Monday, December 20, 2010

The Spirit Of The Season

I love to give. Unfortunately, I'm a big ball of spite, so I'm going to be giving out big spoonfuls of spite. Here's LordMune's Let's Play of Heavy Rain. Heavy Rain: the two-word refutation of the entire "games as art" argument. Fuck you, David Cage.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

How About A Nice Game Of Chess?

So watching Extra Credits this week reminded me of something. Not that games aren't art, I already discussed that. Video games will be art when we start discussing the artistic merits of Monopoly. Video games are games, they're not art just because I really really like them. And it's not that most people on the interwebs seem to grossly overthink the simplest things. Seriously, watch this weeks episode and tell me you're not thinking "Riiiiiigggghhhhhhttt" most of the time.

What it reminded me was that Missile Command is probably one of the most terrifying games out there. Seriously, that game was some unsettling shit. In large part this was because it was one of those old school arcade games that never ends. It just keeps getting incrementally harder with each level. For those of you not familiar, Missile Command was a simple game where you had three SDI (strategic defense initiative) missile silos with finite missiles and six cities chock full of civilians. And then thermonuclear warheads start falling from the sky. You have to protect the cities from wave after wave of atomic death. Oh sure, you got your ammo resupplied after each level, but attrition weighs you down something fierce. Eventually your going to lose a city, and it's gone forever (actually I think one citiy magically rebuilt every 10 levels or something, but I could be wrong). Or you could lose a missile silo, rendering your cities more vulnerable (if you got a silo back after a set number of levels, I didn't live that long). At long last, the sheer volume of warheads being thrown at you is going to win. And all you can do is sit and watch helplessly as your empty silos try and target the warhead that is about to wipe out millions of people. And then it hits, and you get the game over screen. Actually, it wasn't a "game over" screen. It said "The End" within the games pixellated, circular nuclear blast. The game wasn't over, it was the end. Everyone was dead. Humanity died on your watch. And there were no continues, more quarters just started a new game. Now that was some scary shit, especially when you consider that the game was made at a time when it could have really happened. Oh sure, today we play DefCon because no one realistically expects a global thermonuclear war, but in 1980...

Back then you couldn't really "win" arcade games. That's what hi-score lists were for. You were competing against other gamers in your area for the top score. To that extent Missile Command was no different from its peers. But that subtle change from "Game Over" to "The End"... damn. And it wasn't a frantic firefight to survive until the end, but all too often you ran out of missiles or all your silos got hit, and all you could do was sit and wait for the inevitable. For such an old arcade game, that game was dark.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

If Games Are Like Movies, And Movies Are Art, Then I Still Hate You

The folks over at Extra Credits today kept hammering home a point I find myself strangely hostile towards; games as art. Mostly because, on my end, it went something like:

Extra Credits: "Games are art! Games are art! Games are art!"
Me: "BOOM HEADSHOT! I'm sorry, you were saying something?"

If games are art, I'd consider them something like movies. Except RPGs, those are more like novels. Except Final Fantasy, those are more like shitty mangas. Anyway, I consider film to be an artistic medium. At the same time I love things like Die Hard (except Die Hard 2) and I even have a soft spot for the craptacular Starship Troopers movie. If I wanted to draw parallels (and I love doing that), then Dragon Age is the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Okami is Millenium Actress, Modern Warfare is Live Free Or Die Hard, and StarCraft is what Starship Troopers SHOULD HAVE BEEN (I wanted to compare something to Schindler's List, but that ain't happening in gaming anytime soon).

You'd think the parallels would make it easy for me to side with the games-as-art crowd, especially since I'm a gamer. So why my hostility? I don't really know. Maybe it stems from my feeling that some of us are taking a hobby way too seriously. I also build Gundam models but I'm never going to take the time, money, and effort to paint them and build custom stands for them. I suspect, though, that my issue is that I feel art should be more academic and less visceral. When I'm watching a Let's Play, I can take the games-as-art argument more seriously because I'm more detached. I can see artistry or lack thereof is level design because I'm not trying to navigate it. If I'm navigating the level, I'm not concerned with artistry as I am with functionality. Fuck elegance in design, I'm lost and the camera seems more concerned with ceiling patterns than helping me out. But then, I always judged architecture more on its usefulness than it's artistic merits (unless you want to argue pragmatism as artistry, but I'd have to punch you at the moment). It's like an argument I once had regarding pornographic "art"; if I'm masturbating to it, it's not art. If I'm appreciating the human body, it is art. Pretty much what I'm asking is whether or not the "artist" is actively trying to give me an erection. Masturbation was probably the worst analogy to use, but the idea of the visceral reaction is the same. I can appreciate the art in an action sequence where the hero skillfully headshots his enemies. When I'm playing as the hero, that artistry got jettisoned out the window the moment I took some level of pleasure and/or pride from my skillful takedowns. When I'm personally and viscerally involved, it's not about art but about my in-game accomplishments. Accomplishments the designers obviously facilitated, but I, the player, am the one stepping up to the challenge. Video games are games, and while we can praise a players abilities or the fact that football is infinitely more pleasurable and interesting than baseball (proven fact), nobody talks about the artistry in football's rules. Because we're focused on the player and whether or not the game is fun.

That's my piece, and if anyone cares I'm willing to elaborate, but I think I have all of one reader anyway. Maybe one day our children will talk about video games the same way I talk about movies and books. Maybe one day video games will have televised industry award shows that aren't sponsored by Mountain Dew. Or maybe on day competitive gaming will have the same broad appeal as professional sports, complete with televised matches, leagues, and championships. And I said "or" there because I consider these things mutually exclusive.