance of classic gaming as we know it, just as modernism didn't make classic storytelling impossible or unpopular.

Gaming is going to surprise the hell out of a lot of people. I still haven't gotten over walking into a shop and seeing that two of the top ten DS titles had Noel Edmonds' face on the front of the box. If that isn't proof of a radical demographic shift, I don't know what is.
posted by RokkitNite at 10:38 PM on February 19, 2008


In Plato's Phaedrus, Socrates quotes and supports the position of an Egyptian king on the matter of writing: "If men learn this, it will implant forgetfulness in their souls; they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks" (275b). Phraedrus at first chides Socrates, but then admits: "I agree that the man of Thebes is right in what he said about writing" (275c).

If Socrates, and possibly Plato (assuming Plato invariably took Socrates' position oversimplifies things), could argue--probably facetiously argue, mocking a real position--that the technology of writing was a step backwards, we can forgive those who can't see the possibilities inherent in the technologies surrounding gaming.
posted by josephtate at 11:24 PM on February 19, 2008 [3 favorites]


To be honest, the whole video games thing kinda passed me by.

That said, it seems obvious that video games have tremendous room for artistic expansion-- unlike the novel or oil painting, they aren't examples of a closed field.

As computers get faster, and interfaces get more immersive, our notion of what a video game is, and what its limits are, will warp wildly. Games-- and what they can do, and how we relate to them-- are really only limited by technology.

Hell, once people start making cheap VR that systematically incorporates peripheral vision, instead of just look-straight-ahead-through-this-narrow-aperture, games' intensity will gain radically.

And that's just a simple little tweak.

Within the lifetime of the MeFi community (and likely much sooner), the point will be reached at which a) chips get stuck in people's heads or b) images are beamed into the eye or c) some other expedient is found, by means of which environments will be made to seem truly encompassing.

And as AI improves, the need for narrative as such will diminish; truly rich characterization, plus a sufficiently immersive environment, can obviate story-telling and the ghost of Robert McKee.

Basically, as all this stuff gets better, one will probably stop drawing a sharp division between games and standard human experience, and standard human interaction; I'd be surprised if game universes did not themselves become an almost inescapable social interface. To the extent one seems to be interacting with unpredictable-and-semi-plausible "people", one won't be playing a game, or enjoying art... one will just be experiencing another, rather routine facet of life.

As the virtual universes improve, expect the livelihoods of travel agents to suffer mightily.
posted by darth_tedious at 11:28 PM on February 19, 2008


I've spent years happily lurking on Metafilter, reading the most heated political arguments without quite being goaded into creating an account to join in. I never imagined that a post about video games would be the straw that broke the camel's back. The fact that I'm about half a day late to this conversation and nobody is likely to read my contribution just adds to my sour amusement.

This post contains game spoilers.

If you haven't played Deus Ex, I seriously encourage you to stop reading this post, go buy it (IIRC it's on Steam for like $10), and play it.

Okay, last chance: I'll try to make the plot spoilers as mild and vague as possible, but consider yourself warned.

What is the statement that, say, Deus Ex makes about our culture now?

Some secondary plot points touch on the use of biological weapons to intimidate political opponents, the use of increasing computer power to monitor communications en masse, the moral questions faced by men who have taken military oaths but may have to fight in unjust conflicts, the tradeoffs between liberty and security and between individualism and community, the difficulties of avoiding both corruption of centralized power and fanaticism in decentralized movements, and the rapid pace of "obsolescence" of individual people in the face of rapid technological change. And to cap it all off, the primary conflict in Deus Ex is about the aftermath of terrorist attacks on New York City, the government's military/paramilitary responses to those attacks, the dangers to civil liberties (specifically including the right to have your communications untapped without oversight), and the inevitable attempts by officials (both of the government and of private corporations manipulating the government) to exploit the ensuing climate of fear for their own personal profit.

For a work of art published before 2001, the only way to be more relevant to our culture now would have been to invent a time machine, use that time machine to collect post-9/11 news articles, roll those news articles into a tight cylinder, and then beat Bush voters into a bloody pulp with said cylinder.

And more to the point, how does that statement square with the non-stop orgy of violence which dominates most of the game?

