the missing letters are u, c and k.
April 8, 2009 10:17 AM   Subscribe

At GDC this year, Heather Chaplin to game developers: "You're a bunch of f***ing adolescents." Chaplin, co-author of the book Smartbomb, spoke at the Game Developers Conference during a panel called the Rant Session.

The panel, a regular attraction at the conference, routinely features members of the gaming community going off on topics that they feel merit attention. This year's panel, "Burned by Friendly Fire: Game Critics Rant," gave games journalists an opportunity to let loose. Chaplin's rant has sparked some controversy thanks to her attacks on the perceived immaturity of video games, and specifically developers themselves. While many attendees of the panel (such as Gamasutra's and Sexy Video Game Land's Leigh Alexander) were partly invigorated by the points made, this feeling was often tempered by disappointment with Chaplin's insults. David Jaffe (creator of the Twisted Metal and God of War series) responded to her accusations in a recent blog post. While his initial, angrier response has been taken down, his utlimate, more tempered response remains. Overall, the vibe online at the moment seems ambivalent. Chaplin may have given voice to the frustrations many feel toward gaming's homogeneity, but few people feel comfortable with her gender and sexuality based attacks.
posted by shmegegge (249 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
No one ever built a statue for a critic.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:24 AM on April 8, 2009


No one ever built a statue for a critic.

Well, I did, but only so I could smash them.
posted by The World Famous at 10:28 AM on April 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


Chaplin traced the paucity of more mature content in games to four basic ideas that frighten men the most: responsibility, introspection, intimacy, and intellectual discovery.

Not that I don't agree with her basic premise, but I doubt this line of argument will get her very far.
posted by hifiparasol at 10:29 AM on April 8, 2009


Chaplin closed by challenging the audience, "What do you want to be, a Chihuahua or a wolf?
posted by Pants! at 10:31 AM on April 8, 2009


"You're a bunch of f***ing adolescents."

Wait, really? An industry whose most popular products often feature first-person views of GIANT GUNS THRUSTING STRAIGHT OUT AT THE WORLD1 might be staffed by a lot of men who are adolescents at heart? That's crazy talk!


1. Yes, I am aware that there are plenty of popular games that are not first person shooters, but, I mean, come on. You can't deny that FPS games are pretty much all about "Look at my giant phallus. I will fuck you [up] with it."
posted by dersins at 10:31 AM on April 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


Chaplin wondered how it is that videogames remain so focused on violence and zombie gore. "The excuse is that the videogame industry is only thirty-five years old," said Chaplin. "But after thirty-five years rock & roll had Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and the Clash. After thirty-five years film had Fritz Lang, film noire, and was a few years away from Citizen Kane." Chaplin blamed the inability of the medium to move beyond male-centric power fantasies as a direct result of developer heterogeny and immaturity.
Dylan, et al came after 35 years of rock and roll, but man-made music had been around for millenia, and birds have been singing for a lot longer than that. Film has Lang, etc, but visual arts had been around for thousands of years. Computer games have been around for 35 years, period. Also, what BP said.

(Also, developer heterogeny? She's saying developers are too different?)
posted by mullingitover at 10:33 AM on April 8, 2009


responsibility, introspection, intimacy, and intellectual discovery

A game consisting of dialogue trees in which I share with my significant other my insight that childhood trauma is responsible for my consistent failure to take the recycling to the curb would be really fucking boring.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:33 AM on April 8, 2009 [27 favorites]


Computer games have been around for 35 years, period.

Of course no one played games before computers came along.
posted by theroadahead at 10:36 AM on April 8, 2009 [16 favorites]


No one ever built a statue for a critic.

Ahem
posted by The Whelk at 10:36 AM on April 8, 2009 [6 favorites]


Sounds like a drunken rant to me.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:38 AM on April 8, 2009


No one ever built a statue for a critic.

Ahem again.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:39 AM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Look, I could list a dozen games that lie orthogonal to her premise, but it wouldn't be half as much fun as strawmanning her with this. (Mega64)
posted by kid ichorous at 10:39 AM on April 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Those who can't, criticize. Because teaching means you can do something, and you wish to share your knowledge of how to do something with others.

Yes, good critics can do amazing things for overlooked items of value, be they books, movies, or video games. But what's the point of adding your two cents into the foray of the Next Big Thing? Thanks to the internet, anyone can toss in their two cents, and you can get a good idea of what something will be like from the broad spectrum of reviews. Of course, a reliable reporter or review source (magazine, website TV show) could be the only thing you based your purchases on, but I doubt many people do that.

Chaplin closed by challenging the audience, "What do you want to be, a Chihuahua or a wolf?" Asking for games with more responsibility, introspection, intimacy, and intellectual discovery by challenging men to become wolves instead of chihuahuas seems like more of a threat to the masculinity of the intended audience than a challenge to create better games. You could read that statement by viewing wolves as more complex than little yippy things with bulgy eyes, or you could see the comparison to wimps and the toughest thing around. Why not take it back to games, and say "you are all playing tic-tac-toe and checkers when you should be creating the next Agricola or Settlers of Catan"
posted by filthy light thief at 10:39 AM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Video games are the most commercial art medium, ever. Hollywood blockbusters stink on ice too; or they all very formulaic like FPS games at any rate.

There's a growing market for niche games and I think in another 35 years there will be enough of a market for them that things will be very different.
posted by GuyZero at 10:40 AM on April 8, 2009


Video games are by and for overgrown adolescents? I don't think I can handle any more of these shocking revelations!!
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:41 AM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, she has a great point. Almost all video games use the same fantasy power trip structure. The difference between games and film though is that film had thousands of years worth of plays to draw from, so artists quickly learned film's structure on a basic level and then began to improve on. Narrative games have no historical precedent. Telling an interactive story is vastly different and we as a society don't treat it with the same respect we treat other art forms. Secondly, video games are developed by software companies which treat them like other software programs while film and music are developed by artists. While both have varying levels of corporate interference, a filmmaker or musician has more standing to experiment and resist commercialization attempts than any video game developer.
posted by clockworkjoe at 10:42 AM on April 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


Those who can't, criticize.

Anyone who's spent time among those who can knows that they certainly get in their fair share of it.
posted by hermitosis at 10:43 AM on April 8, 2009 [6 favorites]


Narrative games have no historical precedent.

Also, most of them aren't games in the classic sense. Halo is an adrenaline stimulation device, not a game.

next year's rant should be on the essentially similarity between FPS games and a Fleshlight.
posted by GuyZero at 10:44 AM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


I liked Leigh Alexander's response. Sure, there's a heavy weight of popcorn power fantasies in mainstream gaming (just as in movies!), and this should change. But framing this as a challenge to developers' masculinity is neither productive nor correct.
posted by grobstein at 10:46 AM on April 8, 2009


Yeah, um, the problem is that she's mostly right but phrased things poorly. The problem is that, like comic books, video games were seen as primarily a medium for children. As those children grew, they, as an audience, didn't expect much out of video games, so most of the advances have been quantitative rather than qualitative.

But OK, so let's reframe this as an art versus commerce question: art very much takes a backseat to commerce in mainstream gaming. I remember seeing an essay linked here called The Problem of Fun, or somesuch. With these games, people expect "fun" and they're disappointed when it's not there. This is the same "problem" with blockbuster movies, whose budgets are commiserate with video game budgets. Folks aren't going to see Wolverine because they want to be confronted by ontological discomfort.

That's the gap that Chaplin is talking about when she frames the issue as maturity of genre and developers.

And there are games that are primarily about edification or questioning, but they tend to be small, independent games without good distribution. There hasn't been a game yet that I know of where people have passed it around saying, This isn't fun at all but you really have to play it. And that's kind of a shame, but also understandable.

That all said, when the rebuttal is this: "I don't WANT to be an artist. I don't WANT to make REVOLUTIONARY ROAD: THE GAME! I don't want to be the Bob Dylan of games or make the Citizen Kane of games," well, then, dude, you're a fucking hack. You don't want to push the boundaries of your medium to make it say something universal and profound? You don't want to change the way games are made forever? You don't want your games to be personal yet relatable? You just want to come up with new fatalities for Scorpion? You're a fucking hack. I'm glad you can raise kids on hackwork, and you're right that this has little to do with man vs. boy shit, but man, what an unambitious, sad way to approach something that could be art.
posted by klangklangston at 10:48 AM on April 8, 2009 [36 favorites]


Just to be clear, the representative of a journalism sector which includes something called "Sexy Video Game Land" called video game companies immature?

Pot, meet kettle.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 10:48 AM on April 8, 2009


Also, most of them aren't games in the classic sense. Halo is an adrenaline stimulation device, not a game.

In multiplayer, Halo is certainly a game. Moves are strategic in the game theory sense, i.e. their outcomes depend importantly on the reciprocal decisions of other players. This is the essential feature of card games and board games, for example.

There's lots of other stuff layered on top, too, like aiming, twitch reflexes, and the simulation of physically threatening situations -- but none of that means that there isn't an underlying game logic.
posted by grobstein at 10:51 AM on April 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


I for one would love more games that aren't the same old thing. FPSs make me sick (literally, stupid motion sickness stuff), and actually any first-person game. And so many non FPS still seem to be another iteration of the same thing, all geared towards a market that isn't me (female, mid-30s). It does seem like too many are too juvenile and assume anything other than shooters are not wanted.

Which is why I'm so excited about Flock (via xbox live). Abducting sheep via UFO - how can one not get excited by that premise?? :D
posted by evening at 10:52 AM on April 8, 2009


Just to be clear, I'm not suggesting the video game industry is mature. I'm not gonna go as far as to suggest there's never been a game about intimacy or intellectual self-discovery, because I think there are plenty. However, I do think that, if the New York Review of Books were called "Sexy Book Land," a lot less people would read it, and people would be more inclined to take book reviewing and books less seriously.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 10:52 AM on April 8, 2009


"The excuse is that the videogame industry is only thirty-five years old," said Chaplin.

Yes. Thirty-five, unemployed, and living in its mother's basement.

There's a feedback loop. Video games are written for the sort of people who buy video games. What's on the store shelves is exactly what they want, or as close to it as developers can come at the moment.
posted by pracowity at 10:54 AM on April 8, 2009 [6 favorites]


Critizing both men and video games. As a post on MeFi.

I predict blowback.
posted by DU at 10:54 AM on April 8, 2009


Well, she has a great point. Almost all video games use the same fantasy power trip structure.

I don't want this to seem like I'm targeting you specifically ...

... but almost all STORIES use the same fantasy power trip structure, period. Most games have story elements, some of them thicker or thinner than others. It shouldn't surprise anyone that games have structures reflective of common stories about heroes and villains.

Vigorous hand-waving about responsibility, introspection, intimacy and intellectual discovery is completely missing the plot.

Save the princess! You wanna know why we're saving the princess? Because that's what fucking heroes do.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:55 AM on April 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


There hasn't been a game yet that I know of where people have passed it around saying, This isn't fun at all but you really have to play it.

From the review of Pathologic, at Rock, Paper, Shotgun:

This will be someone's favourite game of the year. That somebody almost certainly won't be you. [...] John gave it a 6/10 review which nevertheless left anyone with a soul desperate to play the thing. It's a brilliant game that the traditional reviewer has to condemn. This may, to some eyes, show a weakness in traditional reviews and reviewers. [...] The game begins with three healers arriving in a town, a backwards settlement built on a meat industry out in the barren earth of the Russian steppes. The year is… about 1910, maybe...
posted by kid ichorous at 10:55 AM on April 8, 2009 [11 favorites]


Well, she has a point, but it's not very finely honed, for all its seeming sharpness.

Not everyone who plays an FPS is an adolescent. And those of us who do, really, actually want richer, more in-depth game play and aren't all about the FPS are really not deserving of her epithet as "adolescents". And the ones who ARE the adolescent FPS players aren't the ones calling for a richer, more mature, introspective game, etc. So she's conflating both groups of gamers in order to insult them both. With a shotgun.

Perhaps a better criticism is that those of us who are more introspective, mature, etc. aren't as free with our cash to purchase video games as are the adolescent, impulsive crew who will buy a new one every month or two. I buy maybe one video game per year and savor it for several months. Those FPS gamers I know tend to buy several games per year. So of course, the industry is going to skew to where the money is coming from. Plus, publishers seem to feel more comfortable hyping the action of an FPS, rather than trying to find a way to bring out the traits of an evocative adventure game.

I worked several years in software development and publishing before I moved on. For the last few years, I was actually THE person responsible for making decisions on which games we'd publish, etc. The energy barrier to publishing a thoughtful, introspective adventure game was immense. Everyone down the line wanted action/arcade/shooters because that's where the money was.

To this day, one of my greatest regrets about that job is that I wasn't able to convince my colleagues to invest in publishing "Amber", one of the sharpest, most introspective and thought provoking mystery / adventure games I'd ever encountered. But the idea of selling perhaps only 50,000 copies of a game was just too bitter a pill for them to swallow, never mind that it would have been profitable for us. The company went out of business two years after I left.

It's like selling fine port vs. cheap beer. It takes completely different mindsets to target completely different audiences with completely different interests. Marketing the product that appeals to the least common denominator only requires the least common denominator of marketing skills.
posted by darkstar at 10:55 AM on April 8, 2009 [6 favorites]


Shouldn't she be looking at the target demo for this product? The target demo of most video games is a group of kids who by very definition are immature, insecure, confused and petty (and then throw in the adults who cling to those times by reliving them with these games). Are developers supposed to develop for people who don't buy videogames? Like those of us who are too busy dealing with our responsibilities, our relationships and our personal growth? (he says as he wastes more productivity on the Blue).
posted by spicynuts at 10:56 AM on April 8, 2009


"Those who can't, criticize. Because teaching means you can do something, and you wish to share your knowledge of how to do something with others.

Yes, good critics can do amazing things for overlooked items of value, be they books, movies, or video games. But what's the point of adding your two cents into the foray of the Next Big Thing? Thanks to the internet, anyone can toss in their two cents, and you can get a good idea of what something will be like from the broad spectrum of reviews. Of course, a reliable reporter or review source (magazine, website TV show) could be the only thing you based your purchases on, but I doubt many people do that.
"

Um, actually this makes me think that you don't know what good criticism looks like or how it functions and should probably avoid voicing opinions on it.

High-level criticism doesn't really exist for games yet either, in part because precious few games deserve it. Good criticism isn't whether or not you should buy the game, or even whether or not the game is consistent in its conceits and aesthetically satisfying (though that's probably the ground level). Good criticism examines a work's place in culture, treats the work as a way of seeing the world, and then reflects on what that Weltanschauung means. The perspectives offered to video game players are confoundedly simplistic and nearly always antithetical to that reflection—you're a dude with a gun who must kill enemies. OK, yeah, so what?

High level criticism makes you experience work in a new way by reframing, explicating and contextualizing. You don't want criticism—you want better product reviews. As do most in video games, which is part of the problem.
posted by klangklangston at 10:57 AM on April 8, 2009 [6 favorites]


Those who can't, criticize. Because teaching means you can do something, and you wish to share your knowledge of how to do something with others.

I've been a professional theater critic for more than a decade. I am a playwright with two dozen productions under my belt, three in Manhattan, and am currently writing a play for one of the more highly regarded theater companies in the Twin Cities. I have also acted in quite a few productions, and directed, and worked lights and sound and moved props on the stage. I don't know that I am G.B. Shaw, who I linked to earlier, who was also a critic and a playwright, but nobody has ever said that I am anything less than competent at the theater work I do.

If critics were to dismiss the work they address with the casual disregard and ignorance with which they, themselves, are dismissed, you'd be right -- they wouldn't be worth much. But, instead, your premise is wrong, and your conclusion, as inevitably follows a mistaken premise, is wrong.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:58 AM on April 8, 2009 [19 favorites]


Oh, and this is so brilliant from deep in Jaffe's response, I'd like to post it here:

By the way, regarding Citizen Kane ...

Saying we have not had the game version of Citizen Kane simply shows a possible lack of genuine understanding of our field (or perhaps you just don't understand what made Citizen Kane so special for its time). See, we may very well have HAD our Citizen Kane. It was probably GTA3 or MARIO 64 because what I recall from USC film classes was what made CK so special was Wells being the first director to move the camera in innovative ways that told the story in a fresh way. What made CK so special was it marked the first time directors started making movies like MOVIES versus filming stage plays.

So if you are talking about games that have pushed the very definition of what a game is (which is what CK did for movies, eventually) then I think it's an easy argument to be made that we have already crossed that threshold. Hell, we may have crossed it a few times (2D to 3D; linear worlds to open worlds; the invention of MMOs)...

posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:58 AM on April 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


However, I do think that, if the New York Review of Books were called "Sexy Book Land," a lot less people would read it,

Are you kidding me?

Off to register sexybookland.com....
posted by mothershock at 11:01 AM on April 8, 2009


Regarding Citizen Kane: Actually, it was that he made a movie qua movie that also had serious emotional resonance and told a great story and was fairly popular at the time (though nowhere near the over-rated juggernaut it's become in film studies).

It's doing all of those things at once that video games haven't managed to do yet.
posted by klangklangston at 11:03 AM on April 8, 2009


See, we may very well have HAD our Citizen Kane. It was probably GTA3 or MARIO 64

Please, keep convincing the world to take video games seriously as art, you're doing an amazing job of it right now.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:05 AM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't know...there are games that seem good examples of what she's saying the industry lacks.

Responsibility: Sim games, some Civ games, Black & White, and Spore all put you in various positions of responsibility. Some of them directly reward 'mature' or 'good' behavior, whereas others are more open-ended, which leads me to...

Introspection: Black & White is definitely an introspective game. You can shape your creature into a kindly caretaker for the villagers or an angry tyrant. In Alpha Centauri you can avoid dissent by having a happy, free society, or you can be a militaristic, oppressive dictatorship that nerve staples rioters (and all shades in between). In the Fallout series your actions could result in more free or more oppressive communities; in some cases, the salvation or destruction of whole cities depends on your selfless or selfish actions. These games prompt the player to be introspective and judge his or her own actions and their consequences.

Intimacy: I don't know about this one. In my opinion, sexuality and intimacy in single-player games is inherently objectifying. Consider Japanese dating simulations as an example. The player cannot treat the other party as a complete and equal person because he or she isn't a person, just an object. Note that this is different than literature, where the relationship is typically between characters, not the reader and the characters (side-stepping the issue of readers inserting themselves into the story). Of course, a game could have intimately involved characters, and that's different.

In multiplayer games there are all kinds of emergent behaviors: relationships, weddings, love triangles, you name it, but that's an inevitable result of a social medium. I don't think multiplayer games need to have an inherent mechanism to reflect those emergent behaviors. Just allowing the players to communicate is sufficient.

Intellectual Discovery: Again, there are lots of games that fit the bill here, and I don't just mean puzzle games. Planescape: Torment and the Fallout series come to mind.

The bottom line is that the market has produced games that meet her criteria, some more successful than others. It has also produced a ton of games that don't meet those criteria, some more successful than others. To the extent there are more of the former than the latter, or that the latter are, on average, more successful, I think it is more a result of our culture in general than of the culture of game designers specifically.

Here's what I think the real problem is: it's hard to make a game out of the kinds of stories that make good literature or film. The media are just too dissimilar. Literature and film tell stories, but they tell set stories. Occasionally there is ambiguity, but usually not. To the extent a game can be easily based on a book or a film, the variation is in the details (e.g., a fight scene or a mine cart ride) not on the overall plot (e.g., does the hero survive the final battle, do they ever figure out Rose Bud was his sled). This is boring and doesn't take advantage of the medium. So instead we allow the player to affect the world. That's easy enough. Maintaining an interesting plot despite the player's actions is the hard part.

So, to make a game out of, say, Romeo and Juliet, you have to tell a story of star-crossed lovers where the player's actions can vary from the script. The player could quell the feud between the Capulets and Montagues, prevent Mercutio's death, assassinate Tybald from the beginning, decide to skip Juliet and marry someone else entirely, etc. Now imagine writing good dialog that addresses all of these possibilities. Imagine the scripting required to take the player through an interesting plot, given all of the possible variations in the story. This is exponentially harder than writing the basic story, and I think that's why games favor simple plots or at most only a handful of plotlines.

