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Sunday, August 1, 2010

Games being art? Or the Ballad of Roger Ebert

So the other day I was told about an article over on Joystick Division about the whole Roger Ebert and games being art thing. I read through it and I have some thoughts on it and the whole games as art argument which I plan on sharing here.

First the link to the article you should read it before you finish this post.


I think the first thing to write about here is my general thoughts on this whole debate. I'm not quite sure why everyone cares what Ebert thinks. He's a product of an older generation from a time when games weren't really around. Myself and people a little older than me are the first generation to grow up with video games being a part of our lives. I'm sure in the future when our grand kids are growing up they'll have something we just will not understand, hell some of the things around now that kids have or do I just don't get. That's the nature of getting older and the evolution of any medium. Now Ebert claimed when he made his statement he had never played a video game and really wasn't thinking about doing so, I do believe that if you're going to denounce an entire form of entertainment you should at least try it before you talk trash about it. But the real shocker to this is when Ebert took his statement back, not saying he was wrong but just saying he wished he'd never said it in the first place. I'm guessing the lack of support and the amount of pissed of gamers giving him crap over this is what probably caused him to take it back but really who cares? Let the man have his opinion if he doesn't like games he doesn't like them, has Ebert even been relevant in the recent times? Either way who really cares? As I play more and more of these "art" games I'm seeing a trend, they are usually crappy games with maybe one of two good ideas that people latch on to and then try to claim that it's all about artistic qualities when in the end it's just a bad game. But today I'm not looking to get into this whole debate because I think it's just pointless to keep arguing over it. Take anything and there will be someone who doesn't like it. What I want to do is go over this list on Joystick Division and just share some thoughts.

10 - Psychonauts

This is a hard one to start with because I've never played it but from what I've heard about I can agree with it being on this list. As far as the 3D platformer goes this is probably the closest one will get to being the holy "art game."

9 - Portal

No, just no, Portal is not an art game. Yes Portal is an amazing game but at it's core it's a FPS with a well done story but it's nothing we haven't seen before. With it's story it resembles System Shock 2 the machine guiding you through your journey only to betray you in the end. If this list was about games to just get people to see what gaming in general is all about then I'd put Portal on it and it would be in the top 5, if not at number 1.

8 - Braid

Braid to me was a very special game. While being a simple platformer with a genius time control mechanic it made me feel something at the end. When presented with what lead up to Tim doing what he had to do the story finally makes sense. The art style while still simple is just amazing, at times you feel like you're playing a painting. The way Braid tells a very dark story in such a colorful and lively world says so much about the way games can tell a story in a way different than other mediums. My only complaint about Braid on this list is it should of been higher.

7 - Shadow of the Colossus

SOTC is an amazing game in it's own right. But it also shows how an engaging world and a very well done minimalistic story can make up for a game having some short comings in the presentation. While SOTC is a beautiful looking game it's pushing the PS2 to it's limits and it show. Slow down plagues this game, as does pop in and some laggy controls. As a lone wanderer in this barren world only inhabited by the 16 colossi the game does an amazing job of making you feel just like that, alone. I think in this presentation is where the art part of this game shows through but in the end it's just a well done boss battle only adventure game and I'm fine with calling it that. I would of put it higher on the above list as I think 7 is to low.

6 - Red Dead Redemption

I have not played this game yet but it being on this list is crap and for one reason, a reason that will be applied to a game later on the list. It has not been out long enough to be considered a classic amazing have to play game. Right now it's the new hotness you know a western game! Wow! Why hasn't anyone done this before? (*cough* GUN *cough*) Yeah but I truly think that a game needs to be played and then the player needs to sit back and be able to think about it evaluate it a while after having finished it. We have tons of examples where a new game comes out and gets amazing reviews only to be considered a crap game later on. Halo 2 comes to mind as does GTA4. I've talked to some people who put a lot into RDR and loved it thought it was fantastic until about half way through when it much like almost all of Rockstar's open world games just becomes boring and repetitive. before crowning this game with an art title let alone a game people should play give it some time. I would of put Vice City or hell GUN is it's place if you wanted Ebert to play a sandbox game.

