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July 6, 2010 5:57 AM   Subscribe

Nevertheless, many of the gamers I encounter report the same experience of feeling as if they have engaged in some kind of transgression. There’s often a sense of guilt that comes with tales of gaming exploits, as if games were a vice or a character flaw, a symptom of one kind or another. [...] So my cards are on the table: I’m going to offer some alternative, positive descriptions. This analysis will show how video games have inspired artists, transformed rags into riches, given purpose to empty lives, and entertained bored people on a Sunday afternoon. We’ll see how games turned young people into heroes and how gaming has enabled the realization of previously unimaginable ambitions. We’ll see how games can make us better people, how they dissolve the horrors of boredom—and how they can function as propaganda for a wide range of worthy and unworthy causes.
This Gaming Life by Jim Rossignol (of Rock, Paper, Shotgun) is a book about gaming, gamers, and how they affect each other - available in full and for free under a Creative Commons licence.
posted by Electric Dragon (121 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
Rock, Paper, Shotgun is probably the best gaming blog around. I'll dig into the book sometime tonight.
posted by Harald74 at 6:02 AM on July 6, 2010


Man, I was JUST coming here to post this.
posted by empath at 6:18 AM on July 6, 2010


Sounds pretty great...except for the "relieving boredom" stuff. That's the kind of argument you give for reading romance novels or watching stupid action movies, neither of which subgenres people associate with Art much.
posted by DU at 6:20 AM on July 6, 2010


> That's the kind of argument you give for reading romance novels or watching stupid action movies...

Relieving boredom is one of humankind's noblest impulses. Hell, I bet art was invented one rainy afternoon when somebody was sitting around in a cave bored out of their caveperson mind.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:31 AM on July 6, 2010 [6 favorites]


I did not claim that romance novels, stupid action movies or relieving boredom in general is not art. Nor does that disclaimer mean I think they are art. I am taking no position on the Meaning of Art.

My point is that if you want to convince people that video games are art, saying "well, it beats cleaning the hall closet on Sunday afternoon" is a suboptimal argument.
posted by DU at 6:39 AM on July 6, 2010


My point is that if you want to convince people that video games are art, saying "well, it beats cleaning the hall closet on Sunday afternoon" is a suboptimal argument.

I don't really want to convince anybody of any such thing. But if I blow an entire afternoon playing WoW with my son, it doesn't hold the same currency as if I did the same at Yankee Stadium or some such. Which doesn't to me make any sense - it's just as ephemeral.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:53 AM on July 6, 2010


Or even if you watched TV with him, which is even less like actually doing something in every way.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:54 AM on July 6, 2010


My point is that if you want to convince people that video games are art..

Meh, close-minded old people are eventually gonna die, and everybody else is gonna grow up thinking games are more culturally relevant than film and television.
posted by empath at 6:59 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


But if I blow an entire afternoon playing WoW with my son,

Probably more like spending the day playing slots or betting on horses than watching a baseball game.
posted by empath at 7:00 AM on July 6, 2010


Fair enough, I know what you're saying. It's just that "Well, it beats cleaning the hall closet on Sunday afternoon" works just as well as an excuse to listen to a Duke Ellington album or watch a Kurosawa film as it does for an afternoon spent playing GTA. But, yeah, part of the reason video games have such a hard time garnering respect is that a lot of people regard them as mindless diversions and nothing more.

Not that there's anything wrong with mindless diversions.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:02 AM on July 6, 2010


I don't really want to convince anybody of any such thing.

Maybe not, but the linked article does.
posted by DU at 7:03 AM on July 6, 2010


Yeah, the "are games Art" discussion is down the hall; this seems so far more of a "are games a legitimate leisure activity" thesis.

I was steeped in games from such a young age that I would have a hard time every feeling shameful about them. Trying to give me trouble about it is just begging for an impromptu long-form discussion about what I think is genuinely interesting about whatever I've been playing lately, so god help you if you can dish it out but can't take it. There is so much to be said about games, classic and contemporary, and what makes them engaging and worth as much of my time in their own ways as any TV show or light fiction or ballgame.

I'm lucky that none of my good friends are casual anti-gaming snobs; those that play regularly know where I'm coming from, and those that don't either don't because they haven't got the time or can articulate their own disinterest in or disinclination toward gaming in practical terms more thoughtful and less dismissive than e.g. "video games are a waste of time" or "video games are for kids". But those attitude are absolutely out there and sort of vexing the same way anti-comics sentiment often is.
posted by cortex at 7:09 AM on July 6, 2010


RPS is a well-written blog, but I don't understand the preoccupation with the idea that games have to be rationalized as art or even as something more than they are, which is escapist entertainment. These arguments only appeal to people who already play games. But if you already play them, why is it important for someone to offer "alternative, positive descriptions" of them?

What is this anxiety that gamers feel about their hobby that drives them to argue so vociferously that what they are actually doing when they play games is so much more than what it looks like they are doing? Are gamers struggling with accepting the notion that playing games is on par with watching movies? Are gamers trying to convince themselves that the playing of the game is itself the important work?

I wonder if the real audience for these kinds of arguments is not simply people who play games, but people who play them a lot, for hours a day. If that's the case, I submit that playing games for hours a day is exactly the same as watching TV for hours a day. Maybe a few of those hours per week are spent in the absorption of some worthwhile culture, but the rest of it is soap operas and Knight Rider.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:10 AM on July 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


Hurrah! I love RPS and I like Jim Rossignol; I'll dump this on the hacked psp legitimate e-book reader for later.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 7:18 AM on July 6, 2010


RPS is a well-written blog, but I don't understand the preoccupation with the idea that games have to be rationalized as art or even as something more than they are, which is escapist entertainment.

Trying to lump games into one category is pretty stupid, IMO.
posted by empath at 7:22 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Should have previewed: There is so much to be said about games, classic and contemporary, and what makes them engaging and worth as much of my time in their own ways as any TV show or light fiction or ballgame.

Do you see how low you set the bar there? Of course games are as worth while as most TV shows, movies, light fiction, etc. I'm going to table the "ballgame" because I'm not sure if you meant playing one or watching one outside or if you meant watching one on TV.

The problem is that most TV, and movies and books are garbage. They are, at this time, well executed and well produced garbage, but that that is still what they are. Look, I looked the movie Avatar, right? But the reason I liked it is precisely because it's junk food perfected. But it isn't La Dolce Vita or M. It isn't 2001. But there are maybe 25 films as good as those three, so it's a forgivable shortcoming.

The problem games have is (a) nearly every single one of them released into the market is only trying to hit this low bar, and (b) no one can even define specifically how a game can aspire to more, which is not the case for other media.

You're going to die, we all are. Tick tock tick tock. It's okay if you want to spend your time watching reruns of Who's the Boss or Magnum PI, and it's not even up to me to say what is okay for you. What I don't like is people trying to convince me that by watching Who's the Boss or Magnum PI, I'm somehow doing important work or that those are great cultural artifacts.

Because by making that argument, you are essentially pre-emptively arguing against the audience asking themselves the question "Is this all there is?"
posted by Pastabagel at 7:23 AM on July 6, 2010


DU: Actually, I don't think the author is doing that at all, only arguing that games are valuable and can do good things for us. Searching for discussion of art, I find:
For the purposes of this text, I think that the issue of whether games constitute art can be safely ignored. I think this partly because there are so many other reasons to value games and partly because, as Condon insists, “the question of what is considered art (or not art) hasn’t been relevant since 1929, when Duchamp put a urinal on the wall.” Condon argues: “It is about context. Call it art, whatever it is, and I will accept it and will discuss it as such.” I feel the same way.
Pastabagel: There is something of a moral panic going on in regards to video games. This isn't the first such moral panic. We can track the diffusion of chess across the Islamic world and into Europe by the written laws and sermons forbidding it, and my crazy grandmother was one of those old biddies who forbid any card games because it might lead to gambling. (I half suspect that the old joke about Baptists forbidding sex standing up because it might lead to dancing was true for her.) So we need positive press to counteract the sensationalistic and irresponsible negative press that surrounds video games.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:23 AM on July 6, 2010


The problem games have is (a) nearly every single one of them released into the market is only trying to hit this low bar, and (b) no one can even define specifically how a game can aspire to more, which is not the case for other media.

You're really just displaying your own ignorance of the medium and of modern games criticism here. There are games which are widely considered within the field to be art, and that's really all that matters. Games critics are competent to define what counts as art within their purview, book critics are qualified to define art in their field and so on.

99% of everything is garbage, it's the job of the critics to show us the diamonds in the rough.
posted by empath at 7:27 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


One of the interesting facets Rossignol touches on is the way emergent patterns happen in the interaction between gamers and game. For instance, in the space MMO EVE, a player could not warp jump directly to a space station, but instead had to jump to a point some distance away. Some canny gamers worked out that if you specified the coordinates of a different point to compensate for this, you could jump directly to the space station - so they compiled them into ingame bookmark files and started selling them - making quite a lot of ingame money.
posted by Electric Dragon at 7:28 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, given the availability of modern recording devices, one could spend hours a day watching the best "art" the TV & Film industry has to offer & it would take a couple of years before you started falling off the bottom of the 'must watch' lists that get put up by the cognoscenti every now and again.

I don't think the games industry has yet reached the point where it has sufficient depth to support that level of investment of time before you're just repeating old experiences; it's a young industry. If you spent all your leisure time watching movies in the 1930s, I suspect the amount of dross you'd have to put up with would be considerable; a 20 year old medium just doesn't have the quantity of output to match one that's a century old.

