Saturday, March 12, 2011

Shit Or Get Off The Pot...


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.


adamgreeney said...

As an aspiring gaming journalist (who will no doubt fail to break in) I'd have to agree with you on the surface. The issue is how developers then handle the criticism. Remember EGM getting raked over the coals and having previews pulled for trashing Assassin's Creed? Anyone remember Jeff Gerstmann? There is a bizarre synergy between companies and journalism that you don't see in other mediums. I think that needs to be addressed before we can could on gamings Woodward and Bernstein.

jeanmarie said...

Holy hell, thank you so much for this, Jaffe. I'm an Art Director working in games, and people are always so SHOCKED to hear that I don't buy the notion that games (in their current state today) deserve to be quantified as, 'art.'

I 100% agree with what you're saying, that the harder the industry bellows that "we're artistic!" the worse it makes us look -- as a young medium, generally making toys.

As a world-renowned voice in games, it means a lot to me that you'd be so honest and up-front with this topic. Thank you!

Unknown said...

This is more a response to your twitter question of why certain fans want the game industry to change. I'm responding here because I don't have or want a twitter account.

I can only speak for myself, but I don't want the game industry to change. I want it to expand and grow. I have grown up with games and, in a certain way, I feel that games have grown up with me as well. So, as I've matured and continue to do so I naturally crave more meaningful and varied experiences.

However, this urge hasn't replaced my old tastes. but now complements them. For instance, I am equally pumped for Twisted Metal (Huge fan since the beginning) and Mortal Kombat as I am for Mass Effect 3 and The Last Guardian.

And that brings me to the part of this argument that bothers me the most and comes from both sides. There is plenty of room for all types of experiences, and I wouldn't want it any other way.
Thats my take anyway. Love your games, love your blog and twitter, respect your opinions. Keep it up.

Anonymous said...

@Adam: And how does that vibe with anything in David's blogpost? The separation of church and state in gaming business is crucial but has nothing to do with the "games are art" messianism pushed by some people. As if games needed legitimization by qualifying them as art.

Newsflash: games are relevant, whether they are art, or not.

Unknown said...

I really agree with Jaffe on this. There is no formula for art!

I also do not give credits to someone who "at least is trying". That's even worse if you ask me, that exactly is the problem. You can not try to make art, art kinda makes itself trough you and not the other way around. I think that people who created some form of art, came from a place of 100% honesty with themselves and everything else. They just did it. I don't think it was even hard for them, it was just natural. And then the other people (like you and me) saw something special in the thing they created.

It's really hard for me to explain this with words (especially in English, not my first language) but for me the concept of art is beyond human thought. That is why you look ridiculous when you try to THINK or PLAN your "art". The thing you end up creating using this approach is the definition of cheep for me.

It's also very bad when media lables something as art, especially in a way "you need to understand this, this is something special, you must realize how special it is". I saw that example countless times as well...

hyperhealer3 said...

As a fan, I both agree in some cases and disagree in Others. I think I see a divergence in the type of video games coming to the market these days. There are some pure video games (tales from space, PAC man CE:DX, etc.) and others, like Red Dead Redemption, Heavy Rain and yes, God of War.... that tells a story and attempts to do something more. Heavy Rain referred to itself as "interactive drama" and I think it's applicable. The interactive nature of games, at least in this layman's opinion, gives me the illusion that the story being put before me is "my" story, even if I'm just being led down a linear path. How is that not worthy of being called art?

I'm not saying that all video games or interactive drama is or should be as ambitious... but I certainly appreciate the games that in the process, tries.... even more than just games with great mechanics and gameplay.


Misael said...

I completely agree with you Jaffe. I think gaming journalist too often get hooked by the PR and "Art" hype. They don't ask important questions. Journalism is about asking thought provoking questions. Exposing things that aren't easily seen.

Whats the point of being a fanboy and just basically regurgitating what the PR department of the publisher is pushing? I'm with you. Journalist need to be more critical and they also have to ask the right questions.

Unknown said...

There's a bigger problem, Mr. Jaffe. Game stories suck.

Pretty much every game designer work from a POV of mechanics first and foremost. So it's hard to see what the medium is capable of if you are not a writer.

At Gamestop, I have three choices: games where you shoot things, quirky platformers, and rhythm/fitness games.

When I go onto Netflix, I have horror, comedies, big Michael Bay action flicks that I do enjoy, musicals, dramas, little indie flicks where nothing happens -- much like The Path. :)

I love my competitive shooters. That's a very primal part of myself that is being fulfilled. Hunt and kill... Use tactics and strategy to achieve my mission... And watch shit blow up real good! I love that...

