Friday, October 30, 2009

VGA 1-3 [Intelligence Ineptitude]

Video Games As Art 1-3
Originally Posted: Friday // February 1, 2008 11:56:55 Cental Standard Time

Movies, books, games --- each do their own thing in very different ways. Personally, my vision has been skewed ever since picking up a controller and my personal hierarchy has been the same since I was 6 years old. I hold books and literature tantamount to video games; this is followed followed by music, which is then followed by movies and theatre. Though games will typically come first for me, written literature has always served as a basis for any form of narrative to ever show itself to the world; I will always be compelled to acknowledge it as the genesis for anything that has truly been great in entertainment. Film (the bastardized form) has always taken a back seat in my mind because it caters to the lazy and unappreciative audience that pours money into it. Games have the perfect opportunity to fall somewhere between the two. Contextual density however, should see a rapid increase over the next decade at the very least.

Off the top of my head, a relation that games share with modern writing is length. They’re both able to limit and extend at will, often elaborating their characters down to the most intimate bones of cognition that the reader (or player) can muster. I can spend just as much time immersing myself into an engaging book as I do a game (narrative focused or not). Most stories in games however, are regarded as jokes and in plenty of cases it's actually justified. The ones that are actually an exception to that rule still get pissed on by cynical bastards that can't understand the concept of all these things being relative and derivative to some extent. One can call themselves a "gamer" all they like but if they don't want to encourage the "child" as it learns to walk, then throw it in the river, let it die and move on to something else. The line where the amount of context a game can handle before that in itself starts becoming detrimental to the experience hasn’t even been seen yet, but most will cry wolf the first chance they’re able to. This is why you’ll see such animosity towards games and their closet elder --- film.

“A videogame can have all these amazing art assets but sometimes it can't reach the narrative that traditional art forms can deliver.”
-Randy M., 1UP Blogger/Artist

Film in itself is still learning to adapt to dramatic literature, so games shouldn't solely be learning structure through cinema, it's problematic. All it effectively does is act as a filter where some truly beautiful things get lost. Focus and visions become compromised and the drive to create flashy sequences are only increasing these days. Developers have begun to pop up in various areas who able to strike a sense of balance in these areas, but as always --- nothing is ideal. Valve and Nintendo for example, showcase the attention to the mechanics --- a admirable mastery of game development (Nintendo’s cultural heritage makes them more susceptible to refusing change though), yet designers such as these desperately need to expand entirety of a game’s ‘world’ (Studios like Looking Glass fall here as well). After the entirety of what was the Orange Box however, I have to say at least that Valve is looking down the right road; titles like Portal at least prove that not only can a game mess with length, but it can succinctly capitalize on a narrative premise. Individual designers begin popping up when the narrative quality of a title becomes an issue, but they’re few and far in between --- not to mention they get way more attention than they deserve to begin with (e.g. Hideo Kojima). More games need to be designed in this industry with a distinctly harmonic consideration to everything else that the game incorporates. This mindset is everywhere in the most acclaimed titles to the most deplored. In many contexts, gamers simply need to stop singing praises for Half Life 2, when there’s obviously a serious problem with Gordon Freeman --- a problem we won’t see resolved until Episode Three; the point at which Valve will have to acknowledge the character's relevance in his own world.

I will be the first to admit that games have yet to find their own language or true form of narrative articulation. This is because they're being made very immaturely, but not in the disrespectful sense that what developers are doing doesn't require tremendous talent. The problem is that it's a new era, and this medium isn't going to translate nearly as easily as something like film did with literature. Writing birthed film, whereas games were created; they weren't an organic emergence, but a construction of popular culture. It gives them depth and complexity, which is why we struggle with it. This outlook can easily be seen in how games borrow tremendously from other mediums. How many times have you heard an older person or just someone who isn't generally familiar with games in say something along the lines of: "Wow, those games are becoming like actual movies!". Statements such as that are among the most disgusting things I constantly hear, but at the same time --- simply cannot argue with. Games do borrow entirely too much from film, and even when they do dip into things with more contextual density, it's very minute and becomes lost when acting in harmony with the game itself. A great game does not make a great story and a great story does not make a great game. It's been that way for a while now, as we keep separating the two out of some twisted need to validate ‘quality’. How inconceivable will the day be when a grandmother can look at her granddaughter and simply say "Wow that's a great game!"?

As I just mentioned, a great novel by no means guarantees a great game, it extends far beyond that. All mediums focus on distinctive things very specifically and it all gives them shape or form as themselves (and this is before it even reaches the audience). However, they are all connected in not only this, but the influences and effect they have when playing off of each other. For example, what would your favorite film be nothing without its score? How about lacking its script? The answers to those are not as easy as they appear, but they're not as complex either. Games are no different, yet their nature lets them ascend to an even more obfuscated realm by simply being themselves. Fantastic games exist that offer no real narrative in the traditional sense. This is even more significant with games that rely very heavily upon their plots to engage the player. Rez being something along the lines of the pure evolved to the complex, Endless Ocean being one of the desperately needed games that people don't know what to do with when they initially look at it, and Devil May Cry 4, which consistently breeds its own sense of style. All of this is while providing the player with a narrative construct to care about and submit to in his/her own way.