Even in the free-form world of pen & paper role-playing games, DMs focus a lot on keeping the players on the rails. It's just too hard to come up with a believable response to every possible player action while also maintaining a good plot. The best games use silk handcuffs to keep the player on the rails while providing the illusion of freedom, but even that is a very difficult balance.
posted by jedicus at 11:06 AM on April 8, 2009 [11 favorites]


Robotfindskitten, Myst, Interactive Fiction games, Echochrome, World of Goo, the Samorost series, Tetris, room escape games, and so forth and so on are nice, nonviolent sorts of puzzle solving/thinking types of games. I think it would be nice to have more immersive games that didn't involve killing and such blatant us v them gameplay. That having been said, those sorts of games are the ones that are driving the graphics card industry.
posted by oonh at 11:06 AM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've been a professional theater critic for more than a decade. I am a playwright with two dozen productions under my belt

As a professional critic who is also an artist, you are the exception, not the rule.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:08 AM on April 8, 2009


When I saw fantasy power trip structure, I mean that the game is based around a single heroic character who singlehandedly saves the day through violence or athletic ability or some variation thereof. It's you versus an army of bad guys.
posted by clockworkjoe at 11:09 AM on April 8, 2009


"OMG How dare (some of) you cater to an audience I don't like!"
posted by Artw at 11:10 AM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


At GDC this year, Heather Chaplin to game developers: "You're a bunch of f***ing adolescents."

Yeah, because insulting an entire industry is just a hallmark of maturity.

Chaplin traced the paucity of more mature content in games to four basic ideas that frighten men the most: responsibility, introspection, intimacy, and intellectual discovery.

Right. But she left a few things out. Like how we're afraid of commitment, refuse to ask for directions, and do nothing but sit on the couch and watch sports all while the wife does all the important work. Hey Heather, 80s sitcoms and stale observational comedians called, and they want their schtick back.

Women do things like this, men do things like this, etc.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:11 AM on April 8, 2009 [14 favorites]


Many years ago (about 10) I organised a sort of conference where I brought together a bunch of game developers that I either admired or thought were important and a collection of philosophers, cultural theorists, performers and writers to try to come up with some kind of language to talk about games. I had the idea that the problem with games was mostly caused by the lack of any decent discourse and criticism.

My role ended up being a kind of translator between the two worlds - with a few exceptions (Eric Zimmerman, for instance) the game developers mostly just never seemed to have even thought about what they did in a remotely critical manner and mainly just seemed baffled. There was almost no ambition at all to consider anything deeper than polygon counts. It's not true that all individuals within the industry are stuck in adolescence (though an embarrassing number do fit the socially dysfunctional stereotype), but if games want to be received as an art form then it's inevitable the authors will be identified with the work they produce - and just look at it

Still, although I think Heather Chaplin is more or less correct, I still think that game criticism must take part of the blame for the frightening idiocy of the video game industry. By rating games based on "graphics", "sound effects" etc. they have utterly distorted any kind of progress into narrowly defined (and objectively bizarre) channels. Another large part of the problem is the (mainly US-centric) worship of narrative - growing up in the US, the most powerful model available to many of the game designers when I asked them what they aspired to was "storytelling" on the level of hollywood. Trying to squeeze games into "stories" has helped to throttle any authentic forms that have appeared.

The last few years seem to have shown a few green shoots of hope - internet distribution, better writing and clever people have just started to appear. The game industry always seems to be saying that in 10 years everything will be different, but maybe this time it will.
posted by silence at 11:12 AM on April 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


This is a drunken rant. Poor Adam Smith, reincarnated as a belligerent journalist.

Depending on what you consider video games, they could go as far back as 1947 for a missile launch sim. But are many that much different from previous games? Video games can be more immersive and provide realistic instant gratification where D&D or other tabletop games took time to work out what was done, and what that meant. FPS and vehicle sims are the only thing I'd consider wholly new. You could simulate sports on a tabletop, but it's not as exciting to see more realistic representations of players move in real time.

Chaplin's Big 4 (responsibility, introspection, intimacy, and intellectual discovery) should not, and cannot, be represented in every game imaginable. Flight sims are just flight sims. Sports games have no narrative plot that a player works through. FPS? You shoot stuff. Yes, there could be a story behind it, but sometimes people just want to shoot things in a vaguely realistic way. Just like (the) Fast & (the) Furious (N) is just about ridiculous car stunts with a skeleton of an emotional story to hold the action bits together.

High-level criticism doesn't really exist for games yet either, in part because precious few games deserve it.

My first line (Those who can't, criticize.) was throw-away snark, and support for teachers (because I hate the original line). And I agree with you - few games could stand up to thorough or high-level criticism, and because of that, there is no outlet someone who wants to be a high-level game critic. The look, mechanics, and basic plot are discussed in reviews, and they can often fit into a paragraph or two and sufficiently critique the game. I think video game critics are mostly just video game reviewers, but that title sounds less glorious. I haven't paid attention to many video game critics / reviews, but N'Gai Croal seems to be one of the few who really evaluates games on a broader scope. There's room for growth in the industry, both for game makers and for critics.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:12 AM on April 8, 2009


If you really want to skewer the topics of criticism and the viability of interactive art, please invest ten minutes with Emily Short's Galatea before knocking games as a medium. You won't even have to leave your web browser.
posted by kid ichorous at 11:13 AM on April 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


" I have never heard of Sturgeon's Law, or if i have I consider all other artforms utopias that are free from it"
posted by Artw at 11:15 AM on April 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


As a professional critic who is also an artist, you are the exception, not the rule.

Not the case so much anymore. Of the dozen or so theater critics I know, more than half have activily participated in theater productions. Most of the music critics I know are in bands or are deejays. I know three art critics, and two of them are professional artists. I know a half dozen book critics and all are authors.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:17 AM on April 8, 2009


Serious emotional resonance, great story and fairly popular? One could make a good case for some of the Zelda and Final Fantasy games, as well as GTAIV, meeting all those standards.
posted by box at 11:17 AM on April 8, 2009


"Literature and film tell stories, but they tell set stories. Occasionally there is ambiguity, but usually not. To the extent a game can be easily based on a book or a film, the variation is in the details (e.g., a fight scene or a mine cart ride) not on the overall plot (e.g., does the hero survive the final battle, do they ever figure out Rose Bud was his sled)."

Make a game out of Lost Highway or Solaris.

I realize, and I think it's entirely valid, the exponential storytelling required in games. But I also think that there's a real aversion to the very elements which challenge people as people, not just as gamers. Things like confusion, ennui, frustration, isolation, boredom and failure.

I've joked about this for years, creating a video game where all it is is a road trip in real time from Detroit to Chicago on I-94. Four hours of nothing but traffic, with maybe an occasional pit stop for gas. No purpose, no narrative arc, just real footage from this trip. It would be the most meditative, boring game ever. (I know that Penn and Teller did something similar, but t'hell with those libertarians).

Basically, I think what it will take is someone who has made a fortune making games deciding that they want to do something radically different and having the cash to invest in a quixotic failure.

(I'll check out that Russian game above, though I've got a mac and macs are sad for games.)

Oh, one last thing—I like a lot of games. I like FPS, I like RTS, I've played Katamari and Okami. But video games definitely are the least evolved critically of all the media I deal with.
posted by klangklangston at 11:19 AM on April 8, 2009


Just to be clear, the representative of a journalism sector which includes something called "Sexy Video Game Land" called video game companies immature?

Pot, meet kettle.


I it think it would be worth your while to familiarize yourself with SVGL, and Leigh Alexander's work in general. The title of the blog can certainly seem puerile, but it's mostly tongue in cheek, and the way she handles her chosen issue (sexuality and gender in video games) is far more mature and nuanced than you might think from the title.

As far as my feelings about chaplin's comments are concerned:

I think I'm actually more drastically ambivalent about her comments than most other people are. Where she talks about eliminating the excuses people constantly trot out about video games being a young medium, I scream "FUCK YEAH!" in my head. She's dead on, there. All it takes is the drive to do it. Nothing in this medium right now prevents someone from making a compelling game with mature and intimate themes. It just takes someone to do it. Selliing it is another thing, of course, but as Tim Schaefer recently wrote, "unless it’s your money on the line, game sales don’t need to keep you up at night. The market and game executives do not dictate what games get made--They just dictate what gets made easily. They affect what can be made without a fight. As long as there are creative people out there willing to fight for ideas they care about, then there is nothing that the market or anyone else can do to stop them."

So yeah, a lot of excuses get made, and she's right to call them out.

On the other hand, what she said is outrageously offensive sexist bullshit. Yes, male power fantasies exist in gaming, and are overly prevalent. Yes, there's a lot of homogeneous adolescent male exclusivity in developer houses. But to say things like that responsibility and intimacy frighten men is sexist. plain and simple. Heather Chaplin, you are a sexist, and your remarks were offensive. Your examples of responsible, intimate artwork from other media were all made by men, and the things you said about gender were ultimately stupid and poorly thought out bullshit. And that's the thing that kind of surprises me. Among all of the thoughts being shared on the internet about this speech, no one has pointed out how blatantly sexist the things she said were. For all her good points, and she made a few, in the end they were all couched in bigotry and hatred.
posted by shmegegge at 11:22 AM on April 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


This woman is very right and very wrong and the same time. You look at the elite (big budget console titles) of the games industry and it's kind of scary. Klang is right, there's not really all that much interest in pushing thematic boundaries. How many games are about GIANT HUMORLESS MEN WITH GIANT HUMORLESS GUNS KILLING LOTS OF THINGS THAT NEED KILLING? Yes, this is what sells, but I think it's pretty obvious that at decision making levels almost no-one is asking if there's not at least a little room for growth?

But she's very wrong because there is a place where the language of games is growing and where people are reinventing the whole idea of what you can do with a game, but just like in so many artforms it's being done in the low or no budget land of indie development. All those cool flash games you play ARE changing the industry and I suspect are influencing big titles positively, but from the bottom up. Low budgets means you can afford to make mistakes and try something new and clever. Low chance reward means you are doing this because you love the medium and want to see it grow.
posted by aspo at 11:23 AM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, because insulting an entire industry is just a hallmark of maturity.

In fairness, she was asked to rant and the talk was billed as a rant. If she showed up for a rant and brought a metered and even-tempered criticism, she'd have failed. If you're ranting, you have to insult somebody at some point.
posted by GuyZero at 11:23 AM on April 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


She should have pointed out how many of those men are white, and therefore racist.
posted by Artw at 11:25 AM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


klang: Pathologic would be a tricky bit of translation even on a Windows box, though a revised English sub is in the works. But, as long as your browser supports Java, give Galatea a try.
posted by kid ichorous at 11:27 AM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is pretty ridiculous. Playing games is an inherently "immature" thing to do, so of course games are going to be immature. I mean duh.

See, we may very well have HAD our Citizen Kane. It was probably GTA3 or MARIO 64
Please, keep convincing the world to take video games seriously as art, you're doing an amazing job of it right now.
I guess you don't "the godfather" was a legitimate piece of art then? If there's anything remotely fanciful or 'immature' about something it can't be "art" Or just not "serious" art?

Nobody would ever want to play "Shindler's List: the game" But I'm sure you can think of plenty of movies that were both fun and immature and also great movies at the same time. The original Star Wars movie was pretty good, and certainly groundbreaking. It wasn't "Serious" but it was still good. Akira had some pretty "immature" and "adolescent" themes but it was still good. It would make more sense to compare video games to those kinds of movies.
posted by delmoi at 11:30 AM on April 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


That they may have never unpacked their invisible backpacks is probably a pretty valid criticism of those that work in the video game industry. I mean, the critics of Resident Evil 5 have a fair point to make, although it isn't, uh, a black and white issue.
posted by GuyZero at 11:30 AM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


theroadahead: "Of course no one played games before computers came along."

Surprisingly, this is false. However, the primitive pre-transistor 'games' were primarily tools used in the practice of gambling.
posted by mullingitover at 11:30 AM on April 8, 2009


Playing games is an inherently "immature" thing to do, so of course games are going to be immature. I mean duh.

Try playing "Go" sometime. I'd rather dig a ditch, it would be less taxing.

It would make more sense to compare video games to those kinds of movies.

Yeah, but that's just one genre. Why do movies get a wide range of types, while video games just get one?
posted by GuyZero at 11:31 AM on April 8, 2009


Yes, gaming journalism is weak. It's filled with corruption (inside deals and payola), loaded with hype, and functions entirely on rumor. A flip through an average gaming rag reveals a cross between a glossy catalog and a shouty issue of the Weekly World News. The advertising practically is the content.

Yes, gaming will hit a wall when we can render in realtime accurate blood mists and hails of bone chips flying off from your latest snipe, because all we have been pumping is better graphics, better sound, faster refresh — all things which are easily measured in terms of numbers. That's what happens when you get a bunch of math-inclined people (and that kind of programming demands it) driven by marketdroids who want numbers, numbers, numbers to tout.

But the part I disagree with:

Chaplin traced the paucity of more mature content in games to four basic ideas that frighten men the most: responsibility, introspection, intimacy, and intellectual discovery.

Oh, wow. That sentence contains a wealth of assumptions, slurs, and misrepresentations, managing to insult both the un-unionized workers of a whole industry and an entire gender at the same time.

All of the anger at game developers is misdirected. Game developers are the way they are because that is what the industry, and before that the consumers, demand. Neoteny? Look at the demographics of game developers and tell me that it isn't warranted. You need childless twenty-somethings with high energy if you want to pull 60+ hour work weeks and random death marches. Want forty year old game developers? Awesome, let them go home to their kids at 5 p.m.

People play games as a release. People adore silly little abstract games, like Tetris. People like "cool" graphics where the images become more and more realistic. Some fun, some flash, some bang, some challenges. Yes, it is awesome when a game has a serious premise, but damn if I actually know anyone who games for the premise. Braid looked kinda cool, but I'm weird.

And damn, what a load of misandry:

Men are frightened of intellectual discovery? Really? Whether it is science, math, or cartographic exploration, the history of all of these is hardly devoid of the names of men.

Men are frightened of introspection? Men, the assumed "strong, silent type"? The greybeard philosophers of old? A quick scan through the founding names of psychology indicates that it is not all women. Did these things somehow slip notice?

Men are frightened of responsibility? You mean the gender with the almost default role of breadwinner until a few decades ago, now provider of child support in the age of divorce? Men, of the reproductive responsibilities, rather than reproductive rights? Give me a break.

Congratulations, one of the four is semi-true via a self-fulfilling prophecy. I'd certainly be frightened of intimacy involving someone who assumed that I'm terrified of responsibility, introspection, and intellectual discovery just because I'm male.
posted by adipocere at 11:34 AM on April 8, 2009 [6 favorites]


But I also think that there's a real aversion to the very elements which challenge people as people, not just as gamers

How is this entirely blue painting challenging people as people? We admitted abstract art into the pantheon of 'serious art' despite its aggressive rejection of meaning and edification, so I don't know why we cling to this outdated notion that games must advance some sort of moral purpose.

If current games are failing as art, it's because they are mostly trivial variations on five or six ideas, and here it is the production and reviewing processes that are to blame. When a game takes a team of twenty people two years to produce and reviewers grade games as if they were tests (i.e., docking 'points' for violations committed on a fixed set of axes), it's really no surprise how risk averse studios are.
posted by Pyry at 11:36 AM on April 8, 2009 [3 favorites]



You wake up... You don't remember anything about who you are at all... You are chained to a wall in a cave.
> look around
You see other people chained to the cave wall. Across from you are fantastical images projected against the other other side of the cave.
> ascribe meaning and purpose to the images in a confused understanding of the images' nature.
A philosopher observing you unchains you, and shows you that the images were merely the shadows of real things. He chuckles softly to himself.
> bash his head in
Sorry, I don't know how to bash.
> deny the reality of the objects beyond their capacity to cast shadows.
The philosopher bids you stare into a fire. You're blinded by the fire!
> Cast gaze once more upon the comforting vizage of the fantastical images on the cave wall
Whew, that was close. The philosopher attempts to drag you out of the cave.
> quot
Sorry, I don't know how to quot.
> quit
You haven't broken even yet, you can't quit.
> exit
Sorry, I don't know how to exit. The philosopher drags you into a spectacular room where you are immediately blinded by the splendor of true reality!
> _

posted by boo_radley at 11:36 AM on April 8, 2009 [70 favorites]


Well of course, video gaming is only in its adolescence. What does she expect? For it to skip from infancy to old age?
posted by Elmore at 11:39 AM on April 8, 2009


Isn't this sort of like going to a convention of Burger King managers and yelling at them because they don't run their restuarants like Charlie Trotter?
posted by y6y6y6 at 11:39 AM on April 8, 2009


Are developers supposed to develop for people who don't buy videogames?
I might buy more if more of them appealed to me.
posted by pointystick at 11:39 AM on April 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


How is this entirely blue painting challenging people as people? We admitted abstract art into the pantheon of 'serious art' despite its aggressive rejection of meaning and edification, so I don't know why we cling to this outdated notion that games must advance some sort of moral purpose.

Because it's an Yves Klein, and we are challenged by his awesomeness.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:39 AM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


In response to the idea that the game as art is a young tradition:

here it is most productive to focus on one species of poetry: the riddle, a form that corresponds in a rather direct and useful way to the specific new media form under consideration. Although the riddle is a literary form of great antiquity, it is often dismissed as nothing more than a diversion for children...

Montfort, Twisty Little Passages, p. 38 (Google Books)
posted by kid ichorous at 11:41 AM on April 8, 2009


one other thing,

about the age of video games: what no one is bothering to mention, which I think is important, is that the age of the games industry and the medium itself, isn't as simple as looking at a date and saying "start from here." the first video games as we've classically come to understand them involved bleeps and squeeks for audio. they involved images whose resolution could be counted by hand, and which were represented almost entirely by giant blocks. At its earliest, film brought to bear all the ability for expressive imagery that black and white photography had. It, too, suffered from audio concerns, but as Chaplin herself pointed out, with 'M' it moved into audio territory in fine form with relative ease. It was well over 10 years before a voice could really make its way into game audio (not counting , and many more before the idea of dialog or prolonged voice acting could even be considered. Rock and Roll came into existence with the entirety of human instrumentation at its disposal, and no barriers to length, or expressiveness inherent to the genre.

The idea that a video game could even approach the expressive possibility of film, music or any other narrative (or non-narrative) art is extremely new. Film may have had it's Citizen Kane shortly after it reached the 35 year mark, but video games couldn't even have its Jazz Singer until a few years ago.

I know, I know, I just got done saying that people should stop making excuses for why games exhibit such a paucity of mature titles. So let me clarify here that I'm not trying to make excuses. I'm just trying to clarify the issue a bit. As far as I'm concerned, games can be as expressive as we could ever hope for right now, so it's time to start expressing, no matter how old or young the industry is.
posted by shmegegge at 11:44 AM on April 8, 2009


"How is this entirely blue painting challenging people as people? We admitted abstract art into the pantheon of 'serious art' despite its aggressive rejection of meaning and edification, so I don't know why we cling to this outdated notion that games must advance some sort of moral purpose."

Do you really want me to give you a whole lecture about Klein's place in modern art, and how that artifact doesn't even stand for the whole of the work, and how minimalism and conceptual art fits into the path of visual arts in the 20th century, and how you've missed my point anyway? Or were you just being glib?
posted by klangklangston at 11:45 AM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sim City. Vibribbon. Nights into Dreams. Katamai Damacy. Professor Layton and the Curious Village. Myst. Pac-Man. There's your "M", your "Citizen Caine."

Never confuse narrative with art.

What she was whining about was the lack of a grownup, literate narrative to videogames. To which I reply, a narrative isn't the freakin' point of a video game.

OK, going back to design class at art-school - form must follow function.

What is the function of a video game? To tell a story? Wrong. Storytelling will always be second fiddle, because of the unpredictable nature of the way events unfold. Movies are an extension of drama, which is an extension of storytelling. While storytelling can enhance a game, it's not the point of a game.

A video game is a physical and/or mental challenge - a video game is a puzzle, not a major motion picture. Are you angry that most jig-saw puzzles are pictures of old barns, franchised characters or airbrushed fantasy art? The picture isn't the point of the jigsaw puzzle - just window dressing. So are zombies getting fragged. They look cool, and people buy them because they look cool. Never judge a game by the scriptwriting and acting on the cut scenes... it's just foolish. Judge it by the quality of the puzzle it presents the gamer.

