game criticism

It seems like everyone is talking about how games need more critical thought than they get. And I agree. Pretty much everything could use more critical thought. For the amount of time and money that people put into making and consuming games, it would be nice to see some more justification than pure escapism.

Now, escapism is the root of any true connection with the audience, I think. A book like Moby-Dick has had staying power because it succeeds as an adventure story as well as a treatise on man’s capacity for self-destruction.

Escapism has been a good enough reason for me, but I won’t deny that it still seems like wasted time. After the machine is switched off, the experience vanishes, more or less. It won’t stay with me and inspire trains of thought the way even a relatively simple movie like Once does. Why?

Part of it is economic, but that applies to movies and novels and other things, so that can’t be part of it. Honestly, I think it’s because games are interactive, and most people are stupid, or at least lazy.

Now, anyone that says games have a similar cultural footing as the traditional media as books or movies is probably trying to sell them. There are some that try hard, and a few might even provoke some thought. But the whole idea of what a computer game is will have to get upended before they can have the potential to change lives, inspire people and live forever.

I think the game industry suffers from what the movie industry suffers from: fear of failure.  There are such large amounts of money involved in making a big game these days that game publishers and movie studios stick to the formulaic, the lowest common denominator.  So you get games and movies that are diverting, but that have no staying power at all.  There are indie movies out there that do all right, and there’s a thriving subculture around them of people who identify with the aesthetic and what they might call “indie values”.  But where are the indie game designers?  I’m sure they’re out there.  I have been meaning to check out these award-winning indie games for months and never gotten around to it.  When I do, maybe I’ll have new faith in the capacity for games to be more than mindless entertainment.

Now, pardon me, I’m off to do a little fragging…

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