The other day I praised the Destructoid.com articles that were shooting down a lot of the arty-farty style indie games that seem to be popping up more and more. You can check out those refreshingly frank (to me) articles here and here...
But you know, the more I think about it, the more I think I'm a bigger supporter of artistic and meaningful games than the folks on the net who are ripping me because I was supporting the Destructoid pieces.
See I'm not this mouth breathing, knuckle dragging, 'gotta always be fun and if it ain't fun, throw in blood and guns cause games are just sposed to be fun and loud!' kind of guys. I mean, yes, I LOVE games like that. Hell, so far, I've only made games like that!
I really, really, really want games to be able to stand toe to toe with other mediums in terms of the ability to communicate fresh, unique messages and points of view.
I really, really, really want games to actually be stronger than other mediums because I have moments where I think interactive media should/can/will be the most powerful medium in the world when it comes to eliciting emotions and communicating deep and semi-deep messages. I mean, what better way to get a message across than to allow someone to step into the shoes of the person who is being affected by the message itself? Want to teach kids about the Holocaust or just make a statement about that awful time in history? Forget the movies- make an interactive experience where you play a Jew trying to survive the Auschwitz concentration camp. If it works, THAT could be more impacting and meaningful than watching Schiendler's List 100 times in a row!*
I really, really, really want to be able to make a game one day that speaks to the part of me that is into more than comics and video games and action movies. I'm not the world's deepest thinker but I do think that I'm deeper than the average bear and I do think about all sorts of non gamey things: politics, death, religion, spirituality, mortality, friendship, the meaning of marriage, conformity, world/life balance, raising kids, is there a God, etc,etc,etc. And I would love to be able to have my work- at times- be ABOUT these more adult ideas and thoughts. I would love that as a player and as a game maker.
And I don't think it matters much in the grand scheme of things but it would be nice to work with a team to leave some work behind that endures and gives other humans a sense of compassion and connectedness and joy (beyond the visceral and pure play joy they already do get from playing a fun game...which is a damn fine, and damn noble gift us 'non arty' game makers give to the world and that's something that I am very, very proud of).
But in terms of artistic, meaningful games that say something: I just don't think we are there yet and in most cases, I don't think we are even close. And I still wonder if the medium itself is even capable of such feats. And rather than jump on the bandwagon and say that games are 100% capable of doing such things, I prefer to be honest and real and embrace where we are in the 'struggle' right here and right now. I think that kind of honesty will allow us to either:
a- reach our destination of 'meaningful games' sooner.
b-realize that interactivity will never be able to do all the things I listed above
c- allow the games we do make NOW (when we are not trying to push the medium ahead) to focus on what we know games do so much better than any other medium (provide fun, competition, puzzle solving,etc)....again, why turn our noses up at something that brings so many so much happiness?
And I get that SOME of you out there say that you've played games that have done all/some (and more!) of what I've listed above. And to that I say, "BULLY FOR YOU!" But the reality is: I have not played such games. I've seen flashes of hope in a game slice here, a brief moment there. But overall, I have not played these meaningful games that affect me and move me and make me think. And MOST other people have not either. Because if they/we/I actually had, the whole issue of 'can games serve as meaningful tools of relevant communication' and 'can games be 'about' sometime more than just killing and gore' would not even BE a question. There would be no debate. Because the answer would be obvious to most everyone.
Think about it: you don't hear people questioning if movies or books or paintings or songs can be meaningful and artistic, do you? NO, you don't because those mediums- even in their earliest stages- were proving that fact so strongly that if there were ever a question of 'if movies/books/paintings could be art/meaningful' it was silenced very quickly as the proof of such things could simply not be denied. **
Games do not find themselves in that situation. No matter how arty and meaningful games try to be, the public's view of the situation has not really shifted. To most people, games are meant to be fun diversions- nothing more, nothing less.
And there have been enough attempts at cracking the 'games as art' nut that by now, we should have seen at least ONE THING that the majority of players would have said they were moved/affected by.
But we haven't.
Now that doesn't mean games can't pull it off. It just means that- for most- right now- games are NOT pulling it off in the minds of MOST people. And all I'm saying is that a little honesty about where we are on the journey can only help.
So to the haters I say: stop being so damn defensive and realize when I cuss and type in caps I'm just being all passionate and shit, but in reality, I would imagine we have much more in common when it comes to how we would LIKE to see the future of games that you might imagine.
*By the way, I am aware of Brenda Brathwaite's very cool game TRAIN but it's not a video game and it's about GOING to a camp, not surviving one. But still I think this shows we could be a on a good track, altho I have yet to play the game itself. There was a DS game coming out about the Holocaust as well but far as I know, no one ever agreed to publish it...which is a shame.
** Yes, I know the Nickelodeons were very simple novelty movies and at first people wondered if movies could be more these little diversions and trifles (sounds familiar). But in the question of 'can movies be more impacting/meaningful', it didn't take long to realize that movies were the next great artistic medium! But our Nickelodeon days were the arcades of the 70's and 80's and we've come a LONG way since then BUT the question of 'can games be art/meaningful' still- for most people- stands. Not much- on this front- has changed between SPACE INVADERS and MODERN WARFARE 2...at least not for most people.
***By the way, making the subject matter of your game about something meaningful or deep or relevant is not the same as making a game meaningful, deep, or relevant. And this is one of the issues I have with most arty farty games of today: In the experience of playing a game (not watching it being played or reading about it, but YOU sitting down and PLAYING it) the window dressing of a game- settling, theme, story- falls away very fast and you are left with the challenge of, "What do I actually DO in this game?!?!"...And it is there- in answering the 'what do I actually DO in the game' question that this 'games as art' nut is gonna be cracked (if it's actually possible to crack it at all).