But the other side of me also enjoys great stories like The Sopranos and Jaws. I want THAT same kind of depth in my games. And NOBODY is giving me that in this medium.

You do combat really well, Valve does First-Person shooting really well, but that's enough for me anymore.

I'm the guy that was stunned to find out Bioshock and Half-Life 2 was just a corridor shooter, and yet Alyx Vance has the best facial animation in games, and she's held that honor since 2004. LA Noire on the other hand is something else.

I feel I've been playing the Phantom Menace, but want the Empire Strikes Back -- at least. This Phantom Menace review is a great start: )

Gamers DO want a richer experience, and I know you do to, as you also love film and tv.

And I don't expect the industry to change. Real change will come from the outside. Devs aren't suddenly going to hire writers and strip out their combat systems, but I want more.

Games build superficial drama through enemy encounters every five minutes -- then deliver story through a little cutscene, or some scribblings on the wall in between -- not enough, at least for me. Let ME truly interact with the story in a meaningful way.

Imagine a movie like Indiana Jones or The Dark Knight if it had to crush some story into five minutes, then on walls, like some mental patient, and then onto the next enemy encounter.

Take the interrogation scene in The Dark Knight -- let me play as Batman, let me interrogate The Joker, that is such a compelling scene in that film, and allowing you to drive the scene would be astonishing.

I find it ironic that a film like Indiana Jones is about two hours long and has so many great moments where games are twenty hours long and don't even come close. In games, character development is about putting points in RPG stat trees, where for the last few thousand years, character development has meant something else.

It's not about ART. It's about ENTERTAINMENT. I am not entertained by shooting enemy AI -- though I am entertained by shooting people online as their behavior is more spontaneous. I am not entertained by boss battles, and never have been.

In the next Twisted Metal, let me be Sweet Tooth when he pulls that girl from under her bed.

And I'm not calling you out, or anything like that, but the industry in general. I understand these are the games you grew up on, and so because nostalgia is very powerful, these are the games you want to make.

The script is the most cheapest thing when making a creative product, and yet the game industry, much like film/tv, overlooks it and would rather throw all their money at hiring another programmer to get that "awesome-sauce" game feature.

I'm currently working on a small story-driven game and immediately seeing the potential for what the medium is capable of.

I didn't set out to change your opinion but to offer a different opinion. One that isn't shared by your peers and colleagues.

Fuck Art. Long live ENTERTAINMENT. Where's my popcorn?

Twitter: @chrismferguson

David Jaffe said...

Chris, great comment- but I think you're wrong :)

I tried to comment here but blogger would not let me for some reason (some HTML error that I- as a non coder- don't understand)...So I just made a whole post out of it :)

Eager to hear what you think- thanks!


Vehgah said...

The difference between a genuine piece of art and a pretentious one isn't the goal of the artist but rather the success of the work. I don't think that any honest artist would say that (s)he wasn't trying to move people. Art isn't something that magically flows from the mind to the medium. A lot of skill, time, and conscious effort are involved. Inspiration is where the magic is.

The problem with games is that everyone mistakenly believes that art = narrative. No one has yet to find a voice and a format unique to games. This is because games are such a new and powerful medium.

I think this post is right. The only way we can have a valued medium in games is to be honest. I disagree, though, in the idea that no one has achieved this in games. Not all games involve running and gunning.

David Fernández Huerta said...


As a video game artist, I agree 100% with you.

I think the point is some people think this is a fight worth fighting for. It's funny, because the "Art" as we know it is an invention of th 19th century, and by the half of the 20th the concept was already desacralized (by artists and intellectuals I mean).

It's like gay marriage: when straight people don't give a shit about marriage, gay people have to fight for their rights. We game developers are the gay people of art, and we've got to fight for what we think is right.

As I said, I agree with you, but I understand the legitimacy of the vindication.


Restitutor Orbis said...

Hi! Publisher of The Escapist - we linked to your article. I agree with you 98% of the way, but where I don't agree with you is in your (seeming) suggestion that the best "traditional" games aren't art.

I don't think games need to "arrive" in some way that is different than the 5,000 years of gameplay have created. Artistry has already arrived in game development. The best game studios are already doing it. But the art of a great game lies in the way it offers interactivity in fresh ways.

I think you're ceding too much ground to narrativists.