ISTR reading an article which commented that when the first novels were published, similar opprobrium was piled upon them; that reading novels was a waste of time & would result in an enervated population unable to do anything useful with themselves, that it gave people misguided ideas about the world etc etc. Cue latinate quotes about change & similarity.
posted by pharm at 7:31 AM on July 6, 2010


Pastabagel: The problem games have is (a) nearly every single one of them released into the market is only trying to hit this low bar, and (b) no one can even define specifically how a game can aspire to more, which is not the case for other media.

I disagree on both counts.

In regards to (a) the phrase "nearly every single one" is a nice little bit of weasel-wording that gives you the option of backpeddling like mad in the face of counter-examples. I'll suggest that game design has substantially evolved over the last three decades to reduce the emphasis on reflexive twitch and reward cognitive strategies, while getting rid of cruft that isn't essential to gameplay.

(b) Is demonstrably false, as the higher-level critics of games do liberally talk about concepts like flow, immersion, progressive challenge, discoverability, and alternate strategies.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:32 AM on July 6, 2010


Pastabagel: I don't see how your criticisms couldn't be leveled at virtually every single medium of art, pastime, or activity you care to name. Novels? Check. Film? Check. Music? Check.

You're quite wrong about no-one being able to define how a game can aspire to more, of course, which is probably why you're wrong about everything else.
posted by Justinian at 7:36 AM on July 6, 2010


I looked down at the frayed edges of my notebook and wondered how long all this could go on. How long could I hold down a job when my mind was lost in gaming? Was I lying to myself about even trying to be a journalist?

Soon thereafter the crucial moment came to pass. My manager, Richard, sat me down and fixed me with a clouded look. He had, he assumed, some bad news: “We’re going to have to let you go.”


I wonder how many people are out there who cannot pull themselves out of this spiral? Gaming addiction, and the destructive effect on families and society may not be worth the license to game at the exclusion of life. This man is lucky.

Pogo_Fuzzybutt, I cannot think of a broad equivalence, functional or otherwise, between the activities of Internet gaming and going to a baseball game. Both are "ephemeral", but certainly not the same. For instance, a cough and a sneeze are certainly ephemeral, but one wouldn't suggest a cough and a sneeze are equivalent. The things that pass us by, the "ephemeral" activites that make up our days are in large part our life. Don't make the mistake of thinking you can replace any of them with gaming. You can, however, choose to game at the exclusion of these other activities, And for those sad few choose to dwindle away to to a wreck of a life. Not everyone has friends to help them turn around like the author here.
posted by kuatto at 7:40 AM on July 6, 2010


The interesting thing about games is that they literally contain every other art form.

Are films art? Then any game with a cut scene must contain art.

Are short stories art? Than any game with text based narrative must contain art.

Is painting art? Than any game with art assets hung on a virtual wall must contain art.

Is music art? Than any game with a sound track must contain art.

Is architecture art? Than any game with buildings must contain art.

And so on.

I'll posit a theoretical game here:

Your character lives in Manhattan -- your day begins by going down to central park and watch a busker or a mime perform, then you take a stroll through a virtual MOMA. In the afternoon, you catch a matinee of Citizen Kane at the local theater. At night, you check out a show on Broadway, performed by CGI characters. At night, you go back to your characters apartment and curl up with a novel.

Maybe in the mean time your character is trying to solve a mystery involving these locations, too.

At which point in that theoretical game were you experiencing actual art?
posted by empath at 7:43 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Do you see how low you set the bar there? Of course games are as worth while as most TV shows, movies, light fiction, etc.

Tell that to folks who think otherwise. There's a difference between "Dan Brown? Really?" and "Reading books? Really?" That's where the notion of games being treated as essentially inherently unworthy adult leisure activities comes in. In a lot of folks eyes, they do not pass that low bar of being something that you can legitimately choose to engage in regardless of whether (as with TV, books, movies, etc) the quality varies and a lot of it is not particularly great.

The problem games have is (a) nearly every single one of them released into the market is only trying to hit this low bar, and (b) no one can even define specifically how a game can aspire to more, which is not the case for other media.

There are lots of games trying for something higher than that. There are lots that aren't, particularly. I don't know what sort of specific definition you're hoping for about how a game can try to be more than purely distracting pablum, it's possibly your standards for such a definition do make it impossible to formulate, but in the mean time plenty of people have taken the time to discuss the nature and quality of good game design and well-constructed gaming experiences in terms of what makes them interesting and successful media experiences.
posted by cortex at 7:43 AM on July 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


kuatto: Gaming addiction, and the destructive effect on families and society may not be worth the license to game at the exclusion of life.

Why the assumption that gaming and "life" are exclusive?

Don't make the mistake of thinking you can replace any of them with gaming.

Yes, my life is definitely much less rich for spending my spare time on something that demands active cognitive engagement rather than just flipping channels on the TV.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:45 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


As I've gotten older, I've gotten better and better at identifying what I should be doing with any given block of time and then doing it. I never identify playing a video game as the thing that I should be doing with any given block of time...so I don't play video games anymore unless I'm not following through on actions that I see as furthering my interests.

If your priorities involve video games, then it's great if you play them, but I think often the backlash against video games comes from people like me who only play them 'by mistake'. I've posted on Metafilter a lot less in the last year, and played far fewer games, and read an eighth of the books that I've read in years past, but I'm in the best shape of my life, I've turned myself into a reasonably good cook, I've spent a ton of time with my wife and family and in my community, and I'm twice as good at my job.

I think people just need to identify their priorities and follow through on them, and that's really hard...video games can be a scapegoat for that.
posted by Kwine at 7:46 AM on July 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Don't make the mistake of thinking you can replace any of them with gaming. You can, however, choose to game at the exclusion of these other activities, And for those sad few choose to dwindle away to to a wreck of a life.

How do you spend your leisure time?
posted by empath at 7:48 AM on July 6, 2010


Kwine: As I've gotten older, I've gotten better and better at identifying what I should be doing with any given block of time and then doing it.

As I've gotten older, I've become more and more skeptical that our lives should be filled from end to end with things we should do. Leisure time is an intrinsic good.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:49 AM on July 6, 2010 [13 favorites]


What is this anxiety that gamers feel about their hobby that drives them to argue so vociferously that what they are actually doing when they play games is so much more than what it looks like they are doing?

Maybe because a large majority of mainstream media sources (and by extension the parents, friends and often partners of today's adult gamer) have an idea of computer games that has settled visually and thematically on Mario and Sonic (or Pong, depending on the last time they looked). This lack of awareness of the fidelity, depth and entertainment value of modern gaming means that they are near-universally derided as childish wastes of time. As opposed to, say, staring at a TV for four hours a day.

It gets kind of old being told constantly that something you take pleasure in marks you out as some kind of childish cretin. Especially when the leisure activities of the majority of people saying this are equally cretinous if you apply standards of 'usefulness' and 'personal growth' to them. Seriously, I've met people who seem actively offended that I'm a gamer, as if I represent some kind of threat to them. I'm kind of past getting worked up about it at this stage, but I can totally understand the defensive responses it creates in gamers at large, especially as the average age of gamers steadily climbs.
posted by Happy Dave at 7:50 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Leisure time is an intrinsic good.

Yes, exactly! It took me a while but I finally realized that the only way to "waste time" is by doing something you hate doing. You may be watching some crappy TV show, but if you're really into it you're not wasting time.

The guy who spends 24 hours a day working his ass off on various self-improvement projects because he doesn't want to waste time ends up just as dead and buried as the guy who plays a lot of video games. And he probably didn't enjoy his life nearly as much.
posted by Justinian at 7:53 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


KirkJobSluder, You have betrayed yourself? What suggestion is this that the only alternative is watching tv? That is the weakest alternative there is.

Also, the exclusion arises in this sense: When gaming you are choosing to, in my opinion, exclude the more wholesome aspects of life. You suggest that leisure is a value that is to be upheld. Well, there are a whole series of consequences to this attitude. Perhaps leisure is valuable, but we should never lose sight of the goal.
posted by kuatto at 7:54 AM on July 6, 2010


I'll suggest that game design has substantially evolved over the last three decades to reduce the emphasis on reflexive twitch and reward cognitive strategies, while getting rid of cruft that isn't essential to gameplay.

That's nice. Are you suggesting that there are games released into the market that are not aiming for mass-appeal and substantial commercial success by offering the standard tropes as well?

Pastabagel: I don't see how your criticisms couldn't be leveled at virtually every single medium of art, pastime, or activity you care to name. Novels? Check. Film? Check. Music? Check.

Exactly. They can be. Most games are like most music, novels, etc. The problem is there aren't enough "works of art" in gaming to compare to the those other media. Either the field is too new, or there is some technical limitation that people haven't yet synthesized.

(b) Is demonstrably false, as the higher-level critics of games do liberally talk about concepts like flow, immersion, progressive challenge, discoverability, and alternate strategies.

Not even remotely what I was talking about. You are talking about mechanics. Shitty movies today have great mechanics--sound design, editing, visual effects, competent actors--. They are still terrible. Why?

It seems like everyone wants to have the "are games art" argument. I said at the outset games are equivalent to books, tv, movies, etc. I'm not having that argument, but maybe people need to flush their argument buffers from the last Ebert thread. My argument was with others proposing arguments that playing games--any games, not simply the few that critics consider art--is something important. It isn't.

If there are 20 games that are the high art of the medium, there's a good chance that I've already played them if they are more than five or six years old. But I am also aware that games do not have the cultural impact that a books or a film has on the society as a whole. Maybe this is entirely due to the youth of the medium: the atari 2600 came out only 32 years ago. Maybe not.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:57 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Maybe because a large majority of mainstream media sources (and by extension the parents, friends and often partners of today's adult gamer) have an idea of computer games that has settled visually and thematically on Mario and Sonic (or Pong, depending on the last time they looked).

Something I've complained about over and over is that it's 2010, and it's time for the media to find out about violent video games other than Doom.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:57 AM on July 6, 2010


Perhaps leisure is valuable, but we should never lose sight of the goal.

