Why Video Games Don’t Need a Savior

 

Taylor Clark doesn’t waste any time. Profiling iconoclastic game designer Jonathan Blow for the prestigious magazine The Atlantic, the author plants his flag right underneath the title: “Never mind that they’re now among the most lucrative forms of entertainment in America, video games are juvenile, silly, and intellectually lazy.”

Later in the article, Clark delivers another angry critique, which is amusing, and worth quoting in full:

“…video games, with very few exceptions, are dumb. And they’re not just dumb in the gleeful, winking way that a big Hollywood movie is dumb; they’re dumb in the puerile, excruciatingly serious way that a grown man in latex elf ears reciting an epic poem about Gandalf is dumb. Aside from a handful of truly smart games, tentpole titles like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Call of Duty: Black Ops tend to be so silly and so poorly written that they make Michael Bay movies look like the Godfather series. In games, brick-shaped men yell catchphrases like “Suck pavement!” and wield giant rifles that double as chain saws, while back-breakingly buxom women rush into combat wearing outfits that would make a Victoria’s Secret photographer blush. In games, nuance and character development simply do not exist. In games, any predicament or line of dialogue that would make the average ADHD-afflicted high-school sophomore scratch his head gets expunged and then, ideally, replaced with a cinematic clip of something large exploding.”

Clark is hardly the first gamer to be frustrated by these excesses, though he may be first to express his frustration in the pages of one of America’s most respected periodicals. Unfortunately, by doing so, he falls into a common rhetorical trap: Why should “video games,” as a whole, be defined by the medium’s bloviating blockbusters? Transformers: Dark of the Moon is the fourth-highest grossing film of all time. Does its wild popularity mean that cinema is “dumb?” Of course not. Nor does Justin Beiber’s runaway success represent a crisis in the future of music. People like all sorts of turgid crap, designed to titillate the lowest common denominator — they always have, and always will.

The author might be forgiven if he didn’t compound his error later in the article by making this stunning, bad-faith argument: “It’s tough to demand respect for a creative medium when you have to struggle to name anything it has produced in the past 30 years that could be called artistic or intellectually sophisticated.”

Video games don’t need to “demand respect.” Now a $74 billion industry, they are already respected by a swelling demographic tide of the young and not-so-young who grew up playing games and respect them reflexively. Physicist Max Planck, discussing a different subject, explained exactly how this works: “New scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

I’m not going to waste anyone’s time citing the specific examples that prove Clark spectacularly wrong, though by using the second person (“you have to struggle”), he’s practically inviting me to. In fact, if it came down to it, I am confident that Clark could come up with plenty himself, without much effort. The explanation behind the author’s cynical hyperbole is simple: it makes Jonathan Blow, his subject, seem much more important.

Throughout the article, Clark is determined to portray the Braid designer as a messianic figure, set to transform the “dumb” world of video games with one fell swoop of artistic intentionality: “With The Witness, produced with about $2 million of his own money, he [Blow] plans to do nothing less than establish the video game as an art form — a medium capable of producing something far richer and more meaningful than the brain-dead digital toys currently on offer.” It’s a classic bit of “Hooker with a Heart of Gold” thinking: video games are stalking Hollywood Boulevard in thigh-high boots, and Jonathan Blow is Richard Gere, ready to whisk them away in his Tesla Roadster and show the world that despite the rough manners and loose morals, this a woman worth wedding.

Video games are already established as an art form, and have been since their inception. The debate — “are games art?” — is as tiresome as it is endless. Defining the meaning of “art” is a similarly tedious business, but if you doubt the ability of games to depict beauty and truth, or their ability to inspire joy, wonder, and sadness, you’ve obviously never played one. As designer Tim Schafer once facetiously quipped: “There is art inside of games, but the games themselves are not art — this is sort of hard to explain. You see, we wrap the art in a thick layer of non-art that we call gameplay. That hides the art, and neutralizes its ability to connect with people and express emotion – like botox.”

Despite the stunning variety of different games, and their demonstrable power to connect with people and express emotion, writers like Taylor Clark insist on penning exaggerated, self-castigating apologies, as if admitting the lowbrow nature of Gears of War will somehow convince the mainstream intelligentsia to give video games a seat at the table of culture. Forgetting that games are already taken seriously by millions of people, they search for a savior, a visionary who will somehow convince other, more important people to take games seriously. Paradoxically, it is exactly this fundamental insecurity that undermines their stated goals. As long as certain writers continue to apologize for games being games, certain people — readers of The Atlantic, perhaps — will continue to treat them as something that requires an apology.

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8 Comments on Why Video Games Don’t Need a Savior

SupremeAllah

On April 17, 2012 at 6:51 am

The picture you usde of this guy makes it look like he’s staring down Chris Hanson. Does he have pants on? Was he just coming by for lemonaid and cookies?