The "Citizen Caine" games are out there, sell well (tho not phenomenally so) and are ignored by the game press, or at least quickly forgotten by journalists like Heather Chaplin.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:46 AM on April 8, 2009 [8 favorites]


It's not that she's mostly right, it's that she's completely right. And for god's sake, the people in this industry need some serious psychoanalysis:

From the article: Chaplin traced the paucity of more mature content in games to four basic ideas that frighten men the most: responsibility, introspection, intimacy, and intellectual discovery.

David Jaffe: Even when dog tired, even as a divorced dad who is trying to figure out his new life, I still am an amazing father who shows up for those kids every day...What you said brought up the typical "band geek vs. jock" bullshit that has existed since there have been kids and cliques.

To paraphrase Chris Rock, you don't get to take credit for doing what you are supposed to do. It doesn't make you amazing to be there for your kids, it's the bare minimum responsibility as a father. And considering how many articles have been written about wives and girlfriends who break up with men who spend too much time on the computer, maybe stop and give a little thought to what she is saying before you explode in rage, and then scramble to take down the evidence of that.

And what a surprise, he hasn't gotten over high school. He still harbors that bitterness and rage, which is really just resentment and jealousy.

Yes, juvenile-acting adults can make a lot of money and create jobs for people. Is Axl Rose anyone's definition of a mature adult?

The point she is making is not that the games are worthless, it's that they are immature outlets. It has nothing to do with whether they are fun to play. I'm ashamed to admit that I want to see the new Fast and Furious movie, because car chases are fun. But I'm under no illusion that the film is anything other than that, nor are the people who make it. It's fast cars, big guns, and hot chicks - which also describes a lot of video games on the market. But I also happen to like those films that are still watched (not remade, watched in the orginal) after 30 years, because they reward introspection, and reflection.

The reason games are stunted is because by and large the people who make them are in no position to offer a unique perspective or interpretation of the human condition. If David Jaffe represents game developers, then everything she wrote is totally correct. He has taken her criticism of games and developers generally and became personally defensive about it. If he really thought he was mature and that what he makes is meaningful (but that she simply doesn't get it), he wouldn't be angry. He's angry because what he thinks is meaningful is precisely what she says is juvenile.

He spends the first half of his piece defending his personal tastes. His complete misunderstanding of Citizen Kane is evidence of his lack of maturity. He says that "what I recall from USC film classes was what made CK so special was Wells being the first director to move the camera in innovative ways that told the story in a fresh way." Fresh way? He told a story that was brilliant and moving, no matter how you moved the camera around. He focuses on the technique and the minutia because he lacks the emotional maturity to see the big picture of a man who regrets never being loved and from that never learning how to love, who is possessed by his fears of abandonment to imprison his lover.

Games need their Stanley Kubrick - someone with a deep love for an understanding of literature and story, and a passion for art in the highest sense of the word -as uplifting, revelatory, mysterious - that it motivates him to master his craft in order to realize an artistic vision.

Jaffe knows nothing about art, or even what it is. "I don't WANT to be an artist." Then why are you angry? Because you want people to think that what you do is more than it is? Notice his contempt for art: "I don't WANT to make REVOLUTIONARY ROAD: THE GAME!" Even though he doesn't say it, he's obviously referring to the film, not the book. If he doesn't want to make art, what's his complaint? Why the outrage? Do you think that Eli Roth complains when people call his films 'gore porn'?

Jaffe is content to show off what he can do technically - to jump his BMX bike off the highest dirtpile in the neighborhood. Good for him. That means I can dismiss his entire output. But it is very likely that there were some people in that audience that heard that critic and find themselves struggling with why they can't make art.

And the incredibly stupid thing about Jaffe's rant is that the response to her critique is so simple. What makes film an artistic medium apart from all others that came before is editing. Editing is fundamental to the grammar of film. What makes video games a unique medium? VG are more constrained than film in some respects because there is no edit, save for how the user chooses to play.

In other words, a user who tears through fallout the way it is meant to be played is creating one edit of the game, but another user may stop and gaze over the carnage he is wrought in the game and realize the player himself is contributing to the wasteleand the pre-existed him. He may linger over a body of a slain enemy and reflect on contributing another peice of debris and detritus to that which was created by the level designers. To reflect on the fact that while human life is defined by its relationships, all he does in playing the game is to isolate himself. The level is finished when the player is alone and isolated. In fact, the game offers him no choice but to add to the wasteland - to become an agent of chaos, decay, and isolation - regardless of what the explicit story narrative is. This is a completely different edit, and therefore tells a different story and renders a completely different work than the other user.

The particular game itself is the medium, and user playing the game creates the experience, the story, and the work. The user is the director and editor, the developer is the set designer and writer, in a sense.

The reason video games have not produced a Citizen Kane is not because there is no Orson Welles among the developers, it's because there isn't one among the players.

There's a counterargument to that, which is that the games made thus far don't attract that kind of user to play, but I think it is unarguable that games like portal and the sims to name two, are changing that.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:47 AM on April 8, 2009 [22 favorites]


> Abducting sheep via UFO - how can one not get excited by that premise?? :D

The Sheep?
posted by mrzarquon at 11:47 AM on April 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yeah, but that's just one genre. Why do movies get a wide range of types, while video games just get one?

Who said games only have one 'type' of genera?

If you don't like the current state of gaming, go make your own or quit whining.
posted by delmoi at 11:49 AM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


If critics were to dismiss the work they address with the casual disregard and ignorance with which they, themselves, are dismissed, you'd be right -- they wouldn't be worth much.

The premise isn't entirely off base -- the world has plenty of critics who've never really tried to do what they will blithely dissect, and it's full of more who've never succeeded at creating a work that would withstand the weight of the inspection they apply elsewhere. Sortof a human failing, really.

There are exceptions, rarer souls that talk about construction and craft from experience, which category it sounds like you fall in, but once you're there, you're no longer solely a critic and you've left the realm of the observation I suspect filthy light thief is making.

There's also the even rarer critic who's able to genuinely communicate something of the experience a work offers, with nuance and precision even though they may never have worked on giving form to something from their own creator's spark. My guess is that these people are actually a rare kind of artist themselves, art itself essentially being able to transmit an experience of some kind.

Criticism as art is still an idea I'm not sure about, though, and my experience is that there are fewer critics who are good at it than artists who are good at what they do, so a measured distrust for criticism itself isn't necessarily unreasonable. This may be why they say the best form of criticism is another film/play/song/etc...

(Which is why klang's response above and a few others in the thread are pretty great: better criticism. :)
posted by weston at 11:53 AM on April 8, 2009


If you don't like the current state of gaming, go make your own or quit whining.

Truly all critics are undone by this cutting insight.
posted by GuyZero at 11:54 AM on April 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's also absurd to compare the "blockbuster" games to the highest examples from film. Look at the "blockbuster" movies. Look at the "blockbuster" albums. They're all "immature" and sucky.
posted by delmoi at 11:54 AM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


I wish I could have my spelling back. But I can't. Now I'm thinking of a movie by Orson Welles involving a mayonnaise magnate.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:55 AM on April 8, 2009


Oh and I do think it's a mistake to conflate "responsibility, introspection, intimacy, and intellectual discovery" with making "Revolutionary Road: The Game" as someone said above. If you want games to be art they are going to have to be their own artform. And that means inventing new ways to be intellectually relevant within the medium. An game is not an interactive novel or a computer assisted play, and forgetting that will just lead to a bad game.
posted by aspo at 11:55 AM on April 8, 2009


I just looked on BoingBoing, expecting to find a hilarious response from Corky. Came away disappointed.
posted by Ratio at 11:59 AM on April 8, 2009


It's interesting: I've been waiting for an AskMe question along the lines of "What good SF have I missed out on over the last two years?" just to be able to answer "Have you played Mass Effect?"

A little perspective: I've avoided a good number of games over the last 3 - 4 years due to a lack of decent hardware, so I've been doing a little catching up recently. IM(not so)HO Mass Effect is up there with the best space operas around, in any medium. It doesn't approach the level of a Solaris or The Sparrow, but still manages to feature: Yes, there's still the adolescent charge of running gun battles. Yes, it still has a degree of "specism" that's common to Star Trek and its ilk ("Klingons/Krogans are always aggressive and warlike", etc) , but there's enough variety amongst induviduals to make things interesting.

This isn't intended to be a plug for the game; only to indicate that, while they continue to lag behind the graphical and technological advancements of the industry, the concepts of plot, motivation, character, relationships and culture are improving in video games.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 12:00 PM on April 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Also, there's an entire genre of games that go against Chaplin's complaint. Adventure games have been around since the start of computer gaming and have had their fortunes rise and fall periodically. While the genre has fallen out of favor with the public, they're still being published today.

So why isn't this genre more popular? I'd argue that many of the puzzles in adventure games require nonsensical logic to solve that simply irritate people. A common example: the player comes across a locked door. Despite the fact that I could in real life shoot the lock out (assuming I have a gun) or break it down, I'm forced to solve e.g. a chess puzzle, or align the hands of a grandfather clock to a certain time, or touch a series of items in the room in sequence to reveal where the key is hidden.

Storytelling in the adventure game is pretty trite as well. Pick a game at random and I'll bet you're looking for a lost relative, or for a lost treasure. A mansion will be key to the story. There are exceptions, but you have to go back in history to find them: Kings Quest, Myst, Leisure Suit Larry, Leather Goddess of Phobos.

Combine bad gameplay with cliched stories, and it's easy to see why gamers would ignore the genre that would address most of her issues.
posted by boo_radley at 12:00 PM on April 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


FWIW the Russian film version of Solaris leaves me completely cold (or asleep actually).
posted by Artw at 12:02 PM on April 8, 2009


after thirty-five years rock & roll had Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and the Clash

Curious and bored, I looked up the dates.

First rock and roll record: ~1947-1951. Let's say Roy Brown's 1947 "Good Rocking Tonight."

Bob Dylan's first album: 1962 (15 years)

The Beatles' first album 1963 (16 years)

The Clash's first album: 1977 (30 years)

After thirty-five years film had Fritz Lang, film noire, and was a few years away from Citizen Kane

First feature film: 1906.

Fritz Lang's first movie: 1919 (13 years; Metropolis, Lang's 12th film, was released in 1927)

First film noir: 1941 (according to Panorama du Film Noir Américain 1941–1953; 35 years)

Citizen Kane: 1941.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:04 PM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Do you really want me to give you a whole lecture about Klein's place in modern art, and how that artifact doesn't even stand for the whole of the work, and how minimalism and conceptual art fits into the path of visual arts in the 20th century, and how you've missed my point anyway? Or were you just being glib?

I'm sure someone could write an equally lengthy lecture about how Doom fits into the history of video games, but I'm not sure what that demonstrates about either of them.

I am not being glib. I choose that piece because it works as art even if you know nothing about the history of art and its place in it. Because art can be good art without having some easily digestible meaning or narrative. Simply producing a powerful aesthetic experience can be a worthwhile goal in itself.
posted by Pyry at 12:05 PM on April 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


It's a cold film. But a great one.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:05 PM on April 8, 2009


Dear Heather,

We kinda agree with you about lack of diversity in games.

Please send 2 million to Tim Schafer for his next project.

Thanks, you're a peach.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 12:05 PM on April 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


Also this is turning out a lot better than I thought it would. We are having hell of serious discussions about video games here.
posted by boo_radley at 12:08 PM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you don't like the current state of gaming, go make your own or quit whining.

Truly all critics are undone by this cutting insight.


Yeah, but when the criticism is just "All your games suck - go make the games I want!" it's kind of a valid counter.
posted by Hermione Dies at 12:08 PM on April 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


I don't demand my video games become serious, but I would like a lot less racism and sexism.
posted by yeloson at 12:11 PM on April 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


Yeah, but when the criticism is just "All your games suck - go make the games I want!" it's kind of a valid counter.

I don't take Chaplin's rant to say that at all, nor do I see anyone saying that in this thread. So it's not really a valid counter argument, no.
posted by GuyZero at 12:14 PM on April 8, 2009


when the criticism is just "All your games suck - go make the games I want!"

That should be the level of discourse that people expect from something billed as "The Rant Session," yes?

Unless they were immature solipsistic assholes or something.

Seriously, "The Rant Session" is probably not the venue where one might reasonably expect well-thought-out, visionary projections of the future of an industry.

NEWSFLASH: SOMEONE RANTS AT RANT SESSION.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:19 PM on April 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


When games actually become cheaper and less complicated to make, you'll see the less commercial forms of it pop up.

For example, arthouse and documentary-style movies didn't really begin cropping up until it was cheap enough to run around with a camera, at least for the passionate few.

Now anybody with computer can make their own movie. Resulting in tons and tons and tons of crap, but also wonderful little pieces that never would have existed without the cheap technology we have today.

Until then, ranting about the lack of intellectual or introspective video games is sorta silly. The name calling is even sillier.

Chaplin surely knows how difficult it is to make a polished game, right? I couldn't even bring myself to enter the text adventure contest here. And that's freakin' text, folks!!!
posted by The ____ of Justice at 12:19 PM on April 8, 2009


Almost all video games use the same fantasy power trip structure.

Dominating your opponent and taking resources is a staple of all games, not just video games. What do you think chess is? Territorial apes attempting to get another's land and assets. What do you think monopoly it? Territrial apes attempting to get another's land and assets. What do you think Settlers of Cataan, Risk, checkers, football, etc are? Modern games, especially FPSs are the exact same formula except the setting is military and involves lots and lots of guns.

Games are a function of human behavior in a way that music isnt. The Dylan/Beatles analogy fails because the part of humans that respond to pleasing sounds is very, very different from the part that wants to win at games. Lyrics and literature arent about domination, yet most games are. Expecting games to be something like music or literature is just being foolish.
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:20 PM on April 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


I don't demand my video games become serious, but I would like a lot less racism and sexism.

Apparently, asking for this makes you a humorless killjoy who doesn't get how awesome it is to have racist, sexist fun. Who knew?
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:20 PM on April 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


Also, it was called the "Rant Session" not the "Measured and Sensible Mutually Validating Discussion and Hug Session." She was probably ratcheting up her vitriol in order to make it qualify as 'rant'.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:21 PM on April 8, 2009


More interesting news in the gaming world: A tactical shooter based on the 2004 battle of Fallujah is being developed. Despite the developers' protests that this game is going to be respectful and will show the horrors of war, I just can't fathom how it's not going to be exploitative. After all, they have to make the combat fun, don't they? Seems like that more or less cancels out any good intentions. Hell, I have problems playing shooters set in WWII let alone five years ago. It strikes me as completely oblivious and misguided if not completely heartless. This speaks to some of the points Chaplin makes about game designers, I think.
posted by picea at 12:23 PM on April 8, 2009


Apparently, asking for this makes you a humorless killjoy who doesn't get how awesome it is to have racist, sexist fun. Who knew?

Wait until the robots, zombies and aliens get their rant session.
posted by GuyZero at 12:24 PM on April 8, 2009


NEWSFLASH: SOMEONE RANTS AT RANT SESSION.

Rants are an art too.

That was a shit rant.
posted by Artw at 12:25 PM on April 8, 2009


No doubt she presented her argument poorly, but I think a lot of people (myself included) certainly understand her frustration. And it is fustrating. I can't think of a better word. I love video games. I have loved them since I was little girl when some neighbors introduced me to their 2600. There's something very comforting about gaming from the early NES era that still makes me smile no matter how many times it prompted me to throw my controller. Gaming was for me, then.

Now, I'm 31. My gender and my age is more pronounced among the "hardcore". I've been mistaken for the girlfriend, the mother, the lost, and, sometimes rightly, the customer. Has the way the game industry in America progressed into more insular and cyclic field/product changed the way games and gaming is perceived? It's difficult for me not to think so. I'm still a very heavy gamer but I'm being told that a Certain Type of gaming is for me these days. I don't want WiiFit but I don't want an quick time event wherein "I" fuck two hookers, either. It's frustrating. This is something I love insinuating that I'm not the right type of gamer.

If you gave me a microphone and an audience of devs, I can't guarantee I wouldn't forcibly ask that the industry grow out of its adolescence posthaste. The confused and unsure explorations of sex, the overwhelming violence, the haphazard tries at "adult themes"- these all seem very much like an industry attempting to throw off perceived childishness by overly embracing second-hand ideas of what being an adult is about. As with a real teenager, it's goddamned tiresome. I miss the child and I am expectant for the adult. I hope that there's room for me in the adult's life.
posted by cheap paper at 12:26 PM on April 8, 2009 [16 favorites]


Apparently, asking for this makes you a humorless killjoy who doesn't get how awesome it is to have racist, sexist fun. Who knew?

No, but identity politics as the governing metric for everything oh and art too is getting pretty old, even on Metafilter.
posted by kid ichorous at 12:28 PM on April 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


It strikes me as completely oblivious and misguided if not completely heartless.

Did you even bother to read about the Fallujah game? It was pitched by the soldiers who fought there. They wanted this game. Who are you to say its heartless when the real life participants are pretty much the creators.

You cant play WWII games? Seriously? Perhaps you should accept that your opinion is not of the mainstream.
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:29 PM on April 8, 2009


The original Star Wars movie was pretty good, and certainly groundbreaking. It wasn't "Serious" but it was still good.

Well, this brings us back to the "for what it is" qualifier, which -- I'm sorry -- basically is how we lower the quality bar however close to the ground it needs to go for whatever not-necessarily-that-great thing it is I like to clear it and emerge Art. For what it is, yeah, Star Wars is pretty awesome. Is it as good as Citizen Kane or, well, The Godfather? Uh...not...really?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 12:29 PM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


When games actually become cheaper and less complicated to make, you'll see the less commercial forms of it pop up.

The problem is that games are becoming more expensive and even more complicated to make. While there have always been "Build your own X" games out there, and many games have had the option to modify them to near unrecognizibility for some time now, the programming requirements to create a game from scratch are something that aren't likely to change unless we hit some plateau where programmers have nothing better to do but make easy to use code libraries. Its another aspect of film analogies not translating well on to video games.
posted by cimbrog at 12:29 PM on April 8, 2009


It's not that she's mostly right, it's that she's completely right.

Hardly. And even where she is, turning it into gender criticism serves largely to draw attention to herself by antagonizing people rather than as a kind of constructive impetus to do better. I also suspect she's conscious of this on some level, but it may or may not be coldly calculating (it may be part of a personal narrative about how she's an exposing the problems of the industry and the patriarchy in general and is therefore an agent of change who's taking the industry and society -- and her own career -- to the next level. But I suppose that last part just could be me projecting from the sadly typical male "leveling up" paradigm).

I think she's also massively overlooking how hard a lot of the progression she's idealized is. I'd love nothing more than to see some kind of truly interactive Jung-level depth to a game. The problem is that having a level of interactivity that matters -- anything beyond a simple branched story -- is going to mean adding levels of mutability to said depth that I can hardly begin to imagine how to accomplish. You're going to have to write the Collective Unconscious Archetype Engine and have it talking to software that pieces actions and interactions into narrative and can match it with potentially relevant myth and philosophy on the fly if you want a game -- not a branched multimedia presentation -- that the equal of something like Citizen Kane.

Find any kind of commercial studio that has that kind of commitment to art, and I'll be impressed, and this is where Jaffe's comments about fatherhood become relevant -- and if I might more gently indulge in less than a simple tenth of the gender politics Chaplain invokes freely, quite possibly in a way that too few women (probably including Chaplain) understand, given that the social weight of the earner/provider role has under many circumstances a weight equal of the expectations for beauty for women in society (and that, as Pastabagel illustrates, expectations as caregivers are markedly higher). Because those roles combined with the general direction and inertia of commerce means that the mere opportunity to pursue art is pretty constrained. A game creator might well consider themselves lucky to have the opportunity to make a good FPS or puzzle game or, if they're extra blessed, adaptation of a compelling piece of fiction. Citing work-life balance issues in response to criticism suggesting the reason you don't do more is because you're shallow is hardly a sign of neurosis.

I don't mean to provide too many excuses to hide behind for the industry as a whole or for those within it who'd be dismissive of any efforts to move games beyond where they are. The basic criticism that games and gaming could be more is a good one. But I've had more illuminating conversations with men who work in it and think quite a bit about the problem than anything I've gleaned from Chaplain's probably counterproductive rant. If her observations are what's going to drive the industry forward, it's going to be a pretty slow ride.
posted by weston at 12:36 PM on April 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


What about peggle, etc? My mom wouldn't consider herself a gamer in a million years, but her laptop is filled with games like that. There's a whole world of games out there that appeals to non-gamers that nobody ever brings up in serious discussions about games.