To die with the best body, most money, and largest house?

To get the high score, in other words?
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:59 AM on July 6, 2010 [7 favorites]


When gaming you are choosing to, in my opinion, exclude the more wholesome aspects of life.

That's a lot of work to make the word "wholesome" do. You may want to unpack it, a lot, if you want it to be a meaningful statement.

it's time for the media to find out about violent video games other than Doom.

Hey, to be fair, they used to sort of lose their shit about Mortal Kombat, too.
posted by cortex at 8:03 AM on July 6, 2010


kuatto: You have betrayed yourself? What suggestion is this that the only alternative is watching tv? That is the weakest alternative there is.

Of course not. Read for content. But it is the alternative that's accepted as reasonable by most of the vocal critics of games.

Also, the exclusion arises in this sense: When gaming you are choosing to, in my opinion, exclude the more wholesome aspects of life.

How is an activity that demands solving problems with my mind not a wholesome activity?

And how is it exclusive of cooking, biking, walking, playing music, listening to music, writing stories, and reading stories, activities that I also engage in on a daily basis?

You suggest that leisure is a value that is to be upheld. Well, there are a whole series of consequences to this attitude. Perhaps leisure is valuable, but we should never lose sight of the goal.

What goal? My goal is to live happily and avoid burnout. Perhaps its because I come from a family of game-players, but play is an essential part of the lifestyle I want.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:05 AM on July 6, 2010


Also, the exclusion arises in this sense: When gaming you are choosing to, in my opinion, exclude the more wholesome aspects of life. You suggest that leisure is a value that is to be upheld. Well, there are a whole series of consequences to this attitude. Perhaps leisure is valuable, but we should never lose sight of the goal.

It must be strange to live a life so full of black and white absolutes. That's some seriously loaded labels you're applying there. What does 'wholesome' mean in your worldview?
posted by Happy Dave at 8:07 AM on July 6, 2010


Everything that I said was agnostic about what your priorities should be. You should just figure out what your priorities are and execute them. If you think that leisure time is an intrinsic good, then you should act on that. If you think spending 24 hours a day on self improvement is the most important thing, then you should act on that. If you really love video games then make them a priority and knock yourself out. If you sort of like video games then make it a priority to spend an hour a week on them or whatever. But I don't think it's controversial that a lot of people spend time on video games that they wish they spent on something else.

I'm not sure why either of you think that you are disagreeing with me. But it's not a priority for me to make myself any more clear than this, unfortunately.
posted by Kwine at 8:07 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


But I am also aware that games do not have the cultural impact that a books or a film has on the society as a whole.

Really? Which work of art set in Post Apocalyptic America do you think will have more of a lasting cultural impact? -- Fallout 3, The Road, or The Book of Eli?
posted by empath at 8:07 AM on July 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


When gaming you are choosing to, in my opinion, exclude the more wholesome aspects of life.

Only if you're doing it right! (rimshot)

Nah, I didn't think it was that funny either. But it beats taking such an assertion seriously. I mean, come on man! Wholesome?
posted by Justinian at 8:09 AM on July 6, 2010


Or maybe compare Grand Theft Auto IV to, any crime movie of the past 10 years.

Or Modern Warfare 2 to the Hurt Locker or Blackhawk Down.

I'm pretty sure that with rare exceptions, head to head, blockbuster games dwarf the cultural impact of blockbuster films and books.
posted by empath at 8:11 AM on July 6, 2010


If there are 20 games that are the high art of the medium, there's a good chance that I've already played them if they are more than five or six years old. But I am also aware that games do not have the cultural impact that a books or a film has on the society as a whole.

Are you over 40? I think you must be over 40.
posted by Justinian at 8:11 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


while getting rid of cruft that isn't essential to gameplay

What's your take on graphics?
posted by symbollocks at 8:12 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Pastabagel: That's nice. Are you suggesting that there are games released into the market that are not aiming for mass-appeal and substantial commercial success by offering the standard tropes as well?

Yes, or perhaps it should be more accurate to say that there is a market for well-crafted puzzle games that offer innovative developments.

Not even remotely what I was talking about. You are talking about mechanics. Shitty movies today have great mechanics--sound design, editing, visual effects, competent actors--. They are still terrible. Why?

Bwah? You're not making a lick of sense here. I'm talking about aesthetic goals that are as important to games as plot, characterization, narrative voice, and setting are to the novel. A game can be well-crafted on technical merits and still be terrible as a game.

My argument was with others proposing arguments that playing games--any games, not simply the few that critics consider art--is something important.

How are you defining, "important?"

But I am also aware that games do not have the cultural impact that a books or a film has on the society as a whole.

Pokemon and the character designs of Shigiru Miyamoto surpassed the Warner cartoon lineup sometime in the last decade. Chess long ago became more popular as a cultural idiom than as a pastime. The argument that games don't have cultural impact is a non-starter.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:17 AM on July 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


I would argue that game mechanics are the core of the art of games. The beauty and art of Deus Ex are as much in its extensive simulation and in the way that its mechanics interlock with each other and produce a greater whole.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:21 AM on July 6, 2010


symbollocks: What's your take on graphics?

A design decision. There are great games that consist of a black and white sheet of paper, anonymous pieces, and a pair of dice. There are great games that push the limits of computer hardware to deliver high-quality 3-D environments. There are great games in the spectrum in between.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:23 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Pogo_Fuzzybutt, I cannot think of a broad equivalence, functional or otherwise, between the activities of Internet gaming and going to a baseball game.

Then you aren't trying hard enough.

Look, my dad fishes. He loves fishing. He's very good at it, and basically works so he can afford to fish. It's sort of pointless - he's never going to get a raise or a promotion because he can find a walleye a five gallon bucket - but it turns his crank and makes him happy.

Personally, I can't see the appeal. It's boring, fish smell, there's bugs and so on. But it's not my thing. It's his thing.

I'm a gamer. I love gaming. I'm very good at it, and basically work so I can afford to game. It's sort of pointless - I'm never going to get a raise or a promotion because I got a server first Heroic Lich King kill - but it turns my crank and makes me happy.

I just don't get where people get off passing moral judgment on how I waste my free time.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:31 AM on July 6, 2010


Are games valuable. Are they art. Are they a waste of time. Are they wonderful.

We'll never agree on these...but, listen, the author lost his job because he was so addicted to gaming. I know plenty of artists, musicians and actors who hold down full-time jobs. (Therefore the phrase "Don't quit your day job.") Quitting a job in favor of an artistic career happens, but getting fired because you're spending too much time with a paint brush in your hand is pretty rare.

Games may be sublime works of art, beautifully designed tools for disposing of leisure time, and/or excellent pursuits to develop hand/eye coordination - and at the levels discussed in Jim's book, he would argue meta-cognitive abilities - but their capacity to ruin a marriage or a career is something to think about.

(No, I don't think this will be a very popular comment. But addiction to games to the detriment of "real life" is something the author himself brings up. I do not reflexively dislike games or their players.)
posted by kozad at 8:39 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


> But I am also aware that games do not have the cultural impact that a books or a film has on the society as a whole.

Books? Speaking as a librarian, I wish this were true but it is not. Video games may not be having the type of cultural impact that you'd like them to have, but in 2010 their influence definitely outweighs books (especially amongst youth, many of whom only read books when their teachers force them to).
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:45 AM on July 6, 2010


kozad: We'll never agree on these...but, listen, the author lost his job because he was so addicted to gaming.

I see it as more complex than that. Would we be calling it an "addiction" if he lost a job he hated and wasn't especially qualified to fill in favor of a full-time career in sports or music journalism? Or if he left a corporate job to become a blogger?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:48 AM on July 6, 2010


but, listen, the author lost his job because he was so addicted to gaming.

The author acknowledges a degree of uncertainty about that idea—whether he lost his job because of a crippling gaming addiction or whether gaming was the thing he escaped to because he hated his job.

That some people can develop unhealthy fixations on gaming is not under dispute. It can happen. The vast majority of people who play video games are not, however, glued-to-the-screen addicts. I don't know enough about Rossignol's life circa 2000 to prise apart the different factors in his life when he was loving Q3A and hating his job, but what he does describe in the opening of the book reads to me more as a story about unhappiness in is work and escapism and satisfaction in his play than a story about video games and financial journalism per se.

I know plenty of artists, musicians and actors who hold down full-time jobs.

Me too. I also know (mostly musicians) who don't hold down full-time jobs very well. Proportionally speaking, I know far, far more musicians-who-have-trouble-holding-a-job than I do the gamer variation, but I don't think that's an indictment of music as something people get obsessed with to the detriment of their ability to engage with real life.

their capacity to ruin a marriage or a career is something to think about.

Yes, but, again, so too anything else. This is not unique to games, nor is single-minded obsession with a hobby or avocation (games or otherwise) a typical example of engagement with that hobby.
posted by cortex at 8:52 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


But I am also aware that games do not have the cultural impact that a book or a film has on the society as a whole.
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posted by ecurtz at 8:59 AM on July 6, 2010 [6 favorites]


The concept of what wholesome is is quite ambiguous. But if we do not at least challenge our conceptions of it, we will atrophy as communities and a society. Leisure time is important, but not at the expense of health.

@Justinian
The guy who spends 24 hours a day working his ass off on various self-improvement projects because he doesn't want to waste time ends up just as dead and buried as the guy who plays a lot of video games. And he probably didn't enjoy his life nearly as much.


This smacks of nihilism.
posted by kuatto at 9:01 AM on July 6, 2010


This smacks of nihilism.

That doesn't make it wrong.

