The Demand that all Video Games be Intelligent

After reading the article Most Popular Video Games Are Dumb. Can We Stop Apologizing for Them Now?, I came to formulate my own opinion on the matter that games need to be more thought provoking and emotional then what the big-budget games are. I feel the article strictly the demands that all games do this, and while I'm one who definitely prefers the brilliance of Braid or Fez over almost anything else, I feel this isn't realistic in anyway. I also think that I can enjoy a game like Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, which while isn't nearly as thought provoking as Limbo, I still enjoyed. Clearly, there are two types of games now in this post-Braid world, games that are just fun toys, and those that are intelligent pieces of art. I think there is room for both in this world, not one or the other. Which is what probably is the biggest beef behind this article, though it never got around to quite saying it, or maybe Taylor Clark never realized it.

Let's take a look at what medium gaming is commonly compared to, movies, and draw an analogy. You see, a movie like The Artistis a very intelligently created, thought provoking movie, and won the Oscar for best picture. Now, while it's a great movie, it was seen be a very small group of people, and only grossed $44 million , while a less intelligent movie like The Expendables appealed to a much wider audience, and grossed $266 million. There's two points I want to draw in this comparison.

The first is that the greatest assumption made in the Clark's article is that vast majority of humans are smart. That they like putting effort into interpreting stories and enjoy the emotional and thought provoking parts. My brother, who has played Braid all the way through, didn't give a shit about the ending, which he wouldn't even made it to without my help, and indeed, if I can make heuristic assumption, the vast majority people wouldn't. Yet, when it comes to Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, my brother just loves how "cool" the executions are in the game, and how "cool" the armor looks. He throughly enjoyed the game, and so did I, but for me, looking "cool" isn't a huge part of a game, but for everyone else, the vast majority of everyone else, it is. I commonly tell people that gaming hasn't grown up. That we're stuck in this "kill and bleed" adolescent part of the maturity of the gaming industry, but the point is that humanity really doesn't grow up beyond this either. It makes business sense for the industry to make games the appeal to this branch of people, but they also appeal to anyone. They are good. They will always be around, and they will always make big money and be popular.

But the problem I have, and what we don't mirror from the movie industry at all (at least until Journey), is that the intelligent, thought provoking games don't get funded by big studios. The Artist had a budget of 15 million dollars, which I don't think it got out of pocket. Meanwhile, Braid was funded with $200,000 that Johnathan Blow had to struggle to get together to even make his game. This is the big difference and the problem I feel that a lot of people have with the gaming industry. The Artist can get funding from major studios to make a thought provoking film, but Braid, Fez, Limbo, and the like couldn't get funding from let's say EA or Activision to make a thought provoking game. Thought provoking games need a place in the industry. They need a piece of the financial pie, even though they are being made without it, and I think that's the point and plea behind Clark's article, and I agree.

And maybe that day will come, but we still have a lot of growing up to do as an industry, and it's still a relativity young one. Given time, I think we'll mature into what the movie industry is (though hopefully not COMPLETELY what the movie industry is), and we'll have a place for thought provoking, intelligent, and artistic games. I think right now though, we're still transitioning to that.

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25 Comments
Posted by TheRedDeath

After reading the article Most Popular Video Games Are Dumb. Can We Stop Apologizing for Them Now?, I came to formulate my own opinion on the matter that games need to be more thought provoking and emotional then what the big-budget games are. I feel the article strictly the demands that all games do this, and while I'm one who definitely prefers the brilliance of Braid or Fez over almost anything else, I feel this isn't realistic in anyway. I also think that I can enjoy a game like Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, which while isn't nearly as thought provoking as Limbo, I still enjoyed. Clearly, there are two types of games now in this post-Braid world, games that are just fun toys, and those that are intelligent pieces of art. I think there is room for both in this world, not one or the other. Which is what probably is the biggest beef behind this article, though it never got around to quite saying it, or maybe Taylor Clark never realized it.

Let's take a look at what medium gaming is commonly compared to, movies, and draw an analogy. You see, a movie like The Artistis a very intelligently created, thought provoking movie, and won the Oscar for best picture. Now, while it's a great movie, it was seen be a very small group of people, and only grossed $44 million , while a less intelligent movie like The Expendables appealed to a much wider audience, and grossed $266 million. There's two points I want to draw in this comparison.

The first is that the greatest assumption made in the Clark's article is that vast majority of humans are smart. That they like putting effort into interpreting stories and enjoy the emotional and thought provoking parts. My brother, who has played Braid all the way through, didn't give a shit about the ending, which he wouldn't even made it to without my help, and indeed, if I can make heuristic assumption, the vast majority people wouldn't. Yet, when it comes to Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, my brother just loves how "cool" the executions are in the game, and how "cool" the armor looks. He throughly enjoyed the game, and so did I, but for me, looking "cool" isn't a huge part of a game, but for everyone else, the vast majority of everyone else, it is. I commonly tell people that gaming hasn't grown up. That we're stuck in this "kill and bleed" adolescent part of the maturity of the gaming industry, but the point is that humanity really doesn't grow up beyond this either. It makes business sense for the industry to make games the appeal to this branch of people, but they also appeal to anyone. They are good. They will always be around, and they will always make big money and be popular.

