Saturday, August 14, 2010

When games are art

This is one of those debates that's been running around in industry circles for a few years now. It was recently given a shot in the arm by Roger Ebert weighing in on the subject, first by flatly declaring they weren't, then eventually admitting that he didn't know (or care to know) enough about them to have an informed opinion. That's a extremely reasonable response, and one I can absolutely respect. I myself may not particularly enjoy Swedish Death Metal, but I also know that I know squat about it, so who the hell am I to go on about its merits as a medium.

Of course, the argument itself is a pretty defensive one from both sides. On the one side are game fans who passionately want their "new kid" artistic medium to be given the same weighty respect as visual art and literature. On the other side are the anti-gamers who see this new thing as loud, vulgar, and crass, and flatly deny that there's any way good can come of this. The people involved are fighting to keep control of their own little moral islands while taking over the other side's island.

The brilliant bit about the whole thing is that this has all happened before, and will all happen again. Let's make a non-comprehensive and thoroughly un-researched list:

-live theater
-rock and roll

Both sides are acting as though this fight is utterly unique, when it's really almost identical what happened to all the other mediums on that list. New medium shows up, spends ~30 years developing, many people during that time have this argument, and eventually it settles comfortably into the general cultural psyche until we get to the point that it feels like it's always been there in the form it's in now.

So do I think games art? Of course I do. Are all games art? Absolutely not. Neither are all films, all paintings, all TV shows, or all books. Do I really give a rat's ass if people like Ebert agree with me? Nope. What I do care about is that enough people think games are worth making that eventually we don't have to have this debate at all. What's great is that I think that'll be happening within the next ten years or so.

Now the whole reason that I started writing this post: why I think games are art. If pressed to give a single response to "what makes something art", it would be that something intentionally created is memorable. Plenty of things are memorable, like seeing a guy get hit in the nuts with a football, but that's not art, it's just funny. In order to be art, someone has to consciously create something that has such an impact on another human that it's remembered many years later.

Here's an example from my memory: the game Mafia. This game came out in 2002. It's, unsurprisingly, a game about a guy who accidentally finds himself wrapped up in the mob. In the game, you first see him as a cab driver who gets drafted as the getaway driver for two made men. After impressing them with your driving skill, you get "invited" into the family. The rest of the game charts your rise through the ranks as you kill and steal your way through a '30s era not-Chicago. Along the way, you fall for a girl, and eventually decide to get out by turning snitch on the mob. Miraculously, this works, and you escape with your family into the arms of suburban American to start your new life.

Here's where most games, and movies for that matter, would end. Mafia doesn't, and that's the vital bit. In the epilogue, you see your character as an old man. He seems happy, having made it out of the mob to live a good and happy life. He goes to the diner, and sits down for a meal. A man walks up to you, says "Salieri sends his regards", and shoots you in the head. But rather than being a cheap "oh, your character dies, ha HA" ending, it's actually bittersweet. Yes, you died. But from the moment you joined the mob, that was likely. You got a full life. You raised a family outside of the chaos they would have been in. Yes, the mob caught up to you, but did they win, or did you? It's bittersweet and complex in the way that great art is. And most importantly, I remember it eight years later. That's what art does.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The surfeit of options

You know what sucks about having unexpected time off? Too many damn options. Yup, I'm about to whine about something I shouldn't. Feel free to eject now if this sort of things gets your undies in a bunch.

I suck at decisions. I do much better if I get to choose between A and B rather than having to choose one letter from the entire Scrabble bag. In a way, working so much is good for that. If you know you've only got an hour to do something that doesn't make you want to blow your brains out, it focuses your options a bit. Exhaustion notwithstanding.

Give me an entire extra day though, and I'm just fucking lost. I've got a bunch of chores I should do. I've got a bunch of games I want to play. I've got a bunch of books I want to read. I've got a bunch of movies I want to watch. Enter the analysis paralysis. The stupid part? I usually wind up just dicking around on the internet. It's easier to do that than make a decision.

I think I don't like to pick one thing because when I pick something, my brain tells me "No, no, no, you're not choosing THAT thing, you're NOT choosing all those OTHER things! Think of all the missed opportunities!" So, in a beautifully-executed logical backflip, it decides that the more noble thing is to just not choose anything. That way, none of the inanimate objects feel offended. Huh?

So today, I made myself a list of chores. Then, I did them. Woah. This apparently was too much for me, so my stupid self decided to get really tired. So I had coffee. I might have more later and stay up til 4am. You know what I'm going to do tomorrow? Probably less than I could. Because I'm dumb.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Too drunk to fish...

Okay, so it's really more like too tired to _______ . Let me tell you, working 50-60 hour weeks is draining. I've been at this off and on, mostly on, since May. Now, this ain't my first time around this particular block, but it's hitting me pretty hard. When I get nights off, I have all these grand plans of "holy crap, I've got three hours to rub together, I'm gonna do all this stuff."

Then I get home, and all that stuff feels like a ton of work. I wind up watching whatever stupid movie I asked Netflix to send me, or worse, poking at the shit on the internet. By the way, resist the urge to watch Open Water. There's promises of folk getting eaten by sharks, but it takes 45 minutes to get there, and then the shark eating is incredibly underwhelming. Plus, all the pre-eating bits are poorly shot and even more poorly acted. Though I'm pretty sure Lou Ferrigno has an uncredited role as "annoying hairy diver guy", so there's that.

The upshot is that I'm apparently not too tired to blog. Go figure. I guess sitting here and typing stuff is less work than moving pixel dudes around the screen. Whoda thunk that'd be the case?

And just to provide some continuity, by the end of Bioshock, I was more than capable of exploding heads. Though I usually just caved them in with my Monkey Wrench of Doom. I'm not even kidding. Though I may have taken some license by adding caps. Maybe.