@Justinian

Please don't do that.
posted by Justinian at 9:08 AM on July 6, 2010


Pogo_Fuzzybutt,

it's interesting that you draw the comparison, then *immediately* distance yourself: "it's not my thing. It's his thing." Why is it not your thing if it is the same? Well the trick here is that you are confusing cause and effect. The principle cause of your happiness in leisure time can only be obliterated if you are the "crank to be turned."

Don't sell yourself that short.
posted by kuatto at 9:09 AM on July 6, 2010


Kuatto, you're making no sense.
posted by Happy Dave at 9:11 AM on July 6, 2010


The concept of what wholesome is is quite ambiguous. But if we do not at least challenge our conceptions of it, we will atrophy as communities and a society.

But if we keep referencing it without bothering to say anything substantial about what we mean or intend by it, the concept of what wholesome is in this conversation will remain too vague even to be discussed let alone challenged. In other words, do you have anything specific you mean by "wholesomeness" with regards to video games and leisure time?

it's interesting that you draw the comparison, then *immediately* distance yourself: "it's not my thing. It's his thing." Why is it not your thing if it is the same?

His precise point is that different people value different leisure activities, and that their differences of preference reveal not a conflict between more-correct and less-correct uses of spare time so much as a kinship in the idea of pursuing something you enjoy, regardless of its concrete output or lack thereof, as a natural part of life.
posted by cortex at 9:12 AM on July 6, 2010


@Happy\ Dave tl;dr version:

but it turns my crank and makes me happy.
-Pogo_Fuzzybutt

What is it that turns your crank? Turns out it doesn't matter!
posted by kuatto at 9:13 AM on July 6, 2010


This smacks of nihilism.

Well, what inherent meaning of life do you subscribe to? What objective standard do you measure the value of spent time by?

Because unless you have access to knowledge that the rest of us don't, and can peer into the cosmos and tell us what the ultimate meaning is, and what the standard that we can measure the value of spent time by is, you're pretty much stuck figuring out what you value and pursuing that. That is ultimately a nihilistic position- holding meaning to be human-created rather than inherent- and it's not exactly a rare one anymore.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:15 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


What is it that turns your crank? Turns out it doesn't matter!

So, if I'm reading this right, you think that people are selling themselves short if how they spend their free time does not match your values of what you define as wholesome, useful or worthwhile?
posted by Happy Dave at 9:18 AM on July 6, 2010


These are snack food ads from Russia. They are all based on mashing up NES-era video games. (I'm particularly fond of the Contra vs Tetris one, but those are both games I've played obsessively at one point or another.)

Video games are every bit as much a part- and every bit as influential a part- of our culture as movies, music, and books. Just there's a lot of old people whose ideas about video games were formulated as adults in the 1970's and never bothered to check in again.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:19 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]



it's interesting that you draw the comparison, then *immediately* distance yourself: "it's not my thing. It's his thing." Why is it not your thing if it is the same? Well the trick here is that you are confusing cause and effect. The principle cause of your happiness in leisure time can only be obliterated if you are the "crank to be turned."

I have to wonder if you're being deliberately obtuse - I didn't make the comparison until after I assigned value to his activity. In fact, I made the comparison in such a way as to highlight both the differences and the similarities between the activities.

My finer point being that my feeling that there is no value in an activity is necessary, but not sufficient, in finding that activity to be valueless.

I get that others may not see what I see in gaming. What I don't get is how to go from that assessment to moral judgment about gaming.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:27 AM on July 6, 2010


Happy Dave,

Nope. I'm suggesting that "what turns the cranks" is actually important! In what way it is important is up for debate, but that importance is real.

Art is real, and at the same time we can appreciate it and be affected by it, but we cannot use our imaginations to dissolve the cause of our appreciation and enjoyment. Artistic works do not denote an equivalence to baseball, fishing, or anything else.
posted by kuatto at 9:30 AM on July 6, 2010


kuatto: Artistic works do not denote an equivalence to baseball, fishing, or anything else.

And here, I find that the emphasis on the product rather than the process and community is a regrettable aspect of our modern life. I think we need more people doing art, no matter how bad, if we want to have people appreciate art.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:36 AM on July 6, 2010


Pogo_Fuzzybutt,

What is the sufficient condition such that you consider an activity valueless? I can't imagine it.


KirkJobSluder,

Right. My question is how can we dispel the myth that artistic works are meaningless and, worse yet, equivalent to watching TV or going to a baseball game or some other "meaningless" activity?
posted by kuatto at 9:43 AM on July 6, 2010


Q: WHAT IS ART

A: YOU ARE WRONG
posted by shakespeherian at 9:46 AM on July 6, 2010 [11 favorites]


Would we be calling it an "addiction" if he lost a job he hated and wasn't especially qualified to fill in favor of a full-time career in sports or music journalism?

Probably not, but I think there are two things worth noting about this . . .

1) I think there may be certain aspects of gaming that make them literally addictive in ways that say listening to music isn't. The reward structures and feedback loops and all that in many games, for example - these are perfect digital copies of the rat hitting the lever and getting an inconsistent, unpredictable reward. Anecdotally speaking, I used to put off urinating until it physically hurt when I was playing Civilization - I've never done that with a Radiohead record.

2) That said, there's no question there are culturally sanctioned obsessions and unsanctioned ones, and the unsanctioned ones get tossed much more quickly into the Behavioural Problem category.

I mean, I know many people - grown men with families in many cases - who spend almost every nonworking, nonsleeping moment watching pro sports live or on TV, talking or reading about sports, futzing with their fantasy league stats, etc. They slough off family and work commitments without a moment's thought. They spend thousands of dollars on merchandise and memorabilia. They force their kids to participate directly in the obsession, sometimes under considerable duress. It is, in extreme cases, the only thing they treat as sacrosanct. You might miss the kid's talent show, but no way in hell are you missing that meaningless early-season game.

I've been to weddings that were planned around college football schedules. I've got relatives who've planned every single vacation they've ever taken around golf. If I'd shown up late to the wedding and said I was lost in a game of Age of Empires or announced I would be spending seven days at an isolated resort doing nothing but playing GTA IV and socializing with other GTA obsessives, I'd be deemed sick. But if the reason was Notre Dame or an exquisitely tailored back nine, well, some people really love their sports, right?
posted by gompa at 9:47 AM on July 6, 2010 [5 favorites]


hah shakespeherian you answered your own question!
posted by kuatto at 9:49 AM on July 6, 2010


Yes, yes I did.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:55 AM on July 6, 2010


Right. My question is how can we dispel the myth that artistic works are meaningless and, worse yet, equivalent to watching TV or going to a baseball game or some other "meaningless" activity?

Kuatto, who appointed you Grand High Poobah And Arbiter Of Meaning? Why do you get to decide that the things which interest you are meaningful and wholesome while that which interests others is meaningless and loathsome?
posted by Justinian at 9:57 AM on July 6, 2010


Man, I have thoughts about this but I keep going back and chewing them over. Basically, I think games and gaming have a much bigger chance of mainstream acceptance under the label of 'sport' or 'competition' as opposed to 'art.'

Because games are, fundamentally, a competition. They can be won. I'm not sure art can be won. Despite Harold Bloom's best efforts, you can't 'win' at appreciating something.

This is not to say that video games are not art, but that I think we'd have a lot easier job justifying the time we spend on them if we compare them to sports.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:58 AM on July 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Video games are every bit as much a part- and every bit as influential a part- of our culture as movies, music, and books. Just there's a lot of old people whose ideas about video games were formulated as adults in the 1970's and never bothered to check in again.

Yep, that's me. (Get off my lawn.) I realized it would take an enormous investment of time and energy to become a gamer, so I lost interest.

I'm really trying to figure out, though, what aspect of "culture" is affected by video games. I know people spend a lot of time playing them. What happens in the intersection between games, gamers and society that is significant?

Just to be clear, despite my Ebert-like ignorance of gaming, I am not sure I could articulate what effect great movies or great books have on culture, either. Not as much as the internal combustion engine or the Internets, that's for sure.
posted by kozad at 9:58 AM on July 6, 2010


It's really, honestly, not just a matter of "old people don't get it", and trotting that out is the same type of blanket dismissal that the same people were up in arms about Ebert making. I'll try to formulate a proper response soon (I'm at work at the moment), but really, let's lay that one to rest.
posted by neuromodulator at 10:08 AM on July 6, 2010


Because unless you have access to knowledge that the rest of us don't, and can peer into the cosmos and tell us what the ultimate meaning is, and what the standard that we can measure the value of spent time by is, you're pretty much stuck figuring out what you value and pursuing that. That is ultimately a nihilistic position- holding meaning to be human-created rather than inherent- and it's not exactly a rare one anymore.

This is entirely true, and I think kuatto's posts contain a number of unexamined assumptions, but I do think he or she has a point in this: the concept of what wholesome is is quite ambiguous. But if we do not at least challenge our conceptions of it, we will atrophy as communities and a society. Leisure time is important, but not at the expense of health.

Nietzsche believed that there was no inherent value, yet he also made a distinction between active and passive nihilism -- between self-creation and the lack of it. I think it's entirely possible to play games in a self-creating way (e.g. some meta-gaming, some games journalism, or some of the stuff that goes on in EVE), and it is definitely possible to create games in a self-creating way, but I also think that the vast majority of gamers aren't doing either. They're simply spending time. Of course, that makes gaming no better or worse than the things the vast majority of non-gamers do to spend time, but I do think there's a useful distinction between the things we do which spend time and the things we do which create new meaning for us. Now, this is a personal sort of distinction -- I'm not saying WHAT I DO GOOD, WHAT YOU DO BAD -- but it is a distinction, and it's the kind of distinction which can make the difference between a life and a life of fulfillment.

