We are currently engaged in the adolescence of an art form. Not in that there has been a discovery of pornography or cars, no. What I mean to say is that video games are no longer in their childhood. They gross more than Hollywood’s theatre release, develop mainstream celebrities [insert your favorite/most attractive], have developed a studio-like system (for better or worse), and have begun to return to their indie-roots with direct-to-consumer distribution. This evolution implies that games are important both economically and aesthetically to a large number of people. Games are as significant to our cultural landscape as baseball and misguided wars in the Middle East. The conversation about whether they are “art” entirely misses the point.
To their credit, consumers have discovered the insignificance of this made-up argument on their own. Aside from fan-boy sniping, no one really cares about ratings except in a “how-will-it-sell” sense. What does it matter if a scion of pop-culture degrades all of video games? Video games don’t fit the mold of the old forms of media. Of course, dinosaurs are still trying to control the conversation. The lack of concrete rules threatens them, but others (including myself) are excited. Everything is malleable. The growing pains of the media are outweighed by the average consumer’s ability to dictate the course of the future. Unlike the constraints put upon the birth of film, television, and radio, technology allows consumers to wed their purchases with the ability to create (or just Kickstart) new development.
Video games are an evolving art form because of this very nature as an emerging form of narrative. Every new release changes the way that gamers play, how creators create, how the non-gaming public views the medium. Witness the evolution from Pong to Portal, Super Mario to Super Meat Boy. Technology and time are inextricably linked with the media’s development as a whole. No other media is tied as dependent on human advancement (both in hardware and psychology) as video games. That is what is important: the public can craft the future of communication. How exciting to be able to influence the future of a platform.
So why is this site attempting to be a vanguard of criticism?
It isn’t. Neither I nor my comrade-in-arms claim to understand everything about video games. I’ve written and worked on a few, but my grasp on the subject is far from total. I have preferences. Double that for biases. Quarter that for experience. Like the aforementioned “Are video games art?” argument, that is all irrelevant. I want to understand what has spun this art form from a hobby among computer computers into a juggernaut of narrative (and monetary) potential.
For me, that conversation is about how games affect the gamer through the mechanics that make the media unique. The seed was planted when I began drawing my own stories as a child, right around the same time I began playing my old NES (God rest its recently-departed soul). This evolved into an interest in writing of all kinds, which fermented in my mind for the next two decades until I began working as a writer and transmedia producer.
Games played an essential part in my development as a child, and I’m lucky enough now to look back and see how they influenced me. But why? What makes a video game good? What is essential to the art form? What is superfluous? Most importantly, why should I—or you—give a flying fuck?
Because, like I said, you and I get to help change video games by critiquing them. Maybe it’ll open up some minds, maybe it won’t, but we’ll be adding to the conversation.
I feel that gamers are beginning to awaken to this next stage in gaming’s evolution, the period of self-reflection. All media benefits from criticism. Knee-jerk reactions and initial impressions do have a place for consumers but fans of the art form crave for better understanding. Some titles may have great sales but fade with relative speed in the long-haul. Others may initially miss their target before later becoming classics.
My opinion on the quality (or lack thereof) of a title is immaterial. There are dozens of other sites and thousands of professional writers who perform such a service. What I want to bring to the table are deeper questions and criticisms of individual games and the entire medium. No cow is too sacred, no topic too esoteric. This is a journey into an ever-shifting landscape guarded by 800-pound gorillas and packs of marauders. It is a place where nobody speaks the same language but everybody is hoping to find something worthwhile. A little order and understanding could go a long way.
This is not a retrospective of gaming’s greatest hits. This is a nice walk through the past that will hopefully illuminate the future. And because I don’t want this to be too serious, I will try to be as self-deprecating as possible. It’ll help if/when the hate mail begins to pour in once I trash Duke Nukem 3D.