Friday, November 6, 2009

Snoot & Study Blog #1

I decided to take the logic I used to refrain from schooling (which we’ll conveniently sidestep) and turn it into a productive process for my blog. A generally and commonly known issue with American schooling (all I can speak for) is an issue of retention. It’s mostly structured for commoditizing information on a short term basis, usually leading to better grades and better ‘opportunities’ (my air-quotes here are extremely facetious by the way). Of course this is a generalization, but its rate of fallacy is pretty damn low nowadays. Not only does this relative ‘truth’ affect the entire perception of the ideal that schooling is supposed to nurture, but it actively castrates the actual goal of learning to begin with. Plenty of people fall through cracks for all sorts of justifiable reasons, some are just lazy, and some know how to work the system through self-applied work ethics and ambition. Of course some of us have egos so gargantuan, we end up smashing them against problematic ideals just to amuse ourselves (*cough*).

To stack yet another blog series on top of the other three or four I’ve got trickling out, I thought I’d give this a try as well. These posts will be aimed at tackling any book I happen to think fits a certain ‘pedantic quota’. With that, I’ll merge it with my own cynically obsessive drive and offer interpretations of the book’s context as a layer to place over its relevance with video-games. Textbooks are ideal for this, as they present certain facts (and knowledge trees) which go a long way to further thought, perception, and context. The good news is that I’ve been on a bit of a non-fiction binge for the past year. The bad news is that I ritualistically burned most of the textbooks I bought in school for reasons we won’t get into (however if you’ve read what I did with the unrevealed designs for my hypothetical games and most of the drawings I know will get too much attention, that should give you a clue).

I’ll make it a point to keep the title and details of the book itself a secret (as much as I can anyway); I think the age-old quandary of ‘judging a book by its cover’ will affect a lot what people read with these. I’m not all that interested in recommending that one checks out the book I’m using because that’s basically all it would and should be in the end, a simple recommendation (though if they proactively seek out or even recognize what I’m using, it will still work to the ends I intend to accomplish). Instead, I’m going to use the book’s ‘power’ to temporarily augment my own voice; you know --- continue to spread my virulence. I look around in the context of any kind of writing about games and I’m surprised at how much of a minority that subjective writing or personal analysis still is (I still stick out because of it). People are so willing to dig into objective facts, cite other accredited works, and stand (rather goofily) on top of the thoughts of others. Having an original thought is not common trait among people anymore; if it wasn't so disgusting, it would be hilarious.

The first book is mainly concerned (rather unsurprisingly) with theories derived from that tired horse that I never seem to get tired of beating, art.

Chapter 1 – Introduction

Humans have a ‘need’ for art. They desire such creation to express something apart from themselves. I’ve frequently pointed out a rather often-overlooked fact that the nature of a video-game almost dictates that the player become an author to a certain extent. A frequent point of contention these days is how much the player is meant to have; some of us still crave to be told a story while others seem to be driven towards having their hand seen in the game to almost vain extremities. The curse of living in these times is double edged, mostly due the diversity granted to us. It often fosters a significant degree of dissatisfaction (which is further exacerbated by the consumerist struts) with what we wish gain from art in the first place (something typically subjective and personal).

An interesting paradigm to present is a world or an arena in which a player is only granted access to very few games, not to mention limited access to other mediums. The human condition also has an alarming ability to adapt and apply meaning to just about everything. This is a creed I’ve specifically drawn from myself. Eliminating the need for things such as piles of shames and a explicit tie to the games being released around us really only serve as haze for me. I certainly don’t condemn those things; I just acknowledge that they distort my own reality with the medium. I’m always going to be more interested in what someone is obsessively playing from two years ago rather than their thoughts (no matter how insightful) on something released in the past month.

Though art tends to contradict the concept of structure, it’s also entirely reliant on it. Boundaries and limitations are things it typically cannot be without. Though the rise of retro-styled games is nothing new, we still rarely get minimalist styled titles. When we do, it’s along the lines of Everyday Shooter or some other implicitly music-based games. Certainly no discredit to them, it's just that they lean on the weight of a far more powerful medium to please an audience bred to demand first and question later --- much later (they judge before they truly question anyway).

How many games feature ‘subjects’? Sure, this could just equate out to the avatars, cursors, or characters we’re all used to, but an active subject being dealt with? It’s fairly rare, still. Developers have already set up basic ground rules for design. The past twenty years have been rather progressive for the medium, so playing with basic principles now is not only a possibility, it’s been peaking its head out in various titles over the years --- fairly big ones as well (e.g. what would a title such as Portal read like without the Half Life continuity?). We can now play titles on an iPhone that took an entire console to run two decades ago, yet we’re so caught up in the novelty of that fact, we can’t even see past it. Let’s not even get into abstraction either, as first games will have to start prominently addressing subjects to begin with --- let alone hiding them in abstract works (which could basically mean anything, I know).