One of the most groundbreaking aspects of Deus Ex is that it is a first person "shooter" in which you really *choose* whether or not you kill people. I've played through this game (which takes dozens of hours to complete naturally) and in one replay only directly killed two or three of the hundreds upon hundreds of enemies faced. (the indirect kills were via an enemy ICBM that the player helps retarget against the base that originally ordered its launch) If you find a "non-stop orgy of violence" distasteful, you should especially appreciate a game which first gives you subtle hints that you should use stealth to avoid or non-violent means to incapacitate your enemies, which over the course of play clearly demonstrates that nearly *all* of your enemies are sympathetic characters in some way, and in which most of the obvious opportunities to kill are eventually seen to be tragic collateral damage at best and horrible mistakes at worst. If a player's experience includes three hundred kills instead of three, then either he's reflected upon the morality of it or he just wasn't paying close enough attention. Most books and movies would be lucky to do so well.

Final, and most serious, spoiler:

even blockbuster films make some attempt to build character and a story that is independent of the gee-whizzery that got you into the theater

In the end of Deus Ex, the player character is forced to make a choice. You can take sole responsibility (augmented by merging with an artificial intelligence that controls world communications) for correcting what has gone wrong with the world, and assume upon yourself the risk of corruption which (it has been made clear) accompanies such a power. You can help restore a shadowy organization to power and join with them to fix things, sharing control with a group of people enlightened enough to avoid the excesses of mob rule but risking further infighting and corruption among an entrenched elite. Or, you can destroy the centralized hub of the global communications network, removing a potentially irresistible opportunity for abuse of power but simultaneously risking economic collapse and the ensuing loss of prosperity and life. All this, in the persona of a character who was initially an obedient servant manipulated for questionable ends, via a choice made by a player who (at least in my case) was initially expecting a straightforward shoot-em-up. That's simply an experience that no non-interactive art can match: it doesn't just force you to reflect upon an artist-controlled character's choices, it forces you to make, and consider the consequences of, your own choices.

This isn't to say that Deus Ex isn't flawed, or that most video games aren't, but, to summarize: not only can video games be art, but in some ways they have the potential to be better art than is possible in a non-interactive medium. If art is the ability to convey emotion, then I would say that the ability for an artist to cause an emotional reaction to decisions that you yourself have made is an unprecedented opportunity. Of course most game creators won't use this opportunity, and there's nothing wrong with a game that's just "fun" (or a painting that's just "pretty", etc), but I don't see what can make someone ignore these new possibilities other than pretentiousness or ignorance.
posted by roystgnr at 11:31 PM on February 19, 2008 [20 favorites]


through out that series and some others of Moors later work visually there many more risks taken.

Honestly I think going with a staid style, one which demanded a certain stillness of both artist and reader, and which immediately makes clear all its failed ambitions as well as its sublimities, was a risk itself. And in fact I think that as Watchmen ages that choice only stands out more and more as such.

Don't get me wrong though, I loved DKR - despite Frank Miller, and despite the ridiculous Superman subplot
posted by regicide is good for you at 11:52 PM on February 19, 2008


I think you are all missing the point of the wager - which is simply whether Video Games will ever escape the niche market and become truely as widespread and influential as Books, or Film.

Or will they forever be relegated to a small, limited market orf geeks, like comic books.

The majority of the population has absolutely no interest in Comic Books and never will. Could the same be said of Video Games?
posted by mary8nne at 3:17 AM on February 20, 2008


Very well said, roystgnr! For all the moaning about the Continuous Decline of Metafilter, I'm glad we can still have threads like this, and attract people motivated to give thoughtful responses.
posted by Drexen at 3:54 AM on February 20, 2008


Games are also starting to look at themselves more. Metagaming, if you will. Two AAA titles this year (Bioshock and Assassin's Creed) had very strong elements of forcing the player to consider themselves in context of the game and their actions in it. They both have clever framing devices that make the cliches and immersion-preventing technical issues (dying, saving the game, following a linear path etc.) seem reasonable. There's a sense of gamers become smarter and harder to trick than with previous generations.

I'm not arrogant enough to make any predictions of what the world, or anything in it, will be like in 50 years time. I've already seen so many things change in the last 5 that I'm just going to sit back and enjoy the ride.
posted by slimepuppy at 4:06 AM on February 20, 2008


I think you are all missing the point of the wager - which is simply whether Video Games will ever escape the niche market and become truely as widespread and influential as Books, or Film.