In short: if meaning is human-created, then activities which create new meaning would seem to have meaning above and beyond those that don't. Going from "meaning is human-created" to "therefore everything I do has the same meaning as anything I could possibly choose to do, QED" requires a pretty blatant rejection of the idea that meaning is actually human-created.
posted by vorfeed at 10:26 AM on July 6, 2010


Because games are, fundamentally, a competition. They can be won. I'm not sure art can be won.

This isn't necessarily true, though. Not all games can be won, and for many that can, 'winning' just means completing the narrative. And that's just a function of the nature of the form-- it's interactive, and requires the player/audience to perform certain tasks in order to advance/explore/progress through the work.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:26 AM on July 6, 2010


Because games are, fundamentally, a competition. They can be won.

I agree with the point you are making - that games, generally are a leisure activity more akin to sports than a form of personal expression like painting. But not all games are competitive. As an avid Sims gamer, I spend a lot of time with a game in which there is no way to win or lose.

The culture around The Sims has provided some ways to win as gamers create various kinds of challenges that are either juried or provide rules and goals within the context of the game. People like to compete and win, I guess.

I know people spend a lot of time playing them. What happens in the intersection between games, gamers and society that is significant?
Well, some people spend a lot of time playing them. Some people play just occassionally, some people play regularly but for small amounts of time. It varies.

Games (or movies or books or tv shows) are created. They are promoted and sold (or otherwise distributed). Critics write about them. People play (or watch or read) them. They talk about them. Maybe they get very engaged and join discussion boards or blog about them. The more people who play, talk about and otherwise engage with the game, the more prevalent it becomes as part of the culture. Ways you may see this include those who do not play the game discussing the game, media coverage of the game, and allusions to the game in other media (tv shows, movies, advertising, books). Coverage of and/or allusions to the game may be predominantly in media that are targeted to groups who are most likely to play the game (leading other groups to assume that the impact of games on culture is minimal).
posted by jeoc at 10:31 AM on July 6, 2010


The Video-tronic Game does indeed threaten our society in an unwholesome way, threw its attacks upon the minds of our young people, especially the young gentlemen. The presence of Video-Gaming having gone on for some years unchecked, many of these gentlemen are come of age and continue to defend their childish behaviors, even though they should know better, realizing not their dissolution and decadence.

One cannot deny that it is the Duty and Joy of a citizen to struggle for the Increase of his People through Hard Work, Production of Offspring, and maintaining a Readiness to serve in War-time. This is the true, final measure of a citizen's worth. Tradition shouts this down countless generations.

But these Video-Gamers do not listen, taking heed only of the unnatural squawks and tinkles of the Video Screen, and speaking only of what latest distraction is on offer from the Electronickal Boutique, or to be delivered by Steam Packet. They endanger us all with their Foolishness.
posted by fleacircus at 10:48 AM on July 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


kuatto: Right. My question is how can we dispel the myth that artistic works are meaningless and, worse yet, equivalent to watching TV or going to a baseball game or some other "meaningless" activity?

I'm lost, who is arguing that any of these are meaningless?

gompa: 1) I think there may be certain aspects of gaming that make them literally addictive in ways that say listening to music isn't. The reward structures and feedback loops and all that in many games, for example - these are perfect digital copies of the rat hitting the lever and getting an inconsistent, unpredictable reward. Anecdotally speaking, I used to put off urinating until it physically hurt when I was playing Civilization - I've never done that with a Radiohead record.

I'll argue two things here. First, the idea that we can listen to music or watch sporting events that we're not directly involved in as either audience or participant is something of a socio-cultural anomaly. Secondly, I'd say that level of engagement and feedback is something that makes games potentially more powerful than other forms of mass media.

vorfeed: In short: if meaning is human-created, then activities which create new meaning would seem to have meaning above and beyond those that don't. Going from "meaning is human-created" to "therefore everything I do has the same meaning as anything I could possibly choose to do, QED" requires a pretty blatant rejection of the idea that meaning is actually human-created.

I'll suggest that critics of gaming should, I dunno, read the book that's free and available through the link and actually address the arguments the author makes that games do offer forms of meaning and value to the people who play them.

kozad: I'm really trying to figure out, though, what aspect of "culture" is affected by video games. I know people spend a lot of time playing them. What happens in the intersection between games, gamers and society that is significant?

Well, Yalom suggests that we can track the adoption of chess in Europe by the the stages of acceptance from laws against it to adoption of chess pieces as a metaphor for feudal social roles. Nintendo characters have surpassed Hanna-Barbara and Warner Brothers in terms of recognition. There certainly has been no lack of cinematic treatments of concepts related to video games (Tron, Avatar, Star Trek, Run Lola Run) in addition to video game movies.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:50 AM on July 6, 2010


I'll suggest that critics of gaming should, I dunno, read the book that's free and available through the link and actually address the arguments the author makes that games do offer forms of meaning and value to the people who play them.

Again, I said quite clearly that gaming can be a form of self-creation, and I'm certainly not calling it meaningless or valueless. I simply don't buy the idea that it's a form of self-creation for most gamers, any more than reading or watching television is a form of self-creation for most readers or TV watchers. Nor do I buy the idea that the value and meaning that gaming-as-a-time-spender (or reading-as-a-time-spender, or television-as-a-time-spender) offers is on a level with the value and meaning one creates through activities which aren't just time-spenders.
posted by vorfeed at 11:20 AM on July 6, 2010


You people trying to insist that art is this cookie-cutter system with Achievements (for art consumption) and Leaderboards (like Pastabagel's stupid "only 25 movies are as great as 2001" shtick) have been boring for about a century. We got over that tired definition of art when Duchamp put his urinal in an art gallery. And we got over it in music when Terry Riley wrote 53 snippets of music in C and handed them out to an orchestra.

If people spend time playing video games, it's culture.

If people spend time writing about video games, it's conceptual.

Also please stop assuming that just because they're called "games" they're meant to be won. Some games aren't games as much as they're sports. Some games are really just narratives with little puzzles in between. Just because some of them end doesn't mean you're "winning" them, unless you think you win every time you get to the end of a movie.
posted by Rory Marinich at 11:22 AM on July 6, 2010


I know people spend a lot of time playing them. What happens in the intersection between games, gamers and society that is significant?

I grew up in a family of game players. As a child I played chess, checkers, a multitude of board games, and when I got older, I was introduced to the games my folks really loved - cribbage, poker, rummy, pinochle...etc. I have spent many evenings playing Hearts with my friends and I consider it an evening very well spent. I play a LOT of pool. I also enjoy video gaming - my personal favorites are real-time strategy or plain old strategy, although I will enjoy a good sim for a while - but find the lack of structure a little daunting. I don't play many platformers, because I just don't have the twitch necessary to excel at them.

There's a common thread that runs through all of these seemingly dissimilar games - a need to discern a system of rules and to use these rules to win (or excel, or survive). This system is set up by people, and if you are playing a multiplayer game, it is affected by the people that you play with. Sure, it's important to know the concrete rules of Hearts, but it's the people that you play with, and learning their mode of play that raises the game from an abstract mental exercise to what we call a "game." Same with Pool - anyone who thinks that Pool is about getting the balls in the hole has never really played the game.

In a video game, you may not always play directly against other people - but in the end you are playing against a host of people, the ones who created the game logic, world, AI, etc. It's not so much learning the rules, it's learning the combined system and intent that makes it so engaging.

I find the trope that gaming is an activity for under-socialized losers hilarious. Gaming is at its heart an intensively social activity, and one that gives consistent rewards for accurately interpreting a human created system. To my mind, there's absolutely no wonder that many people prefer gaming to pointless small talk, but only as to why more people don't choose to play.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:27 AM on July 6, 2010


But if I blow an entire afternoon playing WoW with my son, it doesn't hold the same currency as if I did the same at Yankee Stadium or some such. Which doesn't to me make any sense - it's just as ephemeral.

I argue this is because of the ease of playing World of Warcraft. You probably already play it a lot, while baseball games are an event, one that involves contact with thousands of other people, vendors, sports teams, etc. If you made a road trip to some hotel to play World of Warcraft, because maybe they were the only place to get internet, it might provide the same kind of bonding experience.

But it isn't La Dolce Vita or M. It isn't 2001. But there are maybe 25 films as good as those three, so it's a forgivable shortcoming.

There are a lot more than that, you just are hardly ever brought into contact with them. The media chooses to ignore such things exist in favor of whatever trash is infesting the theater. They must be sought out, which, it is true, makes discovering and acquiring them into a little ritual.

Trying to lump games into one category is pretty stupid, IMO.

Well to be fair, they are all broadly the same kind of thing. There is potentially much greater room for variety in video games than in movies, but we rarely see it, although with the indie scene growing it's becoming more evident.


Pastabagel: There is something of a moral panic going on in regards to video games. This isn't the first such moral panic.

This is hardly unique to video games. I went to a church as a kid and, later, a private school where D&D was spoken of in hushed tones as if it were the handbook of the Great Grumbledook*. Later on when I discovered D&D it was in the 2E version, and even reading through those books there was that air of the obscene and forbidden about them from the church days. It took me many years to develop the cognitive distance from all that rubbish to look at the game realistically. I am exceedingly bitter about having to go through all that and being deprived of such a wonderful things back in the days when they were cool, and let me tell you I am not the only one.

*Blackadder reference. Means Satan.

At which point in that theoretical game were you experiencing actual art?

That is because video games are a collage; they are made of other forms of art presented together. That is, after all, what "multimedia" means. Movies are also a collage. Each individual part can definitely be art, but the question as it related to videogames as I understand it is, does bundling them in a video game add anything to them greater than the parts? I say the answer is definitely yes; the rules of a system themselves can be a form of artistic expression and players can participate in the creation of art in a game. (There are more examples, but I have to be brief right now.)

Video games may not be having the type of cultural impact that you'd like them to have, but in 2010 their influence definitely outweighs books (especially amongst youth, many of whom only read books when their teachers force them to).

