Regardless of TV or computer games, I've noticed a trending theme in these magazines. Inreasingly more and more articles are written about how games can transcend their lowly state as mere games and become more than simply entertaining, because we all know having fun is for stupid people anyway, right? You may have noticed a hint of sarcasm there but don't worry - there will be plenty more before I am done here.
It's no news or surprise to anyone that the gaming industry, and games generally, have something of an inferiority complex towards other means of entertainment. If you tell people you're really into books or movies they will most likely think you're cool. You're even cooler if you start quoting books or movies, or have deep discussions about them. Not so much for us gamer equivalents, unfortunately. Although more than 30 years have passed since gaming became a thing, we're still reluctant to tell people how much games mean to us and how much time and effort we spend on them. I used to be like this but feel like I have mostly overcome it and can now gladly tell anyone that I can spend hours a day on gaming. That probably 80% of my free time goes into gaming. Fortunately for me, in my line of work this has actually turned out to be something of a benefit. As I work a lot with young people, I have an easy way to open up a conversation with almost anyone, as long as they're into some sort of gaming.
|I miss my undead...|
I've become something of the "corky gamer girl" at work (because that's what you are if you like games), and I haven't noticed anyone having a problem with it. I do get reactions when I first tell people, like "really? That much time?", but no one really cares what I do in my spare time. There are people around me that I still can't talk about this with of course. My grandpa would have a hissy fit and probably not speak to me for months if I told him how much time I spend with games, although that time is equally matched by his time watching TV. It doesn't matter. To a lot of people today gaming is still seen as a menial form of entertainment. That it is in essence mostly dumbing anyone who spends "too much time with it" (whatever that is). There are many reasons for this and discussing them might be another post all together. That's not what I wanted to talk about today however - instead my point is that even after all this time, we gamers still sometimes feel bad about what we love to do most. Shameful even, we hide and lie about it like we're talking about drugs. In the past I've said things like I was "going to this event with friends" when talking about raiding, because that's what it basically is anyway and I couldn't be arsed with the looks and trying to explain. No one would question a movie night or a book reading club. But oh I forget, they're sociable. Yeah, sarcasm again.
Because of this, gamers have constantly seeked to transform games into something that all the non-gamers can understand and accept. Sure, you can argue that fuck everyone else, if they don't like your gaming then what's the problem? Well, there is a problem if you're living at home and your parents refuse to let you game at all because they just don't understand it, or if like mentioned you constantly have to hide and lie about your gaming because your "irl" friends think you're weird otherwise. I think, trying to increase the status of gaming as a form of entertainment worth to spend a lot of time and money on is a mission worth working for. But there are good and bad ways to go about it.
We're already seeing a form of trying to get games into everyones hands in the form of "simple" games that are Angry Birds and Farmville. Many gamers would argue that these are barely games at all, which of course, they are. There is a danger with these games that goes beyond the scope of this post, but is still necessary to mention - the fact that more and more gaming studios will focus on these small (ie cheaply developed games) that are easy to sell rather than the big, risky projects that we love. This is a real fear going through the gaming community at the moment, but I'm not overly worried myself. As long as there is an interest there will be a product, somehow.
|Happy birds are much cuter though|
I don't mind meta-games, or "deep" games, or poetic games at all. I think they have their time and place as well, and thought we could all live in happy co-existance although my personal interest in them is generally low. I can find it interesting with wanting to create a game that is primarily designed to make you reflect over your own gaming behavior or the meaning of life, rather than to "just" entertain old school style. I even subscribed to a magazine that started a couple of years ago called "The Enemy" in swedish (Fienden) which was a gaming magazine about games without a single review in it. It discussed games in a sort of abstract, study of ideas kind of way instead and I was intruiged by the idea. Sadly it was cancelled after the first issue.
But then I read an article that somehow really wound me up. It got me furious in fact, because of one little quote. The quote was from Michaël Samyn of the Tale of Tales game studio, and you'll have to bear with my amateur translation as the magazine is in swedish;
"The problem with games is the 'game' part. That a game per definition is about learning rules, use them to overcome an obstacle and then win, and which therefor is almost always suited to tell only one story - the story of someone who's constantly challenged by enemies and defeats them. It's because of this that games can never be a meaningful form of expression." (Paraphrased, Svenska PC Gamer p.30)
I don't even know where to get started with this quote. What really grinds my gears is saying that games can't be a meaningful form of expression. In the article, Samyn continues discussing how the core structure in games is what is standing in its way to.. what, really? I'm not sure what he thinks "regular" games are lacking at the moment? The possibility to make us feel? To make us engrossed, entertained, to think and contemplate? For some reason I take this personal. It's like he is saying "remember those awesome memories you have of playing FFVII? Remember how cool you thought it was and how happy you were, and how still today it makes you smile? Yeah unfortunately that was just a lowly experience, it wasn't really meaningful". Then what is, I must ask? And who is Samyn to tell me that what I feel playing a good game isn't "real", "worthy" or "meaningful" enough? How can you even use such a word, "meaningful"? I thought I was the only one who could say what was meaningful to me or not.
