Friday, September 17, 2010

Journalistic Assumptions

I'm really tired of journalists writing pieces about what they feel is lacking in games- be it deeper artistic sensibilities, deeper stories, meaningful mature views of the world, or more realistic portrayals of women- and framing the opinion as if it's a foregone conclusion that what they are asking for simply needs to happen and it's our lack of maturity as developers or our lack of ability or our fear of a lack of sales that are the things that prevent their desires from coming true.

It's like they never stop to consider that perhaps many of us game developers don't want what THEY want.

Maybe some of us LIKE games that don't want to be art.
Maybe some of us would rather be the Jerry Bruckheimer of games than gaming's Orson Wells.
Maybe some of us LIKE portraying women in a more comic booky way (the same way- by the way- that the vast majority of male game characters are portrayed).
Maybe some of us don't want to load our games down with political and philosophical discourse.

The point is not whether games can or should push at these boundaries. For some developers and gamers they absolutely should try to do so (and some games do try and at times somewhat succeed). For other gamers and developers, not so much.

But just because YOU- dear journalist- may want games to be a certain way (and you have every right and in some ways even an obligation to shout from the rooftops about what you don't like and what you want to see changed about the medium that you cover) don't assume that we all have the same desires that you do. And more importantly don't assume that the reason things are not the way you want them is because game makers are just not trying hard enough or we're all stunted or we're all too scared of not moving units.

And if you really want to write about this topic in a fresh, meaningful way- and since some of you are so clear on the fact that if we were just more grown up as developers we could be making video game versions of Citizen Kane (don't fucking get me started),  how about an article explaining exactly what you mean? Be specific. Explain first off what it is about Citizen Kane you want to see done interactively. Explain the psychology that drives a player to chase after feelings and emotions in a videogame that they can already get in other mediums. Talk about the collapse of the suspension of disbelief in the fiction- that is required to immerse someone in a film or book (and thus allows those mediums to be powerfully emotional and moving)- that occurs the moment you pick up a controller and are given a task to complete. Discuss the challenge - and is it even possible- to create emotion while a player is also- at the same time- busy dealing with a task. Instead of just being accusatory ('developers are stunted' 'developers are scared of real women and/or don't understand women'), and instead of being presumptuous ('games should be ABOUT something! They should tackle the tough subjects like marriage and death and politics and these game makers are just so worried about blockbusters that they avoid making the medium great!) actually dig into whether this thing you say you want is even possible in this medium, how it works, the brain science and psychology behind interactivity and how there may (or may not) be ways to merge play and emotion.


ps. before anyone comments about how games can be art and such, I get it. I want games that have deeper meaning and deal with tougher issues as well. I'm not opposed to that. And as much as I'd like some games I work on to allow me to proudly wear the 'Jerry Bruckheimer' label, there are times- and games I want to make- that would let me drape myself in the cloak of Sidney Pollack or Spielberg or Nolan. So I'm not hating on the idea of games being 'more' than just action/adventure and explosions and T&A. I'm bitching about some journalists that assume that the reason most games are not 'more' than this has everything to do with lazy, untalented, and/or scared developers.


VenusinFurs said...

Agree, I wrote something similar at my blog. ( Gamers are obsessed with the whole games are art discussion that it's bordering the line of pathetic.

Unknown said...

I agree if journalists are going to voice their opinion it would be even more valid if they were more specific as to how those games would accomplish the things they want them to accomplish. Because its not an easy issue to figure out.

Sean Ridgeley said...

One of your best yet. Well stated. Nothing to add!

Otaku38 said...

That's true. Not too long ago, at the God of War developers meeting that you were in live, I made that same question, I don't know if you remember? I was the person that was really, freaking nervous and well I asked that question of how were you able as you as a Director and with the idea of making god of war, able to transfer that idea to the writer? And then, the second question was, how were you able to put that feeling of Kratos hugging his family while trying to get rid of the evil sorrounding them? As I said, I don't know if you remember since you are really and extremely busy but, I, myself was really looking forward for that answer. It is true everything that you say right now and I really agree. What I think is, that since the world and mostly games are involved around the money issue, they tend to lean to the safest side of storytelling and basic stuff that works. Games like Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, which have no dialogue, or they have fictional dialogue, but that were done on the Playstation 2 era, were safe since they didn't risk so much money like it is now. That's why since The Last Guardian is going for sure, have that same kind of touch of emotion, and it is from a person that gets this medium right, and people know about it, it's not such a big risk for Sony to invest so heavily on a director that understands and knows that the players are going to buy it. There's no denying that with the name of Fumito Ueda as director on the back of the box, gamers or the regular player are going to buy it. Today for people to buy something new and for developers like Sony or any other developer to risk into this medium of emotion and different gameplay, they see that there is potential, but they want a guy with enough big balls to tackle it. And well I think that you could be one of those people for sure. I myself am barely starting as a writer but, ever since you gave me that advice that day, it's making me push the thought of putting emotion into videogames more harder. I would really like to do it, but first I have to make myself notorious in order for that to work out. I would really like for you to work on that game that you got cancelled, Heartland. PSP is the way for you to try it out. I strongly believe that. Well, hope that you remember the guy that was standing nervous that time and have a nice day at work. Thanks for your time. Juan Contreras(Otaku38)