This slow progress is also shown by the actual quality being put into how the narrative is conveyed. The critical crowd will rightfully splinter things such as this, citing production value in order to attain the unattainable --- an ideal. Again, drawing back upon my constant metaphor of games in their youth, I'll have to say that games are the poor child that wanders down groggily in the middle of the night to find all these other self-indulgent, problematic, yet still accepted forms of "sophistications" engaged in a party. Any cry or attempt at attention by the child is met with condescending statements (i.e the media), upturned noses (i.e. the cynical crowd of gamers), and uncles that want you to pull their finger (i.e. the developers/publishers that focus too much on their finances being thrown into a game).

I really think it’s hard for games to learn as much from literature as from cinema. This is because if nothing else, good pulp spurs our imagination like nothing else. Movies and games are mostly visualized to us, while books are told in the sense of engagement. I do agree however, that movies simply have too much influence in the games we play.
-Dustin R., 1UP Blogger

There is an issue of the disconnection between the story of a game and the game itself. I feel that anyone that argues fundamentally that game's story does not matter is using a argument of closed circuitry to suit (rather abrasively) their own needs and that alone. People can't view art with that form of logic and reason (at least not in my eyes), yet some people waste precious energy doing it anyway. The only thing we’ve all have grasped to the extent of being able to judge things in that context is mathematics; which in a rather gorgeous turn of irony --- constructs these games technically from the ground up. Now is that good or bad? Is it even possible to be otherwise? There have been glimpses in far too many of these games where I have been connected with the protagonist or the 'narrative'. We've already seen my take on this side, through how games like Assassin's Creed or even Heavenly Sword are devoting entirely so much on presentation. I admitted to loving the overall experience of Nariko's quest over Kratos's, despite the fact that I find God of War the ‘better mechanical construct’. That in itself is a culmination in not only what I value in a game, but how they're being made as well. I don't just value any aspect of the game as a whole over the other, but how it works in harmony through all of its immersive appendages. Now for anyone who doesn't know me or where I'm coming from, I'll state once again that I'm a very 'experience' focused gamer. I hold everything --- whether it's style/presentation, mechanics, or narrative all on equal ground. They should meld at best and feel sectioned at worst. Deconstructing things is definitely sound and even scientifically useful, but it shouldn't be the dominating factor in how one perceives, ever. Why? It begins to bleed into how games being made too, which is extremely troublesome.

“Both the narrative and gameplay should be more of a seamless experience; not simply spending their time competing with each other. As you pointed out, I think Valve is on the right track at least with titles such as Half Life. I do however think that gaming is becoming a bit more progressive in what makes the medium profound and unique.”
-Nel, 1UP Blogger

You'd be surprised at how many people still look at a simply drawing and judge it as art on how photo-realistic it appears. This is the average idiot's take on art. Certainly that type of rendering is ideal for draftsmen to hone their skills with, but I’d argue that it’s only one of the first steps such an artist is meant to take. Drawing things to that degree takes more patience than anything else. It's tedious, it's boring, and requires no real connection with the subject. After one learns how to pay attention to things such as detail, shading, and line quality, drawing in such an archaic fashion really takes more tedious determination (not to mention valuable time) than anything.

You've no doubt heard the age old saying about the artist telling lies to show the truth. Once an artist starts to draw according to how they truly recognize/internalize things like shape, space, and form, they begin to actually draw. When they stop drawing the apple as an apple, it takes on an entirely different meaning and existence. Taking it in and internalizing it for themselves and putting it out on paper, canvas, or whatever is where the true beauty stands in a piece, not how close they stick to the useless guidelines that people already see day in and day out. The point here is that people should really stop trying to yank a game apart to determine its worth in such a fashion. If someone is going to do it that way, they will eventually have develop it far beyond the current modes of analysis. Mechanics are of absolutely no worth without the design to cradle it. Those designs lie on some sort of enrichment, which will then lean on something like aesthetics, style, or well-established fictional universes. Nothing in this realm truly stands on its own apart from the entirety of the overall experience, nothing.