|You will not take this experience from me|
Yes, games have rules. In case you haven't noticed, everything in the universe has rules. I can't walk through walls even if I wanted to, and have to obey to the rules of physics (although in quantum-physics you can go through walls theoretically, but that's beside the point). I am sure the games Samyn creates have rules too and I am sure that if they didn't they wouldn't be very fun games. Wikipedia states that;
"Key components of games are goals, rules, challenge, and interaction"
Although there is no clear definition of a game, I am sure that without a goal to strive to and challenges to overcome, it wouldn't be much of a game. An interactive story maybe, but not a game. When I play a game I want that challenge, and I want that goal to make the challenge fun to overcome. That is why I play a game rather than watch a movie or read a book. When I want a story without interaction, goals, rules and challenge, I go to those forms of media instead. So what is Samyn trying to tell me?
In fact, Samyn has started an organisation called "NotGames", focused on creating games (well, not games) that have risen above and beyond what regular games are trying to accomplish. Even the article goes on to point out that by saying you're making "NotGames", you're basically saying you're making anything, because anything except a game is a notgame, and who would be the target audience for those creations? In the article some game studios that have hooked on to the idea admit that they don't want to call their creations "notgames" for the fear of losing potential customers. You know, gamers. Who play games.
And what kind of a concept is that anyway? You wouldn't see anyone start a car company called "NotCars" or a sausage brand called "NotSausage". If they're not what they're not trying to be, then why even point it out? By saying you're not making a game, you're immediately connecting your product to games, unless you're just trying to be Captain Obvious.
|I'TS NOT A CAR!|
The last few years I have been thrilled to see indie developers getting a chance to disitribute their games and find markets through systems like Steam Greenlight and Kickstarter, to mention a few. The gaming community doesn't just need yet another FIFA or Medal of Honor, there is room for pretty much anything. And it is true that one of the most popular games of recent years, Minecraft, came from a no name creator rather than one of the big developing studios. It is clear that good gaming can come from anywhere. Of course there are differences between these games, just as there is differences between movies and books. And I don't mind us comparing the games, discussing which and what is better. But let us not discuss gamers. Let us not go there where one choice of games is held as better than another choice. Is the person playing To the Moon living a more meaningful life than the person playing LoL? I find the choice in games can hardly say anything about that. Gamers are already fighting the view of gaming being the lower choice of entertainment, do we really want to faction up within the community as well?
In the end all of these creations want to be games, no matter what they call themselves, and I think they should be treated equally, within their own merits. When a movie reviewer reviews Die Hard 5, he's not comparing it to Shindler's List (I hope). He's not telling us which one is more meaningful. The review is not based on anything else but the quality of the movie - as a movie within it's own genre. I think IGN reviewers Anthony Gallegos did it right when he gave To the Moon a 7.5 because of a great story but weak gameplay. If you choose to tell your story through a game you need to think about all aspects of the game. It is true that really great stories can make you forgive mistakes in graphics, gameplay and physics. But if you're playing a game these will all still matter - just look at practically any Bethesda game of late. And if you want to make games, don't belittle the competition and even worse, the choices of potential customers.
The article writer points out that it's easy to write off the whole idea as Samyn being a pretentious wannabe whos creations will be art - but not games. Those creations will have their place in the world as well, but they'll have as much to do with games as anything else - inspired by and from perhaps, nothing more. And I am perfectly fine with that. Like I said, I believe in letting anyone create, like and play whatever they enjoy whether it be Mass Effect or Okami or something else completely. What I don't believe in however is gamers looking down on other gamers for their choices. Like I said; It's tough enough having to defend what I do to everyone who don't play games, I really don't want to start doing it within the gaming community.
Right now I think Samyn and others like him are doing themselves a disservice. They have a really interesting idea on their hands, but decide to go all hipster with it, alienating the very people that might be interested in it by calling them and their game choices sheepish. Yes, philosophical games can be great, but so can regular games. Because there is no denying that no matter how much you strive to find that thing that make people really think, enjoy and feel like they've made something meaningful with their life it's hard to beat a plain old simple, awesomely fun game. These don't have to be exclusive and the one is not better than the other. As long as I get happy from playing it, it's meaningful to me. Just look at Tetris and say I am wrong.