Unknown said...

I'd be curious to see what article inspired this rant.

I haven't really seen a review of a game in awhile that's really ragged on the game not inspiring you like a movie or piece of art, but i've definitely seen it before.

It seems like as i'm getting older, and experiencing more games, a majority seem to be really monotonous, and I get bored easily, i'm starting to go back to classics, and side scrollers, back when games weren't trying to be blockbuster movies, and trying to be fun and challenging.

It's like saying that storytelling is the same thing as being the person in the story experiencing it, and saying that they should evoke the same emotions.

Cameron Wright said...

It's almost like you read this and then wrote your entry

Subgenius13 said...

I think this topic comes up a lot with video games journalists. As a long time gamer I personally care more about the enjoyment of the game rather than if a game pushes the movement artistically. It is a luxury that the journalists have with having virtually limitless video game resources, and not necessarily rooted in the reality of the common gamer. The fact that I can play New Super Mario Bros Wii, and have almost as much fun as I had 25 years ago at the stand up machine at the corner store speaks volumes. It's an interesting topic, but not one that should not be the sole bar on which we judge games, and I don't think that is the case for anyone.


Unknown said...

Metal Gear Solid qualifies as art, I don't care what anybody says...

TyrantII said...

I think you're right on with this post, but one little caveat.

You're confusing journalists with pundits.

They are not one in the same in the gaming business, just as they are not in any other field or focus.

Kil said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kilrahi said...

I have to say I agree, but not on just video games, but accross all art mediums.

For example, one of my fave bands of all time is the Goo Goo Dolls. They consistantly pump out (IMO) jamming songs that rock and you can get into. They never load up on deep philosophy or some strong political slant - they just pump out timeless hits.

Yet critics consistantly smash them for not being political, philosophical, or particularly deep. Here's the thing though, does ALL music have to be some exhausting listening experience meant to enlighten us? Or can we just chill out sometimes and have fun?

Same goes for games. Isn't it okay to just want to blow shit up for the sake of blowing shit up?

I think so. Critics serve a purpose in that they can push creators to reach new ground, but I wish there was a way to be that force while still respective of the simple versions of that genre (which oddly enough often end up being the most timeless and memorable examples). I'd say Billy Joel's Greatest Hits kicks the ass of Radiohead's "Kid A" anyday, at least in terms of what I'm more often than not going to be in the mood for.

Unknown said...

Shadow of the Colossus evoked emotion towards the end with the horse, which was a consequence based on the task.

I write for film but I also game hardcore and I believe the creative directors, with publishers bearing down on them, are forced NOT TO go in the direction of other mediums which thrive on emotion and suspension of disbelief.

I based that soley on the fact that the public only buys AAA games that have violence, rpg quests, multiplayer shooters etc...

The 18-30 gamers of today aren't mature enough for it.

Unknown said...

Somebody reads game informer

Todd B. Gray said...

I could care less if a game is art or not. I judge a game on the 15 second rule.

If it captures my attention within' 15 seconds...i'll play it ... if not. It's getting thrown in the dump. I mean it's that simple, with today's society that's really how you have to approach developing.

Anyone else agree?

Unknown said...

When I want Citizen Kane, I play Final Fantasy or Xenosaga. When I want Bruckheimer I play Grand Theft Auto or Fallout 3. I don't understand this whining from either the journalists or you. Plenty of games are very artistic and have both aspects. Where would a game like Freedom Fighters fall? Hell, there's plenty of these middle ground type games that straddle the fence between message and interaction such as Half-Life, Deus Ex, Oblivion, F.E.A.R., Indigo Prophecy, Dreamfall, on and on. What's the beef? Please forgive me for saying so, but you seem to be scratching an itch of your own and playing defensive over not having provided the game that solidly bridges the gap for that journalist or that some game didn't live up to your vision because of..whatever. There are lazy ports, untalented and explotative sequels and uninspired cash-ins because developers were scared of stock values. There is plenty of shovelware crap on the market and there is plenty of timeless gems. Make a game with passion and we will play it; the people will see right through the extremes of artsy pretentious bullshit vs souless violence. There's a reason cheesy-ass WWE has story lines....

random_tripping said...