Last year the US video game industry had sales of around $18 billion. Graphic novels, from what I can find where closer to $100 million. The entire US publishing industry was around $25 billion. Video games are already far beyond a niche. I'd love to see sales figures for just fiction, or even "literary fiction" now there is a niche with little widespread influence.
posted by markr at 4:47 AM on February 20, 2008


Happy to have my figures above corrected by the way, that was what I could find in 5 minutes.
posted by markr at 4:48 AM on February 20, 2008


Where's my edit button... I've seen some numbers that suggest that the $25 billion for publishing I've mentioned only includes large publishers, and that small publishers may make the total closer to double that.
posted by markr at 4:50 AM on February 20, 2008


The DS microphone is a great example of a sleeper interface that you forget's there, then suddenly a single interaction may allow you to use your voice, or blow, and your whole relationship to the gaming world shifts.

I may be invoking some Zero Punctuation here, but the way the interface of shouting or blowing at my DS changes the game's relationship for me is by making me put it aside and not want to play it any more. The DS is portable and can be played out in public, where appearing to the random passerby that you are a lunatic shouting at a small white box is not high on my Things To Do list. To increase a system like the DS's cultural footprint, game designers should do all in their power to remove any barriers to playing games out in the open.

The image of user enjoyment is really important. You see it when people play their DSes in the open, bop along to their iPods, or sit engrossed in a book. That's the sort of thing that can make an observer think, "I want to get me some of that game/book/music." Not so much when the image of enjoyment comes wedded to the image of being insane or the feeling that one must embarrass themselves to get the maximum enjoyment out of the medium.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:42 AM on February 20, 2008


empath: And anyone who hasn't played Portal cannot participate in this discussion.

And anyone who hasn't played the original coin-op Pacman cannot participate in this discussion.

Anyone who hasn't plugged in hexadecimal assembly code published in a magazine cannot participate in this discussion.

Whee, fallacious gatekeeping at its finest.

But onto Steve Gaynor. I think he is insightful in comparing what is considered to be "mainstream games" which are jargon-laden adolescent epic wanks. To the output of Marvel and DC comics which are jargon-laden adolescent epic wanks. Critics of comics have made many of the same criticisms of superhero comics as they currently exist these days. A series like X-Men is a complete piece of shit because it is all inside references, in-jokes, and attempts to reconcile gaping plot holes created by two decades of fucking with continuity. So you have an electronic media and a print media that has become pretty much a fanboy wank. PC Gamer just did a whole thing of the zombie explosion of a half-dozen FPS games with minor tweaks in PvP combat mechanics.

But that's a very limited view of both media. Sequential art includes Maus, Persepolis (hopefully about to win an Oscar) and Calvin and Hobbes. Computer games include the Mario and Pokemon franchises. Those who say that video games are not culturally relevant need to contend with the fact that Pikachu and Mario have the same image recognition as Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse. Pacman was a huge fad in the 80s that developed iconic status.

At least one limitation to Gaynor's analysis is that he seems to accept the Narrativist frame that games should be read using the same tools of analysis developed for narrative and found wanting when that narrative is weak. The Ludists counter with the claim that games should be considered on their own terms. Monopoly, Snakes and Ladders and Chess, have impoverished narratives, but have become cultural fixtures because of their metaphors.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:56 AM on February 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


mary8nne: The majority of the population has absolutely no interest in Comic Books and never will. Could the same be said of Video Games?

At least in player numbers, if not in revenue, the "casual games" market is larger and more diverse than the geek-wank twitch games criticized by Gaynor. And likewise, sequential art is quite a bit more diverse and more widely read than just the direct sales superhero niche.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:05 AM on February 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


"Non est actus reus nisi mens sit rea" to quote Sophocles

Well, I don't think that Soph actually wrote anything in Classical Latin, and in fact this popular syllogism is a Western Canon interpretation of Oedipus, not literally enumerated within the text, and unusually popular within legal circles.
posted by meehawl at 8:47 AM on February 20, 2008


I think what has been hinted at above but not explicitly stated is how video games are completely replacing other forms of entertainment.

