Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Hmm....I dunno...

Ok...Kotaku turned me onto this flick, made my a prof. in Georgia. All about sex and video games...pretty neat, I suppose.


the problem I have with it is the same problem I have when academics, forum posters, and game makers- all folks whom it SEEMS (whom? who? whatever!)...but folks whom it seems have never actually been in a position to design a game- decide to go off on how games should be more artistic, emotional, and relevant; how games should deal with more serious subject matter than just power fantasy. They also assume that game designers/publishers are just pandering to the current fanboys instead of growing the medium, or that game makers are simply immature.

And yes, some of that is true.

But MOST of the reason games have not delved into more mature subject matter has to do- in my mind- with the fact that we don't know HOW to do it! Not because we're idiots. But because the medium itself has yet to show much in the way of a capability to examine more serious subject matter in a way that is compelling.

I remember being on a panel with the amazingly talented Harvey Smith a few years ago and he was talking about how he wanted to make a game about death. Now to me, my knee jerk was: sweet, it's an action game like Devil May Cry but you control a bad ass version of the grim reaper and you use his scythe in cool,violent, bloody ways! Love it!!! (by the way, no you can not rip off that idea...that baby is gold!)...

...but Harvey- being a very smart, deep thinker- was talking about DEATH as a force, as the thing that rips lives apart, that turns the circle of life,etc,etc,etc...you know, a deep, meaningful game.

And I loved it. Loved the promise of it.

But I asked him then- just like I would ask now- what is the actual GAMEPLAY!?!? What do you DO with the controller?!?!

And that- it seems- is where alot of us get stuck.

It is very, very, very easy to shoot the shit about our artistic ambitions. It makes us- and the medium- sound good and important and relevant to those who know very little about games. And it makes us- who know alot about games- feel- at times- like we are doing something more than just making electronic theme park rides. And this makes us feel more important and all arty farty.

I love those feelings. People should feel arty farty from time to time. It's nice.

But the reality is, the medium- so far- has shown a piss poor ability to actually deliver on these lofty promises.

And yes, the medium is KIND of young. But it's old enough to have given us SOMETHING along the lines that our critics say we should be making. And if you look at the medium of GAMES themselves, well, there's over 4000 years of road behind us at this point, and there's not alot- anything?- that I can point to in my board/card game collection that evokes deep philosophical discourse and/or deep, emotional release. Sure, you can claim chess is a metaphor for war, but that metaphor is not clear while playing the game unless someone tells you about the metaphor first. Playing the game of chess itself does not make one think of the sacrifices of soldiers or the tragedy of war. And if it does: you so crazy!

Now to me, all of that doesn't mean we should not try.

I played a bit of flOwer the other day, from That Game Company and I was like: hey, this makes me feel....well, it's not my place to spoil their game and tell you how it made me feel. But it DID make me feel. And there have been a few other games the last few years that seem to be doing SOMETHING that, in doing so, affects me on a fresh- for games- emotional level.

So it seems like it IS possible? But the question is:

is this just the start of deeper, more meaningful games now that people are able to start trying out these theories they've had about games for years but can only now- with the indie game scene- execute on those ideas? Or are we killing ourselves to be relevant and meaningful but even with all that work, we're only able to squeeze out a touch here and a touch there, and it's never going to go beyond that?

Ok, lots to do...gotta run! Later ya'll!



Zana Oyakata said...

I always thought stories that made you feel for all of the characters made for great stories.

There haven't been too many stories in game like that too me. Snatcher was one of the first I was completely engrossed in when I was around 15 or so.

I just hope I can make an impact when and if I get into the industry.

Anonymous said...

There is already an indie game scene with artistic games. The mainstream industry ignores it which is why you guys haven't heard about it. Check out and truly delve into tigsource.com or indiegames.com to learn about it.

da criminal said...

Ben, I have not ignored it.

I was referring to games like passage and september 12th when I was talking about the games that HAVE touched upon emotional gaming...and I think in the post I mentioned the indie game scene being the reason that some games as of late have begun to appear that do seem to be getting some of this 'right' and proving that emotional/artistic games may- indeed- be possible.