I get what you're saying, but is a post like this really necessary? I mean when virtually all the games being produced are of the Buckheimer ilk, and only a tiny minority of indie developers even dare to try anything remotely artistic or new with the medium, it's kind of off-putting to see one of the biggest names in mainstream, blockbuster gaming come down so hard against a traditionally cowed gaming press for daring to have an opinion.

I've never understood the impulse to rant in favor of the status quo. It's not like anyone wants to take away your muscly space marines and bouncy space tits, we'd just appreciate it being slightly less than VIRTUALLY EVERYTHING BEING MADE TODAY. And while you might not appreciate speculation about your level of maturity/imagination, it's not a crime to theorize about why the current state of gaming is so homogenous.

Lastly, it's not the job of critics to show us HOW to move a medium forward. That's YOUR job as a content creator/artist -- or rather, people like you. The question remains: why are so few of you even bothering to try?

Unknown said...

Good example of both: Starcraft 2.

Artistic and creative cutscenes with believable characterization and excellent voice acting. Solid gameplay with explosions and neat toys and strategy. 20min chunks of my life fly by, thoroughly entertained.

Move over to multiplayer and I can eschew story completely and jump into a quick match and get my jollies being insulted by pricks or blowing their base to hell.

And you can tell Blizzard worked their asses off to make that game and loved doing it. Granted, they are rolling in dough and can take the time to tweak but not only does it look good, but the performance is optimized to run on a wide variety of machines AND the gameplay mechanics have been obsessively balanced. It's art. It's a game. It's a labor of love.

Unknown said...

I think the reason there's been a surge of journalists talking about video games "maturing" has a lot to do with the industry itself - it's maturing. Game stories have become more serious in a lot of genres, and developers are actually able to tap emotions like a box-office hit could. I've never felt so attached to a character and story as I did playing Red Dead Redemption - honestly, playing through John Marston's story and connecting with him and his obstacles nearly brought me to tears at the climax. Video games are rapidly approaching a point where they can be considered "art" as much as a movie can. In my opinion, this stems from video games being able to trump absolutely all other forms of media in immersing someone into a story. You're controlling these avatars throughout the story. You're forging your own relationships with them.

Still, you can look at games without strong story or character interaction, like Modern Warfare 2, and watch it be a retail juggernaut. People also blame blockbusters like Red Dead and MW2 for the decline in sales - when a game has that much depth and lasts that long, it takes away the "need" to buy another game. But it always comes down to preference and a developer's ability to deliver a quality experience to a broad or niche audience. Sometimes people want to watch a movie like The Expendables to see a lot of awesome explosions and action, much like Twisted Metal's such a fun series for the senseless and entertaining carnage. Gaming's just as diverse as cinema, arguably more.

I'm not a video game journalist, though I'd love to be. I'm not claiming to be an expert in the industry, but I like to think I have a decent repertoire of knowledge.

Gaming's always been under attack as a medium, starting back with violent fatalities in Mortal Kombat. More recently, Medal of Honor came under attack solely because it allowed users to play as the Taliban and shoot other players playing as Army Rangers. Nevermind there's been at least twenty movies portraying that - gaming's such an immersive tool that people can actually become scared of it. If gaming were to actually tackle hard issues, it would immediately come under fire from the media. The difference between AO and M ratings can make or break a successful launch. Of course developers would be scared of censorship! Do they want to be? No. Developers strive to deliver the best possible experience to their audience. But when it may result in the utter destruction of all their hard work, nobody could blame them for pulling punches.

People want gaming to continue to mature. There's a huge audience for people who want a profound, attaching story, a la BioShock. They want a deep, enriching experience that tests their emotional threshold and has their eyes glued to their TV from the very first second.

I think you're mistaking journalists wanting a niche that's been sorely undelivered to flourish with an idea that people don't want games like Twisted Metal or God of War. There will always be a place for games like that.

There just hasn't been a video game equivalent of something as gripping and thought-provoking as a movie like Citizen Kane or The Godfather Part II. To those journalists wanting that, I say give it time. The industry will grow into these genres in the way gamers want.

