XBLM Deal of the Week - June 7th

 It hasn't been officially posted yet, but I can't contain my excitement if this is true: 
 
http://www.gameguru.in/xbox-live/2010/07/xbox-live-marketplace-to-include-peggle-duke-nukem-3d-and-more-this-week/  
 
$5 is a great deal for Peggle Deluxe and I've been debating whether to get Worms 2: Armageddon for a while now. $10 might be the right price for me to grab CoD as well. 
 
BF1943 is a super-solid game as well, if you don't already have it.

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Video Games vs. Cinema

Comparing films and video games is a dangerous thing to do. Why is that? Well it's because of how similar they are as well as how different they are from one another.

There's the obvious difference of how passive a movie-watching experience is vs. how interactive video games are. However, when you really get down to it: a lot of films require more active engagement than some video games. 2001: A Space Odyssey takes a much more active imagination to enjoy than Pong. While some movies can be appreciated on a very superficial, "this happened and then this happened and then this happened" level, the greatest films of history generally require the audience to reflect on the film and think about the nuances of it. They require context and interpretation.

Games, however, tend to be very unsubtle and extremely explicit. Though there certainly are some games with artistic ambition and poetic subtlety (like Braid and Rez), most games--even ones with narrative--focus on the obstacle-clearing rather than the emotional engagement that is required for a game to really be considered a work of art comparable to works within existing, better-established forms. For a game to succeed artistically, it needs to respond to the real world and not just its game world. There's something to be said for creating a massive, detailed fictional universe, but at the same time it means that the experience begins and ends with the game console's power button.

I'm not saying it's bad to make a game that focuses on gameplay. There are plenty of great games that do just that. Though players can become emotionally invested in their created player or franchise in NHL games, the point is very much to overcome challenges to make a number associated with you be greater than a number associated with your opponent (goals scored).

However, we're at a point in game design that most games have a very muddled design. Story-telling (and, therefore, art) is limited to non-gameplay sections of the game and the sections which are recognizable as a game are totally separate and completely different. Even the Mass Effect franchise, which succeeds tremendously in creating engaging fiction to accompany quality gameplay, is largely guilty of this sort of duality. Mass Effect has striking cinematography and a sci-fi universe that may rival Star Trek's.

But how can you talk about a video game's cinematography? It seems like an oxymoron. We don't call good movies boring games, so why do we appreciate Mass Effect like we would a good movie? The cinematography and story have more to do with older forms of media than video games.

Is the artistic future of games in the subtlety and--at the same time--severity of players' decisions? With games like Fable and Mass Effect arguably spearheading story-driven games, is the art form of video games simply going to be a more sophisticated version of the old Choose Your Own Adventure books? If so, and if the story engages us emotionally, do we credit the game's creative director or do we credit the player? If a game's story is so dependent on a player's choices, then it's the player who is responsible for the content of their experience to some extent. Does the creative director's vision only come across once the player has exhausted all possible options in all possible playthrough styles? Do we have a responsibility to play through Mass Effect as both renegade and paragon? Male and female?

What if we, as a player, decide that we want to do something that the game won't allow? What if I want to, as Commander Shepard, transfer command of the ship/mission to Garrus? Is it what we can't do that defines the creative director's vision?

And as a final concern: video games tend not to be about real, recognizable people. Other than games inspired by real-life military operations, games tend to have characters who are nothing like anybody you'd meet in real life. So many films are about ordinary people, so why can't games take that turn? Is it possible to make a good game that is about dramatics rather than pyrotechnics?

This blog isn't supposed to be an answer to questions; it's a question itself. How do we think about games as a special, unique art form when their artistic merit is so married to cinema?

(I wonder if these thoughts would be better saved for a thesis or something. Oh well: nothing wrong with a hastily-considered blog, right?)

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Hippy crap.

I know this isn't the perfect venue and I'm probably speaking to the wrong audience, but I'd like to do something good.  How good this thing is and if it's even significant at all is a subjective thing, or is it?  That's kind of the subject I want to bring up. 
 
Meat.  The Giant Bomb staff is composed of those who may, from time to time, talk about how they enjoy eating meat.  The Giant Bomb community seems to largely like to eat meat as well. 
 
This isn't a silly rant about how I feel alienated by the Giant Bomb staff or excluded from the Giant Bomb community and how I think that in itself is outrageous.  I laughed at Vinny's joke on an old Bombcast about a 29-year-old lifelong vegetarian who was going to try meat for the first time on his birthday.  One staff member suggested that the person may not be strong enough to lift a fork to their mouth (from not eating meat) and Vinny countered along the lines of, "Well his neck would be so long from reaching leaves..." 
 