I’m gonna pull out my +5 sword here again, Metal Gear Solid. Kojima has reached the point in this series where he’s gone so far, that he has irrevocably fused a distinct cinematic flair within the franchise. This is to the point where even though it's not entirely a perfect hybrid of games and movies, it's successful as its own type of game (moving the entire industry forward in the process). Small things the fans cherish such as the humor, excessive cinematic style, or the grazing of the fourth wall constantly get handled in tandem with the game’s own sense of ‘self’ (i.e. would it even be Metal Gear Solid without either one of those things?). I believe the Metal Gear franchise is the limit to how film (as it is now) should affect games, because Kojima is the one of the few that's actually making progress with it. The jump between your averagely told story in a game in the 80s-early to mid 90's was why the original Metal Gear Solid unleashed such a fucking storm when it was released. It weaved a "tale" that wasn't completely laughable and gave some characterization that people could earnestly appreciate and attach themselves to. Yeah, without Metal Gear Solid, there wouldn’t even be an Uncharted 2: Among Thieves; a title people are singing praises for now but will most likely question ridiculously by this time next year. I’ve already seen some of the precursor backlash there as it is, with statements such as:

”Uncharted 2 is definitely an exemplary cinematic game, but is it a good movie to begin with?” [WHAT THE FUCK DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?!]

I've always seen the Metal Gear Solid titles as a tiny kid on a see saw that has only recently been starting to budge the fat kid on the other end (the fat kid being everything I'm bitching about of course). It's a very slow process (especially in Metal Gear's case). I guess what most criticize the game for runs tantamount to the kid having to get off and find cinderblocks for his side of the see-saw --- weighing himself down as best as he can. Yes, I know it is a horribly awkward analogy, but that's kind of the point here if you're following me. People constantly throw the "Would you kindly?" moment down as one of the greatest moments they've ever had in a game (BioShock), that it was so impressive because "I did all of that!, I was manipulated! OMG" Though that particular moment does plenty of things right, this kind of contorts my face a bit because that moment didn't in any way shape or form move the medium forward just because of its interactive narrative manipulation...why?

"Me, dear brother..."
[Note: I originally had a YouTube clip up here with the Master Miller double-cross from Metal Gear Solid. I’m too lazy to go find another one now, screw you.]

What does that say about how far games have really progressed (narrative-wise) in the past decade?. These are the top titles among the ‘hardcore’. Metal Gear Solid definitely wasn't the first to have the player/audience manipulated for the means of the antagonist, but it was definitely one of the most memorable roles in the past twenty years, along with titles such as System Shock 2 as well (ironically, both came out the same year if I'm not mistaken).

It's just a speculative opinion but I feel that anyone, especially those who focus on the mechanics of a game --- get lost in defining aspects of various titles. It starts to form boundaries and limitations on not only how one enjoys a game, but why as well. These people would be the same kind of gamers that can consider themselves to the point of defining things that are inherently indefinable. It’s a horribly fine line to play with but the more one knows --- the more they don't know, and the more they don't know --- the more they do know. Knowledge has become dangerous to some gamers, and those who are really egotistical about it know it, yet still reject it. One can always judge how lost they are on this matter by examining their own grasp of what a game is in the first place. If someone believes ‘it’ to be a definitive quality that they're able to pinpoint, access at will, and even judge to the most critical degree, then that person a terrifying gamer to me. Any critical analysis of a game at its best should be admitted at all times as an absolute failure.

“Certain games can move you, entertain you, teach you, change you, and yet have very little story at all. Other times, storytelling could be the game's main focus. There's nothing wrong with either side, I suppose --- since I appreciate both. Like you though, I like a balance of each aspect of a gaming, as opposed to having them separate or unequal. I can't have fun with a beautiful game, and controls alone can't save it. It's got to have balance.”
-Cody W., 1UP Blogger/Artist

Do you really consider yourself able to hold the act of pressing a button as the ultimate and defining aspect of a game? Some people can say yes or no to that without any thought to it. While certainly being a major contributor to a game's individuality and language, it's not the bottom line for me. Experiences can be formed and conveyed in dozens --- hell hundreds (and possibly even thousands) of different ways, but the most commonly known form for us is myths, stories, tales, etc. Pinning down any kind of construct on a game (in the way that it's being done constantly now) just negates any insightful perception of what a game can and should actually be seen as.

I've said in the various entries that more games should strive to do bold, radical, and even simply unheard of things. I want tons of more games that piss tons of more people off, and throw tons more people for a loop. Ground needs to be broken and walls need to be obliterated, because people can't deal with it any other way; violence is the most efficient way for us to progress, even if it’s a pseudo-philosophical conundrum such as this. We're lucky enough not to live in an age where things like religion aren't horribly affecting the way that art grows. What do we as a race do in order to compensate? We use our intelligence to offer unneeded and harmful roadblocks that are just as harmful to games as religion was to painting in eras long past. We're a destructive, violent, and inherently dangerous race in every aspect of our lives --- this is just a new playground for us to keep pushing each other off merry-go-rounds.

“Well you didn't leave much for me to comment with, but I can state that I agree, though I haven't put as much thought into it as you obviously have.”
-James W., 1UP Blogger

Acceptance of absolute ignorance is the proof of limitless intelligence.

Artwork Credit:

90s Kid by *Kezzi-Rose
Earthbound Set 2 by ~PlasticPixel

~sLs~