Cruiz said...

Hi Mr. Jaffe

In response to your post, what do you think bout the Metal Gear series?

I understand it is not exactly in keeping with what you were referencing, such as the death example, but I think story telling similar to MGS2 and even MGS4, is a good start in the direction.

-rallyRAYS- said...

I'm a big fan of movies like Amelie' and games like Ico, but these won't make as much money as Halo or Indy. So studios are not going to produce movies like Amelie' or games like Ico? If they did, they would be out of business... like Clover.

So who is to blame? the studio's for NOT making artistic games or do you blame the consumer for not buying artistic games?


Anonymous said...

Well what is art exactly? When the average person thinks of the word, what comes to mind? The Mona Lisa maybe? The statue of David? I dunno, people have been arguing about what art is for centuries. Every time someone did something different it would be argued. "Oh what is that, it looks nothing like a tree! That's not art!". And then entirely new mediums would be created (a good number of them being invented just withing the past 150 years or so) and the majority of critics and laymen alike would deny these new mediums of being capable of producing works of art. It happened with film, it happened with photography, etc. And when you ask someone to define what the word art means, how do they respond to that? Ask someone this and I'll bet that a large part of their definition will be to describe aspects of whatever medium they first associate with art, be it the narrative quality of movies or the carefully constructed composition of a good painting. That's just describing aspects of some works of art. I think the only "safe" thing we could say about art is that is has to communicate something. So I think the problem with this debate now is that people have this conception of what art is and want to make everything fit nice and neatly into this mental box of theirs. I would recommend checking out the documentary "Rivers and Tides".

Another thing, about games, is that gamers don't want to feel like pretentious jackasses. A lot of people are afraid of that, which I totally get. So there's some anti-intellectualism there, though to be honest I think that's mostly a good thing. We need to be critical and honest with our beloved medium. But maybe we could open up to the idea that talking about a topic like this doesn't automatically make us a punch of pompous jackasses?

Games have the potential to express ideas and communicate something to an audience if the desire is there. Not really the same way that other mediums can (which isn't a bad thing, really), and there are still a lot of technical limitations present (input, AI, etc.), but I think there are some cool things that can be done that be constituted as art. And there are things that can only be done with videogames. I definitely don't think that games are old enough to denounce their potential. It took photography decades before it was accepted as a medium capable of art-making, and a lot of that was because of technological advances.

Due to the incredibly complex nature of game-making I bet it's going to take a while to really take advantage of all of the inherent qualities of the medium instead of trying to emulate movies (and this is coming from a big Metal Gear fan). Funnily enough, early attempts at art photography tried to be like paintings and early film tried to be like the stage.

P.S. This isn't a retort or anything to your post, David, just some observations I've made about this topic.

Anonymous said...

The sex game in god of war was a really nice surprise when I first played it!

I think games stayed away from nudity because it never looked good before recently, and you'll start to see it done more tastefully now perhaps in a story-driven RPG where you fall in love and become pregnant and have the choice of whether to keep it or abort.

Or in a war game, you wake up to find one of your buddies raping an innocent civillian, you have a choice to fight him and continue on with less friends to cover you or leave him alone and perhaps have him cause something negative to happen later. I think that would fit in perfectly with the Mantel troopers in Haze!

Anonymous said...

Blaming games on societies crimes is childish u cant prevent it and blaming it on something ant going to help it, it well make it a lot worse. If you don’t like what the game has…then don’t buy it. There is a rating on the back of each game so you know what it has and if it has something you don’t like then don’t buy it, someone who does well buy it. true art has lots of elements including those of a sexual content as well violent. Games, Books and movie are other form of art showing that we are capable of imaging things and Imagination = Intelligence and not having it clearly shows you aren’t bright thus why the world is all mess up know.

Games like Twisted Metal, Devil may Cry, God of War, Grand theft Auto ex takes lots of intelligence to come up with and to put together to a point where it well not only sell but for others to enjoy and have them be inspired to create there own stuff those showing a great from of knowledge cause with out imagination we wont have the stuff we have to day and of cause others have miss used it but just like every thing it has its Ups and Downs.

