By Gamer_152 34 Comments
For countless years now it seems that people have had an obsession with comparing video games to other entertainment mediums. How well video games hold up in comparison to other forms of entertainment has often been taken to be a measurement of how well video games are doing as a medium, but these kind of comparisons often come about with a myriad of problems behind them. So let’s take a look at where the video games vs. other entertainment mediums analyses too often fall apart.
Why Always Movies?
When video games do get compared to other entertainment mediums it seems that movies are the top candidate. In fact, unless we’re talking about the common games as art debates, it seems that almost every time, the entertainment medium which video games get compared to is movies. In one way it’s not that surprising to see this kind of comparison going on, after all they’re two of the world’s biggest entertainment industries, but it’s interesting just how rare it is to see video games compared to mediums apart from movies in the average discussion space.
People often pick movies as the material for their comparisons not just because movies are very popular, but also because it’s the easiest comparison to make; both games and movies use visuals, incorporate music, and often tell stories in at least a somewhat similar fashion, especially now that we’re increasingly seeing developers and publishers making the effort to make video games more like movies. The similarity between the two mediums is also only exacerbated for people who have a limited understanding of game mechanics.
This focus on comparing games against one other entertainment medium instead of all entertainment mediums is a very narrow-sighted way of trying to determine the relative success of video games, but this narrow-sightedness reflects the bigger problem of why many people make this kind of comparison to begin with. If you’ve seen games vs. movies debates on the internet before then you’re no doubt familiar with the fact that a lot of these debates are fuelled by people who just want to see their own opinion on which is the greatest entertainment medium validated by society as a whole. The logic is that if video games are the biggest medium or most popular medium, this means they’re the best medium.
Duelling Sales Figures
One common tactic to try and prove that video games come out on top in terms of entertainment, has been comparing profits or units/tickets sold of movies against those of games; however this usually leads to lots of misleading figures being presented. Sometimes when weighing the two up people will directly compare total money made from box office sales of a movie with the total money made from sales of a game. It must first be remembered in these instances that game prices can range from those of a simple iPhone game right up to those of AAA blockbusters. Of course in these comparisons AAA blockbusters are usually used, but this is far from fair when the price of a big-name game these days is many times that of a movie ticket. Comparing profits of movies against profits of games is also not a sensible means of comparison, as it is not only carries the flaw that looking at the total money made through sales does, but carries the extra glitch that it’s dependent on how much it cost to make the game or movie in the first place.
Even if you’re just talking about the number of tickets sold vs. the number of games sold the comparison still isn’t entirely apt though, as this does not account for sales of Blu-Rays, DVDs, or the streaming of movies. Even if you did include these figures, there’d be no telling how many people who bought the movie on-disc or streamed it were seeing it for the first time and how many had already seen it in cinemas. Add in the confusion that used sales, renting, and similar things bring to the mix and it becomes obvious that it’s a bit of a nightmare to actually work out which video games and which movies are doing better than each other financially.
Of course even if we can prove that video game sales measure up well against the competition, that’s far from the end of the story. Ignoring the ridiculous idea that if lots of people like video games that means they’re good (I think we can all agree that there’s a lot of popular things out there with a serious lack of quality), even if video games are collectively selling well that doesn’t tell us much about how the public perceive them, how much time they’re putting into their games or what kinds of games are selling. Obviously the reality of the situation is that video games have neither the status nor the audience that other big entertainment mediums have right now, and staring at sales figures has little to do with judging the general perception of video games.
Getting All Artsy
Sales figures or no sales figures, another big problem when it comes to these debates has been that people seem to gravitate towards taking one video game or a handful of games and one or a few works from another entertainment medium, and claiming that they are all representative of the mediums that they come from. In fact back during the whole Roger Ebert “games as art” debate many were holding up games like Braid and Flower, and saying “This is why games are art”. In reality that particular debate was never about whether games are art to begin with, it was about whether games can be art, but if you are going after an argument that treats the medium as a whole you can’t just focus on your Braids and your Flowers, you also have to work out where games like Gears of War and Dead or Alive fit into the mix (not that there’s anything wrong with Gears of War or Dead or Alive), just like if movies are art, movie buffs have to figure out how films like Jackass and Troll 2 are to be treated (not that there’s anything wrong with Jackass). There is no one or two works in any medium which can be taken to represent the medium as a whole.
Not that I want to go too far down this rabbit hole but while I’m on the subject of games as art, one thing that seems to repeatedly go wrong in these discussions is people using the word “art” without ever explaining what they mean by it. Back when Ebert made his original post on the matter he rightfully wrote that a big hurdle in this discussion is finding an agreeable definition of the word art to begin with, and yet I’ve seen people arguing until they’re blue in the face about whether games are art, all the while never making it quite clear what they think art is.
Duder, It’s Over
Once again, thank you for reading, part 2 is coming next week and I look forward to reading your comments.