After checking out Worth Reading this week I was intrigued by Lucy Kellaway's "Game Theory" article, and it's accompanying perspective piece from Matt Brice. Admittedly, my first response was nerd rage, but given that that's completely useless to furthering a discussion on the topic, I decided I'd try to put my thoughts into a blog post rather than just post a comment. For the record, the articles in question can be found here:
Now, the first criticism that can be leveled at Kellaway is the apathy at which she seems to approach the situation she's found herself in. I get that she doesn't play games, that's fine, but she's clearly not interested in doing too much work to appreciate them, and that seems to undermine the position she's accepted. That said, it is admirable that she made any effort at all to understand the medium. This cuts at the core of what bothers me about "outsiders" complaining about games. Very early in the article she writes about how the GameCity prize "wants to start a cultural conversation about video games and get people talking about them the same way they might talk about Ian McEwan's latest novel or the new Woody Allen movie." The problem here is that she's just pulled two names out of her hat that (arguably) represent modern pinnacles of their respective mediums. The only reason there is a "cultural conversation" about Woody Allen movies is because people "knowledgeable" in the medium have recognized the artistic value in his work. If you pulled a kid out of high school who grew up on Kung Fu movies and told him to judge a Jazz competition, he may have a similar appreciation for Herbie Hancock that Kellaway has for Mass Effect. That's kind of why I think this whole "GameCity" prize is a bit of a joke. High brow film critics lampoon things like the MTV Movie Awards, but hey, let's put a bunch of people who don't play or appreciate the intricacies of games or development in a room and ask them to pick the best. Inevitably you're going to end up with Journey being the most well received, it's the most like a Academy Award winning film (for the record, it's also deserving of any praise it gets, but that's not the point). To simply give up on Mass Effect because you don't feel an immediate connection to the character or controls is the equivalent of angrily switching the dial away from Chopin because the melodies are more than 5 notes long.
This brings me to Brice's blog post, in which he defends Kellaway's position. He argues that it's on game developers to make sure that players "get it." I desperately hope that his comments are falling on deaf ears. What's wrong with asking someone to do a little work to appreciate a piece of art? Furthermore, what's wrong with people not "getting it" in the first place? I've never met a gamer who wants games to be taken seriously because they want film critics to like them. Generally the argument for games as art comes either from a defensive place, or because we believe that International laws that protect art should extend to games. I don't particularly care if my grandfather wants to have a cultural discussion about Deus Ex, I'm already having that discussion with people who "get it." So at the end of the day, I commend Kellaway for trying, but she really doesn't have to, it's OK, she'd probably rather be reading Steinbeck anyway.
Sorry if this came off as too ranty!