And Movies, Games and Books don’t make people violent. It’s only done by person to person interactions with each other. Such as bullying and plane being mean to other for your enjoyment that what cause it and they scared to say it so they find something to blame. So the next time you see someone playing a game or read books don’t call them a nerd or make fun them instead thank them for when there ready there going bring lots of great thing that your going to enjoy one day. Like the flying car, the cubic date storage and much more.

And this reminds me of a friend of mine he wasn’t a gamer and he made fun of people who where. So I told him one day your going to find some beautiful and fall in love with and she well be a gamer. And it happen and now there married and have 3 kids and he is extremely happy now and enjoy his life so much more.

Anonymous said...

every time i've ever felt something in a game where it changed or effected my emotions never had anything to do with gameplay or input on a controller, it had to do with storytelling or decision-making that affects the characters or game story.

the quest to DO something in a video game with your controller that makes you feel an emotion seems like it should have been accomplished by now. lord knows we've tried.

great post.

erico316 said...

david u really an insightful person.As far as the death game its is possble if u are the force trying to kill a person like final des. for a game that had to do with sex it would need a new control that is like the real thing in which cough cough u know lol.but its wouldnt be my thing since i get the real thing when i need its

erico316 said...

sorry i didnt post the idea on how to make a death game but i would defintely make it on the ps3 i do have an idea on how to do its.post a reply and i will send u my idea

Anonymous said...


Just out of curiosity - What games have made you FEEL something in the past? Or left an impact on you after you put the controller down?

-Stitches- said...

Hey Dave, great article!

I think the problem is that the worlds have been segregated - almost all good stories go to the movie industry and ALL good game play innovations go to the gaming industry. I think the key for philosophically stimulating games is probably not in the action itself, but in creating a meaningful context for the action. A simple on screen handshake can mean nothing or everything depending on its context.

Furthermore, I think you're right that it's a matter of games evolving. Like you pointed out, we've come a long way since Chess - in which the only meaning we can really find is the word "war." Gaming has always been based in actions though, and movies (and books) have always been based on story. Fun action makes fun games and good story makes good movies (given good production, of course). I'd say that's why movie/game transitions generally fail, and why pure action movies and pure story games are generally unfulfilling.

But imagine for a moment if Chuck Palahniuk, James Cameron, George Lucas, or Gene Rodenberry were modern game designers and just as creative with game play as story and married the two worlds. Couldn't Fight Club, Terminator, Star Wars or Indiana Jones, or Star Trek have made killer modern video games where the action that the gamer lives out would have a deep meaning in the context of the story?

Perhaps the ultimate entertainment evolution will be a Holodeck, where the line between action based games and story based movies dissolves completely.

Mr. Jaffe, tear down that wall!

deadgopher said...


Have you played Fahrenheit or Indigo Prophecy? If not, go hit up direct2drive and buy Fahrenheit (rated AO in the states) and play through it. Amazing, definitely something I could call art.

It's a shame that the sex scenes were cut from the US version (Indigo Prophecy), they're definitely not what I would call gratuitous and they add a level of intimacy I've never seen in a game before. How else to describe it other than that feeling you get when you're watching two people gettin' down in a drama film? Take that feeling and boost it a couple notches, since you still have control of your character during one of the scenes.

The Max Payne series, especially the second game, really did it for me as well. They really nailed the noir bit for sure.

Derek Daniels said...

" it's an action game like Devil May Cry but you control a bad ass version of the grim reaper and you use his scythe in cool,violent, bloody ways! Love it!!! (by the way, no you can not rip off that idea...that baby is gold!)..."

That's Death Jr.

BTW - this whole games as art bullshit is just that. The most 'artistic' game to me is Tetris. That game defines what videogame art is all about. It's about being lost in that 'zone' and none of this other bullshit about empathy for the chick who went blind and her husband surgically removed his eyes then the chick got her eyesight back.

Sadeq said...