But the problem I have, and what we don't mirror from the movie industry at all (at least until Journey), is that the intelligent, thought provoking games don't get funded by big studios. The Artist had a budget of 15 million dollars, which I don't think it got out of pocket. Meanwhile, Braid was funded with $200,000 that Johnathan Blow had to struggle to get together to even make his game. This is the big difference and the problem I feel that a lot of people have with the gaming industry. The Artist can get funding from major studios to make a thought provoking film, but Braid, Fez, Limbo, and the like couldn't get funding from let's say EA or Activision to make a thought provoking game. Thought provoking games need a place in the industry. They need a piece of the financial pie, even though they are being made without it, and I think that's the point and plea behind Clark's article, and I agree.

And maybe that day will come, but we still have a lot of growing up to do as an industry, and it's still a relativity young one. Given time, I think we'll mature into what the movie industry is (though hopefully not COMPLETELY what the movie industry is), and we'll have a place for thought provoking, intelligent, and artistic games. I think right now though, we're still transitioning to that.

Posted by themangalist

Don't get me wrong, I like "intelligent" games but I absolutely despise pretentious games. I'd take a dumb fun game any day over a pretentious "game as art" piece of crap.

Posted by believer258

I didn't read all of your article, but I gotta ask if you want literally all games to be intelligent, thought-provoking, and artistic? Because a video game where you're a dino-killing jetpack ninja cowboy couldn't really be artistic in the same sense that, say, Journey is, could it? And because dino-killing, jetpacks, ninjas, and cowboys are all great ideas for games, they shouldn't be completely gone, should they?

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Posted by connerthekewlkid

@believer258: wasnt that called dino crisis 3? :p

Posted by BelligerentEngine

@themangalist said:

Don't get me wrong, I like "intelligent" games but I absolutely despise pretentious games. I'd take a dumb fun game any day over a pretentious "game as art" piece of crap

This, this so much...

As an aside I find the duality of calling for some sort of artistic revolution in gaming, whilst simultaneously extolling the virtues of KoA: Reckoning, to be the height of hilarity, though I may just be an asshole.

Posted by Video_Game_King

@believer258:

I'd say that he simply wants an environment that makes it easier for intelligent games to get made, and I can't blame him for it. There are some pretty damn intelligent games out there, but either gamers don't give two shits about them (Fragile Dreams) or they raise the bar too high and don't really acknowledge them as intellectual (quite a few Final Fantasy games certainly qualify). Then again, it's hard to get a feel for what Emmanuel Kant would think about video games. I feel like he'd give me a high five or something, but again, hard to tell.

Posted by JasonR86

Fuck that. I like me some dumb shit from time to time.

Posted by Sin4profit

you want games that don't get the most financial return to be equally funded as games that sell? i don't get it...

Posted by wreakOnes

I tend to dislike the argument that all games should aspire to be amazing and pretentious pieces of art like braid. Simply put you can't have one without the other. If every game was like that then there would be no sense of contrast to say "this game is art while this game is pop corn fun bags". End of story, people should stop pretending that they are better than the "average gamer" simply because they appreciate braid way too much. You are masturbating onto the internet, now stop it!

Edited by upwarDBound

@TheRedDeath said:

But the problem I have, and what we don't mirror from the movie industry at all (at least until Journey), is that the intelligent, thought provoking games don't get funded by big studios. The Artist had a budget of 15 million dollars, which I don't think it got out of pocket. Meanwhile, Braid was funded with $200,000 that Johnathan Blow had to struggle to get together to even make his game. This is the big difference and the problem I feel that a lot of people have with the gaming industry. The Artist can get funding from major studios to make a thought provoking film, but Braid, Fez, Limbo, and the like couldn't get funding from let's say EA or Activision to make a thought provoking game. Thought provoking games need a place in the industry. They need a piece of the financial pie, even though they are being made without it, and I think that's the point and plea behind Clark's article, and I agree.

The film industry is much more mature than the game industry and has a built in adult audience. That is why movies like The Artist get funded and games like Braid barely scrape by. That audience is quickly growing for games though. It likely won't be too much longer until we see slightly higher budgeted "art" games.

Posted by laserbolts

I don't think all video games need to be thought provoking. Sometimes a dude just wants to shoot a dude in the face.

Posted by Moonshadow101

Inserting the word "All" where it doesn't belong is the silliest, and probably most common strawman argument ever.

