Archive | October, 2013

RE: How Long Can Video Games Matter?

22 Oct

I just recently read Mitch Dyer’s thoughtful, albeit somewhat depressing article at IGN titled “How Long Can Video Games Matter?” I enjoyed it, but throughout the entirety of the article, I had some thoughts that I felt were applicable to the topic, and decided to write a response.

If you haven’t read the article, you should. While bleak, it’s a frank look at games as an art form. If you just don’t care to, I’ll do my best to sum it up: In general, games are commercial products as much as or more than they are art, and games will not withstand the test of time like other forms of media.

I agree with this in large parts, and there is a large gap to be covered due to technological restraints. That is to say, when you watch Nosferatu, the actors you see are human. The footage is old, and there is a suspension of disbelief that the viewers must go through, because it is a silent movie, but it is not a large suspension of disbelief for the moviegoer to relate to the characters and step into the world that the movie is creating. Early games, on the other hand, are about as relatable as a series of abstract objects, because that is literally what they are. If you were to play Combat or Adventure, your character is a symbol. These games are no more relatable than a game of chess- perhaps even less so, as you can’t directly physically manipulate your avatar like you could a piece in a board game.

However, to continue the metaphor of board games, is chess somehow less timeless or less memorable than newer games with higher production values? If my player pawn looks fancier, the game has intricate parts and a beautiful board, is it, as a whole, more lasting than chess? This question is pretty rhetorical, as chess’ value has been proven over the years. So what is it that we should be looking at here? The comparisons that are drawn between film and literature as art, and games as art, are definitely tenuous at best.

I’ve always considered games as art, but when you compare the age of videogames to film or literature, games have an infinitesimally shorter lifespan. How many books written in the first fourty years of written word were worthwhile? When you look at the history of film, it is compressed much more, but one of the first films ever made was of a horse galloping. I’ve never heard any arguments made that “The Horse In Motion” is something that’s important to preserve and display for its content. So if our arguments for the longevity of “classic” games lie less in their mechanics and evolution, and rather in their ability to connect with the audience and tell a story, then I would agree that there are many games that don’t even attempt to qualify. The first twenty years or so of game development has almost been a proof of concept phase for what is yet to come.

Perhaps the discussion should be “Do Video Games Matter Yet?”

And yes, the idea of games as a brand and as a product greatly damages their staying power, if only because there is an impact that is taken away from art when you reproduce it on an annual basis. If Shakespeare had to create a new play every year to keep eating– oh that’s right, he pretty much did, and a large portion of his work is seen by many to be dismissable. But in comparision, a very large quantity of movies and books that are produced are lost to time, embraced by few or none, and forgotten. I remember hearing many producers talk about the games and projects that the developers abhor, “We have to make the games that make money, so we can make the games that make memories.”

What feels like the most apt question now is “Can we make Video Games Thrive and Matter?”