I always loved video games growing up because of their interactivity. I'm in my mid 30's now and I still love video games because of their interactivity, something that TV and movies simply can't deliver.

Frankly, watching TV is not very fun anymore, and hasn't been for several years now.

Note that this is a source of some friction in my marriage. My wife does not "get" video games, even though she is younger than me. They don't speak to her, do not interest her, and the need for interactivity is completely lost on her.

In the early years of our marriage, she used to get upset if I were to play Unreal Tournament instead of sitting on the couch and watch Law and Order. In order to appease I would sometimes bring a book and sit on the couch and read while we "watched TV together". She viewed mutual TV viewing as a social activity, even if there was not a lot of discussion between us, and felt snubbed when I didn't do it with her.

Sitting on the couch watching TV has become almost unbearable for me. I have a handful of shows I enjoy and I Tivo them. So, I consume probably a grand total of 4 hours of TV a week, whereas she consumes probably 16 hours of TV a week.

We enjoy our mutual TV time now the most watching stand-up comedy. It has an element of interactivity, sharing the joke or making knowing comments relating to the performance.

But, within the last 10 years, the rise of the MMOG has, in my opinion, changed everything.

Considering video games as art has to be coupled with considering video games as a new kind of reality.

Being able to hop onto Warcraft and chat with friends flung all across the country has an incredible value. The actual game becomes more of a backdrop, a space. The real focus is on the community, the interaction between players. The game is just something "to do". It is a construct for what the actual activity is.

I think for a significant portion of people my age and younger, video games have already replaced a lot of more traditional media consumption. I could see the day now where I no longer watch any television, but still play online games... something that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

So, this entire discussion is just a few degrees off center for me. This isn't about what is art. This is about the difference between passive and active entertainment. That, to me, is the real comparison. It's not video games versus tv, or versus books. It is video games versus every passive medium.
posted by Ynoxas at 8:58 AM on February 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Something about books, too: have you looked at the New York Times bestsellers list recently? They have to slice it up into all sorts of categories to avoid it being composed mostly of the latest "wish for good things and they'll magically happen" bullshit that Oprah is pushing. The most literary thing you're likely to see on a best seller's list is Stephen King or Harry Potter (not that there's anything wrong with those two for what they are.)

Just noting that - personally, I believe that as narrative works of art games are, at least currently, constrained from reaching the heights reached by good books or good films, but there's more to be considered than the narrative qualities.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:15 AM on February 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


“and in fact this popular syllogism is a Western Canon interpretation of Oedipus,” posted by meehawl

Does that invalidate the point I was making then?

“...but I don't see what can make someone ignore these new possibilities other than pretentiousness or ignorance.”
posted by roystgnr

Nor do I. The fact of the matter is that they do. And often aggressively so.
Which is why, to address mary8nne’s point, the impetus is to push video games into a niche market along with comic books/narrative art and those who enjoy such work are reviled as “geeks” and so forth.

“At least one limitation to Gaynor's analysis is that he seems to accept the Narrativist frame that games should be read using the same tools of analysis developed for narrative and found wanting when that narrative is weak.”

Exactly. And that is driven by not a reasonable analysis, but a desire for the supremacy of that narrative. Thus my above comments on orthodoxy.

Neil Gaiman’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” an episode of the Sandman series won a World Fantasy Award for short fiction in 1991.
After he won, the rules were changed so no comic script could ever again win.
It is not the limitations of the respective mediums which force the work produced into niche markets. It is failure of imagination and prejudice.
posted by HVAC Guerilla at 1:07 PM on February 20, 2008


What is narrative except a saved-game demo? What is a game except a search for a compelling and rewarding narrative?

tkchrist, I agree with you re: Jason Lutes and am currently wondering when the hell the next Berlin collection is going to come out.
posted by infinitewindow at 2:16 PM on February 20, 2008


Making video games is technically difficult in a way that writing novels and even making movies aren't. The barriers between vision and implementation are enormous. If I have a brilliant novel in mind, I can sit down today and began writing it. If I'm a naturally gifted cinematic visionary, I can write a screenplay and, with a bit of luck and some persuasion, get some money to make a movie. The actual technical training required to be a director is fairly minimal.