Richard MacDonald said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Richard MacDonald said...

Now, I'm with you for much of what you're saying, but in the last paragraph you do lose me a bit.

"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?"

I don't actually know if this is true, but I've heard it said that Monopoly was originally something of a deconstruction or a satire of the capitalist system. It can be seen in the play mechanics. The more money one has, the easier the game becomes, and those with less money find themselves thrust further and further into debt with increasingly fewer ways out, until they are forced to declare bankruptcy and forfeit the game. Through play mechanics, without a single character, line of dialogue, or any other non-game narrative element, the game perfectly outlines the fundamental flaws with capitalism. "The rich get richer..."

Narrative (would a better word to use be "meaning"?) and play mechanics, in one, in an analog game created well before videogames.

Monopoly might be the Cow Clicker of the 20th century, I suppose, but I digress.

Missile Command is another example, but rather than go into it, I'll just leave a link to The Escapist's Extra Credits video entitled, "Narrative Mechanics." Check it out, it's quite an interesting little take on Missile Command that I honestly never considered before I watched this video.

Hell, even God of War did this. Every gameplay mechanic was characterization. Just from controlling Kratos for a few moments, one could get a sense of who he is as a person. And in the moment when Kratos must defend his family from the clones of himself, sometimes even giving up his own health to replenish his family's, that was all brilliant narrative-through-mechanics. I'll admit, it moved me. I'm not a father, but for a moment I was able to feel what I think is something resembling the sacrifices a father must make for his children. It was also a perfect way to show, rather than tell, how Kratos truly sees himself.

I'm not saying "games have arrived" but they've had a few successful run-ins. More can be done, and those that can should continue striving for more and better while exploring the boundaries of what this medium can do, because we just won't know until we try.

Still, I agree that gamers need to chill the fuck out. And art snobs need to stop being so snobby. Art isn't better than non-art, it's just another thing people create.

Jasper Byrne said...

It sounds like you have a similar set of thoughts on the subject to Icycalm of ... I don't honestly get why you feel so threatened, and who it is you feel threatened by?

Are you placing the blame at journalists' doors, or at the developers'?

The former is fine, but then you go on to say "real art and genuinely important work doesn't need to continually toot its own horn", as if experimental, shorter game creators are somehow claiming their work is greater (whereas I know of none who do, very few even use the vague category 'art-games' to describe their work.)

'Art-games' doesnt' mean that other games aren't 'art', just as 'art films' doesn't mean other movies aren't art.

If your problem is with the journalism, fine, be explicit about that. Don't blame people who are just making games for the love of it, without any of the immense financial backing you enjoy, and certainly don't complain when these people go on to receive funding and attention for work others have enjoyed.

magx01 said...

I've largely avoided the whole 'games as art' debate, because a) it does not interest me, and b) I don't even think we have a consensus as to what consitutes art in the first place. If we did, we wouldn't really have such a disagreement- I think.

It's almost as though it's two people arguing different sides of a no true scottsman fallacy.

In terms of storytelling in games, I don't care 99% of the time. I grew up playing games that quite often had no story, and I certainly never felt as though I was experiencing something incomplete. Games were about, well, GAMEplay. The actual mechanics mattered. The challenge mattered.

And that is still my thought today. I'll play a game with no story, or a bland story, with good-great gameplay any day of the week. I will NOT, however, play a game with a good-great story and inadequate gameplay mechanics. If I wanted a good story I'd read a book, which I often do.

This is why I have been a lifelong Ninja Gaiden fan. It's pure gameplay and challenge. It was during the 8 bit era, and it is now. I don't think I like what I'm hearing about NG3, however. I keep hearing two dreaded words: story and accesibility. Ugh.

Of course, I do enjoy the conversations found in the current crop of WRPG's. Alpha Protocol was amazing in this regard. I'm not a philistine, after all....well, perhaps somewhat ;)

Btw, I'm not going to lie and say I am a fan of God of War (NG/DMC/Bayonetta for me), but kudos on creating something that is both fun to watch and has resonated so deeply with some people.

And good luck with Twisted Metal. I look forward to trying that at my buddies' place.

Unknown said...

I've largely given up on the "games as art" debate because:

a) Most of those who criticize games--politicians, the media, certain film critics--have no interest in gaming, so the deck is stacked against the medium.

b) The very medium which many compare video games to (film) isn't as pure as its proponents believe.

Think about all the dreck that comes out in theaters. Is Freddy Got Fingered art? Is Gigli or Battlefield Earth art?

