+++++UDATED: SEE BELOW/AFTER INITIAL POST++++++++
Just because there's wind blowing and a minimal soundtrack and vast open spaces to explore and a slow pace doesn't mean that the game you are playing is art.
And just because a game's story and presentation contains elements you've see in the 'big boy movies' doesn't make a game adult or mean the medium is maturing.
These are all surface elements that-while challenging as anything else in games to produce well- do not speak to the maturation of the medium one iota.
I'm tired of seeing gamers- and game journalists especially- falling for this.
Game journalists of all people need to be calling us developers out on our smoke and mirrors bullshit.
If we really want to get to the top of the mountain we have to be honest about the current state of the 'art'.
Just because your game wears the trappings of relevancy does not make it relevant. Any more than putting on a beret and a black turtle neck and sitting outside a Parisian cafe makes you one of the intelligentsia.
Just because your game's surface elements shout from the rooftops that 'this is important and artistic and meaningful' doesn't make it so. And in fact, the more a game- or anything for that matter- rambles on and on telling you how special it is, the more reason we have to assume that the claims come from a place of ego (or marketing) and not real passion and innovation.
Real art and genuinely important work doesn't need to continually toot its own horn. The very nature of something being artistic and important means that- except in rare cases- its power is evident without anyone having to tell you that it is.
And the sooner the people who write about games for a living start reporting on this angle of the story, the sooner us developers will be forced to shit or get off the pot.
++++++UPDATE: I was responding in this post's comment section to Matthew but it turned into a long ass rant...SO I thought I'd just share it here. Here goes:
Matthew, like you, I'm nowhere NEAR opposed to a more balanced gaming diet. But there is a difference between WANTING a more balanced gaming diet and ACTUALLY- as a developer- BEING ABLE TO PROVIDE GENUINELY GOOD ALTERNATIVES to the already fantastic core/pure play experiences that games have been offering (exclusively, as a medium, it should be pointed out) for over 5000 years.
To me the issue- and the worrying point of all this- is that there seems to be the need/desire amongst some gamers,some game makers, and a number of games journalists to shout from the rooftops that games 'have arrived'. But for those of us who simply don't think that that is anywhere near the case, it's troubling because it sends a false message that actually hurts the very progress that is needed to CREATE AND NURTURE the more nutritious gaming diet we so crave (assuming this sort of diet is even possible with games/interactivity).*
Adults and kids are- in many ways- not that different when it comes to maintaining their motivation. So If I tell one of my daughters- whose current obsession is learning to draw a photo realistic unicorn/Pegasus hybrid- that her art is perfect and her image looks like a photo realistic magical horse AND if this is NOT ACTUALLY TRUE (and instead I only wish that it were true), then am I really helping my daughter? Am I really respecting her? Am I really DISRESPECTING the craft of art, in both the medium and long term? Because best case- assuming she cares what I think- and I think she does :)- she'll think she's a better artist than she really is and lose some of her ambition. WORST case my lie will make her think she's achieved her goal when she really hasn't, and she'll no longer want to improve at drawing. It's not that different when it comes to the 'games as art' issue.
Tell us game makers we've arrived and before you know it, we'll think we really have (some of us already do). As will the fans and the press. But we really haven't arrived at all and it all just seems like this bullshit, backroom, secret-handshake kind of club where we tell the press how important and meaningful we've become in order to stroke our own egos, and then the press (SOME, certainly not all) goes off and writes about how important games have become in order to convince themselves they are doing important work and not 'just' writing about the number of guns in the latest shooter or the size of the levels in a hit game's expansion pak. And they also write about how important games have become so that it seems that their education and time is not being wasted and that perhaps one day- just like their colleagues at the 'important' periodicals and web sites that they really wish they were writing for- they too will be taken seriously. And all this gets filtered down to certain vocal fans who then go off and spout the very talking points us developers have force fed them through the very press that they are paying for. And so these fans go out into the world, carrying our message about games being important and artistic and as relevant as literature and cinema ('We're in early days! This is just like silent film! Give it time! Which game designer/game development team will bring us our very own BIRTH OF A NATION?!?! Where's our CITIZEN KANE?!?!')...