I wonder why that is?
posted by empath at 12:37 PM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


The problem is that games are becoming more expensive and even more complicated to make.

Granted, this is true for most 3D first person games, since the visuals are approaching levels of near-realism.

But making a flash web game, or a puzzle game for iphone: there are a lot of avenues even a student with some knowledge of programming can pursue.

Maybe I'm thinking too much into this, but games like Little Big Planet give me hope that those "easy-to-use" code libraries are slowly on their way.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 12:37 PM on April 8, 2009


Collective Unconscious Archetype Engine

Keep D&D out of this.
posted by The Whelk at 12:38 PM on April 8, 2009


Yes, but those games don't count because SOMEONE LIKES THE WRONG GAMES.
posted by Artw at 12:39 PM on April 8, 2009


I'm surprised no one has brought up the Wii.

Before the Wii first came out I had an on-line debate with a game developer who used the 'hardcore gamer' phrase and argued that if you looked at the trend of games (first person shooters on increasingly more realistic and powerful graphics systems), then the Wii didn't have a chance. I told him that the whole industry had become a niche, (albeit with a lot of adolescents with a lot of money) and that Wii was going to succeed with the market that all these developers were ignoring. I used the analogy of clothes manufacturers deciding to no longer sell men's or children's clothes because they make more money selling fashion to women.

The Wii has proved the point about a large market without first person shooters. Of course I don't know about the whole 'responsibility, intimacy' thing, but as others have posted, there are actually a wide variety of such games out there. It is just that this one group of self-described hardcore gamers and critics is blind to these types of games. Ironically, by not being able to see outside the niche, Heather Chaplin seems to be part of that group.
posted by eye of newt at 12:41 PM on April 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


The gaming industry isn't any different than any other media industry - it's dominated by brainless, flashy content covering a generally mundane and formulaic core. That's no different than the majority of popular movies and music, or even books.

There's plenty of exceptions that Chaplin conveniently ignores - although Jaffe misses or reinforces her point on many levels, he's also correct that the gaming industry has published many innovative, fun AND intellectually stimulating titles in the last few years. I'm relatively new to modern gaming, but Portal is a great example of this.

She's entitled to her rant just like any movie or music critic is entitled to rail against the intellectual paucity of their respective industries. But it's still disingenuous to generalize the entire industry this way, when there are plenty of game development shops that produce amazingly interesting games without following her stereotypes.

Also:

Video games are by and for overgrown adolescents? I don't think I can handle any more of these shocking revelations!!

This probably says more about your experience with modern games and gamers than it does about the industry. There's a pretty good chunk of mefites that play together on a regular basis, and they're no more adolescent than any other randomly selected chunk of mefites. Gaming can be a great way to socialize, strategize and just enjoy working on a team with people you're too far away from to interact with in person.
posted by chundo at 12:43 PM on April 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


One of the nicest ideas I've heard for introducing a bit more innovation into the gaming industry is B-sides. So you spend all your person-hours and your dollars making a realistic, shiny city, and fill it with all the exciting car-chases and shoot-outs that you need for it to sell well.

Then, on the same disc, you include an interesting half-hour interactive play set in one of the city's schools, or whatever more innovative, experimental form of gaming you've decided to have a go at. You can re-use the main game's resources, you don't have to sell the B-side on its own merits, and you get to explore and demonstrate a greater range of what can be done with games.
posted by Hermione Dies at 12:46 PM on April 8, 2009 [7 favorites]


Furthermore, I don't really see what she's complaining about. If she thinks there's an under-served niche, doesn't that just mean that whoever markets to that niche stands to make a fortune?

If I were her, that's what I'd be doing.
posted by Afroblanco at 12:47 PM on April 8, 2009


The Man would stop her!
posted by Artw at 12:49 PM on April 8, 2009


One of the nicest ideas I've heard for introducing a bit more innovation into the gaming industry is B-sides. So you spend all your person-hours and your dollars making a realistic, shiny city, and fill it with all the exciting car-chases and shoot-outs that you need for it to sell well.

Then, on the same disc, you include an interesting half-hour interactive play set in one of the city's schools, or whatever more innovative, experimental form of gaming you've decided to have a go at. You can re-use the main game's resources, you don't have to sell the B-side on its own merits, and you get to explore and demonstrate a greater range of what can be done with games.


Great idea. Early example: GTA's "Hot Coffee."
posted by grobstein at 12:50 PM on April 8, 2009


Great idea. Early example: GTA's "Hot Coffee."

Oh yes, THAT'S a shining example of what Chaplin wants more of in games.
posted by chundo at 12:58 PM on April 8, 2009


I think shmegegge and others began touching on this point earlier, but I think that one thing that is absolutely critical to viewing games as art is to consider the medium they are played on. Games are rarely timeless, very few people come back to titles from years ago, just to run through them again, because there are usually new titles in the franchise capable of being played on the newest and slickest hardware.

There have been some amazing games over the years, but if I told the average person that Eternal Darkness: Sanities Requiem for the GameCube was one of the finest games of all time and everyone should get the chance to experience it, very few would take the time to dig out or buy the old console, get the title from a second hand shop, and "suffer" through the years old graphics and physics.

Games will be seen as art when, like movies, I can pick up a ten year old title, and effortlessly pop it into my gaming appliance and start playing right away. It's the only way they can be viewed objectively; of course newer games are going to look better, just like newer movies have more sophisticated VFX, but that doesn't necessarily make them better.

Once the barrier to play anything is low enough, people will start to seek out the gems where the writing is clever or the level design is beautiful. And that might not be the newest title from any given developer.
posted by quin at 1:02 PM on April 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


The similarities between most video games and action movies made somewhere up there is not coincidence. The two genres feed off of each other. Each wants to be the other, though video games take more from action movies than the other way around. Popular video gaming would be entirely different now if it weren't for Hollywood's addiction to blockbusters.

Bora Horza Gobuchul: [...] while they continue to lag behind the graphical and technological advancements of the industry, the concepts of plot, motivation, character, relationships and culture are improving in video games.

While those games with stories could understandably benefit from improvements in those things, let us never forget that many games don't have, or need them, or would even be ruined by them. In fact, the idea-space around games that don't require any sort of narrative is much greater than that of games that do. Games that offer silly or trivial goals, such as rescuing Princess Peach for the 19th time, are that way primarily because the goal, the "story," is really irrelevant to the game.

It's just another way that motion pictures differ from video games. From the earliest days, movies offered a coherent narrative, but very few games had them until the late 80s. Even those games you might have thought would have the most influence from strong narrative, RPGs, tended to be much more open-ended than that. A big reason for that was due to storage limitations, but the games thrived anyway.
posted by JHarris at 1:02 PM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've joked about this for years, creating a video game where all it is is a road trip in real time from Detroit to Chicago on I-94. Four hours of nothing but traffic, with maybe an occasional pit stop for gas. No purpose, no narrative arc, just real footage from this trip. It would be the most meditative, boring game ever. (I know that Penn and Teller did something similar, but t'hell with those libertarians).
posted by klangklangston at 2:19 PM on April 8 [+] [!]


No need for a game; there was already a movie about something like that, and your predictions proved correct. It was called "The Brown Bunny."
posted by Ziggy Zaga at 1:04 PM on April 8, 2009


Keep D&D out of this.

Heh. :)

A good connection, though. Because for all its marginalization, D&D at its best is more or less what you really want if you're looking for art games. Not the rulebooks and not necessarily the fantasy trappings, but the soul of a good gamemaster/storyteller somehow coded into software.

On the other hand, talk about an opiate of the masses. Lesser alternatives currently on hand are bad enough.
posted by weston at 1:04 PM on April 8, 2009


Then, on the same disc, you include an interesting half-hour interactive play set in one of the city's

See, this is what Slap*happy, Cool Papa Bell and others were talking about. It's not great art unless it mimics the already existing "high" art forms, in this case theater?

Civilization, World of Goo, SimCity, even GTAIII. These are all examples of great art in the huge gamespace available. We need to move beyond the traditional critical analysis methods.

This reminds me of the Braid discussions on here and elsewhere. I have a sinking feeling that the reason most critics liked that game was primarily because of the artwork. If it had been released like the first image here, I think it would have been largely ignored. Which is a shame, because the gameplay mechanic is truly original and unique.
posted by formless at 1:10 PM on April 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


There have been some amazing games over the years, but if I told the average person that Eternal Darkness: Sanities Requiem for the GameCube was one of the finest games of all time and everyone should get the chance to experience it, very few would take the time to dig out or buy the old console, get the title from a second hand shop, and "suffer" through the years old graphics and physics.

Maybe not, but without delving into the dpeths of hardcore retro-gaming over on the PC side of things there seems to be a growing trend of dragging out old games as cheap or free titles, and they seem to go over pretty well. Possibly I'm not an average person, but fairly recently I've dug out Deus Ex on the recommendation of various MeFites and ended up thoroughly enjoying it.
posted by Artw at 1:12 PM on April 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


MetaFilter: confusion, ennui, frustration, isolation, boredom and failure
posted by everichon at 1:13 PM on April 8, 2009


Oh, and I'd Nth the sentiment that the obsession with narrative is not helpful. Games CAN have a narrative, but it is not essential, and certainly not the sole criteria for their artistic value that people make it out to be.
posted by Artw at 1:14 PM on April 8, 2009


This probably says more about your experience with modern games and gamers than it does about the industry. There's a pretty good chunk of mefites that play together on a regular basis, and they're no more adolescent than any other randomly selected chunk of mefites.

I was really just kinda goofing on what a cliche the gamer-as-perpetual-adolescent meme is. I'm not saying there's no truth to this cliche, but honestly (and I include myself in this), adolescence seems to go on for at least forty years in western culture anymore, so I don't know that it's an especially damning or incisive criticism.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 1:15 PM on April 8, 2009


Did you even bother to read about the Fallujah game? It was pitched by the soldiers who fought there. They wanted this game. Who are you to say its heartless when the real life participants are pretty much the creators.

I don't think the soldiers are heartless, but I think the developers should know better. I think it's naive to believe that a game like this is going to anything but cheapen the experiences of war. If there's a save point, if you can hit the reset button, if you want to replay it a hundred times then you're making war out to be easy and glamourous. There are obviously some good intentions behind this, but I don't think the medium is prepared to deal with the messages here, and not with gameplay that honestly sounds fairly typical of the genre today.

You cant play WWII games? Seriously? Perhaps you should accept that your opinion is not of the mainstream.

I guess if my opinion is outside the mainstream, then it's not worth having? Remember the discussion here is about game developers pulling their heads out of their asses and thinking about what they're creating. The image of some vet who served in WWII or Vietnam seeing someone playing one of these games, playing Nazis killing Allied soldiers for example, is fucking creepy to me. I don't boycott these games or shun anyone I know who plays them, but they do make me uneasy. I don't think that makes me grossly oversensitive or crazy.
posted by picea at 1:19 PM on April 8, 2009


"I don't WANT to be an artist. I don't WANT to make REVOLUTIONARY ROAD: THE GAME! I don't want to be the Bob Dylan of games or make the Citizen Kane of games"

What do you expect? Kids ideas of greatness are compromised in school and at home: they confuse the map for the territory. Going to college doesn't lead to greatness. Having a career doesn't lead to greatness. Greatness is independent of those things, yet they're told those myths over and over and over again by cheerleading family and educators, and our culture as a whole. So they go to school expecting that it will somehow lead to greatness. And one day they wake up, they're 25, have a boring middle management job, and think: What happened? Where's that greatness I was promised? They never get told that greatness is something independent of an education, independent of a job, something that they need to work on separately.

Video games can fill that hole in their lives. That urge for greatness gets funneled into video games where they CAN do great things, even if it's not for real. They get to be great. They get to save the day. Which is partly why it's so easy to get obsessed with games. It gives their lives meaning: a place in a broader story. They don't know how to create this meaning for themselves in their own lives so they have to rely on videogames to do it for them. Now, it doesn't happen to everyone, but I've seen it happen all too often. It happened to me.

And video games are not the only surrogates for meaning. For a lot of people it's their careers. And I guess it might be pretentious as hell for me to suggest that the meaning that people get from these things is somehow "fake", so let me describe it as "prepackaged". You have little control over your place in the story when it comes to prepackaged meaning, but they do give you the illusion of having control. Create your own meaning, otherwise you'll always be playing supporting actor in someone else's story, a pawn in their game (sometimes literally).

/rant
posted by symbollocks at 1:24 PM on April 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


Black & White is definitely an introspective game. You can shape your creature into a kindly caretaker for the villagers or an angry tyrant. In Alpha Centauri you can avoid dissent by having a happy, free society, or you can be a militaristic, oppressive dictatorship that nerve staples rioters (and all shades in between). In the Fallout series your actions could result in more free or more oppressive communities; in some cases, the salvation or destruction of whole cities depends on your selfless or selfish actions. These games prompt the player to be introspective and judge his or her own actions and their consequences.

Really? I don't judge my actions on the basis of morality when I'm nerve stapling rioters, I judge them on the basis of efficacy and whether or not I win, in the case of Black & White it matters jack all whether I raise the animal cruelly or benignly, it's ultimately about the novelty of seeing all the different combos you can get out of the game. I haven't played Fallout and perhaps the buck stops there, but my other experiences of RPGs are similar to the last two examples - all computer games are essentially abstract rule structures with more or less recognisable, and more or less exotic fantasy simulations. You could swap out the terrain and thematics of alpha centauri for a second marriage to a hungarian lesbian amputee and play it versus different factions of racism, bigotry, empathy, serendipity, etc. but it would teach you about none of these things except the particular manifestation of the abstract rule structure under a different simulated regime and perhaps a heavily didactic message coded as riddle into the decision trees you take, that depends totally on you "getting it" for it to succeed in anyway.

In being so necessarily explicit about the terms in which you engage the rule structure I don't see how computer games can match say poker for openness to interpretation and creative play. Don't get me wrong, I like computer games, but there's a richness and subtlety to the subterfuge, the stakes you're willing to get involved in and the inveigling of creative bullshit that give poker a depth that computer games will never get. Poker probably has the capacity to teach you more about introspection and responsibility than any computer game ever will, even if designed along strictly Chaplinesque lines of thinking, of course those things are latent and depend as much on the person, the setting, the time of day, as the game.
posted by doobiedoo at 1:26 PM on April 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


Possibly I'm not an average person, but fairly recently I've dug out Deus Ex on the recommendation of various MeFites and ended up thoroughly enjoying it.

you did? sweet! I was worried you'd hate it. It's pretty dated by now.

as far as busting out the old games are concerned, the likelihood of this varies from generation to generation. the downloadable old games and remakes for xbox live arcade and wii virtual console are proving a fertile ground for re-experiencing old games. I recently downloaded mike tyson's punch-out and river city ransom to my wii, games I hadn't played in a long time. I think there's a growing market and interest in old games, compared to last generation where you literally only played old games if you still owned the console.

and yes, eternal darkness was awesome. I wish that game had a sequel. It was strongly hinted that one was coming for a while, there. I wonder what happened.
posted by shmegegge at 1:27 PM on April 8, 2009


It's not great art unless it mimics the already existing "high" art forms, in this case theater?

...the obsession with narrative is not helpful...


I totally agree that there is a lot of variety in what games can do, and do well, in terms of emotional experience, but I'd really like to see what can be done with interactive narrative, because I don't think it's been fully explored. In particular, I'd like to see a game (ok, 'game') with no challenge or goals, just presented as a pure aesthetic experience*.

My favourite elements of Half Life 2 were the direct expositiony scenes. I was kinda disappointed when I had to go to Ravenholme, and couldn't just, y'know, hang out doing science...

* Is aware of The Path, Galatea...
posted by Hermione Dies at 1:28 PM on April 8, 2009


For a game that's not the same old thing, try Flower for the Playstation 3. It's beautiful, contemplative, moving.
posted by frankchess at 1:29 PM on April 8, 2009


quin: that's what emulators are for. And I have a great time revisiting the original Zelda and a few others periodically.

You're right, though, that setting up emulators is hardly as easy as popping a DVD of an old movie in somewhere. Some businesses seem to have realized the value their old titles have, because you do see some new platforms supporting old games, but I don't think they've really gotten it yet.
posted by weston at 1:30 PM on April 8, 2009


Cool Papa Bell and others were talking about. It's not great art unless it mimics the already existing "high" art forms, in this case theater?

I so, so didn't say that. I said we shouldn't be surprised when a game's backstory seems formulaic, because most stories, regardless of their medium, follow well-trod cultural and literary patterns. Moreover, it just so happens that English- and Japanese-speaking cultures (the two most prominent videogame-developing cultures) are patriarchal, so again, not surprising to see heroic stories as male-focused.

For Chaplin to complain about this is akin to running outside and complaining that the sky is blue.

Sure, other colors would be nice, and artists should explore them. But it's not Van Gogh's fault that blue is default.

I welcome and cherish games that take what's inherent about the medium, run with it and create new forms of art. Give me more Goo, more Sims, more Civ. At the same time, I can't wait for my next go-rounds with Kratos, Master Chief and Mario.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:30 PM on April 8, 2009


That was a great rant, symbollocks.
posted by boo_radley at 1:32 PM on April 8, 2009


If she thinks there's an under-served niche, doesn't that just mean that whoever markets to that niche stands to make a fortune?

Definitely, in principle; but consider the case of big publishing, and their firing squads that pass on pretty much the whole corpus of modern poetry for Eat, Pray, Love. If unthinking games are all trigger-reflex and toy gun, the unthinking novel is a bookclub-approved fable of the exotic filtered through the kitchen metaphor - give us Mexico and India by way of cooking, Afghanistan on kite wings, ad nauseam. As long as that Mac-10 is pointed at the bad guy, as long as the novel is in English, as long as neither requires the patience to freeze a fly or the time to boil an egg.

But this criticism doesn't exactly mean that video game creators lack a decisive 'female' voice or audience any more than the novel lacks its adrenochrome junkie; it means that the statue keeps coming out broken in the same shape because its vehicle of delivery is an iron maiden. We should shoot the publisher, not the messenger, as with the mp3, as with the web comic, and as a lot of people have already stated in this thread.
posted by kid ichorous at 1:39 PM on April 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


all computer games are essentially abstract rule structures with more or less recognisable, and more or less exotic fantasy simulations.

I would argue that at least some players do not cut straight to the underlying rule structure, seeking solely to achieve the 'win' state or explore the space of possible game states. Underlying rule structures are just that: structures on which to hang the narrative that motivates the player.

Consider the Prisoner's Dilemma. It can be reduced to bare mathematics, even given a less suggestive name. Or, it can be expanded on into an actual game, replete with well-written characters: the two prisoners, the warden, the interrogator. The two prisoners might converse with one another, arguing the merits of the different choices. The interrogator would present his own arguments or even threats. Perhaps the warden exists as a sinister, shadowy presence with suggestions that he has a personal interest in the outcome.

Ultimately, it comes down to a single choice: collaborate or defect, just as in the mathematical version, but the story presented to the player invites introspection and moral judgment in a way that the bare mathematics do not. Some players, including you, might ignore all of that and cut straight to whatever gives them the 'win' state, but others enjoy the interaction with the narrative more than exposing the underlying mechanics.
posted by jedicus at 1:41 PM on April 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


I so, so didn't say that.

Sorry about that then, my bad.

That was my interpretation of your quote from Jaffe's response:

What made CK so special was it marked the first time directors started making movies like MOVIES versus filming stage plays.

Which I think was talking about the medium of film finally "growing up" when it had stopped trying to emulate a previous form.
posted by formless at 1:43 PM on April 8, 2009


Not the case so much anymore.

I would argue that this is confirmation bias. Most professional (steadily paid) critics do not make creative works in the sense you and I both understand.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:46 PM on April 8, 2009


The image of some vet who served in WWII or Vietnam seeing someone playing one of these games, playing Nazis killing Allied soldiers for example, is fucking creepy to me.

Gabe's grandpa kinda agrees with you. (Scroll down for interview.)
posted by cimbrog at 1:58 PM on April 8, 2009


Theres a time and a place for poetry, and that's LiveJournal.
posted by Artw at 1:59 PM on April 8, 2009


If we can have 50 FPS games, why can't we have 50 Electroplanktons?