BioShock shows how much games gave matured without touching any of the so called 'mature subjects' which is often used as an excuse to include sex in games.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Jaffe,

Hello there, you probably don't remember me, but I posted a while back about how you inspired me in just about every way and now I'm at USC and Kincaid is no longer here, yadda, yadda, yadda. But I mentioned last time about the essay I wrote for my application; it was about the quality of God of War and the obvious love that went into its creation.

Art is beauty. If anyone argues with that, he or she is just sexually frustrated.

Beauty is NOT just visuals!!! Damn those who think it is! Damn them strait to hell!

All games are beautiful because they exist for the sole purpose of entertainment. To supply an individual with a few hours of joy. THAT'S IT!!! But that in itself is a beautiful thing. That we have people who dedicate their lives to seeing that other people have fun - even if it's only for a few hours.

You want to make an "artistic" game? Make me cry because I never knew life could offer so much joy! SO MUCH FUN! Art is not just tears of sadness!


Rock on!

Joaquin Reyes

P.S. - Why do games have to offer everything anyway? Does anyone even read anymore? And I'd like to know who actually goes to art exhibits anymore? Certainly not too many gamers. We're just lazy! Games aren't everything! Son of a bitch!

Joel said...

these are the posts i always hope you're going to have, when i visit your page.

awesome post.

and you know what, i think about this a lot! i DO think games can be more artistic, gameplay-wise.. but its definitely tricky to figure out exactly how its to be done.

games like passage do it INCREDIBLY simply, and leave most of the thought up to the player.. while other games use excessive-story branching, and context-sensitive buttons, and cut scenes, and every story-telling device out there to drive home their message.

i think both of those are interesting methods, but i think we're really just waiting for someone to come up with a better solution.

one of the biggest hurtles, is that the camera needs to show the action of the player well enough to enable the gameplay, at the expense of a more cinematic view, and the other is that there is this huge focus on gameplay being FUN. which, both are actually important parts of gaming.

but passage wasn't fun, but i still enjoyed the thoughts it gave me.. and so in that sense, i do think a game could be important and do well, even if it wasn't fun, in the classic-gaming sense.

every designer is an artist though, and although they can draw inspiration from others, its wrong to tell them how to create things... but i do think that you could DEFINITELY create a more intellectual game, if you really dedicated yourself to doing that. and maybe toking up a few times in the process. lol.

it definitely has to be the gameplay that pulls the player along, though, or you may as well be making a movie.

i dunno, just keep thinking about it i say. its an area that gaming desperately needs to explore.

Jyri Jokinen said...

Maybe my imagination is just limited, but I cannot think of a sex scene in a game that the player would actively control be anything but cheesy. Sex is a good story element, not so great a game element. How would you make sex playable without it being full-on porn?

However, there have been quite good examples recently of intimacy being portrayed in a tasteful way. Just think of The Darkness, with Joey's (or whatever his name was) girlfriend curling against him while they are watching TV. Or the genuine love between Jade and Pay'J in the first Beyond Good and Evil. Mafia also had some nice relationship development. An older example would be Alter Ego on Commodore 64.

That being said, I'd love to see the subject handled in an insightful way.

Anonymous said...

There is already a game dealing with the topic of death and it has brilliant story, strong characters, feel of artistry, etc. - for me that game delivered all key attributes discussed in your blog entry. The name of that game is Grim Fandango... (*sigh*... so many memories).


Unknown said...

Please don't let Brett Ratner direct the God of War movie.

stalepie said...

The reason why a sad scene in a movie is affecting is because you know there's no other storyline. If you could press a button on the DVD remote to allow Sophie to escape from the Nazis so that she doesn't have to make the awful choice about her children, then the story will be broken and it can no longer meaningfully be called "Sophie's Choice."

That said, some players have been known to cry over a dead character, or they experience wonder or awe at the graphics and sound. But these elements take place on the periphery or during story segments which you can't control. Think about speedruns and how when a player is just trying to show how fast he can get through the game, almost all the artistic stuff is pushed to the side in favor of pure gameplay.