If the book is the text, then most roleplaying games are not really that far from a book with an especially fancy presentation and cluttered up with a lot of rigmarole. (Not good books, by any stretch of the imagination.)
posted by JHarris at 11:48 AM on July 6, 2010


I actually think this link from a recent post here is a pretty amazing illustration of everything that is cool and good about gaming. And for that matter, it even overlaps with sports. I think it's pretty great - indeed, I would even call it wholesome - that the writer of the series of posts has created this incredible narrative and populated it with fictional characters. Obviously, he's a great writer in addition to being a nerd and a soccer nut, but he built this whole fictional world of Italian soccer because of what went on in his simulation.

Anyway, if you don't enjoy reading that, I don't think we'd get along very well.
posted by kavasa at 12:24 PM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Because games are, fundamentally, a competition. They can be won.

Not always. They can be finished, but so can books and movies.
posted by empath at 12:32 PM on July 6, 2010


They can be finished,

Not always! E.g. The Sims. One of the things that's so cool about games is how strongly they evade classification.
posted by breath at 12:55 PM on July 6, 2010


Yeah, there was no explicit end to The Sims 2. You just reached a point where the memory leaks and bugs made the neighborhood unplayable. Usually this took about a dozen generations though.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:56 PM on July 6, 2010


The book Rules of Play spends a few chapters on defining play and how play and games are related. If you ever feel like making broad generalizations about what games are or aren't, I suggest reading this book first.
posted by breath at 1:05 PM on July 6, 2010


I won at Silent Hill 2! Now to reap my rewar-- oh god, no!

now I has a sad
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 1:26 PM on July 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


I won at Silent Hill 2! Now to reap my rewar-- oh god, no!

Also a good point. There are some games that you cannot win, but that you can definitely lose.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:28 PM on July 6, 2010


I'm still not sure whether I won at Braid or not.
posted by Electric Dragon at 1:44 PM on July 6, 2010


I may be conflating my various experiences with iterations of The Sims, but don't your characters grow old and eventually die? And also don't they have ambitions and life goals they want fulfilled? They certainly have needs and meters that rise and fall with gameplay.

So wouldn't "winning" for The Sims be 'thriving and dying happy of old age?' In order to meet that goal, a Sim has to avoid dangers and pitfalls (and sometimes Drew Carey) that neither they nor their player have any control over but through repeated play can learn to master. The Sim itself has stats that can be built in order to help it thrive while the player learns strategies to help deal with common challenges.

So while Mario the Princess Rescuer has to deal with goombas, koopas, Bowser, and a bunch of bottomless pits in order to end the game successfully, Mario the Sim has to deal with plumbing disasters, fires, and making friends in order to end well.

Of course, The Sims has alternate styles of play, such as my preferred "visit pain and ruination upon Sim Job until he is left sobbing and alone locked in a burning closet haunted by the ghosts of his dead family." But then again Mario has something similar.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 2:30 PM on July 6, 2010


I won at Silent Hill 2! Now to reap my rewar-- oh god, no!

It's a complicated psychological horror story with thick symbolism, but it's somehow not art!
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:33 PM on July 6, 2010


But then again Mario has something similar.

I am at work and watching this video with the sound off so I can't even hear the profane soundtrack, but it is utterly hilarious.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:37 PM on July 6, 2010


The original Sims did not have aging, as I recall. It did have kids (not birth, per se, but, you know, magically appearing infants under proper domestic conditions or whatever), who would eventually turn into adults I think. It's been a long time, and my memories are probably mixed up with Sims 2 at this point too.

In any case, Sims was pretty unstructured in terms of arc of gameplay. Maybe a little less so than SimCity (where aside from scenario goals it was just pretty much March On, O Time while you fiddled with your city) and certainly less so than Tetris (where in the traditional formulation there is no diagetic win—you can at best put off losing long enough to get a high score).

And all of those are more unstructured than a typical RPG in terms of narrative endpoints, of course.

And in all cases I think the distinction between "winning" and "ending" is really worth looking at, because, as has been said already, nobody talks about winning at a movie or a book in the general sense. (Though in the specific sense of a Choose Your Own Adventure book, we get into interesting territory; in the case of the savvy viewer attacking a well-constructed mystery film or novel with early suppositions, you might consider yourself to have won if your suppositions are significantly correct and early. Etc.)

Games can contain an element of explicit winning (though I think that "beat" is a much, much more typically appropriate verb, if we have to pick one) but they don't necessarily need to be winnable so much as (usually) have an end point of some sort or another—at some point the game says, "okay, that's it. Unless you'd like to have another go..." So I think it's worth talking about, and describing games as "things you can win" is at best far too simple a comment on the dynamic of gameplay in general.
posted by cortex at 2:46 PM on July 6, 2010


Relieving boredom is one of humankind's noblest impulses. Hell, I bet art was invented one rainy afternoon when somebody was sitting around in a cave bored out of their caveperson mind.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:31 AM on July 6 [4 favorites +] [!]

As I've gotten older, I've become more and more skeptical that our lives should be filled from end to end with things we should do. Leisure time is an intrinsic good.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:49 AM on July 6 [10 favorites +] [!]

Yes, exactly! It took me a while but I finally realized that the only way to "waste time" is by doing something you hate doing. You may be watching some crappy TV show, but if you're really into it you're not wasting time.

The guy who spends 24 hours a day working his ass off on various self-improvement projects because he doesn't want to waste time ends up just as dead and buried as the guy who plays a lot of video games. And he probably didn't enjoy his life nearly as much.
posted by Justinian at 7:53 AM on July 6 [1 favorite +] [!]
Perhaps leisure is valuable, but we should never lose sight of the goal.
To die with the best body, most money, and largest house?

To get the high score, in other words?
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:59 AM on July 6 [6 favorites +] [!]


I presume many of you who praise leisure for its own sake find that there are many things badly wrong in this world. You could take this seriously, and dedicate a real effort to studying politics and rhetoric or engineering or whatever else that would bring you the following and/or the money to make a dent in the horror.

Or you could take another run at Deus Ex. Baton only!

If only efficient use of one's time wasn't just for the Dick Cheneys of this world...
posted by Anything at 2:58 PM on July 6, 2010


I believe that being conversant enough in the subject matter to make an on-the-nose reference to self-constrained Deus Ex runs automatically disqualifies you from a respectable How Dare You Not Spend Every Moment Of Your Life Making The World A Better Place chiding, fwiw.
posted by cortex at 3:06 PM on July 6, 2010 [7 favorites]


Ah, moralism. Just as appropriate and useful here as elsewhere.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:31 PM on July 6, 2010


Games can contain an element of explicit winning

What if instead of 'winning,' we say 'comparison?' If you play Tetris and I play Tetris, at the end of our games, we will have a clear way of comparing who was better at playing Tetris. The same could be said for The Sims, I think, if we look at simoleons on hand, net worth, or happiness levels.

I'm trying to think of a game that lacks this comparison aspect - multiplayer games have winners, solitary (and thus most video games) have some variation of points or score on top of having a hard ending. Even theoretically endless games like Tetris have a metric where you can compare one play session to another.

Is there a true equivalent of a child's sandbox?
posted by robocop is bleeding at 3:31 PM on July 6, 2010


The absurd message here was that the only reasons to avoid useless acitivies are selfish. I don't mind people taking leisure time but they shouldn't delude themselves and others that doing so they are not also losing opportunities that even they should consider truly worthwile.

The prevalence of this kind attitude among the very sort people whose effort the world could really use does drive me a bit crazy.
posted by Anything at 3:39 PM on July 6, 2010


The prevalence of this kind attitude among the very sort people whose effort the world could really use does drive me a bit crazy.

This would be that old "people who play games do nothing but play games" stereotype. Very cute, very dumb, very strawman.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:44 PM on July 6, 2010


I seem to have missed two 'of's there. Can you spot them?
posted by Anything at 3:44 PM on July 6, 2010


Is there a true equivalent of a child's sandbox?

Endless Forest, I suppose.

What if instead of 'winning,' we say 'comparison?'

That works in terms of broad applicability, but it's also very open-ended—insofar as there's an explicit performative aspect to video games by definition, there's no sort of game interaction that can't be fundamentally reduced to a comparison between two independent runs. Some of these things are obviously more explicitly supported within the game itself—running in-game scores, sub-mission grades, deathmatch scoreboards, conditional ending cinematics, etc—but in the absence of explicit metrics people can certainly impose more abstract comparisons if they want to. Which of those external metrics count as inherent points of comparison? How broad does the acceptance of such a metric have to be among the playing community before it's accepted as part of the game rather than a metagame they're playing socially?

I think that it's interesting, actually, how as game design has gotten more ambitious over time and gaming experiences have moved more and more consistently out of arcades and into homes, the focus on explicit scoring that was prevalent in arcade titles and a lot of early console games has disappeared in favor of either an unscored performance or more abstract metrics.
posted by cortex at 3:47 PM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


The prevalence of this kind attitude among the very sort people whose effort the world could really use does drive me a bit crazy.

I submit that it is very hard, without personally knowing someone very well, to fairly determine (a) how much time they spend playing video games or other activities, (b) how much time they spend doing things more in that "making the world better" category, and (c) how much time they'd be able to move from column a to column b without their column-b efforts suffering under the strain of burnout.

I probably agree with you in the sentiment that an awful lot of people could manage to spend a little less time goofing off in general and a hence little more doing something non-leisurely to make the world a better place, but that's a far cry from dismissing people's choice to spend some of their time goofing off as something worthy of driveby mockery.