5 - Passage

I had never heard of Passage until I was shown this list. let's get this out of the way right now, Passage is a horrible game. I did what the read me suggested and played through the 5 minute game then read what the Creators Statement and I came away with a better understanding of what he did but it was poorly done. I know it's a free indie game under 500k but the graphics are crap, it makes it way to hard to tell what is going on. I know the muddled up display at the front and back has it's meaning which I won't spoil but it just makes the overall game very hard to look at. I think the creator had a clever idea when it came to this game and this is my main bitch with "art games." As I said above people will make excuses for bad games by calling them art and this is the prime example. Horrible graphics, the field of view was just a joke and didn't make any sense. If I were in Ebert's shoes and I played this I'd just get the feeling that gamers are pretentious dipshits who go slapping labels onto crap to sound cool. Next game please!

4 - Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

Legendary game? Hell yes! The best Zelda game ever? To me, hell yes! A art game? No it's not. A game being a kickass adventure game does not make it an art game, it just means it's a great game. I don't need to say anything about this one, it's a real classic has stood the test of time and yeah it's fantastic. What this game does is make me wonder what this list is all about. Are we listing Art games or just great games Ebert should play to get into gaming? I'm a bit confused and while the article is well done I just don't think the author is 100 percent sure on what he's trying to say. I know it's hard to write but this is a confusing list which is all over the place in the vein of showing art games.

3 - Bioshock

Yeah this is another good game, story wise it hits all the sweet spots. Gameplay wise it's a very clunky game and it's sequel deals with most of those problems and fixes those. But the way Bioshock leads you around and make you go about your journey is genius. Anyone who gets to the twist and isn't completely floored is an asshole and needs to put the controller down turn their machine of choice off and just stop playing games. Now is Bioshock art? It's been about 3 years sense we've all played and it's still a game people talk about in a positive light, I think we can include it on a list like this one and to see it so high up is great. In a genre (FPS) that isn't really known for it's deep story telling Bioshock is able to tell an amazing story and do it extremely well.

2 - Super Mario Bros

When I think of games where they came from what made me love them and why it's an amazing past time, I can't help but think of Super Mario Bros. Everything about it defines classic one of the all time greats, nothing will ever give me the same feeling I had playing SMB for the first time. It's like some one putting greatness in the palm of your hand. Now my love of SMB is borderline insane but this game isn't art. It's a straight up platformer, it defined the genre and spawned numerous copycats way to many to count. Anyone who has ever played a game should play this one no doubt about it, if you consider yourself a gamer and haven't played SMB you're not a gamer. If this list was about games some one who never played a game should play yeah it should be number 1 but this list is about art games and that's where Mario falls short. On the entry for this on the above list it's stated this one is just to show how far games have come but that's not what this list is about, it's about art. Again making think the author was a little confused or was sidetracked while writing and couldn't find enough art games and had to blur the line.

1 - Limbo

No, No, NO, NO! This game has been out a freaking week at the time this article was written and it's at number one? Let alone on the list at all! Read my Red Dead Redemption thing above to get the gravy of why I think this is crap but talk about limiting yourself. I'm imaging the author had just put down the 360 controller from beating Limbo and was still all giddy from playing it so it was going to end up on this list. But you need retrospection, time, need to let the game soak in before you declare a love like this for it. Now I haven't played Limbo, and yeah it's getting tons of great reviews, I'm not denying it's a great game as I'm sure it is and I'm sure it could be considered art but it's still to new. Flavor of the week stuff does not mean it's great for a list of all time great, art or just need to be played games in general. Another game on this list that makes me think the author was struggling to come up with games.

Overall it's a competent list but it's all over the place. When I think about art games I just can't help but not care. I love games but I love them for what they are, games, games that are fun to play. If a game makes me feel something great, but I'm not going to get all weepy and declare it's something more than it is, a game. Gaming really is still in it's infancy with true game story telling and immersion just lately coming into it's own. As the older generations die and fade away the generation that grew up with games will be the adults and we'll probably see more acceptance for games in general. Jimmy Fallon showcases games on his show and has on programmers and developers and such. We'll see more of that but it will take time. Give it the time needed to get there and stop trying to shove it down the throats of people that just don't care.

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