Wednesday, October 28, 2009

VGA 1-2 [Audience Attack]

Video Games As Art 1-2
Originally Posted: Wenesday // January 23, 2008 12:34:20 Cental Standard Time

The audience with 'exposure' to any artists work suffers from a dynamic shift of perception towards said work. I use exposure in the sense of comprehending and grasping the nuances of the tools. The real processes that go into drawing, painting, or even graphic design are often more tedious and laborious than they are in being some mythical burst of 'creative energy'. Games are no different, however --- when we look at games under this lens, we're granted a truly terrifying glance at how the medium is meant to be seen and that's one of its sheer complexity. As I established in the last entry, interaction invites authorship onto the game itself. Being that many gamers were yanked into the industry at such a young age, they were forced to grasp the depth of games they were playing without realizing what was happening at the time.



What our young plastic minds were fed ended up nurturing an aptitude for very basic (and intrinsic) computer interface relationships. Even at the console level, it's very rare to find a gamer who is plauged by the common troubles of your average technophobe. A sick irony these days is the illusory chase to make games more accessible to the player when it was in fact a 'dormant program' that gave rise to an entire generation of us to begin with. Titles of recent years can claim to be more user friendly and idiot-proof all they want, but in the end --- they're just part of a system that's inherently becoming more expensive and complex.

I'd argue that most gamers, both young and old are techies. Keep in mind that I'm using the term techie very loosely here. Simple and easily understood tasks that many audiences don't want to bother with are often shoved onto the gamer of the household now, even if they're only eight years old. I'm not even talking about the dork who can look at their games and start whining incoherently about spec deficiencies in their P.C. Theres a specific disconnect for us because of what we are playing and what we actually know we're playing. It's a very large cesspool of unappreciated knowledge that gamers have and because of that, it affects their interaction with titles profoundly.

The downsides of that knowledge are what we're suffering with now --- things we've unnecessarily burdened ourselves with. We've learned to embrace needless things that are now so intrinsic to our experience, we can't be without them (e.g. the H.D. underpinnings of this console generation). Even online gaming is debatable here, but I won't touch on that in depth yet, I'll just say that X-Box Live should serve as the bottom of the barrel for what could be. This in turn calls for money to be thrown into at areas which alienate some people from the hobby; a hobby that has become too expensive and caters so much to selling towards a mass market. With all of these needless things that are given to us to 'heighten' the experience, the actual content of the experience itself is growing at a not-so-humble moderate pace. This growth's deficiency is often exacerbated by the fact that it's permanently juxtaposed with technology, which only seems to grow by the day (e.g. see Moore's Law)

The developers submit total fealty to this problem, and to be honest --- that's more on the gamer's head than it is theirs. Gamers empower the business side of this industry more than anyone and the 'artistic range' is extremely limited because of it. Developers constantly have to conform in multiple ways to make a product that will sell 'for profit'. I don't see this as a hinderance to the artistic merit of games. I simply see it as an problem for artists to deal with, and thats what truly defines an artist in my eyes --- they're problem solvers more than anything else. They deal with limits, obstacles, and hindrances which go towards creating what we will eventually deem 'art'.

The perspective here isn't limited to one model of course. Millions of different artists see things in hundreds of different ways; it's how they express themselves amidst those limits which define their work.

"The enemy of art is the absence of limitation"
-Orson Welles

Using my 'primary weapon' (Metal Gear) as an example, let's attack with Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. While primarily dealing with memetic legacy, digital censorship, and technological fiction just beyond reality, it essentially alienates a chunk of the series' fanbase (which most wrote off as the game simply being overly-convoluted). If someone doesn't want to have to take things to a more cerebral level, they certainly aren't obligated to, but faulting any game for it is asinine (and there are more of these people than those who simply think the game needs an editor --- another debate for another day). This is a bold step that was met with mixed reception, and it definitely led to us being given a more direct plot in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (which I humorously assert as the gamers themselves becoming pseudo-editors).



"I'm a little 'old school' and I love playing older games, so I don't really see the need for HD, online gaming, or wireless controllers. These things are definitely luxuries but there is a growing number of gamers that feel these things must be included in their titles if they are going to enjoy them at all. I feel for Kojima too. MGS2 is one of my favorite games and I hate it when people fault it for being 'confusing'. In my opinion though, if gaming is ever going to be taken seriously as a mature form of entertainment, it has to start with us, the gamers. In just visiting forums or boards, you'll simply get the impression that most gamers are assholes; that's not too far removed from the truth."