As a data point, I can guarantee you that on the one hand I am capable of playing a shitload more video games and doing other column-a stuff than I actually do, and that on the other hand I would lose my shit if I spent all my time doing column-b stuff every day. The mix varies from day to day and week to week, but as a flawed human with limited emotional energy I need to recharge on a regular basis with some genuine leisure or I don't function right.
posted by cortex at 3:54 PM on July 6, 2010


The absurd message here was that the only reasons to avoid useless acitivies are selfish. I don't mind people taking leisure time but they shouldn't delude themselves and others that doing so they are not also losing opportunities that even they should consider truly worthwile.

Says the guy posting anonymously to an internet forum. Shouldn't you be digging wells in Africa or something ?

What always got me as a kid - my dad would come home from a day of fishing on his boat and say "Is that all you did was play video games?" and never once see the irony in it.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 3:59 PM on July 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


This would be that old "people who play games do nothing but play games" stereotype. Very cute, very dumb, very strawman.

No. I'm suggesting that it's ok for people who do good things when they feel like it to also do good things when they don't feel like it. Could well be that you've done more than I ever will, without breaking a sweat, but for those of us who would need to push ourselves, it's not good to be told that all the dreary activities are only necessary if you're aiming for the "best body, most money, and largest house".

But everyone here chastising me for the abusive tone are absolutely right and I apologize.
posted by Anything at 4:47 PM on July 6, 2010


Anything: Let me assure you, the people you lumped together are not a consensus hive mind, nor are we sockpuppets for an turing test machine.

The absurd message here was that the only reasons to avoid useless acitivies are selfish.

I don't understand where you're getting this. You're not making a lick of sense as a result.

I don't mind people taking leisure time but they shouldn't delude themselves and others that doing so they are not also losing opportunities that even they should consider truly worthwile.

Please. If I say that sex is an intrinsic good, it doesn't mean that I'm advocating that we spend every minute of the day fucking. I'm making two arguments here, 1) leisure activities that sharpen my brain and involve teamwork are worthwhile, 2) even just lying flat on your back staring at the ceiling is worthwhile if it refreshes your emotional needs.

There are billions of opportunities and there's always going to be something that someone will judge as more worthy. The world isn't going to end if I'm not beanplating Fellini and Verdi, taking my nices and nephews to a ball game, and working at a soup kitchen simultaneously at this very moment.

I'm suggesting that it's ok for people who do good things when they feel like it to also do good things when they don't feel like it.

Yes, yes, and water is wet, and the sky is sometimes blue. You have any other brilliant bits of philosophy?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:45 PM on July 6, 2010


Games are fun.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:05 PM on July 6, 2010


Okay so, I'll try to do this reasonably brief:

Games are neat. I mean, as a lifelong, fairly hardcore gamer, I think they are interesting and fun things. I've had some amazing times, and seen some amazing things, and had unreal amounts of fun.

I also don't feel that time spent gaming should not be carefully metered, and there are many reasons for that. If you took the time I've spent gaming, I could probably have a degree in just about anything, or be very good with a musical instrument, or a paintbrush, or what have you. So it's certainly worth it, for me, to scrutinize this time spent, and think about the nature of the rewards I've received in exchange.

As I said in the latest Ebert thread, I've noticed that there are zero games that mean anything to me the way my favourite books, films and music mean things to me. What does that mean, to mean something to me? Well, that's hard to define, but I feel like my favourite artistic works from those other media are a part of me, that I feel they are so important to me that I model myself on them, or would like to. I carry them with me. Games seem to be largely (completely?) things for the present moment: they're fun (incredible, amazing levels of fun) but when they're over, I'm pretty much done with them. I can have memories along the lines of, "It was cool when…," but that seems to be the extent of it. Why is that?

There are many possible answers. I'm going to list some, and then rewind and mull over the list. Games are largely business-driven. Businesses are profit-minded. Mainstream games are the product of large groups of people, and often take years and years to make. Games need to be fun. Interactivity by its nature is opposed to a directed experience. Gameplay is opposed to narrative. The multi-faceted nature of games might make keep the small facets from getting the attention that allows meaning to happen. I'm not sure any of these are rules, but I think several of them might apply to any particular game.

Business driven, profit-oriented, large groups of people, years of work. These make for giant, unwieldy ships that are slow to steer. The product has to be decided on way too early because there's so much time in developing an idea that it becomes hard to institute revisions. Groups of people dilute artistic vision. Sure, there are examples of group projects, collaborative projects, that are interesting. But I think as a general rule, the more people who have a direct hand in what the end product is, the harder it becomes to really give it a cohesive vision. One person gives a focused product (assuming that they are capable). Two definitely can. Five can (a band). What about a hundred? Films are often the results of the efforts of hundreds of people. Well, I think with film, you have a couple of advantages. One, it seems to me (and I could be wrong) that good film directors are given more creative authority than their equivalents in gaming get (at present). The film studios seem to recognize that Joel and Ethan Coen made them a ton of money with No Country for Old Men, so they'll let them do A Simple Man. I'm not sure there is a parallel in games. But further, back to the timeline thing, a film director can probably get a sense of when something is falling off track while shooting it. That day, that take. He can see the elements, less CGI, and identify what isn't sitting right. Games are all CGI, all time invested. Harder to steer.

Further, the Big Company designer I know frequently mentions focus groups, testing, market research, branding. Because they're out to make money. Does interesting art come from this process? I don't know, maybe? I mean, I don't think they're exclusive, but I suspect it interferes, and I think it's also an indication that something isn't right. Something isn't prioritized correctly there.

Fun. Whhoooo. Okay, I think "fun" is maybe at odds with creating something meaningful for me, too. Because I think fun to a certain extent means that something has to align with my expectations, and that the things that really strike me as wonderful, as beautiful, as worth something, are things that challenged my expectations. That pushed them. The problem is, I don't want to play a game that's not fun. I mean, that's not a problem: that's what I want from games, fun. The issue is, saying, "I want games to be fun," seems to me to be saying something akin to "I think all movies should be summer blockbuster popcorn movies." I'm not averse to a good summer blockbuster, but, notably, they're not really among the "things that mean something to me." In fact, they're very similar to the "and once it's over, I'm done with it" attitude I was expressing.

If interesting art comes from directing me towards a precise experience, how does something interactive by nature fulfill its potential? By avoiding the same kind of precise experiences produced by other, precisely directed media, and making that interactivity a key part of the experience you want to produce. In other words: holding games up as examples of great narratives is a losing battle. I love the story of, say, Metal Gear Solid 3, or…the Soul Reaver/Legacy of Kain series. I love them because I extrapolate from a few scenes, from a few lines, from plot elements, the story that could be. But if you withdrew those stories and laid them raw on paper, purely as they are…? They're kind of garbage. I mean, they have some neat ideas, but the writing is pretty awful. So let's explore agency.

Aside: could a camera on a tripod with a remote control, so that I can look in any direction, be as beautiful as a well-composed photograph taken at the same location?

Agency in games: Bioshock, Shadow of the Colossus, Heavy Rain. I think Bioshock and Shadow of the Colossus have the right idea, in that they're exploring the fantasy of agency in games, but I think they both ultimately don't quite succeed because you never really did have a choice on what to do. If you wanted to play the game, you had to kill the Colossi and you had to do what you were instructed every time "would you kindly" was uttered. I think what would have been really neat is if in Bioshock there always was some alternate, not-at-all obvious course of action you could have taken, so that you actually felt like you did respond to the requests you received. And then with the big reveal, you could look back and think, "Why did I do that?" Because there is no real moment of "why?" is either game, I think they seem right but don't quite stand up to scrutiny.

Heavy Rain: I have to confess I can't bring myself to play this game because I caps-lock hated the previous one, Indigo Prophecy or whatever it was called in other territories. I thought it was a terrible piece of garbage. But I have read enough about it to know that it seems to have some interesting ideas, too: the game goes on whether you perform A or B. It seems to have the actual choice/consequences that Bioshock and SoC only pretended to have. The problem is: i thought Indigo Prophecy was an awful game. I thought the correlation between what was happening on-screen and the gameplay elements was meaningless and stupid, and that several game events were just awful gameplay on their own. So, here I come around to an interesting question: do I want my games to "mean" something? Or do I just want them to be fun?

Gameplay as opposition to narrative: Someone (Leigh Alexander?) pointed out how it felt weird in Shadow Complex to be searching for gold bars while you were supposed to be concerned with rescuing your love interest and stopping a coup. That doesn't work, as a story, but that's an easy example, too. We can find ones where what you are doing is also what the character supposedly wants, too. But we still get into problems of character death (player failure), there. How do you deal with that? How do you break narrative that blatantly? Prince of Persia (the cel-shaded one) tried to get rid of death as a game event. It became so easy that I stopped trying: I needed an imposed penalty to engage with the gameplay engine. I needed an incentive to try. I think the first Sands of Time had it a bit better, in that the game was presented as a story the Prince was telling, and when he "died", he'd realize he made a mistake and correct himself ("No, wait, that's not what happened.") It was funny and it sort-of worked but it was still weird to suppose that he accidentally forgot that he didn't actually die. What has done it best: oddly enough, BlazBlue, the fighting game. The game takes place in a universe that sees to repeating itself, over and over again, as the same characters are reborn. It made perfect sense, and it had a story that branched at each point you could win or lose a match. The story was still sort of stupid, but I think they may have had the best narrative structure for a game, ever. The problem is, how many times can we re-use the iterative universe structure? (Maybe it should be used for every game, I don't know. Maybe it's implied by every game?)

The multi-faceted nature: I was thinking about empath's point about music in games being equivalent to the works of art of independent music. (I don't know if the corporate nature of games allows this to be true - do people give their best to a game BGM music contract? - but let's ignore that question and take it as a given that in the game we're talking about, the composer thinks of it as their life's work.) Does the fact that it's relegated to BGM demean it? I mean, the music I really love, I want to focus on. I want to give it all my attention. Does it being a facet of something mean that we treat it as less than a whole thing? I listen to a lot of film scores, which are intended to accompany something similar. And if they're really good, I take them out of context - I listen to them without the film playing. Does that say something about how we experience multi-faceted projects that the highest standard I can hold an aspect of it to is that I would remove it from the project so I can really concentrate on it?