Posted by MikkaQ

I think games are a great medium for exploring dumb fun. They just have to be clever about how they are being dumb... if that makes any sense. I guess compare the humor in Saints Row 1 to Saints Row The Third to get my point. The first game seemed derivative of GTA and the humor was fairly unintelligent, the third game made knowing winks and nods to let the user know that they were in on the stupidity too, and they are dedicated to it 100%. The humor, while being really dumb, also made references to much more intelligent works, which adds to the humor's credibility for me. It's like they know you're smarter than the game, but they also know you're going out of your way to play something dumb, and they deliver.

Basically I don't feel like games need to be intelligent, one because that should reflect in the gameplay regardless, and two that's not necessarily what I'm looking for when I'm playing a game. If I want quiet, contemplative and intelligent media, I'll look to the best cinema and literature has to offer since they'll be significantly more stimulating than even the most intelligent of games.

Posted by AngelN7

Hell no dumb games are fun as hell and at the end that's all I want out of a videogame to have fun or experience something interesting.

Posted by Crocio

Sure thing Kant. I'd warrant that we have been shifting in that direction already and that it will happen organically, as a result of demand and markets, etc.

Posted by Penzilneck

I meant to read the whole post, and I will, but at the moment I Kant.

Posted by Vinny_Says

How can a game be "smart" if you have no "dumb" games to compare and contrast?

Posted by Napalm

@laserbolts said:

I don't think all video games need to be thought provoking. Sometimes a dude just wants to shoot a dude in the face.

Usually all I want is to shoot dudes in the face. Over and over. Gim'me a shotgun. Let's do this.

Posted by Totori

This is probably what everyone is saying, but you don't want all games to be smart in that fez way. This reminds me of when LA Noire came out and everyone said they should make 100 different LA Noire type games.

Posted by pyromagnestir

Are Saints Row the Third and Portal 2 or dumb games? I think they qualify as smart, personally. The Last Guardian will probably be a smart game too, so hey, they exist.

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Posted by SeriouslyNow

@upwarDBound said:

@TheRedDeath said:

But the problem I have, and what we don't mirror from the movie industry at all (at least until Journey), is that the intelligent, thought provoking games don't get funded by big studios. The Artist had a budget of 15 million dollars, which I don't think it got out of pocket. Meanwhile, Braid was funded with $200,000 that Johnathan Blow had to struggle to get together to even make his game. This is the big difference and the problem I feel that a lot of people have with the gaming industry. The Artist can get funding from major studios to make a thought provoking film, but Braid, Fez, Limbo, and the like couldn't get funding from let's say EA or Activision to make a thought provoking game. Thought provoking games need a place in the industry. They need a piece of the financial pie, even though they are being made without it, and I think that's the point and plea behind Clark's article, and I agree.

The film industry is much more mature than the game industry and has a built in adult audience. That is why movies like The Artist get funded and games like Braid barely scrape by. That audience is quickly growing for games though. It likely won't be too much longer until we see slightly higher budgeted "art" games.

In the scheme of things The Artist is a rarity and it probably got funded on the back of self congratulatory praise the studio bosses were giving themselves after a pretty successful run for a couple of years. Don't kid yourself, most independent Cinema is poorly funded and often only possible through charity work. Get Low is one such example but there are many others. Video games have genres too and they do have a whole section of games which are high concept and moderately funded much like Cinema. Most video games, like most Cinema projects are middle of the road action fests, children's content and shovelware. The movie industry has been around longer but as a real modern industry with insurance and standards and practices it's only been really stable since the late 50s and video games aren't that much younger if you really think about. I agree that higher concept stuff needs more exposure in gaming but I don't hold Cinema up as an example of that having been achieved to any greater degree.

Posted by Mento

Games can seem like dumb entertainment on the surface but designed intelligently (as much as I dislike putting those two words together these days) to appeal to as many people as possible, even if they're not fully aware of it because of the fun they're having. There's been plenty of very smart people in game development, though that's not always obvious given how many games choose to present themselves.

It's only when the auteur designer feels they must go out of their way to show off how intelligent their game is that we run into this discussion of "why can't all games be this smart?" Quite a few are, they're just less showy about it.

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Posted by Jay444111

I will fucking defend conkers bad fur day as being high art. I truly will. Everything in the game contributes to the main theme of greed and shows what happens to places effected by such a thing in even the most cutesy of places. The end of the game really drives it home about it as well.

Edited by whyareyoucrouchingspock

@themangalist said:

Don't get me wrong, I like "intelligent" games but I absolutely despise pretentious games. I'd take a dumb fun game any day over a pretentious "game as art" piece of crap.

100% agree.

Thats why I play Total War. Intellent games that is also well aware games are suppose to be entertaining (something "Dear Esther" is not). That arty farty arteeeeests who think they are above it all are just fucking arseholes as far as i'm concerned.