That's funny.  At its core, it's offensive (something Ryan himself acknowledged during the discussion), but it's clever and didn't seem to be said in a way that indicated that Vinny really hated vegetarians or anything. 
 
However, let's get to the issue itself: 
 
Isn't eating meat just...kind of a dick move? 
 
Humans are (apparently) supremely intelligent.  We can create awesome works of film, music, video games, etc.  However, we're still animals.  Any biology textbook will tell you that.  Other animals have emotions and can sense pain just like we do.  The double standard of people in the West cringing at the thought of eating a dog and salivating at the idea of eating a cow is ridiculous.  Sure, cows may be way dumber than dogs.  I don't know.  I'm not a zoopsychologist or whatever the correct term is for studying animal intelligence, but why not just leave them be? 
 
We as a species spend enough time ruining each others' lives; why rope more species into it?   
 
My worldview is heavily influenced by Buddhism (and I self-identify as a Buddhist) and it shouldn't come as a surprise given the focus of this post.  While I don't hold a eulogy if I accidentally hit and kill a moth as I'm driving, I don't want to consent to the killing of another living being.  If these creatures didn't want to be alive, they'd stop eating and lie down and die.  They have a will to live and--while people in the West certainly have a history of being fine with imposing their will on others--it's just a dick move to kill them for food. 
 
I started dating a vegetarian in Fall 2007.  I'm still with her.  After about 8-9 months of being with her, I figured "maybe I'll give vegetarianism a go" after no pressuring from her.  Once I ate a hot dog, mini-BBQ-rib-thing, and hamburger in front of her in a single sitting without her suggesting that I was morally inferior.  I never expected vegetarianism to stick (at least, not on the first try), but it did and I've been a vegetarian for two years. 
 
It is so easy to cut meat out of your diet.  I'm not the healthiest person in the world (far from it as I--surprise, surprise--have a very sedentary lifestyle), but I am absolutely no less healthy than I would've been eating meat.  You don't need to take 8 pills a day to replace nutrients found in meat.  Want a view into my super-crazy, hippy-dippy vegetarian diet? 
 
A very ordinary day: 
-Breakfast: Cereal. 
-Lunch: Bagel. 
-Dinner: Pizza. 
 
It really sucks just eating iceberg lettuce and plain celery all day, guys. 
 
Now, obviously this is subjective: but my favorite pizza toppings have never been meat.  Green peppers and mushrooms have been my 1 and 2 even since I would eat a hamburger without any guilt.  YES, YOU CAN EAT NORMAL PEOPLE FOOD WHEN YOU ARE A VEGETARIAN.  Guess what I had this afternoon?  Ice cream.  I'm not an alien.  I'll be the first one to admit that eating out gets a little trickier (Chinese and Indian food become much more commonplace--but who cares, Indian is delicious) and I understand peoples' suspicions about faux-meat products.  Trust me, though.  Fake chicken patties taste a lot like chicken patties.  And nobody had to die!  Not every meat has an acceptable vegetarian substitute, but the options are a lot better than most people assume.  Raw tofu is kind of gross, but so are so many other foods when they're not prepared well. 
 
I decided today that I'm going to start promoting vegetarianism when I'm out with friends and family rather than just be the guy who gets stupid questions like "so you eat Turkey burgers instead?" and "wait, can you eat eggs?! those are baby chickens!!!!" and answers them politely and sheepishly.  And then I wrote this blog.  
 
Eating meat and not eating meat are directly comparable and there is really no coherent argument that I've heard for eating meat being the superior position.      I understand that some people are simply not interested in the welfare of animals or the process behind what they eat and this blog won't change those peoples' minds.  That can be such a deep-rooted value that I have no delusions of getting someone who simply doesn't care to stop eating meat.  However...if you're a little more compassionate/sympathetic and actually think about the consequences and morality of your actions...consider if you want to keep doing the dickish thing and kill animals just so you can have a trivially different diet.

* As this blog is pretty stream-of-consciousness-y, I can guarantee I'll wish I wrote things differently later.  I'm definitely not going to shy away from discussion, but if it's nit-picking about the blog rather than arguments for/against a position that fuels the commentary, I'll probably just ignore what you have to say (or try to). *

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