Heavy Rain seems like a particularly noteworthy example of a pretentious game that screams IMPORTANT while completely neglecting the gameplay. And if you don't think it's important, David Cage will remimd you at every opportunity. The story is good, but the script is awful, and a high school drama class could do better voice acting.

Jordan said...

If you did not see Brain Moriarty's "An Apology for Rodger Ebert" at GDC here is the transcript. You should be able to find it in the GDC Vault when ever it is posted. It is wonderfully well written and thoroughly thought out and may be the freshest breath of air on the subject.

Robert said...

First of all, this post reminded me of just how shallow Red Dead Redemption is, especially in the case of character development.

But what I really want to say is that I believe that the problem is that games has the player do a lot of things that are very much meaningless because most games are meaningless in general. I wish games could use every element to produce an experience that actually has a meaning, that actually says something about something. For example, with the movie Graveyard of the Fireflies, the things that happen produces a resounding anti-war message that's not explicitly being said anywhere in the movie. It's an anti-war movie because that was the conclusion following the whole narrative, and that's the problem with games, we've got all the mechanics, but there's no conclusion. There's no point to anything. And something that doesn't have a point can't be considered artistic.

brown_panda said...

I came here after listening to the gametrailers podcast about your blog entry, so I had to see for myself. I agree with you there on many points. Especially on the point that, if games already are art then people would notice and say it so. Also it is inconceivable why devs spend millions making cutscenes, 'cause if the game is shitty nobody would care anyway.

But if you use games's 5000 year old history then looking at chess, backgammon etc. ( I guess that's what you meant) they already are art, in the sense that it makes people think a lot and influences lives. Great people have come out and pointed out how profoundly games like such have affected the way they lead their lives. I'm no artist, but isn't that what art is supposed to do. Sportsmen look at sports and the way they are played as art. Michael jordan and federrer are artists, in a sense. Only way digital games would reach that level is if someone manages to create advanced AI routines for chess, go etc. which comes up with it's own strategies, making the players think long after their encounter with those games. playing these games may influence their lives , changing them for the better.

So perhaps art is not just something that looks or feels good (not exclusively at least), it is also something that helps our intellect to evolve, something which just makes us think at a deeper level. So I agree with your core argument there that all that arty-farty shit isn't really doing much, but masking mediocre gameplay (in some cases), and gamers and game-makers (in some cases) are looking for meaning in video games in the wrong direction.

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Films are more artistic than games so far largely because they use cameras on actors we can empathise with, not because they have superior writing. 75% of films in the last decade have been directly derivative works. Even the most high rated films of last year like the social network and 127 hours are based on moderately interesting true stories that outstay their welcome after 5 minutes. Is that what art is, one single narrow minded concept? I think it's time "gamers" stopped looking at film as if it's a superior high brow medium when popular film is just as shallow and crude as gaming. It's a lot easier to make a good film because graphics are already perfect and you only have to aim a camera at what already exists. Games should be looking more to tv series in terms of pacing and depth for inspiration.

Some of your logic would mean the most expensive paintings and the biggest box office movies are not art either. Are you really going to argue that Avatar and No. 5 have more artistic value than GTAIV? I'm struggling to understand how you can have such a ridiculously high opinion of film when even the greatest films are filled with plot holes, continuity errors and one dimensional plots with less emotional attachment and intellectual curiosity than a sci-fi short story.

Mr. Jaffe, I think you should go be a film designer as you have no respect for the interactive medium, and vastly too much idealisation of film. Games are not merely sport, that's like saying tv is only capable of gameshows. You remind me of film naysayers. People like Chaplin who said:

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Video games are indisputably the most diverse artistic medium. Nothing in film comes close to the experience of exploring liberty city or the mojave wasteland. And nothing I've witnessed in film made me feel as attatched to characters and plot as in Heavy Rain. I rapaciously finished it in a single 12 hour sitting. Film on the other hand? I barely have the patience to sit through 90 minutes anymore because they're so pretentious and soporific and even more so because they have no volition or agency. The great thing about games is they involve you. It's not just about core gameplay mechanics as you seem to think. They can involve you in the writing and setting.

If a work of architecture is "art", what is a game world like Liberty City with exponentially more architectural design? If you merely want to play with kid's toys you are welcome to. But don't pompously try and deprive the rest of us from the sort of deep, meaningful & memorable experiences we deserve just because you're only capable of designing a simple toy like Twisted Metal and not something culturally significant like GTA.b

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