However, even if I can conceive of a wonderfully artistic and innovative video game, I first have to learn how to program computers to begin working it. Not only that, but I also have to hope I turn out to be a gifted programmer, meaning that my mathematical/logical aptitude has to be pretty damn exceptional. Occasionally you'll find someone who's both artistically and mathematically/logically gifted, but this combination of talents is pretty rare. As it happens, most of the people who have the technical know-how to make video games aren't the most creative sorts, and the most creative sorts don't have the aptitude or inclination to learn how to program computers. Much easier just to sit down and write a book or a screenplay. Think about it: why should it be that the people who are the best at programming computers also turn out to be the best at designing imaginative worlds or innovative new styles of gameplay? Of course, they're not.

What'll be interesting to see will be whether the increasing commodification of programming talent makes the video game industry more like the film industry, which has a fairly distinct division between the "technical" sorts and the "creative" sorts. It might be that creative visions are too difficult to translate into video game form without being able to manipulate the code itself (sort of like Michelangelo trying to dictate the Sistine Chapel), so that the medium is fundamentally limited as a means of creative expression.
posted by decoherence at 2:39 PM on February 20, 2008


That's actually not true. There are plenty of game designers who don't code, or don't code very much.
posted by empath at 3:00 PM on February 20, 2008


I don't play many games but I know what I like... From the carefully-randomised world names of 'Elite' to the cheesy gothics of 'Silent Hill', I've been able to appreciate the same type of feeling as I'd get from some films or books. Even something like 'Populous 3' taught me why land wars against islands are difficult and provided a long, rambly narrative about godlike powers - on a simple level that I'm sure could be refined somewhere else. I'd even say there was some sort of narrativce in open-ended games such as 'Rollercoaster Tycoon'. Whenever I designed a new world for the game, it alwasys started with a little bud of narrative such as "Fill this empty jungle world with happy people!".

I do wonder, though, how creative people get into the gaming industry because most of the programmers I know seemed a little unimaginative.
posted by grapefruitzzz at 3:10 PM on February 20, 2008


"That's actually not true. There are plenty of game designers who don't code, or don't code very much."

Maybe so. That doesn't mean they didn't need to be programming aces to get to that point in their careers, though. It's my understanding that, graphic artists aside, it's pretty much impossible to break into the industry if you don't have a lot of technical expertise; there's not much room for pure "ideas" people.

If I have a great idea for a video game, but I can't program a lick, how would I go about getting it made? Would it even be possible? Would any studio hire me just to generate novel concepts?
posted by decoherence at 3:23 PM on February 20, 2008


decoherence: Well, I'd argue that both the electronic entertainment and the movie industry involve substantial division of labor. The people who do script-writing and concept design are sometimes not well served by knowing the gritty details of how the final product is going to be produced. Kasdan really didn't need to know how to make light-saber noises in writing Empire Strikes Back, Brian Froud just dished up reams and reams of sketched and written concept material for Labyrinth. And on the other side of the equation, many games these days are built with multiple layers of functional abstraction, which enables designers to plug in new content using a modest amount of high-level scripting language.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:35 PM on February 20, 2008


Does that invalidate the point I was making then?

The assumption of the universal interiority of a guilty mind presupposes the validity of a theory of moral sentiments acting as a universal glue logic for sociality. Psychiatry seems to have demonstrated that some people are born with, or can develop, varying degrees of sociopathy to such an extent that they become devoid of empathy. They have no guilt. It would be interesting to longitudinally test long-term twitchy FPS gamers for empathy development.
posted by meehawl at 3:38 PM on February 20, 2008


I could be wrong, but don't the "levels of abstraction" extend much higher in film than in video games? Like I said above, while there may be a division of labor in video game production, I don't think there's any division that doesn't work pretty intimately with code, or require at least a pretty good working knowledge of the sorts of technical structures underlying the video game experience.

It may be that this is something of an historical accident, and there's no particular reason for the industry to remain this way. Or it could be that the creation of the 'experience' is so closely tied to the technical implementation of it that, unless you're capable of speaking the language of code and getting down to the nitty gritty, you're severely handicapped as an artist -- much as you would if you were trying to create visual art without knowing how to draw.
posted by decoherence at 3:50 PM on February 20, 2008


“The assumption of the universal interiority of a guilty mind presupposes the validity of a theory of moral sentiments acting as a universal glue logic for sociality.” posted by meehawl

So, no, then. It doesn’t. Save that perhaps sociopaths don’t really connect with art of any kind.
posted by HVAC Guerilla at 4:44 PM on February 20, 2008


If I have a great idea for a video game, but I can't program a lick, how would I go about getting it made?

