By Undeadpool 1 Comments
Videogaming (a friend of mine is trying to stop the word "gamer" from being used anymore. Long story) is at an interesting crossroad that all forms of popular media have come to at some point: straddling the line between an accepted mainstream artform and something that politicians from both sides of the spectrum want to burn in effigy for corrupting the youth of America, who everyone knows has no capacity to think for itself. It's happened a few times with more books than I can count (look up a banned book list on any search engine and prepare to be surprised), all different kinds of music (metal and rap most recently, but basically every form of music has been crusaded against at some point), movies are still choking under the yoke of the MPAA, and TV still has to contend with censorship on a daily basis, though the grip is slackening. Videogaming just showed up the party, and guess what? It's already got six drinks in it. Videogames present an interesting problem to the debate: interactivity. This is Roger Ebert's argument as to why they can't be considered true "art" forms: because the user interacts with and changes it, it's not truly art. I don't agree with this contention one little bit not only for the fact that I've seen art exhibits that allow audience participation, but there's only so much a user can do to "alter" a videogame while playing it. You'll never be able to make Marcus Fenix soar over the battlefield on the back of a pegasus raining down fireballs from a sword. But I'm preaching to the choir, and I won't lie it's a good feeling, but I have another point: one of the biggest hurdles is from within. It's us not taking the medium seriously, even on a sub-conscious level.
I was watching a review for a game on Zero Punctuation when the reviewer made the fascinating point of the community getting SO excited when someone from the mainstream gets involved, even peripherally, with a videogame. Now whether or not you like Zero Punctuation is irrelevant, I think the point is an incredibly good one. Why DO we fawn over people who don't work with videogames when they come and make a game? Why do we, as the reviewer put it, "Say 'oh YES Mr. Bigshot movie producer! Come down to the filthy masses and show us how it's done!'" This art form has been around for well over thirty years, mostly without help from outside sources, so why is there this hero-worship when a game comes out that has Stephen Spielberg as an executive producer?
Quick: what's one of the first comments about any hot new game sure to show up in the forums within 24 hours of the game's release and vindication of quality? No, not lewd comments about whatever female character is in it, "I'd love for them to make this into a movie." Why? Videogames have, historically, made atrocious movies. There hasn't been a single one of actual quality with the possible exception of Silent Hill (Mortal Kombat doesn't count because, while it was a fun movie, it's not a "good" movie). Metal Gear Solid is the one I hear talked about most and it's also the one I find most puzzling. I love this series, I've loved it since the first PS1 game, but the game is HEAVY on the cinematics, so why would one want to see an inferior version, most likely starring an actor no one wants to play the character, with a script that's been passed around like a dutchie 'pon the left hand side so many times, to so many different people who've probably never even heard of the game, that by the end it's called Metallic Cog Mercurial and stars Chris Kattan as the WACKIEST secret agent this side of the RUSTY CURTAIN! (rated PG-13)?
I think it's because deep down a lot of us are still waiting for something to come along and make gaming OK for mainstream acceptance. Like what the one-two combo of the X-Men and Spider-Man movies did for comic books (with Blade being the lead-in), but comic books lend themselves more naturally to being adapted to the big screen, and even those movies didn't get REALLY good until very recently. So I think we need to bring gaming to the mainstream ourselves. Games like Bioshock are a great step in the right direction because they have incredible artistic vision as well as a satirical, philosophical plotline. In short: it has depth. That's what people look for in art: depth and that's what so many games lack. I'm not saying EVERY game needs to become Bioshock in order for us as a community to progress beyond what we are, I'm saying that we shouldn't let someone on the outside ride in like a white knight and redeem something that doesn't even need redeeming. We should solve our own problems by supporting games that actually try something daring and dynamic and even by trying to hold these games up as counter-examples rather than simply shouting at the top of our lungs about how artsy games can be.