-James Williams, 1UP Blogger

Bold features, innovative sequences, and even radically different setups are an absolute necessity in the context of most acclaimed games. Anytime we are met with some story, theme, or mere influence that tries to take itself more serious than usual, it's usually met with harsher criticsm than deserved (which is fair in some contexts but often runs rampant as hell). This common occurrence often separates the game mechanics from the entire picture and that's more than a little unsettling, especially when people constantly say "This game is a ripoff of this movie" or whatever. The medium has enough to deal with apart from dragging itself behind something like film's looming shadow. Developers, especially those with large funds should be helping with this problem rather than figuring out how...to make more fucking money. It's simply too early for that to be such an intense priority in creating a game now.

Of course the media harms the progress, but personally I think the power of lawmakers, ignorant newscasters, and crazed politicians is more fininite than it might seem. The actual amount of reasonable damage they can cause these days is extremely limited. Theres still no iron-clad evidence that a game has been a significant contributer to any of the crazy shit happening in the world. Probably more easier seen by some than others is that these things are simply the result of bad parenting. If you don't know what your child is playing, then you most likely don't know what they are reading or watching either. More than likely, that means said person just simply has a shitty relationship with their offspring in general, which does damage a person, let alone an impressionable child. No news story wants to show parents how to read the manuals for their X-box or learn the basics of parental controls if need be.

There's simply no profitable end result in telling someone that they're old and it's time to learn something new to keep your kid out of something they shouldn't be in (and even that's a simple judgement call on part of the parent and how well they know their own child). It's apparently much more interesting to provide flashy uninformed opinions or "statistics" on what certain sociopaths who play Grand Theft Auto 3 have gone on to do with their time. There's also another side to this, which is what I consider gaming journalism to fall on. Now, the majority of the people I know don't typically look at sites or read magazines, as they're convinced there's no worth in placing any faith in what is essentially somebody's professional opinion I understand this and I agree with it to some extent. One should play a game they have interest in, no matter what pop-percentage it's dragging behind it on Metacritic. However, here is the matter of disrespecting what this side of journalism does do right. That is providing insight into not only the actual politics of games and how they've been developed, it also provides us with some base foundation as to where we can choose to disagree and/or apply our own personal rules (look up the fucking word "learn").

"Mainstream media is always uninformed about any new artform or trend. They tend to think of new things as a fad. They can't get over the fact that games have advanced from blips and undetailed pixels to meaningful experiences with sometimes gripping stories."

-Randy M., 1UP Blogger/Artist

Games journalism as an ideal to me aids in defining who and what you truly understand as a gamer and that is just as valuable as anything else here. Though I'm not particularly a big fan of sites like like IGN, Gamespot, and 1up, I do read all of them [Note: I've since only started using 1UP and Game Informer's sites --- the other two piss me the fuck off now], especially concerning games and topics that I'm interested in. As a result, I've found respite in connecting with the majority of editors on some level. I chose 1UP specifically because of how all of the editors individually come across. The people who work there elicit the strongest response in both revulsion and admiration.



Audiences need to learn how to engage, to place themselves against specific editors --- find tastes, likes, and opinions that they may share or detest. Personal displeasure with reviews are only relevant in how much the reader can rise above a stances they take issue with. The review arguments have only been taken in earnest by a few, which is as worrisome as it is admirable.

Then there's us...the gamers. Sure we all appreciate how games have evolved and typically people in the vicinity of my generation understand much more relating to digital society in general. However with all that knowledge, there's a great deal of us (particularly anyone who plays games frequently) who are subjected to the danger of being more cynical than need be. The older generation that makes idiotic claims such as blaming shootings and sex exposure on videogames actually understand very little in this day and age. They've all become dinosaurs to us now and that's easily ignored, as in the end we all eventually hit a point where we become a product of our times, so it's to be expected.

We often play so much, so fast, and so often that we subject ourselves to a hyper-development in arrogance. Very rarely do people keep their personal needle in the middle (i.e. between passion and rationality) because not only is it easy to stray from, it's difficult to maintain, even once one understands it. In the end, it serves only to create an even murkier enviroment for developers, artists, and writers to push the medium foward. It's particularly more harmful for videogames because of their young nature and the power gamers have over it as 'partial authors'.

Anyone on the internet can attest to having to deal with a mountain of ignorant bastards on message boards on a daily basis and we've all come across those people who know far too much for their own good, trapped within their own arrogant grasp of the world around (*coughyou'rereadingonecough*). People in general are very swift to fire off their opinions in ignorance, so it's not surprising at all that gamers do it. Ironically, the worst of it comes from those who are generally seen to be "educated" and not just fanboys or clueless casual gamers. Yes, the ignorant gamers cause less damage than we do. The gaming audience in general has a lot more power than they realize --- as they're inherently a part of the 'artist's hand' here.

~sLs~