(I apologize, David, for using Citizen Kane as an example and continuously using "mature". I do not mean that developers need to mature, but the industry itself will naturally, like cinema and television has. You'll also note I didn't add anything about what I personally mean by a story like Citizen Kane, as there's no point in doing that. It takes a special person to be an "Orson Welles".)

if this seemed incoherent or rambling, I wrote this in a single sitting. I'll probably key something more deserving of a response from you if time permits.

Anonymous said...

I think journalists and other people can be really passionate about what they want and not look at things in a bigger picture like you just did. Because you understand because you actually make games, and they don't. I pretty much agree with just about everything you said. Heart in the right place, but making assumptions.

I feel like emotion in games is what really gets me going in a game. I mean, Kratos covering his family while that house explodes in GOW was fucking beautiful man. I didn't like what Sony did with your baby from there. Kratos, while being ridiculous and over the top and bad ass had a lot of humility to him in GOW 1 that kind of got lost in GOW II and really lost in GOW III. I love both of those games, but GOW made Kratos relatable and he was much more grounded in reality in a sense even though the game has so much amazingly spectacular violence, you were controlling a dude you could relate to and feel his anger and his emotions.

Point being that I think games are tapping into more of the emotional side of making players feel for the story/protagonists and that's great. I feel like GOW did a great job with that and so did TMB, you're able to combine emotion and make us feel your characters motivations so that when we're owning with the blades of chaos or transforming an ice cream truck into a robot, the characters' emotions are channeled into us and we want what they want and feel connected to them through storytelling that translates into feeling emotions while you're actually playing the game. Only MGS, MGS2, MGS3, MGS4, MGSPW, Heavy Rain, TMB and GOW have made me feel that connection with my character to the point to where I feel every goddamn thing that happens to them and it touches me to the point where I can shed a tear and feel what these characters are feeling.

I'm more for, especially after playing HR, seeing how gameplay can be used to tell a story. I thought it was fascinating. At the same time, there is room for every way to make a game. You can have your blockbusters or the games that make you feel. There's room for all of it, and that's the great thing about the artistic medium.


Dave Rzasa said...

I'm glad somebody with a respected position in the industry finally has some common sense about the majority of reviewers. Games from many a year ago weren't about art, they were about fun, and continue to be more fun than games that try to be something more.

Jack_Burton said...

Please give me FUN games that are free of Technical Glitches, thats all I want. Fuck all the fanboy journalists with agendas.

Rimbaud said...

Personally, while I do agree that games don't *have* to be art, as a gamer I'm still saddened by your outlook.

Comparing God of War to the Twisted Metal series is (no offense intended) like comparing Fight Club to a fart comedy. Now there may be nothing wrong with a light-hearted comedy to make your viewers laugh, but if David Fincher decided that movies didn't need any kind of depth and from now on he was just going to focus on fart comedies, cinema would be all the poorer for it.

da criminal said...

Rimbaud, a lot of people misunderstand me on this subject.

To me there is a vast difference between making something that attempts to be art and 'meaningful' and making something engaging and meaningful to the audience.

A good fart comedy or a heartfelt drama can easily fit into the latter category (Dumb and Dumber, The Rocker, Steel Magnolias, The Kids Are Alright). But there is a difference- in film and in games- between making pretentious, statement heavy work and making work that engages the vast majority of your players/viewers.

I think Twisted- for those who dig its hyper fast brand of on the go tactics and strategy- DOES appeal to people beyond a surface level. I think games I work on always try to do that. But that is different from trying to make 'art'.

And the reason I have such disdain for taking the art track as the main goal- versus it being a by product- is that when you do that, your work comes from a place of pure selfish ego and it is not pure and creative and it is not in service to the audience. It simply exists- as I see it- to make the creator feel important and relevant. Which is a fine goal but that's a goal one needs to attain on their own from inside, not via others patting you on the back and telling you that you have 'arrived'.

Josh said...

I agree completely Dave. I think the problem is that game journalists are getting older (and older), and maybe they're trying to justify the fact that they write about/play games for a living.

At the end of the day, a game is about having fun. End of story.

Example, I played the Limbo demo and was not impressed at all. It's got great atmosphere, but its gameplay is tired. No one seemed to notice (or care). Fail.

Another example, Pixeljunk Monsters. A game where artistic direction COMPLEMENTS the amazing gameplay! A+++

Games are about getting your adrenaline going, throwing your controller, or it's about putting your feet up and relaxing, getting out of your head for a while. If the art complements that then fantastic. Otherwise, who gives a shit?

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