Depends on the kind of game. If it's an RPG you could build it in Neverwinter Nights, if it's a 'casual' game you could prototype it with cutout pieces of paper on board. You can use adventure game construction kit, you could make a text adventure, etc, you could build levels for half life.

I mean, you're not going to be able to design Madden 2008 without a lot of programming knowledge, but you could certainly build a new level for Super Mario Brothers.

You don't necessarily NEED to be a programmer to create games, but you do need to know how to use game design tools.

It's no more difficult to program a game without being a brilliant programmer than it is to compose without knowing how to play in instrument, or being an artist without being a classically trained painter. I haven't the faintest idea how to play piano or carry a tune, but I can put a song together in Reason or Fruity Loops after I learned how to use the tools.

I guess the 'getting it made' part is the hard part. The equivalent question your asking here is: "I have a great idea for a novel, how do I get someone to write it for me?"
posted by empath at 4:51 PM on February 20, 2008


Games started as entertainment. Film started as entertainment. Photography was used to depict pop, mom and young Thomas and writing was initially used for bookkeeping. And what's the common point? These media have had the benefit of time.

50 years can bring great changes, especially taking into account the influence of the ever-changing technology on game design and the new possibilities it allows. Games are a new medium, waiting to be exploited. It doesn't matter if they can claim the mantle of art right now compared to more traditional art forms; the potential is incontestable.
posted by ersatz at 5:42 PM on February 20, 2008


The very nature of what they are, "games", defines them as entertainment, not art. You could make art with an interactive computer generated environment, but when the primary purpose of this is a "game" it makes it hard for it to rise to the level of art. By making it a game you make the purpose winning. Is a football game art? Perhaps, but that is a pretty low definition. When the medium is no longer a challenge separate from the artistic expression, but an exploration it will more likely lead to real artistic expression. This is not to diminish the aesthetics of some of the current games which are artistic within their limited framework just as a game or reality show can have artistic expression. The game format would seem to limit the ability of the artist to express himself or herself. The artistic expression is the wrapper in which the game exists. When the medium allows the expression to be the central theme it will shine more. To me this means remove the "game" aspect and allow the medium to be pure artistic expression.
posted by caddis at 6:02 PM on February 20, 2008


Love.
Art.
posted by Espoo2 at 7:22 PM on February 20, 2008


caddis: is finishing a book the same as winning it?
posted by empath at 9:12 PM on February 20, 2008


no, what a silly question
posted by caddis at 9:27 PM on February 20, 2008


I lost at Finnegans Wake.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 4:57 AM on February 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


The very nature of what they are, "games", defines them as entertainment, not art.

What an absurd and false dichotomy.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:36 AM on February 21, 2008


caddis. I know its silly. Finishing a game is no different from finishing a book.
posted by empath at 12:36 PM on February 21, 2008


Well, ok. Let's take a look at a typical role-playing game in which an elf fights an orc on a bridge over a chasm.

So at one level of abstraction, you have the physics rules that define things like ground, empty space, and objects, and how those things interact with each other. The physics people know that over the course of the 40+ hour playing time that there are likely to be a number of cliffs and bridges, so these things are designed as generic abstractions. Ground is going to be a wireframe, and objects like trees, statues, monsters and players are likely to be modeled as rectangular solids. At the end of this, I'm going to have an interface for designing what a "level" or "area" looks like.

Then, you have the game rules. These can be simulated initially using pen and paper and dice. Each character will have hit points. Each attack will reduce hitpoints. Etc,. etc.. These also get coded into the engine and attached to some simple high-level functions, many of which can be expressed by clicking checkboxes and filling in dialog boxes.

Meanwhile, the character and set designers have two tasks of production. One task is to make those rectangular solids look less like retangular solids by creating 3D models of trees, chairs, tables, statutes. This will be done using something like Maya or Blender. The second task is to dress those 3D models by creating texture and color maps. They are likely using plain old illustrations from concept designers as guides to show that elves wear green, and orcs are green.