One could argue that form equates to what we’ve pigeon-holed as ‘genres’ and it’s something we’ve skipped over adequately fleshing out. We’ve run towards and messed over content as well. The will for a game to have a message is simply overshadowed by the demands being asked of it. The fact that animated titles are just starting to become a frequency will serve as a testament to this in terms of aesthetics. Be it Okami, A Boy and his Blob, or even The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, something is still contributing to the visual virginity of the medium. This chastity belt has been tied to games by media and the perception that a game should not deeply impact a person’s life, lest they become some gun-toting sociopath who just-so-coincidently happened to have played a Grant Theft Auto title in his/her life. The mechanics of a game --- have they yet moved into anything even resembling abstraction? I’d argue no, as we still rely on goals and structure in our games. Often without a proper subject, the game’s ‘flag and castle’ (i.e. making it to the end) becomes a surrogate subject. Games are mostly a bad night of sex between Semi-Abstract and Naturalism. Realism is only affective as far as visuals go, we've effectively disallowed otherwise.

I’ve stopped using the term ‘gameplay’ in most contexts because it’s become a term which means nothing to me anymore. To further bolster this post, I’ll state that some people would use it as the definitive subject of a game. It’s fair, but flawed --- mostly on the premise that a gamer will always be driven to compromise unity. How the game works together or flows is something that will always be under constant scrutiny for players. This is because they spend their time fighting with concepts rather than ideas. While the two terms will no doubt show together up in your average thesaurus, they are still separate words for a reason. Games are still built on concepts, which is just a non-pretentious word for theory; it has an implied ‘this is that’ clause. Ideas are far more nebulous and require a distinct injection of bias, opinions, and subjective truths. Games fight with this because the act of play kind of muscles in on the act of thought. To ‘contemplay’ in this age of gaming is very rare and even when it does happen, it’s only because the player is willing to go the extra mile to meet the game for themselves.

The ‘blind’ allure of interactive fiction would have more in common Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ or even Mondrian’s ‘Red, Blue, Yellow, Black, and Gray’, much more so than a game actually depicting the visual similarities between the two. Perception is key here and manipulating what the game is will require an act between the developer and their audience as well. There’s a very large wraith of objectivity hovering over how games are seen now and it filters into how they’re played as well. Watching people talk about games always translates to me and multiple children tugging on the same stuffed animal.

On one occasion above Milan, over in the direction of Lake Maggiore , I saw a cloud shaped like a huge mountain made up of banks of fire…
-Leonardo Da Vinci, Treatise on Painting

The Divine Simulacrum – Any instance that shows the creator and their created at war with each other.

Hell, do I dare even comment on the state of narrative? We’ve all set it ablaze with the desire for sophistication and in doing so have degenerated to becoming little more than over-zealous pyromaniacs. Some of the paintings that I absolutely detest tell stories, yet we want our jumping batch of polygons to do it all. Present the choice of free will, and people will be tenaciously driven to kill their beliefs, ambitions, and themselves. One could easily categorize people that take such pride in the concept of their choice as a gamer being nothing more than ‘ludological atheists’, driven to smash out or reconfigure any semblance of what I term as the ‘divine simulacrum’; man destroying their personal God (which in this case, is the developer’s intent). Don’t get me wrong either, the other side runs much hotter, letting all passion dictate reason. Few ever waste their time trying to climb to the middle ground because picking a side often rewards more meaning, more so than climbing to that middle ground for a better view. In the state we’re in, the industry currently resembles Ancient Greece, people with the devout acknowledgement that the flimsiest veil lies between them and powerful gods that resemble themselves. Games are the only artform that proactively profess a state of free will, which seems to (rather consistently) only confound those of reason, and seduce those of passion.

Do we consider the tools of which we engage the game? The controllers are already being accompanied by motion control technology, which only runs second-fiddle to the computer. Computers build the game from the ground up and our understanding of them (as an audience) is still sporadic at best. Of media --- for example, can we simulate the effects of charcoal somehow? Not literally of course, but can it somehow translate the effects and influence that it generally has on the artist/audience and factor it into a game somehow? It doesn’t seem so far-fetched to me.

Scale, size, composition, planes, frames, positive/negative spaces, optical and conceptual perceptions, etc, etc, etc…

There’s a vast chest of things that games have either only grazed or overall disengaged because we cast them off prematurely when they’re toyed with. Twenty years in and we’ve already repeated the same mistakes as before, basing the eras of our games mostly on a singular aspect that composes them (something that games absolutely scream to be taken apart from). To rid one’s self of the rules --- I personally don’t think games will ever do that, but then I don’t trust gamers to do that (and only gamers can do it).

Too much time is simple wasted blaming developers, dictating what’s right/wrong, and avoiding everything else out of misplaced mindsets of inferiority. I’d rather sit back and condescendingly talk down to myself…as I’m inherently a part of the crowd I take such pleasure in pissing on.