So I think there are a bunch of interesting questions about this stuff that don't just have to do with being old. That's pretty lame. Are there actual category-limits on what games can be, because of their nature or because of the current market and industry? But of greater concern to me is the dopamine-system jacking taking place when I play games. I'm being manipulated. I'm being fed rewards at a steady rate that makes gaming more immediately enjoyable than anything else. I mean, I get to feel like I'm getting better at something, getting stronger, more powerful, faster, more talented, at a far greater rate than I see from any real world activity, and I'm getting that for a minimal amount of effort. It's pretty hard, sometimes, to choose to work on writing or working on music because those are hard things to do, they're fucking brutal, sometimes they seem to be the reverse of rewarding because nothing is good enough. And so I see why I choose video games over other things (often), and I don't like how transparent it is. You have a hugely profitable industry that's been steering towards, "How do we keep you playing?" and has been coming up with these really compelling answers, because there's a fortune to be made. Innovations like RPG-type progression in shooters, trophy systems, and the like to keep you feeling like you're really doing something, when I'm actually not coming away from my time spent plugged in a smarter or more interesting person.

I'm coming away someone who had fun, and if that's enough for you, that's awesome. I'm not going to argue that me writing or working on music or reading or going to an art gallery is intrinsically better, because it's not. Those things are better, to me personally, but sometimes I need some easy fun, too. But it's important that I recognize the choice I'm making when I do choose to play, and I think it's important that I also not dress it up in Emperor's Clothing.

Last minute thought: I had to make a list of the most important expenditures of time for me personally, and at the top of my list I put "contemplation". I find contemplation very rewarding and it was kind of weird to realize the importance of apparent idleness to me. But, anyway, for me the best art induces a contemplative state (which appears passive). Videogames seem to me to replace this passivity with gameplay, and gameplay maybe occupies the brainspace that contemplation would. Contemplation can come after the experience, sure (I do that with my favourite movies and books), but I haven't felt a game that really compels me to do that.

I wrote the "I'll try to keep this brief" at the beginning unironically, and I'm very sorry.
posted by neuromodulator at 7:12 PM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Contemplation can come after the experience, sure (I do that with my favourite movies and books), but I haven't felt a game that really compels me to do that

Have you played Braid? I think I spent far more of my mental effort on that game with the xbox off than I did while I was playing. Even after it was finished, I spent a lot of time thinking about it.
posted by empath at 8:03 PM on July 6, 2010


Yeah, I finished Braid.

I think you're talking about two different forms of contemplation, there. You're talking about the mental work you put into solving each puzzle, and also the time you spent after the game was complete, right? What were you thinking about after the game was done? Because that's what I'm missing from games.

Like take, No Country for Old Men, or There Will Be Blood. Both those movies had sort of "not traditionally satisfying" resolutions, and those resolutions demanded that I think about why they made the decisions they made, why they ended in such-and-such a way, and how those endings might have supported the themes. I like that.

There are suggestions in interviews and whatnot that Braid was carefully considered in those kinds of ways, but I really couldn't see it. I do think Jonathan is smart, and has a lot of ideas that people should be aware of, but I also couldn't work Braid over in my mind in a way that left me feeling like it was more than a platformer with interesting mechanics (whereas he seems to imply that there's more to it). I feel it was sort of like "Passage", in that both are made out to be really interesting because they're communicating something, but when I try to parse Passage I end up with something pretty limp.

Passage: if you enter a relationship with someone, you can't reach the same goals, but there are other benefits. If that's the theme, that theme could be developed in more interesting ways in a short story, or more emotively in a song, or more memorably in a song or a painting or something. That's what I mean by limp. I'm not saying things should be communicated in the most efficient way possible (that's a horrible idea!), but just that...it's not the right direction? Or something. I don't know.

I have to make clear, I don't profess to know shit all about these issues. I'm not pulling some Socratic BS where I just ask questions because I thereby avoid having to defend my opinion. I'm really not clear on what I think of all this, but I think the questions are interesting and potentially rewarding.
posted by neuromodulator at 10:33 PM on July 6, 2010


I think the first Sands of Time had it a bit better

I'm going to buy this again. I rented the new one the other day and got bored with it almost immediately (you can basically hold down the wall-run button and wait for the next bit of generic Arabian passageway). Time to watch one of those comedically tiny gamecube discs disappear into the cavernous mouth of the Wii.

Aside: could a camera on a tripod with a remote control, so that I can look in any direction, be as beautiful as a well-composed photograph taken at the same location?

This is like the only thing I'm going to even look at in your comment (for which, apologies, but it's long and it's early), but: yes, if the environment is specifically designed for this. Okay, not if you run up against a wall and hit the jump button repeatedly and uselessly, but that only happens when I'm trying to eat a sandwich at the same time.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 11:08 PM on July 6, 2010


Passage: if you enter a relationship with someone, you can't reach the same goals, but there are other benefits. If that's the theme, that theme could be developed in more interesting ways in a short story, or more emotively in a song, or more memorably in a song or a painting or something.

But with less agency. Every medium has its strengths and weaknesses, and the agency of games (at whatever level it is present, which varies from game and the potential scope and complexity of which I can only hope will continue to grow over time) is arguably their greatest strength, whatever challenges it may present to otherwise adapting presentational ideas effective in other more static media.

If you don't find that aspect of agency interesting or thought-provoking on the same level as with e.g. a short story or a song, that's fine, different strokes for different folks, but I think it's actually a tremendous example of just why games are an interesting and potentially very, very powerful expressive form.
posted by cortex at 11:20 PM on July 6, 2010


Like take, No Country for Old Men, or There Will Be Blood. Both those movies had sort of "not traditionally satisfying" resolutions, and those resolutions demanded that I think about why they made the decisions they made, why they ended in such-and-such a way, and how those endings might have supported the themes. I like that.

Mention has already been made in this thread of Silent Hill 2, which I think is a pretty good example of something that works in exactly this way.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:26 AM on July 7, 2010


The problem I see with comparing Silent Hill to No Country for Old Men is that it's reducing games to narrative. And I'd like to point at music as an example of artistic works that may or may not have a narrative that's the central focus of the work.

Beethoven's 5th Symphony, First Movement may or may not be "fate knocking on the door" or "the cry of the yellowhammer bird" but we can still ponder the magic of how he managed to develop a theme as both melancholy and triumphant, sometimes in the same phrase.

Likewise, my love for Portal isn't just because its antagonist becomes more and more emotionally unhinged as the player deviates from the plan, but also because I think introduces basic themes and then elaborates on them in interesting ways.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:47 AM on July 7, 2010


What were you thinking about after the game was done?

Personally? Aside from trying to figure out all the epilogue text and piece together whatever story that Braid had, it also made me think a lot about a messy breakup that I had gone through a few months previously, and helped me work through some issues I was dealing with. It kind of had a similar impact on me to what watching Swingers and Chasing Amy had on me when I first saw those.

One other game that had a pretty heavy emotional impact on me was Digital, largely for personal reasons that I won't go into here.

I guess people's experiences with games are always personal.
posted by empath at 6:53 AM on July 7, 2010


The problem I see with comparing Silent Hill to No Country for Old Men is that it's reducing games to narrative.

No, I certainly don't want to reduce games to narrative any more than I want to reduce films to narrative-- but just as some films have a narrative that can convey meaning and expression, some games have a narrative that can convey meaning and expression, and Silent Hill 2 is an example. The narrative is probably not the central aspect of the game, but narrative may not be the central aspect of No Country for Old Men, either.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:34 AM on July 7, 2010


The whole structure of the current games business is pretty directly based on the film business model. There are huge distributors who acquire projects and do marketing but no longer do much direct production. There are smaller production houses that do a few projects a year under the wing of one of the distributors. There are tiny independent one to five person teams who you never hear about unless they have a breakout hit. There are even auteurs who can get funded for whatever they want based on past success.

Just like Hollywood, the big distributors live and die by the blockbuster. Just like Hollywood most of what gets produced is sequels, because those are safe. Just like Hollywood 98% of everything produced is still crap. Just like Hollywood everyone in the industry thinks it is horribly broken, but change is globally slow because the current system works, and is extremely risk averse.

So whatever it is that differentiates the "feel" of a film from that of a game, it isn't the result of differences in the industries themselves.
posted by ecurtz at 7:48 AM on July 7, 2010


But, ecurts, I think there are differences in the authority that artists get in films, which hasn't been recognized aswell in gaming. Look at the guys from Infinity Ward. Made a hugely profitable product - canned, because the execs think they're irrelevant. I think that same error is rarely made in film.

I think that's interesting that you had that reaction, empath. I haven't had that from a game.
posted by neuromodulator at 9:13 AM on July 7, 2010


My impression is that Infinity Ward (at least the senior partners) were playing politics with the big boys and got in over their heads, not that the studio killed the goose that laid the golden eggs.

Directors and screenwriters, even successful ones, get fired all the time. Just look at poor Terry Gilliam. It's just part of business as usual so you don't hear about it much. Basically everyone in film is "contractors" so it isn't exactly like they were expected to last beyond a single project anyway. Only a few game companies have gone that far yet, notably Wideload, founded by most of the original Bungie crew.
posted by ecurtz at 2:24 PM on July 7, 2010


Has Terry Gilliam made anything profitable in decades? Not the greatest example, maybe.

(I like Gilliam - older Gilliam, anyway - but I meant more that people who are dependently profitable seem to be indulged, which would be good for games.)
posted by neuromodulator at 10:50 AM on July 8, 2010


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