I want the Xbox 360 version with quadraphonic sound and achievements like recreating Philip Glass compositions.
posted by GuyZero at 2:03 PM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


No, but identity politics as the governing metric for everything oh and art too is getting pretty old, even on Metafilter.

What a coincidence, because I was going to say that whining about "waaah, identity politics" every time someone identifies clear-cut instances of racism and sexism got old a long time ago, especially on MetaFilter.

But then I thought that might be ageist, so I desisted.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:05 PM on April 8, 2009 [6 favorites]


No, but identity politics as the governing metric for everything oh and art too is getting pretty old, even on Metafilter.

Tsk. Only certain kinds of art. The bad and wrong ones.
posted by Artw at 2:10 PM on April 8, 2009


Yeloson neither identified clear-cut instances of racism nor took any pains to connect them with the topic at hand. He lobbed a single-sentence bomb into the thread, pro forma. And if you want to know how annoying this is, mentally transpose it with small and numerous exhortations to GOOGLE RON PAUL. I do.
posted by kid ichorous at 2:17 PM on April 8, 2009


I feel like it needs to be said that video games aren't a monolithic entity represented by Halo and God or War, and to try and assert that all video games are adolescent male power trips is an incredibly narrow view to take. I'm not making any excuses for the industry since it does have problems and does still have a lot of growing to do, but Bust-A-Move is just as much a video game as Street Fighter (to pick two arcades) and the Pokemon series of games is still incredibly popular and commercially successful (to pick an example from GameFaqs current crop of top ten games) when in substance each game of that series is a largely inoffensive childhood coming-of-age story with gameplay mechanics where conflict is conducted by proxy. How about Harvest Moon, which is an entire series of games about farming? I feel like the real gripe with people like Chaplin is that adolescent male power trips get made at all, or that they're popular with gamers.

There is a lot of range and diversity when it comes to video games and it's misleading to only look at action oriented "blockbuster" games and then make pronouncements from there. The big titles might be fun intellectual wastelands, (or more rarely quietly subversive) but they are usually also the most technologically advanced and they end up creating the tools that other developers can then eventually use to craft games that are meaningful and thoughtful. There is a thriving indie scene that creates games using the tools from the last generation now that it's manageable for a small group of people or even an individual to do so, and I feel like this is where a lot of the true experimentation and innovation can be found these days with the exception of a few of the larger studios who are still doing good work.

I'll single out Yume Nikki as a very intriguing example of this since it's an independent game made with RPGmaker that features a female protagonist, has gameplay that revolves around physical exploration and psychological self-examination by the main character without resorting to dialogue, and it offers violence as a possible gameplay mechanic without making it central to the game or even really offering any sort of combat. (It's also a game that is frustrating, not very accessible, and bores some people to tears, but the same could be said of Citizen Cane.) I feel like these discussions are often too dismissive, as if games that are short, or games that are non-commercial aren't worth offering into consideration, while in other mediums short films and short stories are valid topics about the state of an art, plus there is also the problem of whole genres being conveniently skipped for the sake of rhetoric. The real issue is more along the lines that interesting games don't get the same kind of marketing, support, or hype, and therefore don't achieve the same level of popularity as the games Chaplin is taking offense at.

Narrative too is an interesting point, since there isn't even a consensus on what that means for video games. Some games have no narrative, some games have implied narrative, some have static narrative, and others have multiple possible narratives. (There are games where the entire story is a single paragraph in the instruction manual.) There is simply nothing inherently superior about branching open ended stories versus well written static ones, and it doesn't even matter which one is used so long as the player is connected and gets to feel like they are living it as it happens. Games are much more about the journey than the destination; a repeated comment I've heard from people is that they'll sometimes quit just short of finishing a very long game because they don't feel like completing it and having it be over. If developers want to improve the narrative in their games, they need to play to its strengths and improve the experience along the way in clever little ways rather than being preoccupied with telling better big picture stories, since games are uniquely suited to lingering explorations of little details and small stories that add depth and character. It doesn't matter how film or novels do narrative, since film and novel adaptations of games usually just prove how incompatible the different approaches to storytelling really are (or possibly that such transpositions attract untalented hacks, but I digress). Anyway, that's my view as someone who loves games but isn't involved in making them. Sorry if I reiterated too much of what was already posted.
posted by CheshireCat at 2:17 PM on April 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


I have nothing to do with video games-- I've played two different games a total of about six times in my entire life.

But it strikes me, looking at this thing almost completely from the outside, that reading Homer's Odyssey is a lot like being an invisible observer tagging along as the greatest gamer who ever lived, Odysseus, successfully completes a single round of the best and most difficult video game ever devised: he starts home after the war, stops off for a little fun piracy and is shipwrecked (by the enemy god Poseidon); goes to the land of the lotus-eaters, then is captured by the one-eyed cyclops Polyphemus, whom he blinds with a heated wooden stake in order to escape; he evades the cannibal Laestrygoneans only to to captured by the witch Circe, who turns his men into beasts, yet falls in love with him and becomes his mistress for a year; he goes down into the underworld with a smoking blood sacrifice to feed the ghost of the greatest prophet who ever lived, Tiresias, in order to compel him to tell Odysseus what he should do, and also meets the ghosts of his dead comrades, and his own mother, who has died of grief because of his absence-- and so on and on and on. Then the whole thing ends up in a gigantic First Person Shooter, where he kills with a bow and arrows all the biker gang-like rabble of suitors who are threatening to rape his faithful wife, take his kingdom and deprive his only son of his birthright.

All the Greek myths have a video game feel to me, and these were all originally productions of people who didn't read and write. They don't have that one step removed quality that I associate with literature, for the most part.

So I wonder if video games are a deliberately attempted or accidental return to a preliterate state of mind, and have the narrative structure native to that state of mind. It seems different from movies to me, which I regard as waking dreams, with the dissociation and self-effacement of dreams. You are there and you are the you you are there, in a video game, by all reports.

If video games are a return to a pre-literate state of mind, or the evolution of a post-literate one, the immaturity of their creators should be no bar to greatness. Just the reverse, in fact-- the creators can only grow up as their art-form and the radical new culture it expresses comes into its own.
posted by jamjam at 2:23 PM on April 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


Definitely, in principle; but consider the case of big publishing, and their firing squads that pass on pretty much the whole corpus of modern poetry for Eat, Pray, Love.

But whatever happened to the get-up-and-go entrepreneurial spirit? An indie startup has far more room to innovate than a big, stodgy corporation. Plus, as a first-mover, a company that exploits a new niche stands to gain untold spoils.

I mean, we're not exactly talking about unionizing Wal-Mart here. There's a pretty low barrier-to-entry in the game development world.
posted by Afroblanco at 2:24 PM on April 8, 2009


But whatever happened to the get-up-and-go entrepreneurial spirit?

Its here. Look at all these innovative little flash game, DS games, Wii games, adventure games, build a world games, etc. The ranter purposely ignores this for her argument and ends it with a bit of misandry. This isnt about games, it about a hysterical person screaming at the world.

If a man made these kinds of accusations against the big printing houses for chick-lit and all the garbage "made for book clubs" novels we'd see an incredible backlash. Instead, we get the double standard. Women can call men and boys irrational apes and its not sexist.
posted by damn dirty ape at 2:30 PM on April 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


"I'm sure someone could write an equally lengthy lecture about how Doom fits into the history of video games, but I'm not sure what that demonstrates about either of them.

I am not being glib. I choose that piece because it works as art even if you know nothing about the history of art and its place in it. Because art can be good art without having some easily digestible meaning or narrative. Simply producing a powerful aesthetic experience can be a worthwhile goal in itself.
"

Then you're being ignorant, because you could have picked actual examples of minimalism as aesthetic experience (like Malevich), instead of Klein, whose career was based more on being a provocateur. It's great if you love his process blue stuff irrespective of the context, but it's a terrible example if you want to compare it to video games.
posted by klangklangston at 2:31 PM on April 8, 2009


I'd just like to point out that Citizen Kane was a flop on its release and did major damage to Welles' burgeoning career. From imdb: Despite all the publicity, the film was a box office flop and was quickly consigned to the RKO vaults. At 1941's Academy Awards the film was booed every time one of its nine nominations was announced. It was only re-released for the public in the mid-1950s. Everyone wants their game to be remembered as the Citizen Kane of videogames, very few people want to have their years of work and money to not pay off.

2009 is also the year Flower came out. Hardly the masculine power trip that permeates the industry. Maybe pretending to be the wind, blowing flowers along with no real goal to be achieved is adolescent behaviour, but fuck it, I guess I don't want to grow up.

I understand and appreciate the frustration. I just don't think that it's very useful to concentrate on the negatives when the positive are growing every year and gaining more and more foothold and becoming, and this is what truly matters, profitable. The film industry isn't completely bunk because Michael Bay movies make a lot of money nor is literature at an end because Dan Brown sold a billion books. Once the audience becomes wider and larger, it will become profitable to make indie games and to push the boundaries. We're just not quite there yet, but it's getting close with the Wii and DS infiltrating homes and lots of truly 'out there' indie games being made, especially for the PC.

No matter what, it's becoming harder and harder to pretend videogames simply do not matter and are solely for the overweight, still living in mom's basement virgins. That's why some of the dismissals of the entire industry (9.5 billion dollars in 2007) in this conversation just strike me as a dated and very out of touch with reality.
posted by slimepuppy at 2:39 PM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


a hysterical person screaming

Oh boy, here we go. The magic words were spoken.
posted by cimbrog at 2:45 PM on April 8, 2009


So I wonder if video games are a deliberately attempted or accidental return to a preliterate state of mind, and have the narrative structure native to that state of mind. It seems different from movies to me, which I regard as waking dreams

Thanks Jamjam. Although I'm not sure I agree with the idea that Greek epics represent a pre-literate culture, the other end of it (that we're "post-literate") is a very provocative view.
posted by kid ichorous at 2:47 PM on April 8, 2009


"Games are a function of human behavior in a way that music isnt. The Dylan/Beatles analogy fails because the part of humans that respond to pleasing sounds is very, very different from the part that wants to win at games. Lyrics and literature arent about domination, yet most games are. Expecting games to be something like music or literature is just being foolish."

Well, no, that's stupid to assert. Art always is influenced by other art, contemporary and otherwise. And expecting games to have what movies and music have in common isn't foolish—movies and music and visual arts create lasting meaning through their composition. What annoys me the most about blanket statements like yours is that GAMES CAN TOO. Hell, some games even do! But the vast majority of them don't.

"Civilization, World of Goo, SimCity, even GTAIII. These are all examples of great art in the huge gamespace available. We need to move beyond the traditional critical analysis methods."

Great art? No, not really. I mean, we're assuming a high/low dichotomy here, but even so those games only hold up as games—they simply can't stand against great works in other media, which is what's required for something to be called great art.

This actually reminds me a lot of what early photography had to deal with—it wasn't considered fine art for about 70 years, and required the retro stylings of the Pictorialists for it to ever gain legitimacy. Video games need their Stieglitz and Cunningham..
posted by klangklangston at 2:48 PM on April 8, 2009


Oh boy, here we go. The magic words were spoken.

at the risk of moderating my own thread, no no no. let's not do that. let's leave that alone.
posted by shmegegge at 2:51 PM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


What we need is some kind of grid of strawmen arguments.
posted by Artw at 2:53 PM on April 8, 2009


Pressed to define the special attributes of poetry as an art, I would name speed and memory. [...] Speed and memory: these qualities link poetry with the computer. Unlikely as the pairing may seem, it has already attracted a lot of intelligent activity, including several electronic poetry magazines on the Internet. What has this activity amounted to so far? Less than enthusiasts claim, more than the scornful might assume -- an interesting infancy.

Robert Pinsky, The Poetics of Zork, NYT, 1995

Pinsky actually wrote a game called Mindwheel. And Harlan Ellison's I have No Mouth, But I Must Scream has a playthrough available at Let's Play.
posted by kid ichorous at 2:57 PM on April 8, 2009


And I already know that Harlan Ellison is sexism in a toupee.
posted by kid ichorous at 2:59 PM on April 8, 2009


I would argue that at least some players do not cut straight to the underlying rule structure, seeking solely to achieve the 'win' state or explore the space of possible game states. Underlying rule structures are just that: structures on which to hang the narrative that motivates the player.

Yes, but doesn't that instrumentalise every meaningful encounter? The happiness of my citizens in Civ isn't intrinsic to their conditions or lives, it doesn't tell me anything about happiness, it's simply a way to signify the levers with which to control a population - you might like to embroider the narrative of the game but the explicit purposefulness is unavoidable, whilst our most creative moments are usually the opposite, stranded between ambiguous options of relatively high stakes (something more than flowers in the wind then) whose consequences are unclear. The general attribution of metaphor to game mechanic makes the game recognisable and playable, it might even contain a complex didactic schematic about prejudice and power from the sounds of something like Mass Effect, but it offers no insight that you don't already know, only another less mainstream fantasy hung on the same rule structures.
posted by doobiedoo at 3:04 PM on April 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


To move past the anti-intellectualism here, let's start actually defining things.

Now, tell me if I'm wrong here, but what makes a game isn't a narrative or a puzzle, though it can have those things. What makes a game is interaction. I'd still consider physics sandboxes as games, even though there's no goal and no real limits. They are, to pull from above, a set of rules that govern interactions.

What can be done to emphasize that? To make gamers think about the arbitrary notion of the rules and how choices are constructed? That seems like something that, while not being inaccessible through other media, is something that games are uniquely suited to explore.

I do think that games like SimCity do that to some extent, as do games that abstract, like Tetris (maybe the best "pure" game ever), but like comics being able to map time to space yet churning out more lame mutants titles, how they are doing it and what they are doing with their potential makes the medium seem drastically underrealized.

Not only that, and this is where the sexism and racism complaints come in, games also have to understand that they exist in a broader media universe and are not immune from broader critiques. That's not "identity politics," it's the realization that if games want to be taken seriously as an artistic medium, they need to have creators that understand the broader conversation that all other media have been engaged in for over 50 years now.

On some level, I feel like this is due to the fact that games seem to come from an engineering culture, not an arts culture. The folks making games have no grounding outside of solving these discreet problems, so they have no idea what ground others have already worked through. It is worth noting that when folks come from the arts to gaming, their games tend to be conceptually interesting but poorly made (almost perversely so, far too often). That means that there are plenty of pop-art games, plenty of low-art games, but practically no fine art or high art games. It's simpl not an area that most games creators seem to have any intrerest or proclivity toward.
posted by klangklangston at 3:04 PM on April 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


Great art? No, not really. I mean, we're assuming a high/low dichotomy here, but even so those games only hold up as games—they simply can't stand against great works in other media, which is what's required for something to be called great art.

I think this is an important thing for gamers and developers to remember. I feel like I hear people trot out GTA any time they want to make some statement about games-as-art, or Bioshock. That those are both incredible games is true. But GTAIII, IV, San Andreas, Vice City, etc... those games never really gave me more than entertainment. They don't really make any compelling statements about anything. That doesn't mean they're bad, but I'm sure as hell not going to be comparing them to Godard or Bergman any time soon, either. Matter of fact, I'd say gaming pretty badly needs a Bergman and a Godard. Maybe that's just because I don't know who Stieglitz and Cunningham are, though.
posted by shmegegge at 3:10 PM on April 8, 2009


Also, prisoner's dilemma? You cut me deep jedicus!
posted by doobiedoo at 3:10 PM on April 8, 2009


Has anyone linked to the ludologist yet? I came for the name, stayed for the game.
posted by doobiedoo at 3:14 PM on April 8, 2009


On some level, I feel like this is due to the fact that games seem to come from an engineering culture, not an arts culture. The folks making games have no grounding outside of solving these discreet problems, so they have no idea what ground others have already worked through. It is worth noting that when folks come from the arts to gaming, their games tend to be conceptually interesting but poorly made (almost perversely so, far too often). That means that there are plenty of pop-art games, plenty of low-art games, but practically no fine art or high art games.

This actually reminds me of Braid, more than anything else. It may be another one of those go-to games to mention in discussions like these, and it may not be high art, either. But what it did do was take some of the established conventions of art and transfer them to gaming in ways other games hadn't yet done. As an example, it borrowed tropes and imagery from existing classics directly. And I don't mean that it used platformer gameplay. I mean, there are literally enemies in the game that are intentionally designed to be re-imagined koopas from Super Mario Brothers. This sort of reference is commonplace in all other art forms, and all-too-rare in games. Though FPS's all use the same "hold the gun in the bottom center of the screen" style from wolfenstein 3d, almost none of them make direct reference to wolf 3d, or doom, in any way that is meaningful or informs the larger point of the game. Braid instead uses those images to contextualize the personal relationship between the main character and his estranged wife. It's something high art does, even if the game isn't yet high art. An example from literature would be how Joyce used The Odyssey as a trellice on which to build his narrative, and used its images to inform the relationships of his characters.
posted by shmegegge at 3:22 PM on April 8, 2009


Alfred Stieglitz and Imogen Cunningham.
posted by klangklangston at 3:23 PM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


The happiness of my citizens in Civ isn't intrinsic to their conditions or lives, it doesn't tell me anything about happiness

I would argue that it does teach one about happiness. It teaches one that, for example, theaters and religion make people happier and that people are usually unhappy if there are a lot of soldiers in their cities. Now, one can argue how accurately that reflects the real world, but it's hard to argue that Civilization isn't at least trying to teach something.

One might also argue that it doesn't teach anything that people didn't already know about happiness, but there's no reason a Civ game couldn't contain a level of detail about, for example, zoning regulations or voting districts that would teach the typical player something he or she didn't already know.

our most creative moments are usually the opposite, stranded between ambiguous options of relatively high stakes whose consequences are unclear.

I think it's not at all clear how most games can actually offer high stakes (ignoring gambling for the moment). In most games, nothing can truly be lost except the time invested up to that point, and even that can be avoided with judicious game saving.

Along those same lines, unclear consequences are also illusory in games. Eventually a player will map the state space and figure out the correspondence between options and consequences. Introducing randomness is no real solution, as a player can simply replay until the desired result is achieved. The game can force the player to lose something cherished (e.g., the death of Aeris in FF7), but that forced result denies the player options.

An interesting idea would be a game that actually prevented a player from continuing to play after death (e.g., a cartridge blowing a fuse, an online game that blocked access, etc). Would that provide the kind of high stakes you referred to?

Also, prisoner's dilemma? You cut me deep jedicus!

I don't quite follow, but my apologies if that was somehow insulting.
posted by jedicus at 3:43 PM on April 8, 2009


klangklangston: I'd agree with you that the bare minimum for a game to be a game is that there is interaction somewhere in the process. Progress Quest is nominally a game because the player creates a character, and then the game simulates the results of that character, never mind that the choices made have extremely limited impact on the results (though in practice the actual gameplay comes in the challenge of physically running it for a long enough period of time). There are visual-novel games which only consist of text and static images, but invariably these games offer at least one branching choice and usually more than that. And to take a silly real-world example, even two people competitively flipping a coin to see who can get tails more often counts as a game.

When designing a game these interactions as often referred to as verbs, since the language for discussing the components of games hasn't been that well developed yet. So for example, Mario's basic verbs are run, jump, and shoot fireballs. Even complex actions like "operate a forklift" are often given the very simple verb of "use" which automates the rest of the process when it is selected. What can be done to emphasize interaction? Well, approaching the use of verbs in a more systematic way is one answer since it's not clear that it's something most developers think all that hard about even though it's the foundation from which all gameplay comes. To go back to first person shooters since that launched this whole thread in a way, their basic verb is "fire weapon," but this is a genre that has been adding verbs haphazardly since its inception so that the total list now usually includes look, jump, crouch, swim, run, walk, strafe, turn on/off flashlight, zoom in/out, use, and peek around corner. That's over three times the number of verbs that the original Mario game had but it's hard to argue that the gameplay has become richer as a result; much of that extra control comes from having to navigate a 3D space and is never set up as a fully realize play mechanic that really gives the player more options for dealing with the game world - in fact a game like Doom 3 where something as simple as the flashlight is a well integrated and necessary component proves to be the exception rather than the rule. Mario on the other hand has such a lasting appeal because the verbs are so clear and so integral to the game, you can see this pretty obviously if you ever watch videos of any of those crazy Mario rom hacks where the designer pushes the game to the limits of playability by testing how far these basic actions can take you (plus of course bugs and exploits). Another example that I think is interesting is Abe's Oddysee where there specific buttons that allow Abe to say "Hello" and "Follow me" to other game characters, which shows how you can break down a blanket verb like "talk" into more specific sub-verbs and create new gameplay opportunities through this.
posted by CheshireCat at 4:12 PM on April 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'd just like to point out that Citizen Kane was a flop on its release and did major damage to Welles' burgeoning career.