But let's be honest- if the fans really felt this way, why would they be putting such passion and energy into trying to convince the world? I don't feel the need to convince you that I love cheese pizza, adore Marvel Comics, and think sitting at my kitchen table while having a great conversation with my family is one of my favorite things in the world to do. Those are all true statements, by the way. I just don't feel the need to sell you on that truth. Yes, I may occasionally ramble on about the benefits and joys of said things, but I don't feel the passionate need to convince you of the fact that I really enjoy them. Frankly, I'd rather be spending that energy and time actually enjoying cheese pizza, reading Marvel Comics, and chatting with the fam.
It's the same with 'games as art'. If artistic/meaningful games were even semi-close to being what so many 'games as art' supporters claim, many true believers would be saying, 'you either get it or you don't and it doesn't really matter to me because you not getting it doesn't take away my enjoyment of and my response to meaningful, artistic games'. But many supporters of the 'games as art' movement seem hell bent on convincing the world that GAMES. DO. MATTER. And come on, not to be a prick, but it's clear that this desire comes from the same place as the game maker's desire to create these sorts of arty games and the game press' desire to sell the 'GAMES HAVE ARRIVED' bullshit headline. And that place is: a deep seated insecurity born out of being a childhood/teenage outcast/geek.
Don't get me wrong. LOTS of great art has come- and will continue to come- from creators working through and allowing themselves- as adults- to feel the full brunt of childhood/teenage angst. But putting that angst IN THE WORK/ON THE STAGE/IN THE BOOK/ON THE SCREEN/IN THE PLAY MECHANICS is what matters and THAT is what makes something meaningful. Using that angst - and all that energy- to embrace, support, promote, and fight for a flawed theory (aka 'TODAY'S GAMES ARE AS- AND PERHAPS EVEN MORE- ARTISTIC AND EMOTIONALLY POWERFUL AS CINEMA AND LITERATURE') is sad at best and a waste of time at worst.
Now why do I care so much about all of this? Well part of it is- frankly- I got a SHIT TON of work to do this afternoon on Twisted Metal and we're running out of time and so I'm really anxious and nervous as all get out that we won't get it all done. That's just life in the game making biz. You NEVER get it all done. But it still makes me nervous as shit! So I'm procrastinating by blogging and tweeting about a subject that- no matter what any of us say today- is way too big and has way too many moving parts to predict what it will actually become in the next 5, 10, 100 years...So yeah, there's that. And so it's either blog away or stuff a mega sized cheese pizza into my pie hole. I guess I could simply be with and accept and feel the Twisted Metal anxiety and deal with it like an adult...but come on, who are we kidding? So yeah...there's that. But back to the point: why do I care about this subject so much?
Well the flip side to this whole thing is: those very same 'GAMES ARE ART!' accolades given out (by developers, press, and fans) to 'ART/MEANINGFUL GAMES' does damage to pure games.
'How?', you ask? Well I'll tell you:
Shining the powerful media light on these sorts of games- that tell you they are important but are not really all that engaging/interesting play wise and are nowhere near as emotional or meaningful as most B rate, night time dramas on network television-means that the media light and publisher cash gets taken away from traditional games. And because of this, traditional games are disrespected, devalued, and shown a lack of appreciation, understanding, and love for the very things the medium does so well, so effortlessly, and so successfully.
To shed copious print and e-ink (not to mention publisher marketing dollars) on a title just because it shouts loudly that it is art/important (where- upon closer inspection-said title is usually 'simply' a game ((and usually an average one at that)) cloaked in artistic robes created for- and custom tailored to fit- another medium) is a real problem.
To be going on and on about how games need to be/can be/should be/already are 'more' than 'just games' to me disrespects the joy and happiness traditional games bring to the world. I don't know about you, but my life would be at least a little less fantastic (and probably a hell of a lot worse) without Baseball, Basketball, Chess, Chutes & Ladders, Old Maid, Ms. Pac Man, Zork, Super Mario Bros., Gears of War, Killzone 3, Guitar Hero, and Call of Duty:Black Ops Multiplayer.