At the end of this, what you will probably have is a toolkit which allows the level designer to make decisions at a very high level. "This happens in a dungeon." So the designer gets a flat plane painted with the dungeon tileset. "There is a chasm." Select an area and click on a button to lower the terrain. "It's filled with lava." So, drag and drop lava tiles onto it. "There is a bridge." Drag and drop one of the many bridge models to the right place. "There is an elf with a magic sword." Drag and drop the elf onto the bridge, and pop up an interface that gives you 100 choices of pre-designed loot ready to customize. "The elf says, 'You shall not pass!'" Open up the dialog editor to create a simple tree. "The elf attacks." Make the elf hostile, and pick one of a dozen combat AI scripts.

So now, the player is ready to charge the bridge, bash the smug little elf in the face, and loot the corpse for a magic sword.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:56 PM on February 21, 2008


Greg Costikyan's Where Stories End and Games Begin.
posted by wobh at 6:40 AM on February 22, 2008


Finishing a game is no different from finishing a book.

maybe like finishing a crossword puzzle, but a book? games are games, silly time wasters, books can be the same or they can be literature. I don't think there is a video game which has risen to the level of literature, yet.
posted by caddis at 7:41 AM on February 22, 2008


By making it a game you make the purpose winning having a good time while playing.
posted by ersatz at 9:16 AM on February 22, 2008


maybe like finishing a crossword puzzle, but a book? games are games, silly time wasters, books can be the same or they can be literature. I don't think there is a video game which has risen to the level of literature, yet.

It's pretty clear from the language you use that it's not like you're interested in knowing.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:24 AM on February 22, 2008


actually, I like my silly time wasters.
posted by caddis at 12:40 PM on February 22, 2008


I don't think there is a video game which has risen to the level of literature, yet.

The "risen" and "yet" seem to imply that vid games should aspire to do so, or need to do so in order to "be a significant form of cultural discourse." If that's what you're suggesting, I'd disagree inasmuch as it's possible to disagree with something as vague as "the level of literature." What does that mean? Are films, music & visual art at "the level of literature"?
posted by juv3nal at 1:48 PM on February 22, 2008


films - yes, Chuck Norris movies, no......etc.....

Right now video games are more like Chuck Norris movies, but the medium could lend itself to something special that other forms of expression could not provide. I have a theory that this will start to occur when creating the game requires more vision and less programming savvy, when a lone artist can focus on the artistic expression of making the experience without the drudgery of coding it all; they paint the environment and some interface produces the necessary code. It probably will be less of a discover the secrets, kill the bad guys, out race someone etc. type of an experience and more of an immersion and interaction, more like a role playing game, but with something to say, something to teach, not a movie, not a book, not a painting, not a musical piece, but something different and expressive in its own way, perhaps even with some AI for some extra spice.
posted by caddis at 3:23 PM on February 22, 2008


caddis, you speak as if you haven't played a video game more complicated than tetris in the past 10 years.

Have you?
posted by empath at 6:08 PM on February 22, 2008


In fact, go buy Portal right now.

It's $20. You can finish the whole thing in about 3 or 4 hours.

Once you're done, tell us again that video games are not art.
posted by empath at 6:11 PM on February 22, 2008


I have far less time these days so I am more likely to play a few minutes of Mario Kart or Madden with my kids than sit down for hours to play a Doom style game, although I do like the FPS games and am eagerly awaiting a Star Wars game, with light sabre, for Wii. I'd never have the time to finish one these days though.

Portal seems interesting and I might pick up a copy, art or no. However, what about it makes it art? What does it teach? How does it expand one's consciousness? (I understand that defining art is nigh impossible. It's like pornography. I know it when I see it.)
posted by caddis at 9:36 PM on February 22, 2008


There was a spoiler heavy thread about it a few months back. I'd recommend NOT reading it unless you've played it first, thoughh.
posted by empath at 8:15 AM on February 23, 2008


While games like Grand Theft Auto might incite outrage, games like Ico and other fantastically made games/artworks are rarely appreciated for their merits. So I'd say it's true.
posted by macsigler at 11:34 AM on February 23, 2008


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