And I'd like to point out that William Randolph Hearst offered RKO Pictures $800,000 to destroy all the prints and burn the negatives, tried to block the release of the film, wouldn't let it be mentioned in any of his dozens of newspapers or on any of his radio stations, and got theater chains to limit bookings. Maybe--just maybe--the poor box office and booing had something to do with Hearst being one of the richest and most powerful pissed-off men in America.

Citizen Kane is a towering achievement for Orson Welles (who was 26 at the time).
posted by kirkaracha at 4:42 PM on April 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Indeed. Show me a game that someone tries to censor for some reason other than violence or sexual content. Has anyone ever tried to suppress a game for ideological reasons, separate from the things that the consider for the current voluntary classification scheme?
posted by GuyZero at 4:54 PM on April 8, 2009


four basic ideas that frighten men the most: responsibility, introspection, intimacy, and intellectual discovery

She knows some awfully boring men if that's what frightens them most. I'd put my list as something like:

(5) The Flintstone Kids... ten million strong AND GROWING.
(4) Chewbacca eating my balls
(3) My genitals being eaten, crushed, diced, sliced, boiled, trod upon, or otherwise munchicated
(2) People seeing me when I'm masturbating while wearing the hitler suit and singing Wagner because that would mean they'd know how horribly tiny my wing-wang is and they'd point and laugh just like my parents used to do and oh God I'm so lonely and why can't I find anyone who understands that sometimes I have to bite
(1) Yanni
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:54 PM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


I would argue that it does teach one about happiness. It teaches one that, for example, theaters and religion make people happier and that people are usually unhappy if there are a lot of soldiers in their cities. Now, one can argue how accurately that reflects the real world, but it's hard to argue that Civilization isn't at least trying to teach something.

But these are just didactic fictions we accept to play the game (surely computer games make people happier than theatres!), they're not insights into anything other than what we consider to be acceptable stereotypes, perhaps with your voting example they help condense technical information but still there's nothing approaching moral or practical insight which we started off with in Black & White.

I think it's not at all clear how most games can actually offer high stakes (ignoring gambling for the moment)...Along those same lines, unclear consequences are also illusory in games.

Well I think a sport you're invested in can be relatively high stakes, the injured pride's a lot more visceral and your capacity to live up to the game is never guaranteed.

I don't quite follow, but my apologies if that was somehow insulting.

Man, my subtextual senses ran away with that one, don't worry about it!
posted by doobiedoo at 5:01 PM on April 8, 2009


I'm typing on an iPhone here, so I can't go on too long. But I don't see how games like Tertris aren't works of art. It seems to me what is lacking is the proper critical language to express it.
posted by Bookhouse at 5:02 PM on April 8, 2009


Though FPS's all use the same "hold the gun in the bottom center of the screen" style from wolfenstein 3d, almost none of them make direct reference to wolf 3d, or doom, in any way that is meaningful or informs the larger point of the game.

There is one reference that almost any FPS makes, and that is to the crate. It's usually a conscious homage to earlier FPS games like Doom. I don't know if those references inform the larger point of the game, but there is at least some recognition of historical context.
posted by formless at 5:03 PM on April 8, 2009


Indeed. Show me a game that someone tries to censor for some reason other than violence or sexual content.

Here's one: the PRoC's censorship wing doesn't allow games to depict animated skeletons; Chinese versions of a game usually have them replaced or written-around. Because this involves a breach of taboos relating to the treatment and presentation of the dead, it generally doesn't have much to do with violence or sex. Unless you're playing a particularly excellent game, like Planescape: Torment.
posted by kid ichorous at 5:11 PM on April 8, 2009


She was there to rant about an issue she cares about, and she apparently did a great job of it given the amount of discussion it's getting. Good for her.

I think she has a point, for sure. There's way too much focus in the industry on the immature adolescent fantasy types of games/game elements, and I'm just as tired of the same male chauvinist crap as other female gamers. But ranting at the perceived immaturity of game developers doesn't seem fair to the many people, both men and women, who are working to advance the industry and create games that are also "art" (however you define that) that teaches us something about ourselves. We have seen lots of amazing games lately that push the envelope in that direction - both Portal and The Path have been mentioned already, and I have no doubt that there will be more. Those kinds of games have finally garnered both industry attention and the adoration of the players themselves. Like for every medium - movies, books, other art - there are a few shining gems in a sea of mediocrity, but at least those kinds of games have begun floating to the top along with the traditionally popular types of games, so I am actually very hopeful for more.

It seems to me that the limitations of video games have a lot to do with their history of being seen as both childish and boyish things (mirroring the issues that comics had until very recently, and still has to a certain extent). It's how our culture still sees games despite the fact that it's no longer true. Until that changes (and I'm sure it will), it will be hard to push through changes - developers are making games that have a market. Until the market changes, the games probably won't. Luckily, I do think that we are seeing at least a slight shift in the market at the moment.

I also think that the technical limitations of the medium has to play a part, as does having to deal with the ongoing upgrade of the technology used to run these games. If Halo, say, had been the first game made, and if we had stuck at that level of technology, perhaps we would have seen more games pushing the envelope of "art". But instead, developers are focusing on hitting the realistic graphics threshold, rather than on developing games that make us think. Not that you couldn't do both, but it's hard to focus on two such disparate goals at the same time.
posted by gemmy at 5:31 PM on April 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


There is one reference that almost any FPS makes, and that is to the crate. It's usually a conscious homage to earlier FPS games like Doom. I don't know if those references inform the larger point of the game, but there is at least some recognition of historical context.

Crates and cubes are everywhere in first-person shooters because they're among the simplest 3D objects to draw. Just 12 polygons (only 6 visible) gets you an object you can stack, hide behind, blow up, etc, etc.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:44 PM on April 8, 2009


Nobody would ever want to play "Shindler's List: the game"

I would. I'd be really interested to see what someone could do with the concept. I could be really cool, actually.
posted by marble at 5:58 PM on April 8, 2009


As a 30 year old guy who grew up on all kinds of video games(like pretty much everyone in my demographic), FPS, RTS, the whole gamut, I agree that developers are "fucking adolescents." And I am a developer, so I can say this from firsthand experience. It's been a good decade since I was really into video games, because they're all the same mindless, repetitive pablum(with a few exceptions here and there, like Katamari). But I also realize it's really due to simple economics--when it cost millions of dollars up front and years to develop a game, no company in their right mind will create a game that is "artistic" and experimental. Like mainstream Hollywood films, game companies are forced to make what sells, leading to a sort of cultural tragedy of the commons.

Right now video games are like the book industry the year before the invention of the printing press. This is why I'm holding out big hopes for platforms like the iPhone to put a dent in changing the game market. I myself am doing some iPhone game development right now. If we can change the fundamental economic constraints on the gaming industry, then lone, starving artist-types can have a shot at stealing mindshare by creating entirely new genres of games. The iPhone platform can completely invert the game industry like this, and it's in its infancy. No company will want to spend millions and employ a team of hundreds to make an iPhone game. The expected return is just too risky. So the effort only makes sense for tiny teams working on shoe string budgets making games full of experimental play packed with artistic quality. You have to stand out and do something radically different to even get noticed on Apple's AppStore.
As another incentive, if you can make a game that stands out and sells, you can make a lot of money, so we're going to see many gems of games on the iPhone. Even though "Doom", practically the definitive FPS, was the game that made me even want my first computer, I'm optimistic that the future of video games will be very different than what we've got now, we're just getting started.
posted by archae at 6:16 PM on April 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


Fine, play Schindler's List: the Game.
posted by boo_radley at 6:17 PM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


What I hate about this sort of thing is that it invariably looks at popular, big bidget games and then makes the assumption that that is all there is. Lets keep that thread going, here are the current top 10 selling books at Amazon:

1. Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto by Mark R. Levin
2. New Moon (The Twilight Saga, Book 2) by Stephenie Meyer
3. Eclipse (The Twilight Saga, Book 3) by Stephenie Meyer
4. Breaking Dawn (The Twilight Saga, Book 4) by Stephenie Meyer
5. The Twilight Saga Collection by Stephenie Meyer
6. The Ultimate Depression Survival Guide: Protect Your Savings, Boost Your Income, and Grow Wealthy Even in the Worst of Times by Martin D. Weiss
7. Patriots: A Novel of Survival in the Coming Collapse by James Wesley Rawles
8. Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man: What Men Really Think About Love, Relationships, Intimacy, and Commitment by Steve Harvey
9. Twilight (The Twilight Saga, Book 1) by Stephenie Meyer
10. The Shack by William P. Young

Hmmm, perhaps speak to me about problems with video games when the book moves past adolescent vampire love stories and self help books.

How about film:

1 Fast & Furious (2009)
2 Monsters vs Aliens (2009)
3 The Haunting in Connecticut (2009)
4 Knowing (2009)
5 I Love You, Man (2009)
6 Adventureland (2009)
7 Duplicity (2009)
8 Race to Witch Mountain (2009)
9 12 Rounds (2009)
10 Sunshine Cleaning (2008)

Is it Fast & Furious or Monsters vs Aliens that I'm supposed to be looking to to solve the problems with games? No Halo isn't art, but Halo isn't all games, it's the equivalent of a Hollywood blockbuster or Dan Brown novel.
posted by markr at 6:45 PM on April 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


Fine. How far down the best-seller list (and is there a good one for video games) to find one created as art (assuming an art/craft dichotomy)?
posted by klangklangston at 6:53 PM on April 8, 2009


On some level, I feel like this is due to the fact that games seem to come from an engineering culture, not an arts culture. The folks making games have no grounding outside of solving these discreet problems, so they have no idea what ground others have already worked through.

But what exactly does it mean to say that games lack some famous film director, or photographer, when they already have poets in their corner? What does it mean to say that their writers emerge from an engineering culture, as if applied arts and applied sciences existed across some kind of gate that didn't admit both invention and interplay?

I feel like we're now talking around an artificial hierarchy of arts; at worst, it aspires to the kind of hazing to which all new movements are subjected. At best, you're isolating an important difference between how and why. The how outlook toils on the margins and the bookbinding of games, but I think now occupies a kind of rich and famous and cozy obsolescence. The harder why is what creates the art.

Yet there's no reason why they still can't go hand in hand.

Because this cult of science, of how - which is decades later still applied as a pejorative to science fiction writers as well as naturalists - would have to be at least permeable enough to account for the works of Vonnegut (mechanical engineer, anthropologist), Asimov (biochemist), and LeGuin (anthropologist). Loren Eiseley, whose expertise was to deliver fossils intact from beds of dirt, could too in a hundred words break any living metropolis down to its shadows in the strata. Goethe published in the sciences alongside writing Faust, Buechner on neurobiology in addition to Woyzeck. Williams, that's just to say, before devouring the image of every plum on the internet, an MD. William Blake took printmaking and etching towards the why of his poetry, and all but sprung a new tradition of illuminated manuscripts. I'd almost like to believe he invented the comic book.

I'm not saying all this to trot out some of my favorite writers; I'm trying to say why. I've spent my entire academic life squarely between two pure disciplines that do not like outsiders or each other. And I've learned not to care for all this mystery cult crap. This halfway space between the applied arts and sciences, and probably the timing of my birth, has made computer art (and computer games) very important to me. My very first memory of reading was a BASIC programming book. I think I played games before I learned to throw a baseball. In Boston. It's deeply imprinted.

Not only that, and this is where the sexism and racism complaints come in, games also have to understand that they exist in a broader media universe and are not immune from broader critiques.

But all games seem to attract are these broader critiques, and the attempts to jigsaw and circumscribe them, fit them to the puzzle needs of tv news and child psychology. The perspective that I think is lacking, and that is the most crucial to understanding and improving games, is the interior one - the writer, and the reader. I already know where the newspaper world expects disappointment, wants its fences drawn: it wants to see the next lawsuit; it wants to know how badly computer art compares to cinema and rock music, how minor and unreal; how the computer will never write poetry, how much better a six-string than some deep freeze Xenakis or Autechre. It also wants to iterate through its usual political slogans and signs and gauntlets, thinking that this 'boyzone' must have no bite.

Except that some of my very favorite games were written by women, or portray outside viewpoints, or are textured with prose that I'd set beside almost anyone's, or that otherwise gainsay exactly this sort of blind expectation. You said earlier that precious few games merit criticism. Films have the benefit of being judged by the precious few; games by the cheap and the dozen. The noise machine laid out for Resident Evil, I note, could hardly point to something better. That's not criticism, that's a reflex action. Forget Bergman a minute; where's gaming's Walter Chaw?

Does this mean it is difficult, forbidding, impenetrable? Not at all. Does this mean that a critic of some other discipline is ill-suited to interactive art? Not at all, in fact, they're ideally suited. It's an inter-disciplinary art, and it needs more than anything critics willing to walk between schools. But it would be so much more rewarding to do it as explorers and not invaders. The difference, I think, according to some ancient and superstitious concepts, is that you bring a gift when you enter, and take one when you leave.
posted by kid ichorous at 8:00 PM on April 8, 2009 [6 favorites]


You know, FPS games are often criticized as art, especially multiplayer ones like Halo. But are they really art? I'd argue that action games, particularly multiplayer ones and highly skilled genres like the FPS, are not so much a form of art as they are a form of sport. Sure, you might argue that something like Team Fortress 2 doesn't involve deep psychological introspection or challenge intellectual boundaries, but neither does soccer. That's not the point.

On that note, I'm not sure if the sameness of some of these games is really a problem. You could look at something like the FPS genre as being, at the end of the day, the same game over and over again with different venues and rules. But can that be ok? I mean, we don't declare football a failure because it doesn't include poetry readings or interpretive dance.

That being said, I do think art has a place in games. Of course you want people inventing new genres, and some games rely on a combination of good art (including story) and gameplay, particularly any single-player game and the RPG. It's just that, for some games, I think worrying about art and in particular higher intellectual art is missing the point.
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:04 PM on April 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


Don't have much time, but just gonna toss MOTHER 3 in the ring. It was famously advertised in Japan with a commercial that was just a testimonial that began (as edited) with "I cried."

The English translation, incidentally, is just as good as the original Japanese. There's a whole lot that could be said about it but I haven't the time.
posted by DoctorFedora at 8:57 PM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Check it, this was riddling my brains all day but I think I just figured it out. I wouldn't think of e.g. Team Fortress 2 as art, overall, but it certainly is an excellent game and should not be castigated for not being art anymore than football, chess, or poker. Meanwhile I believe games can aspire to be great art, though I've yet to see the game I think reaches those heights. Perhaps games should be thought of as a medium in the artistic sense. You can take steel and make a staircase or a sculpture, you can take paint and paint the side of a barn or the Mona Lisa, you can make a book that's a dictionary or great literature.

So you can have a game that's just a game, or if you want to be an artist, you can have:

Pretentious Title
Computer Game, 6.3 GB
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 8:58 PM on April 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Hello, super. COlumbine massacre rpg? Passage? Mondrian PAC man? There are so many art games not even mentioned here...
posted by jcruelty at 9:00 PM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


If nobody cared about the art, then we would still be moving boxes through mazes being chased by crazy duck-dragons. I know that wasn't the what you were speaking to Mitrovarr, but I think saying video games are just games (like soccer/football, baseball, etc.) or that the definition of games are for fun misses the potential that the genre holds within it. It is also missing the fact the videos games are not strictly used as games, they are often used as learning tools or training tools (military). I don't think it is an apt comparison to sports at all, unless it's it is strictly a sports game, or to games such as chess or poker due to the human X factor involved.

There are also a couple of problems inherent to the Citizen Kane or Beatles that changed and pushed the boundaries of their specific art. The biggest problem(s) I can see has to do with money. Anyone can pick up a guitar(musical instrument) on the cheap. This also leads to the learning curve is probably a little bit steeper for music, based off of what I know about either subject, and that is including all other factors such as reflexive learning vs. mental retention.

I am well aware of the idea that Citizen Kane wasn't produced on the cheap (that particular comparison could show up in some of the later directors that popped up in the 70's), but Welles did have previous work to backup his foray into film-making. Which is also a problem intrinsic to video games, all of these other little problems add up to lack of ability to show tangible competency at these higher levels.
posted by P.o.B. at 10:06 PM on April 8, 2009


Cool Papa Bell: Save the princess! You wanna know why we're saving the princess? Because that's what fucking heroes do.

Well, heroes also try to find a cure for death when their friend die. They stew in their tent because the king took their slavegirl. They wander somewhat aimlessly around the Mediterranean watching their companions die one by one until they finally make it home to their home only to find it crawling with people trying to mack with their wives. They escape Troy and found Rome. They try to get a damned ring into a damned volcano so the world can be undamned. Or, hell, become a pirate or a shining beacon of virtue.

The second most frustrating thing about the videogame industry (after the unrelenting, puerile sexism) is that there's a deep history of great and different games that sold like goddamn hotcakes that has been swept under the table. The assertion that developers make the same old shit because it's only the same old shit that sells is demonstrably untrue. I mean, Jesus, how many copies has Animal Crossing sold? Ultima? All the Sierra and LucasArts adventure games? Sims?

I do believe that games can be art, but I know that it hasn't quite established itself. Playing Dwarf Fortress there are moments which are sublime in ways that I have rarely encountered in other games. Ultima VII (parts 1 and 2) remains engraved on my memory like few other things, same goes for Doom. Quake had very profound effects on how I process the world visually. There are events taking place in Eve Online which fascinate me and which I can't quite figure out (I'd love to write a book about Eve). But no game I've ever played has hit me with the full force of a great piece of art. I've never had my brain taken over by a game like the Sistine Chapel did, Modest Mouse' The Moon and Antartica or, to take a recent example, 2666 by Roberto Bolaño. No game ever made me decide to link myself so closely to it that I'd use its name or the name of its creator as my permanent internet handle like Catullus did. It will happen, I have no illusion that it won't, but it hasn't happened yet. And I've played a metric crapton of games.

Way upthread klangklangston mentioned comic books, and that's an excellent analogy. There's nothing inherently juvenile to comics but it took an awful long time to get from The Yellow Kid and Hogan's Alley to Maus, Fun Home, From Hell or Sandman. That said, there have been some great games already and there were great comics before Maus came along (there some sort of metaphysical comedic link between Tim Schafer and Réné Goscinny).

My point is that currently that the people who make games aren't taking the art of gaming as seriously as a lot of the people who play the games. For a lot of developers it seems to be all about the craft. Reading about the comics biz back in the day that's the feeling I get too, the creators thought of themselves as craftsmen, not artists, but a lot of their readers thought of them as artists.

The standard joke is "Schindler's List: The Game" but what is Maus but "Schindler's List: The Comic" (hell, it's even an animal comic). There's no reason why computer games can't be great art but I've yet to play a game that is truly great art.
posted by Kattullus at 10:13 PM on April 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


Oh, and not to mention that there is also a technological constraint on video games, which also has directly correlates to stunted growth. Sure a game like Passage could have been made years ago, but the reason it wasn't is because of (my) aforementioned reasons (platform -> distribution -> technology, also money)
posted by P.o.B. at 10:22 PM on April 8, 2009


Way upthread klangklangston mentioned comic books, and that's an excellent analogy.

Agreed. I think it's safe to say that Watchmen holds the high water mark for comics . Not only can it stand on it's artistic merits, but as a great comic to just read. Something not all pieces of art could hold as true.
posted by P.o.B. at 10:28 PM on April 8, 2009


E.E. Cummings & Krazy Kat.
posted by kid ichorous at 10:53 PM on April 8, 2009


That all said, when the rebuttal is this: "I don't WANT to be an artist. I don't WANT to make REVOLUTIONARY ROAD: THE GAME! I don't want to be the Bob Dylan of games or make the Citizen Kane of games," well, then, dude, you're a fucking hack. You don't want to push the boundaries of your medium to make it say something universal and profound? You don't want to change the way games are made forever? You don't want your games to be personal yet relatable? You just want to come up with new fatalities for Scorpion? You're a fucking hack.