See, I'm ok if games are never 'accepted' or 'legitimized' or called 'art' by those folks that many in the 'games as art' argument seem to care about (although I accept that perhaps one day games may very well be viewed that way, by elitist snobs and your 'average' people alike). But I'm not ok if the progress of making pure games better and more successful is slowed or even stunted by a significant enough redistribution of energy, funds, and media attention into the 'games as art/games are important' camp.
Why doesn't more of the gaming press trumpet the amazing breakthrus in play mechanics every year? Why do television commercials have to sell me the story aspect of the game versus the actual gameplay aspect? Why not more features in the deeper/more serious gaming mags and game sites about things like the chronic problem of conceptual and thematic mismatch of certain play mechanics within the settings/worlds in which those play mechanics exist?
Why spend 2-10 million dollars on cut scenes whose power only super rarely comes close to the non interactive media choices we already have on television and at the movies? Wouldn't that money be better spent on more levels, more weapons, unique play mechanic experiments, extra development time to tune and polish the title until it shines? Wouldn't that money be better NOT SPENT AT ALL so the developer and publisher breaks even faster and bonuses and royalties flow into the pockets of those folks who busted ass to create the game to begin with?
I'm not an idiot. I like IP, I like game fiction, I like stories in SOME of my games. I get all that. I get and enjoy the value of all that. But not when it comes at a substantial expense to the very thing that makes the medium great to begin with: gameplay/interactivity.
Also, this whole thing just seems odd and wrong and broken at a gut level. I mean, check this out:
You don't see folks who love traditional paintings going on and on about how their favorite medium needs to step up and get better at doing car chases and action scenes.
You don't see folks who love reading books going on and on about how books need a symphonic score that plays while you read (and changes based on the page you are on) in order for literature to reach its full emotional and artistic potential.
So why with games can't we just love games for what they are and always have been?
And doesn't this strike you as a bit odd: The core idea/point of/power of a story was painted 35,000 years ago on a cave wall in Europe and that core idea of what a story is still survives to this day (in books, summer blockbusters, indie films, short stories,etc.) Yes, details and specifics about narrative structure and the like have changed (a bit) over time, but the core idea of what a story is and is supposed to do is the same.
And isn't this odd: the core idea of what a game was for/what a game did well was created and embraced over 5000 years ago with ancient titles like UR and Mancala and today that same core idea of what a game is still survives.
The same applies to music. Granted, the tunes played on the oldest musical instrument discovered (35,000 years ago!) would be a far cry from the stylings of Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Arcade Fire. But the core essence, the core idea of what music is and music's core purpose has not really changed in all that time.
So this idea of a story/games/meaning/art mashup seems very odd to me because in all of the time we've had games (analog and digital), if games COULD have been 'about' something and could have easily supported both narrative and play mechanics as a single unit, don't you think at least a FEW of those older, analog games from the past 5000 years would have AT LEAST hinted at such a thing? And in all that time, if STORIES could have used more interactivity to make them more meaningful to readers, don't you think at least a handful of stories (beyond CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE books) would have hinted at this? Don't you think readers from thousands of years ago would have naturally come to this conclusion/desire?
*Not to go off on an even larger tangent than the one I'm currently on, but this issue is strikingly similar to the debate between scientifically minded atheists/agnostics and certain evangelicals. Many hard core religious folks claim to already know many of the secrets of the universe (why we are here, what we're supposed to be doing, what happens after death) and they suggest we should just settle in and enjoy life by using an instruction book that was written- by MANY, MANY humans- some 2000-4000 years ago. In their minds, the case is closed, the day is done, the mystery is solved...let's eat! But to most scientifically minded atheists/agnostics that sort of thinking- and the insistence that others buy into that sort of thinking, many times at the expense of science- is the very thing that STOPS man from getting closer and closer to life's currently unanswerable mysteries, as well as discovering new ones.