Growing Up

March 30, 2009 at 4:08 pm (Particle Physics, Politics)

As reported on GamePolitics (and a few other places), one Heather Chaplain has laid down the law for game developers – it’s time to grow up.  They’re a bunch of stunted adolescents creating teenage power fantasies.

And, I imagine, it goes downhill from there.

The youth of gaming is no factor either; by the time motion pictures were 35 years old (as video games are), we had Fritz Lang and Citizen Kane.   Rock and Roll had the Beatles and Bob Dylan.   Where are the Langs and Dylans of video gaming?

Well, as others have pointed out, Rock and Roll isn’t really a ‘medium,’ it’s a ‘genre.’  And shall we dwell on some of what it had by the time it was 35?

The Witch Doctor.  The Purple People Eater.  Chantilly Lace.  Yes, it also had the Beatles (“Rocky Raccoon,” “I am the Walrus,”) and Bob Dylan (“Lay Lady Lay,” anyone?)  They also had Jim Morrison, I might add.

Movies were 35 years old and they had Citizen Kane and the Maltese Falcon, to say nothing of Gone with the Wind and the Universal classics.

It also had Spooks Run Wild, the Invisible Ghost, and by the time it was almost 40 years old it had Glen or Glenda, Jailbait, and any of a thousand other films that were cheap little throwaways made with a little heart and a lot of drive to try and make enough cash to eat while you made the next one.

And these are two ‘mediums’ that came hot on the heels of centuries of precedent.  Movies had the theatre.  Rock and Roll had all music that came before it.  Some of the oldest ‘mediums’ in history gave birth to these industries.

Video games?  Yeah, they’re young.  They’re only 35.  And they don’t have the same sort of pedigree – a video game is like a play where the audience is taking on a starring role.  Sure, you’ve got a script, but you’ve got an amateur playing the part, so you need to make sure it’s a part he can handle.

And, more importantly, it’s been 35 years in the age of mass media.  Films and Rock came out of media that had a history of sending messages and telling deep, involved stories.  Video games?  Eh… not so much, for the most part.  They evolved out of table-top games.  Chess and ping pong and checkers and those games you used to play at the carnival, where you tried to pop a balloon and win a prize.

Not much in the way of deep storytelling there, is there?

And while she may trumpet Gears of War, Halo, Killzone, and GTA as the examples of the sort of ‘mindless’ games out there (I’m guessing here, folks), that’s rather debatable… and, more importantly, ignores what’s gone before.

You want anti-war commentary and protests?  Raze’s Hell.

You want environmentalist messages, exploring the question of whether or not it’s right to exploit the world around you?  Try the Oddworld series, or Final Fantasy 7 if you must (I loathe the game, but it *does* have its message).

You want meditations on free will, destiny, and the moral responsibility of a person who’s been tricked into committing horrible wrongs?  Final Fantasy 4.

You want taught thrillers with indepth plotlines?  Still Life, Indigo Prophecy, Silent Hill (I’d go on, but I have to be getting home now.)

Yes, if you look at gaming you can find a lot of stuff that’s simple adolescent wish fulfillment.  If you look at *any* medium that tries to sell to adolescents, you’ll find a lot of adolescent wish fulfillment! 

(It’s called the 50’s-80’s, throw a rock at any complete collection of films from that era, and you’ll hit some.)

And that’s when you have a medium that *hasn’t* been smacked around half the times it’s tried to explore deeper issues.  Remember Bully?

Do you remember that it was yelled at as much for ‘glorifying homosexuality’ (by allowing players to engage in male-male kissing without serious consequence) as much as for ‘glorifying juvenile delinquency’?

And, sadly, the market is littered with examples that tried to be more, but just couldn’t sell in the market.  When you’re running a business, which the video game companies are by their nature, you have to factor that in.  Movies have always had one advantage – any schmuck with a camera could make one.  Any moron who could smack two rocks together could write music.

Video games haven’t been democratized that way – they cost time, skill, and money to make that just isn’t *that* widely available, at least on the mainstream market.

One of these days, I hope to see things turn around, and a lot more thoughtful games come onto the market.  I honestly think we’re heading down that road rapidly.

But give us a little time.  After all – it took us a a couple thousand years to get to Oedipus Rex… and thousands more to reach Citizen Kane.

30-some-odd years to get started is looking pretty good right about now, isn’t it?

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1 Comment

  1. matt said,

    This blog’s great!! Thanks :).

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