I think the artistic side of games is mostly decoration. It's been elaborate for a long time, though, ever since the NES days. There was some nice music and tile art in those games. Yet you could take away most of the music and sounds, and replace the graphics with large blocks of color that only signifies their functions, and you'd still have the same game, just as playable as before. That in my mind proves that graphics, music, story and other artistic qualities in games are merely peripheral.

Also the very word "game" implies that it's non-serious, light-hearted fun. That's why movies like "The Game" with Michael Douglas, or "Surviving the Game" with Ice T, or "The Crying Game," etc., are called as such, because it sounds ominous or twisted to use the word for anything other than something fun, silly, etc.

(same with the word "play," such as in gameplay).

Gamers speak of winning a game. Life isn't really about winning or losing. People speak of having lost a child, but they would never speak of having won a child.

I found "God of War" to be a kind of emotional game. There was a feeling of anger in it. I guess it would not be the same game if you took away the graphics and sounds, so that contradicts what I just said a moment ago.

Joel said...


i know what you're saying. very interesting response.

you are right.. when you don't pass a level in a game.. it doesn't feel permanent. you can simply play again, and this time not let the character die. so you'd have to be kind of silly to mourn something that was so obviously not real.

but then, if beating the level forces you into a cutscene, with story that makes you feel something.. then its largely the "movie" thats making you feel, rather than the game.

so its a tough one. although, you did mention at the end that the added parts onto the game, can change the way you feel when playing the game. so, maybe although its not entirely the gameplay that makes you feel, the extras can have enough of an impact on the gameplay, and your feelings are indeed affected by the game itself.

i think one of the most powerful things about a game, is your ability to RELEASE. and thats what god of war did so well. someone dies, and if you can let yourself be moved by that, you can actually use that to make you take revenge, to get even.. etc. and a game can certainly do that in a way that you could only watch someone else do in a movie. (not as powerful in a movie then?)

anyways.. the other things i wanted to say about your post was that "game" and "play" are just names. its like how comic book implies its for a younger audience, but renaming it "graphic novel" has a whole other feeling associated with it. perhaps some games could try to use the name "interactive novel" which you experience, or something.. the slogan "you play a game, but you experience an interactive novel! lol. it seems silly, but it might do the trick, if the "gameplay" could live up to the title.

anyways, i love this topic, i think it needs to be explored more.. and more designers should realize that making new types of games is a good thing for the industry.

stalepie said...

Games do tap into something psychological that's different from what the other arts are after. I've wondered maybe if it isn't ritualistic behavior, with all its memorization of moves and timed sequences and the like. If you look at things from a "tribal psychology" like that, you might find all kinds of parallels between the kinds of story-dances that primitive peoples used to practice. Video game stories are usually mythic, and myths by nature are something that has to have variations and multiple storytellers.

Probably the hardest kind of story to tell in a video game is the intimate one, like between a man and his wife.

Someone here mentioned Snatcher and that game has those vidphone sessions between the detective and his girlfriend. There are things like that.

"but then, if beating the level forces you into a cutscene, with story that makes you feel something.. then its largely the 'movie' thats making you feel, rather than the game."

Yeah, that's, from what I've gathered, what's always been the problem. I mean I don't work in the industry, and I have kind of a love/hate relationship with video games, but in the example of the girlfriend in Snatcher, I think those scenes work as they do BECAUSE they're interruptions and BECAUSE they're non-interactive (you choose dialogue options, but there's no sense of danger). They feel like sanctuary in the context of the game.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting. I think that in some ways, some games have made me emotionally attached to characters, but to make a full out tear jerker of a game seems near impossible.

But I've got to say when my buddy and I played the shit out of God Of War when I first got it for three days, I had to admit I was pulling for Kratos big time. When he's protecting his family as the house explodes and you pull that epic camera angle that slowly pans back as the house is exploding, it gave me chills.

Yeah, but as far as emotional game play and what not, that's- woah, that would be hard.


Anonymous said...

Did people miss out on Shadow of the Colossus? I felt that the whole point of the game was all about emotion and loss.

stalepie said...


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