Having a primary goal of wanting to make something as entertaining as possible is not hack work. Hack work is not caring about your work at all. It's confusing profundity with value.
posted by Snyder at 11:54 PM on April 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


But no game I've ever played has hit me with the full force of a great piece of art.

I have played games that have affected me far more profoundly than many works of art in other mediums. I've experienced some truly transcendental moments playing games that I remember vividly years later. Thinking about it now, though, I realise that the impact created by videogames (to me) has usually been an emotional one, not an intellectual one. Not sure I've played any games that really challenged the way I think about things. Definitely some interesting concepts have been brought up, but rarely followed up to any great degree. This is not a distinction I necessarily make to classify something as art or not-art, but it's an interesting one nonetheless.
posted by slimepuppy at 2:04 AM on April 9, 2009


But all games seem to attract are these broader critiques, and the attempts to jigsaw and circumscribe them, fit them to the puzzle needs of tv news and child psychology. The perspective that I think is lacking, and that is the most crucial to understanding and improving games, is the interior one - the writer, and the reader.

There's been a really dumb way of thinking about computer games development as a zero sum game between the simulation side of things and the mechanic side of things. I think it's been mentioned upthread a few times before that "oh it was easier to improve the look to make it look realistic, but now we've hit a limit, and now we're going to work on the game mechanics, so expect our thousand blossoming flowers any time now". But this is the most superficial expectation of what a representative world could be. Really, if you wanted to think of computer games as art, shouldn't the play between representation and rule structure be the most important thing, rather than just a series of taken for granted obstacles that you have to overcome (how are we going to do gore this time?). I haven't played braid, but apparently it's one of the first games to reference older gaming conventions and art in order to bring in background associations. One of the first???

If all developers are going to do is noodle with the rule engine in a kitschy shell of fantasy realism then profundity is going no where. Developers have to understand how making realistic graphics is very far from making good graphics, the difference between a simulation which is always preoccupied with the anxiety of being "real enough" and mimesis which invites you to suspend disbelief and enter a hypothetical world of "as if" (arguably the dominant mode of western art for the past couple of millennia) and develop the ability to use them critically. It's why retro games, with their blocky graphics, seem more "authentic", since they carry so obviously the traces of their medium (the tiny display resolution) whilst making their little mimetic gestures and enjoy the patina of childhood nostalgia given them by a few decades of demographic development. By contrast every single "beautiful" game today is pure pastiche and kitsch, as if only upping the ante on the exotic foreignness can compensate for the same rule engine.

To make an obvious point about the potential for art in games developed right now, why is the uncanny valley seen as a distraction from the main point of gaming?! If we've developed simulations to the point of hyper-realism minus one and it's fucking freaky as hell, why do we all suddenly shy away from the only genuinely new reaction to the technological impulses of the industry?! It was an accident yes, but that's never stopped art before. Why aren't horror fantasies, unholy mashups of the uncanny valley and lo grade 8 bit vector graphics, making points on the terror of the real and the ironic (suspect?) comfort of a 320x240 resolution blips and boops, something that speaks directly to our actual experiences of technology rather than another go around on the joseph campbell collection of tropes and rides. Embrace the uncanny valley, otherwise you know porn's going to get there first.
posted by doobiedoo at 2:09 AM on April 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Hell, for intellectual discovery why not make uncanny valley porn the object of the game, caught between arousal and repulsion only the staunchest curiousity survives.
posted by doobiedoo at 2:20 AM on April 9, 2009


Hell, for intellectual discovery why not make uncanny valley porn the object of the game, caught between arousal and repulsion only the staunchest curiousity survives.

Is that like the Tracey Jordan videogame, or what?
posted by rokusan at 2:30 AM on April 9, 2009


Agreed. I think it's safe to say that Watchmen holds the high water mark for comics .

Maus. Maus, Maus, Maus, Maus, Maus.

Freakin' Maus.
posted by rokusan at 2:30 AM on April 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Really? There are other movies I like better than Citizen Kane, but those movies didn't redefine the medium. Also, there have been games that have come out that could be rated artistically, but certainly didn't garner huge sales. I'm sure there are comics that everybody could point to that they like, but AFAIK didn't have as huge an impact as Watchmen. Maybe this is just an opinion so go ahead and cut & paste some more, you'll totally change my mind.
posted by P.o.B. at 3:00 AM on April 9, 2009


Err, the story in an FPS is totally beside the point of an FPS. Or any game if you take story to mean cut scenes or dialog boxes filled with text. There is one language in an FPS and that's the flow of the game, what the controls do, your hitscan attacks and projectile missiles and thrown grenades. Try building an emotionally affecting character out of those verbs before you consider an FPS as art. This is what makes multiplayer FPSs fun. You have other players to fill in those blanks and whilst you don't care about them per se, you definitely derive enjoyment from ultimately learning their patterns and behaviors. If you connect with the player you begin to enjoy their reactions to your actions.

That's what an game character should be, like Alyx in HL2, but better. The sister in Mirrors Edge works well even though she's stuck in flow breaking and interactivity destroying cut scenes. Many many games work around this problem by using the "old media" way of expressing a character but also through breaking down your need to interact with or ability to perceive character flaws (RTS units are hard to pick faults on because you're supposedly sitting 9 billions miles up in the sky looking down).

With Level Design being first and foremost focused on gameplay, setting the mood is trickier in game. Having limited verbs limits expression greatly. If you had a fully functioning hand in an FPS you could do so much, shake a characters hand, touch people inappropriately, stroke hair, stack cards, whatever. A gun does one thing, so you'll only get people in games that Die or Shoot Back.

Please don't think of this as blaming the tools. If I were in the industry, this is where I would work toward. Leave the old-school stuff to Blizzard, Max Payne and Final Fantasy. So if you want maturity, build a system that supports it. I know the artist can shape and meld, but those choices an artist can make atm are workarounds, shortcuts.
posted by Submiqent at 4:40 AM on April 9, 2009


Then your back to technological constraints to provide narrative, which games like Passage has proved to be untrue for quite some time.

Unless your specifically speaking about FPS', which again I think your statements are not true. We all should stop playing with the same old ideas of what is holding us back. Next, I would say there are and has been novel ways FPS' can be more than what people traditionally think they are.
posted by P.o.B. at 5:40 AM on April 9, 2009


Heather Chaplin raving about how awesome Grand Theft Auto IV is
posted by mattholomew at 6:06 AM on April 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


I just played Passage. I guess it demonstrated to me that yes, you're right, you can explore a narrative maturely and with emotional affect with limited resources. I'd like to point out though, this story was explored via a function of walking and collision detection. Your partner may not be a fully fleshed out character as I've been going on about, but she definitely expressed via a relationship to the gameplay directly. She doubles your hitbox size and makes you collide with objects far more readily. You are literally connected to her. Which is great! No blocks of text or cut scenes or anything. Nothing to interfere with your imagination, which goes into overdrive cause the presentation is, errm, less detailed.

Heck maybe I'm agreeing with you now PoB, there are many design choices that could be better made than are currently, like constantly trying to convince us that everything _is_ real. On the whole though, I feel that the Multiplayer FPS is not detrimental to building mature games that express real emotions because they are constantly exploring the gameplay mechanics possible between people. Left 4 Dead is a huge step up in human interactions than say Counter-Strike. Thus if these are explored, they can be applied to the hypothetical Alyx's of the future and generate a someone you care about. Or at least enjoy or revile being around. Gotta have a bad guy.
posted by Submiqent at 6:46 AM on April 9, 2009


Katullus: The standard joke is "Schindler's List: The Game" but what is Maus but "Schindler's List: The Comic" (hell, it's even an animal comic). There's no reason why computer games can't be great art but I've yet to play a game that is truly great art.

You don't make your case well by messing up the facts here. Maus predates Schindler's List by five years in publication. Other than both having events set during the Holocaust, they are radically different works with different protagonists, different time frames, different scopes and different meta-fictional commentary on the reliability of history and biography.

Part of the problem here is that we don't have the language or tradition that allows us to look at the design of games qua games as artistic works. Both photography and cinema had to develop their own language for talking about design and aesthetics distinct from the traditional visual and dramatic arts that came before.

So I'll argue that Chess is an incredibly brilliant example of a game. It's multiple layers of depth make it enjoyable for people at any skill level. Choices negotiated by the players in the first half-dozen moves can determine whether the resulting game is one of tactical lightning or slow, positional give and take. The pieces themselves have been a medium for visual arts and craftsmanship, and the roles of the pieces and the need for both offense and defensive strategy has been the fuel for literary metaphor.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:28 AM on April 9, 2009


I just played Passage. I guess it demonstrated to me that yes, you're right, you can explore a narrative maturely and with emotional affect with limited resources. I'd like to point out though, this story was explored via a function of walking and collision detection. Your partner may not be a fully fleshed out character as I've been going on about, but she definitely expressed via a relationship to the gameplay directly. She doubles your hitbox size and makes you collide with objects far more readily. You are literally connected to her.

This is all correct -- and is I think the point of Passage. This is a common theme in Jonathan Blow talks. Um, you should also play Braid.
posted by grobstein at 7:38 AM on April 9, 2009


I didn't like Citizen Kane.
posted by yeti at 9:01 AM on April 9, 2009


It's nice that Maus and Watchmen are still popular all these years after all those early 90s "Zap! Bang! Pow! Comics grow up!" articles, but geez guys, read some new comics.

(Like maybe some Joe Sacco, or Marjane Satrapi, or something by Alan Moore that isn't The Watchmen, like From Hell)
posted by Artw at 9:23 AM on April 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


He doesn't like you.

I don't like you either.

You just watch yourself.

We're wanted men.

I have the death penalty on twelve systems.
posted by grobstein at 9:25 AM on April 9, 2009


CRAP wuz respondin' to "I didn't like Citizen Kane" now mai sad little joke is RUINED
posted by grobstein at 9:26 AM on April 9, 2009


KirkJobSluder: You don't make your case well by messing up the facts here. Maus predates Schindler's List by five years in publication. Other than both having events set during the Holocaust, they are radically different works with different protagonists, different time frames, different scopes and different meta-fictional commentary on the reliability of history and biography.

I may not have made my point clearly enough. I'm well aware that Maus predates Schindler's List. I understood the joke of Schindler's List: The Game to be that making a computer game about the holocaust was in and of itself ridiculous. My point was that to a lot of people before Maus came along making a comic about the holocaust would have seemed ridiculous. I think that a game could be made about the holocaust but I don't quite know how to go about it.
posted by Kattullus at 9:55 AM on April 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Maus is kind of like a rails shooter: It’s all about a guy who gets shunted between increasingly hazardous areas without much agency in the matter, just the ability to make small actions to ensure continued survival. On the other hand there’s no shooting and it’s more of a resource management deal – maybe it could be like Dragons Lair only slower and you have to do things like press the button to eat your shoes at the right moment.
posted by Artw at 10:02 AM on April 9, 2009


So, anyway, the other day the wife and I were watching Annie, and came to the conclusion that Schindler's List probably ripped off the whole red coat thing from there.
posted by Artw at 10:05 AM on April 9, 2009


It wouldn't surprise me if it's already been done in digital media. Which is another perspective that's lacking from this conversation, mass-produced "games" are not the sum total of digital art, for many of the same reasons that multiplex blockbusters don't reflect the full scope of cinema as an artform.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:08 AM on April 9, 2009


I'm thinking a really minimal version of something like Escape from Colditz where the objective is to play it for several years and not die.
posted by Artw at 10:10 AM on April 9, 2009


"But what exactly does it mean to say that games lack some famous film director, or photographer, when they already have poets in their corner? What does it mean to say that their writers emerge from an engineering culture, as if applied arts and applied sciences existed across some kind of gate that didn't admit both invention and interplay?"

This is frothy language that misses the point—Engineers and those in liberal arts have different problem-solving frameworks and different histories. Many of the broader criticisms of games are ones that have been leveled at other media, and other media has had to respond within the constraints of their medium. If a physicist knows the Bhagavadgita, that may inform their work, however one wouldn't expect them to be an expert or understand the nuances. Similarly, but more limited, while all sciences are theoretically multi-disciplinary, an astrophysicist is a specialist in astrophysics and wouldn't be expected to know the latest developments in medical engineering or artificial intelligence. While I know we decried identity politics prior, a person's background and context matter, and the handful of folks who advanced literature or photography through their science background are notable because they're exceptions.

Think about how games making is taught—How many schools that offer a degree integrate game design within their art programs? Hell, while digital optics advances will drive the next round of artistic experimentation in photography, how many photographers are trained to design their own sensor chips?

So it's not that there isn't the possibility of interaction and interplay, only that the vast majority of games designers seem ignorant of anything that isn't games or pop culture.

For an example, the recurrent question of fun: Op Art was a '60s reaction against Duchamp, who was, in turn, reacting against (mostly) impressionism, when he held that art that offered only an aesthetic experience was failed art. But "fun," and, subservient to that, aesthetic considerations, is still the primary and often only criterion on which games are judged. If you want meaning primary, you either look elsewhere or suffer through intentionally abrasive games.

So you mistake me: I am for a greater overlap between arts and engineering, and find a denial of a gap between them blinkered and counterfactual.

"I feel like we're now talking around an artificial hierarchy of arts; at worst, it aspires to the kind of hazing to which all new movements are subjected."

Again, you're beating this drum without seeming to grasp what I was trying to express. First off, yes, a hierarchy not of arts but within media, that definitely exists, and the expansive view of theory is only a rear-guard movement. Thomas Kincade's painting does not stand up to critical scrutiny as Michelangelo does, let alone folks like Picasso. As for the hazing, you miss the lesson of history (and confuse medium with movement): Games currently are aesthetically ghettoized, and without someone who questions the assumptions that dominate games and is also an effective proselytizer, they will remain so.

"But all games seem to attract are these broader critiques, and the attempts to jigsaw and circumscribe them, fit them to the puzzle needs of tv news and child psychology. The perspective that I think is lacking, and that is the most crucial to understanding and improving games, is the interior one - the writer, and the reader. I already know where the newspaper world expects disappointment, wants its fences drawn: it wants to see the next lawsuit; it wants to know how badly computer art compares to cinema and rock music, how minor and unreal; how the computer will never write poetry, how much better a six-string than some deep freeze Xenakis or Autechre. It also wants to iterate through its usual political slogans and signs and gauntlets, thinking that this 'boyzone' must have no bite."

Please, let's ignore your straw man of popular media. I own Xenakis and Autechre (and Autechre is no Xenakis). Pop music is very much a boyzone, but that doesn't make it meaningless or worthless, but it does mean that interesting artists are overlooked and clichés are over-abundant. To sputter on about how the media pillories games unfairly just because they're sexist and racist is to ignore that there are valid criticisms of sexism and racism (and oh, lord, the homophobia) in popular games. Instead of getting all defensive, if you love games, you should want that to stop. It's distracting, contributes to a dismissal of games as serious endeavors, and is unfair to folks who are outside the traditional games sphere—it's something that you have to move past in order to find great games.

"Except that some of my very favorite games were written by women, or portray outside viewpoints, or are textured with prose that I'd set beside almost anyone's, or that otherwise gainsay exactly this sort of blind expectation. You said earlier that precious few games merit criticism. Films have the benefit of being judged by the precious few; games by the cheap and the dozen. The noise machine laid out for Resident Evil, I note, could hardly point to something better. That's not criticism, that's a reflex action. Forget Bergman a minute; where's gaming's Walter Chaw?"

Except that films aren't judged by the precious few as a medium—they're judged against a fairly huge body of aesthetic work of all media. Goddard knew Weegee's work, as does Ebert and did Kael. Not only that, but the top tier of film consistently puts out a great work every year or so, and dozens of works that can be seriously engaged with on a critical level every year, and had been doing so for years by the time Citizen Kane came out.

You want a Walter Chaw? Remember that art precedes criticism.
posted by klangklangston at 10:42 AM on April 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


"You know, FPS games are often criticized as art, especially multiplayer ones like Halo. But are they really art? I'd argue that action games, particularly multiplayer ones and highly skilled genres like the FPS, are not so much a form of art as they are a form of sport. Sure, you might argue that something like Team Fortress 2 doesn't involve deep psychological introspection or challenge intellectual boundaries, but neither does soccer. That's not the point. "

And that's an excellent point. While there's a fair amount of sports journalism that treats sports as art, it's always kinda hogwash post facto dressing-up. But I think where I'd disagree is that I think games have, by dint of their multimedia nature, the possibility of being art in a much more expansive way. I also think that Chaplin's criticisms could be aimed at a lot of sport too.
posted by klangklangston at 10:46 AM on April 9, 2009


"It's nice that Maus and Watchmen are still popular all these years after all those early 90s "Zap! Bang! Pow! Comics grow up!" articles, but geez guys, read some new comics.

(Like maybe some Joe Sacco, or Marjane Satrapi, or something by Alan Moore that isn't The Watchmen, like From Hell)
"

Right now my read/just read pile has in it Linda Barry's Marlys, Bilal's Dormant Beast (his comics on the Spanish Civil War are much better), Aragones' Groo, Templesmith's Wormwood (which looks great but sucks to read), Azzarello's Loveless (which also kinda sucks), Wildey's Rio, Willingham's Jack of Fables, a collection of O'Donnell's Modesty Blaise, Bagge's Buddy Does Jersey, Gary Millidge's Strangehaven, Ridley's American Way, Tezuka's Dororo, Stuart Moore's Para (which is pretty crap), an American Splendor comp, a comp of Thomas Ligotti stories adapted called The Nightmare Factory, and Moon and Ga's De: Tales. I mention this mostly to note two things: the breadth of comics seems to me so much huger than the breadth of video games, and that Europeans saved comics, which makes me wonder what they can do with games.
posted by klangklangston at 11:08 AM on April 9, 2009


"It wouldn't surprise me if it's already been done in digital media. Which is another perspective that's lacking from this conversation, mass-produced "games" are not the sum total of digital art, for many of the same reasons that multiplex blockbusters don't reflect the full scope of cinema as an artform."

That's also a good point.
posted by klangklangston at 11:10 AM on April 9, 2009


Wasn't Tomb Raidier developed in England?
posted by GuyZero at 11:10 AM on April 9, 2009


Yup, plenty of UK games studios, though they've had a lot of mergers and collapses lately, leaving the UK games industry a bit rickety. The major exception to this being the Scottish Rockstar Games, who are responsible for the GTA Franchise.
posted by Artw at 11:17 AM on April 9, 2009


Video Games by region
posted by Artw at 11:20 AM on April 9, 2009


klangklanston: Think about how games making is taught—How many schools that offer a degree integrate game design within their art programs? Hell, while digital optics advances will drive the next round of artistic experimentation in photography, how many photographers are trained to design their own sensor chips?

I'd say that where photography is concerned, that revolution is already here. Artists comfortable using digital techniques have had their shows and exhibitions, and are driving the next round of aesthetics and experimentation.

In regards to digital media in general, the state of the art is currently rather like cinema, where the lone artist with the camera is something of a rarity. I don't take it as a given that the people developing games are coming entirely from an engineering culture. There are people coming at the genre from a fine arts background.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:24 AM on April 9, 2009


I'm seeing a lot of people jumping ship from comics to videogames these days.
posted by Artw at 11:33 AM on April 9, 2009


I'll still argue that the answer to looking at digital media, aka games as art is to look at games as games. This was utterly essential to the consideration of photography as an independent artform, (and the establishment of photography as an artform, in turn, liberated the other visual arts to experiment with impressionism, cubism, surrealism and conceptual abstract art.)

The problem is, people keep wanting games to be analogous to cinema, with its one-way artist-to-audience locus of control, when there is a well-established art that creates environments for participants to explore and use in potentially novel and unique ways: architecture.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:53 AM on April 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


"The problem is, people keep wanting games to be analogous to cinema, with its one-way artist-to-audience locus of control, when there is a well-established art that creates environments for participants to explore and use in potentially novel and unique ways: architecture."

That's also a really interesting point, though I'll totally confess that my architectural repertoire is of the dilettante level at best (I know a nave from an apse). That also gives a good way to express two things that I was trying to get across upthread: it's possible to think of buildings as purely engineering tasks (you don't expect the US Army Corps to create bridges that question the idea of hierarchy), but that's different than thinking about architecture as art, and that patronage will likely be important to the advancement of games as art.

