I’ve been meaning to write about tee vee games for a long time, and my thoughts are still pretty inchoate. But Thomas L. MacDonald recently linked to a dumb article in the Atlantic about how video games are a reflection of the pointless Sisyphean nature of our existence and blah blah blah and that seems as good as an impetus as any to write something, even if I don’t really have much interest in tackling the substance of the article in question.
I grew up playing video games, although these days I barely pay attention at all to what is going on in the video game world – the newest system I own is a DS. Sometimes I think I’d like to revive my old hobby a bit more, but there are usually just too many more important things on my plate that require my time and money. And what is on offer also tends to seem kind of…boring. Increasingly lavish amounts of money are spent on repackaging the same male adolescent power fantasy, or on just emulating movies.
As with a lot of pop culture phenomena, the problems of the video game industry are largely structural, and so I am pessimistic about it ever changing in any dramatic fashion, and take the usual attitude of just enjoying whatever is good about it.
But anyway, for every nihilistic GTA series, there’s a Legend of Zelda (actually, I’m not so sure about that ratio). And at least for me, the fact that people still like the fantasy of going on a Big Adventure with all sorts of romantic and fairy tale trappings, is kind of consoling. And I think it nixes the article’s idea of video games tapping into our own existential despair. Rather, at their best, they reflect a sort of implicit desire in us for a meaningful world, and a life that has a definite shape and purpose to it.
Bringing up LoZ again, another thing I found was that the better video games did a good job of introducing me to various SF questions – or at least moreso than whatever they were having us read at school. For instance, in Ocarina of Time, you have the question of what it would be like to find yourself in a future that was hostile and alien to you.
Perhaps the biggest objection to video games is that they give a false sense of accomplishment, and that the energy spent on them should be redirected to more productive hobbies. From this perspective, MMORPGs come across as the worst genre (which they are). There does seem to be a fair amount of people who have nothing better to do with their leisure time than play video games. Then again, I spent a lot of my childhood parked in front of the boob tube, and, while I admittedly still live in my dad’s basement, I have things like grad school and, uh, this blog going for me. I’d like to think that video games instilled in me an instinctive desire to find it more fulfilling to do something more active with my time – like write for this blog, read a difficult book etc. But I could be wrong. I suppose the question of whether games will just be a massive life sink for someone depends on who we’re talking about.
Are video games art? My old answer to this was that they were more of a craft that involved artistic elements, though that may just be splitting hairs/not making any sense at all. There have certainly been various aesthetic aspects of games that have stuck in my head over time. But I’m not sure if it’s possible to talk about all aspects of what makes a good game from an aesthetic point of view. For instance, one of the reasons why I think Super Metroid is such a great game is the attention to detail and flexibility the programmers gave it. It’s very hard to trip the game up by doing something the game doesn’t expect you to do – rather, it assumes that when you know the game well enough you’re eventually going to start seeing how far you can push the rules, and the game is prepared for that. This is one of the signs of a well made game, but it doesn’t seem like an aesthetic quality.
More on these things in the future(?)