That actually makes me think of DJ Spooky's experimental digital architecture…
posted by klangklangston at 12:23 PM on April 9, 2009


I think it's safe to say that Watchmen holds the high water mark for comics .

oof. look, it's probably the high water mark for superhero comics. and I say this as a 15 year fan of watchmen. i've obsessed over it. but still, it's a high water mark for superhero mags, not comics in general.

the high water mark for comics in general was set a long time ago. they've always had the potential to be important and meaningful works of art, or narrative or whatever you want to call them. what frustrated so many people about them was how few people (until about 20 years ago, give or take) were willing to exploit that potential. nobody could read The Building and think "this is kid's stuff." but the number of copies of The Building out there was nothing compared to how many copies of Action Comics were out there. (no offense to Siegel and Schuster.)

the same is now true of games. we have the potential, but too many people are refusing to exploit it.
posted by shmegegge at 1:08 PM on April 9, 2009


The problem is, people keep wanting games to be analogous to cinema, with its one-way artist-to-audience locus of control, when there is a well-established art that creates environments for participants to explore and use in potentially novel and unique ways: architecture.

I think the paper architects amongst us would love that idea (see here BLDGBLOG), whereas the people who build would scoff, I've got a term left to choose my poison but I'm kinda leaning towards the builders; architecture achieves its most creative and meaningful expression in resolving or at least engaging given conditions of context, traditions of use, cultures of building and disciplinary drives. The way I see it computer games have the potential to do the same on their own terms - as uncanny simulations fired up in private/social/networked moments of bourgeois leisure time - ignoring the question of art for a moment, this would at least be an authentic engagement with the conditions of computing technology and the conditions of their use. Comparing games to architecture only sort of degrades both, since there are no comparable givens in "game space" to riff off of (rather the givens precede the idea of spatial simulation) and there are background contexts and contingencies in the real world which architecture needs to recognise and engage in order to preserve its poetry and vitality (it's not as straightforward as exporting from worldbuilder).
posted by doobiedoo at 2:12 PM on April 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


but geez guys, read some new comics.

Cheap shot, at the expense of ignoring my point. People, I'm not saying Watchmen was the be-all and end-all for comics. I was using it as a reference point for the media. Yes, you could just as easily use Eisner's work. What is important to note is the differences between the medias, something that Chaplin didn't address at all.

I've thought about it after making my initial points. After adding everything up I don't think we've even had the capability to make something whorthwhile until recently.
posted by P.o.B. at 4:11 PM on April 9, 2009


I went to see Wolverine in order to be confronted by ontological problems, but only got teleological ones.
posted by beelzbubba at 5:22 PM on April 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


To sputter on about how the media pillories games unfairly just because they're sexist and racist is to ignore that there are valid criticisms of sexism and racism (and oh, lord, the homophobia) in popular games. Instead of getting all defensive, if you love games, you should want that to stop.

What first needs to stop are these acts of peripheral criticism which, conversant in nothing but today's bestsellers list, do nothing but reinforce the popularity of bad games.

Useful criticism doesn't begin with a survey of the local Barnes and Noble, end with a diatribe against politico hacks and hausfrau exotica. It locates work that should be at the Barnes and Noble; it champions the obscure and the new. The video game critic who laments without the capacity to locate is not a video game critic. She is a dilettante, and even assuming the best of intentions she is still bad for the art or author of merit, bad for the woman creating or playing games, bad for everything except the status quo.

You want a Walter Chaw? Remember that art precedes criticism.

I mentioned Walter Chaw for a reason, because my stance on films was once similar to your apparent stance on games. I'd seen a few works of canon, heard nothing in them that compared even to an Eiseley or a Bradbury, and wrote the entire genre off as in its infancy. In that case, just as I think in this one, the art was there. The access was not. Video games have already produced works of comparable quality to Kane or F for Fake, but they have not yet produced the critic who can take you to them.
posted by kid ichorous at 9:00 PM on April 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


"What first needs to stop are these acts of peripheral criticism which, conversant in nothing but today's bestsellers list, do nothing but reinforce the popularity of bad games."

Again, no. You want better criticism, make better art.

"Useful criticism doesn't begin with a survey of the local Barnes and Noble, end with a diatribe against politico hacks and hausfrau exotica. It locates work that should be at the Barnes and Noble; it champions the obscure and the new. The video game critic who laments without the capacity to locate is not a video game critic. She is a dilettante, and even assuming the best of intentions she is still bad for the art or author of merit, bad for the woman creating or playing games, bad for everything except the status quo."

No, you're pitting one reductive vision of criticism against another and blaming critics for bad video games.

"I mentioned Walter Chaw for a reason, because my stance on films was once similar to your apparent stance on games. I'd seen a few works of canon, heard nothing in them that compared even to an Eiseley or a Bradbury, and wrote the entire genre off as in its infancy."

Wrote film off in its infancy? What, you were only watching silent films and then realized that hey, there're some great talkies out there?

"Video games have already produced works of comparable quality to Kane or F for Fake, but they have not yet produced the critic who can take you to them."

Really? What are they? Aesthetically successful; transcends medium; mainstream and industry and critical acclaim? Galatea isn't the answer, and that's not the fault of critics, or the arts community, which is far more open to an expanded view of art.
posted by klangklangston at 10:35 PM on April 9, 2009


Wanting better videogame critics is akin to wanting better herpes.
posted by Artw at 10:44 PM on April 9, 2009


Klang, I don't think you're reading ichorous carefully and charitably. Cool it a tiny bit. He's saying (among other things) that really good games exist which critics are failing to find and highlight. This may be a good or a bad point, but you have to engage it rather than just railing against implausible interpretations of his comment.

For example, your challenge to him to name a great game with "mainstream and industry and critical acclaim" goes far beyond what his argument is claiming, since his point is that games of quality have failed to find critical attention (and thus acclaim).
posted by grobstein at 10:48 PM on April 9, 2009


I would have to agree with klangklangston on that last bit. Chaplin's original statement was:

"The excuse is that the videogame industry is only thirty-five years old," said Chaplin. "But after thirty-five years rock & roll had Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and the Clash. After thirty-five years film had Fritz Lang, film noire, and was a few years away from Citizen Kane."

So what is she really trying to get at, and what are we talking about then?

Unless there is a concerted effort for the things that klang mentioned (Aesthetically successful; transcends medium; mainstream and industry and critical acclaim), then we really are stuck with the same old stuff because it won't garner the focus it needs.
posted by P.o.B. at 12:04 AM on April 10, 2009


Thanks for the great discussion. The little grey cells, they are working tonight.

Best of the web.
posted by wemayfreeze at 12:09 AM on April 10, 2009


Thank you Grobstein.

What, you were only watching silent films and then realized that hey, there're some great talkies out there?

Well... the first art films foisted upon me in school were silent, ten-foot-high mediocrities by way of Fritz Lang, which makes Chaplin's comments especially funny. However, I'm not going to defend games by attacking another medium. Here are my favorite two minutes of my favorite film. What I'm arguing is that I've turned up moments (and sustained runs) of equal polish in computer games.

Planescape: Torment did Memento better and first, crested 70 000 lines of dialogue, and all from the twilight of AD&D's unloved 2nd edition. TWEWY captures some of Heraclitus' flame in a puerile JRPG, and detects the hand of the afterlife in Shibuya street fashion. I like the sheen of Andrew Plotkin's prose even if his games are difficult slick muggings that deprive the player of every other nicety. A Mind Forever Voyaging is like time travel inside a television. Day of the Tentacle is time travel inside a porta-potty. Breakers and Mindwheel rewarded the abandonware hunt with great benders of dialogue and imagery. Lost Pig and Arcanum take phrenology to heart and play lowbrow more convincingly than Halo 2. Ico and Shadow of the Colossus are vector engines pared down into poetry, and the only two games that del Toro considers masterpieces. Passage is a gem of condensed storytelling. Violet disrupts the most basic expectation of internal monologue. And the early work of Roberta Williams and Lori Ann Cole is fucking sherbet in sixteen colors; and film can't have Jacques Tati if I can't have that.

This is as good a minefield of euphoria as I can lay on a workday. I haven't even scratched IF or mentioned Portal. I'm sure others can pick it up from here.

Galatea isn't the answer

But even if you didn't like Galatea, how much did you know about Andrew Plotkin, Adam Cadre, Emily Short, Fumito Ueda, Lori Cole, Ragnar Tornquist, or Robert Pinsky before this thread? And if you missed some, what does that say for the average Xbox owner? Doesn't their work change your assessment of the medium?

We can keep calling it all a fraternity and a wasteland in hopes that developers and users will jump ship. I still think it's better to offer people alternatives to jump to, and to open doors to strange and superior work. It wasn't excoriations of Lang's more fascist imagery that turned me on to Orson Welles, but that cinema is a well-mapped territory and that a hundred signs already pointed his way.

Also, circulating orations against bad art has the side effect of circulating bad art, setting the Eminems of the world and their test-tube controversies front and center, upping their pagerank.

We're looking at this same nitrogen cycle of shit critic / shit game from opposite sides. I'm just saying that games already exist that deserve an audience, and that Heather Chaplin and Spike TV are alike in not providing them with one.
posted by kid ichorous at 11:38 AM on April 10, 2009 [6 favorites]


Ther'es plenty of great games criticism out there:

Rock Paper Shotgun

Fidgit.com

Brainy Gamer

Play This Thing.

Braid Blog (Currently down cause PC demo was just released)

Action Button Dot Net
posted by empath at 3:01 PM on April 10, 2009


Comparing games to architecture only sort of degrades both, since there are no comparable givens in "game space" to riff off of (rather the givens precede the idea of spatial simulation) and there are background contexts and contingencies in the real world which architecture needs to recognise and engage in order to preserve its poetry and vitality (it's not as straightforward as exporting from worldbuilder).

I think the comparison of games to architecture holds a lot of promise. When I think of the moments in games that have really transported me, they are mostly amazingly designed environments rather than moving narratives.

It think the "real world" constraint that gaming environments have which is equivalent to the ones that lift architecture out of solipsism is this: game environments have to be fun. Ico's castle is beautiful, but all the beauty is bent to the purpose of creating fun challenges for the player to navigate. It's that combination of beauty and function that makes Ico a work of art.
posted by straight at 3:18 PM on April 10, 2009


Worth a mention: Beneath a Steel Sky is free on gog.com. Windows only. Of note is Dave Gibbons (best known as the artist and co-creator of Moore's Watchmen) on the background art. An introductory comic by Gibbons is included with the download.

Empath, I like the discussion of voice acting on BG. And I'll always love RPS for covering Troika's Bloodlines (which still has legs, damnit). I refuse to come to grips with Troika's demise.
posted by kid ichorous at 8:40 PM on April 10, 2009


Kid Icharus:

Yeloson neither identified clear-cut instances of racism nor took any pains to connect them with the topic at hand.

Huh. Didn't realize I had to lay out a massive proof for a topic that's shown up everywhere from Kotaku to the Escapist.

The connection is that people often confuse a) "Games as Art", b) "Games for Adults", c) "Games with Serious Topics" and d) "Games that don't identify all things to be killed by skin color or female protagonist's ability by bra size".

You can have D without thinking at all about A, B, or C. And technically, it should be "easier" to do, after all, "it's only a game" as people are fond of saying.
posted by yeloson at 10:24 PM on April 10, 2009


yeloson: Let me shift this to fantasy and sci-fi writers, because I think these same four categories apply. The are two kinds of problems with D:

The first occurs when D fails to account for A, and strikes Tolkien from the list for its connectedness to the Niebelungenlied and the national epic. Sometimes the value of rendering a mythology intact takes precedence over bad or retrograde politics. The Vedas, after all, commingle slavery and cosmology at such resolution that I (one-semester layman here) see no separating the two without destroying the fabric, transmuting it to an inert New Age. But we can still read them intact (or a fantasy based on them) without reducing it to either a challenge to the modern state or an iron-age farce. There is good racist art; either this, or there has not been good art for most of human civilization.

The second happens if D isn't aware of a LeGuin, or Delany, or Vonnegut, or any writer occupying both class A and D. And in this case, it grinds itself to nothing on Amazon Goddess pulp (or homages or send-ups thereof, some of which are decent) without ever championing the kind of works it wants to.

I'm not opposed to D except when it trips over both A and itself. I responded badly to your initial comment because the internet has primed me, like a sleepwalking killer, to explode at the utterance of the word knapsack.

This is an enormous thread.
posted by kid ichorous at 11:54 PM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh and not the Fritz Lang Niebelungenlied, I mean the poem.
posted by kid ichorous at 11:57 PM on April 10, 2009


jamjam:
On the Odyssey, the reason greek myths look so much like video games has to do with the evolution of role-playing games and their influence on video gaming. D&D stole from many literary sources, including the more action-oriented Greek epics. D&D then, over time, soaked through much of the fabric video gaming. Of course, it helps that the epics themselves are awesome. It's possible for a game to be influenced by them directly, without tracing the line through RPGs.

I have long thought that a kind of randomized Odyssey simulator would be a great game to play. I've even gone and tried designing it a bit, although so far my efforts haven't been entirely satisfactory. Still, maybe some day....
posted by JHarris at 2:00 PM on April 11, 2009


Kid Ichorous:

Regarding that list of games, I've played some and own some and had heard of a few more, but I'm not a games critic, just someone who likes games. I'll try to track down some of the others, but I'm on a Mac (which should give you some idea of my level of devotion to gaming). I do think that something that distinguishes gaming from music and movies is the sheer amount of time spent on it—I know that playing FFXII at a moderately completist pace took over 120 hours. That's three weeks worth of playing as if it were a job, though I think I did it in around two months.

"The first occurs when D fails to account for A, and strikes Tolkien from the list for its connectedness to the Niebelungenlied and the national epic. Sometimes the value of rendering a mythology intact takes precedence over bad or retrograde politics. The Vedas, after all, commingle slavery and cosmology at such resolution that I (one-semester layman here) see no separating the two without destroying the fabric, transmuting it to an inert New Age. But we can still read them intact (or a fantasy based on them) without reducing it to either a challenge to the modern state or an iron-age farce. There is good racist art; either this, or there has not been good art for most of human civilization."

But, to take particular issue with your final statement, I can't think of any work that is good because it is racist. Racism and sexism undermine works, they're distractions from the overall piece. It's similar to seeing biblical characters discuss physical phenomena with stupid magical thinking. And when we talk of ambition, of striving, why envision a pinnacle so encumbered by the weight of the past, uncritically rendered? And when talking about games as a whole, to use an analogy that exceeds in prevalence, it feels like being told that YouTube comments include total brilliance. Yeah, sure, it's possible, but I don't relish wading through to find them.

And your aversion to knapsacks is more your problem than anything that should be generalizd as a comment on knapsacks.
posted by klangklangston at 6:09 PM on April 11, 2009


Eh? Every single Knapsacker thread has bee stuffed full of Knapsackers condemming decent works for their real or perceived racist/sexist slights.
posted by Artw at 8:20 PM on April 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar but sometimes a cigar is a symbol of the oppressions of the patriarchy.
posted by Kattullus at 9:03 PM on April 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Eh? Every single Knapsacker thread has bee stuffed full of Knapsackers condemming decent works for their real or perceived racist/sexist slights."

Again, I see reactions from white dudes to that criticism going like, "That was a decent X, aside from that racism/sexism which was pretty fucking lame."
"What do you mean that was lame? I love that X!"

It's like, the Grand Theft Auto series is classic, except that the controls in each of them are pretty crap compared to most other third-person video games. You have to reorient yourself, especially if you play a lot of FPS games, where the controls are a lot more intuitive. By the time you've spent, say, four hours on the fame, you aren't distracted by it anymore, but it's still there.

And if you come at it from a perspective that's not used to that all the time, it can be enough where you're like, fuck it, I don't feel like playing this. (Which is how I feel about Gran Tourismo and a lot of other racing games—the controls aren't like driving, and I can't ever really put myself into it enough to win.)
posted by klangklangston at 10:19 PM on April 11, 2009


But, to take particular issue with your final statement, I can't think of any work that is good because it is racist. Racism and sexism undermine works, they're distractions from the overall piece.

Yeah, that's frequently true. It can jolt you right out of the page. I think there are some noteworthy exceptions, like Pulp Fiction, where the epithets unspool not as authentic racism but as a seedy VHS transfer. It's not fondness or nostalgia for any bygone society, only for its exploitation cinema.

But there is decent art where part of the driving force is genuine anger, racism, or misanthropy, and I'm not sure how much of them could survive modern politics. A Robert Graves less misogynist would not have hit us with charmers like "man does, woman is," true; but neither would he have given us The White Goddess. A Lovecraft less xenophobic might conceive of terrors less alien. Much of Amiri Baraka's work, as some would have it, would be gone. And while his poetry (less so his superior prose) sometimes cries out for an editor (Schneider's leroy is beautiful subtraction), I prefer to leave that to the poets, not to the Anti-Defamation League. Baraka's first job is, as Rosenthal put it, to "enchant the ear." That some poems fail to enrich the mind is a lesser sin, I think. That's not really the poet's job, even if it is his failure.

And then there really is something also to be said for reading the spillage of twisted minds. While Vonnegut's humanism is adorable, not being a teenager anymore I've come to find it occasionally insufferable. Sometimes the page is sullied by an excess of purity. Sometimes I want the ability to read something I can revolt at, and then the author's vice is not a defect but a dare: How far can you stand to think? Between all the sanctimony and straight backs of Rand's Atlas or Diego Rivera's murals I think there's room for less preachy evils. How far can you get in the godawful 120 Days of Sodom or Justine? It's electric, like holding a spider - every reflex wants to fling it across the room.

And your aversion to knapsacks is more your problem than anything that should be generalized as a comment on knapsacks.

Well, we all have our aversions to certain kinds of shorthands and magical thinking. I've never been forced to live among evangelical Christians, so while I grasp the enormity of their mayhem I don't have any emotional stake in toppling their house of cards. Other people need to do exactly this now and then to keep sane; they become secular humanists, or roadies for Richard Dawkins, or whatever. What I consider the more defective tenets of knapsack are things that I have trouble seeing without responding to in red pen.
posted by kid ichorous at 4:24 AM on April 12, 2009


I'll try to track down some of the others, but I'm on a Mac (which should give you some idea of my level of devotion to gaming).

Me too. The nice thing is that you really don't need much of a PC (i.e. less than $250) to play anything but the most modern games. If you're on an x86 Mac, of course, there's always Bootcamp.

I do think that something that distinguishes gaming from music and movies is the sheer amount of time spent on it—I know that playing FFXII at a moderately completist pace took over 120 hours. That's three weeks worth of playing as if it were a job, though I think I did it in around two months.

True, but a series like The Wire or Deadwood takes around 50 hours to watch end to end. I'm not sure any game except Torment ever took me that long, but I wanted to ferret out every piece of the story. I stay away from FF for exactly that reason.
posted by kid ichorous at 4:51 AM on April 12, 2009


I've probably put a hundred or more hours into Ikaruga, on three different consoles, and, as far as I can tell, the story mainly involves being blown up over and over.
posted by box at 10:55 AM on April 12, 2009


I know nobody's reading this anymore but the topic of art and games is one I find absolutely fascinating, and one point I'd like to make: it should be much, much easier to play old games than it is now. To watch a classic old movie, you get the DVD, pop it in, boom. To play an old game (if even possible) you have to get the simulator, DL a torrent (or attempt to actually buy the cartridge/dump the ROM or find the cd or whatever, if it even exists) and even then you might be stymied if it requires a lot of configuration. Like, I've always wanted to play System Shock 2, but I don't have the time to sit there tweaking DOSBox. It should come in a prepackaged one-click executable...

basically what I'm saying is, we need the criterion collection for games.

(admittedly the situation is much better for consoles; pc games are the worst in this regard)

also would love to see more commentary tracks like for portal

and yeah portal is the game i'm dying to play the most, but my pc graphics card is crapped out.... I wish there were a mac version. I don't have Boot Camp unfortunately.

here's my notebook on games as art... someday to be an essay, or maybe not, but so much keeps happening.
posted by jcruelty at 9:31 AM on April 15, 2009


jcruelty - check out Gametap and Steam.
posted by Artw at 9:45 AM on April 15, 2009


also goodoldgames.com
posted by shmegegge at 11:12 AM on April 15, 2009


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