Alduin

On April 17, 2012 at 8:20 am

This guy has a point.

maffa

On April 17, 2012 at 1:59 pm

what’s the point on answering a guy like that that compares videogames and movies? Would he do the same thing with baseball, go karts, general aviation flying and freesbee?

This is something that also game produces must learn. Games are not interactive movies. Games are GAMES. RPGs may tell you a story, some non RPGs videogames may have a plot, but more than movies and books and other lookalike medias, they have the only primary objective to entertain the player. Period. If it entertains, it has reached its goal. And the wider the audience, the wider the tastes and the niches.

What do Fallout 3, Far Cry, Guitar heroes, Tetris and Wii sports have in common? This: they are made to entertain a player. Thus they are GAMES.

There are many thick sociology and anthropology books out there for this gentleman to read about games. One of the first thing he’ll learn is that games are not, in fact, movies or books, and judging videogames by movie’s standard is a poor and awkward thing to do.

Taiwanese Guy

On April 24, 2014 at 11:56 am

Jonathan WHO? Isn’t SIDE SCROLLERS made by people such as Shigeru Miyamoto at Nintendo [Super Mario Bros. (1985)], Yoshihiro Kishimoto at Namco [Pac-Land (1984)], Tokuro Fujiwara at Capcom [Ghosts 'n Goblins (1985)], some CODERS at Taito [Elevator Action (1983)], also some CODERS at Konami [Rush'n Attack (1985)], and so on much OLDER and WISER kinds of PEOPLE! Video Games are still GAME!! >=P

Taiwanese Guy

On April 24, 2014 at 1:58 pm

Alduin,

Jonathan BLOW is just someone that wished to work at FILM INDUSTRY but somehow end up in VIDEO GAME INDUSTRY! He and his ARTsy-FARTsy CRONIES had such RESENTMENTS toward VIDEO GAMES as a PURE GAMING MEDIUM!! {roll my eyes}

SEARCH & READ “When Did This Become Art? – CBS News”
SEARCH & READ “Mediocracy – NXSchell”
SEARCH & READ “Mega64: GDC 2010 COMMERCIAL #3 (SERIOUS ARTISTS ONLY) GAMES ARE ART – Mega64″

Their FIRST FILM is made possible at LAB of Thomas Edison while backstabbing Nikola Tesla in WAR OF CURRENTS!! =(

Our FIRST VIDEO GAME started in Brookhaven National Laboratory, and of course, that is NUKE READY, which is ready to shake off a bad case of fleas as George Carlin had put it…. hehe!! >=P

Maffa,

Haha…. yeah, their ARTsy-FARTsy bunch of A-HOLES of REMAKES and REBOOTS sure can’t stop talking about CITIZEN KANE of VIDEO GAMES as if VIDEO GAMES don’t have our own VIDEO GAMING HISTORY!! {roll my eyes}

SEARCH & READ “George Carlin ~ The American Dream – wutdaflek”
SEARCH & READ “George Carlin – Saving the Planet – Dadniel”
SEARCH & READ “George Carlin: The Illusion Of Choice – gotknowledge1″

Anyhow, FILMS are not all bad! FILMS sometimes even SATIRE of themselves with THEIR FUTURE of REBOOTS and REMAKES in HOLLYWOOD such as INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE! It is a FILM about BLOOD SUCKING PIECE OF that won’t die except hiding cowardly at THEATERS acting as if they are IMMORTALS, but only to be finally CUT DOWN and BURN ALIVE by a HERO that hated them and their FULL OF so much!! >=P

Taiwanese Guy

On April 25, 2014 at 5:07 pm

People that really enjoy watching CITIZEN KANE kinds of FILMS tend to be a certain type of people in our society, who are rather PRETENTIOUS or tried to be SOPHISTICATED but somehow are IN POWER along with THOSE TOP 1% (usually IN DENIAL)! These small group of MINORITY really are not MAJORITY of ANY GROUPS either and certainly not our average typical VIDEO GAMERS, but they are looking for LEMMINGS to buy their POORLY MADE VIDEO GAMES! However, they are very much in control of PURSE STRINGS, so they’ll continue to FUND those REMAKES and REBOOTS even in VIDEO GAME INDUSTRY as they have done so from THEIR CORPORATE SIDE so far!! =/

SEARCH & READ “Is Citizen Kane the GREATEST movie EVER made? – Jimbo Jones”
SEARCH & READ “CITIZEN KANE the most OVERRATED movie off all time? – Yahoo! Answers”
SEARCH & READ “10 Classic Movies That Only Pretentious People Like by Ian Tilman Nichols”
SEARCH & READ “‘Balto’ from Xenogears on Susato Low G – kobunheat”
SEARCH & READ “1-Hour Epic Music | Mark Petrie Vol. 2 – ThePrimeCronus”

According to them or ARTsy-FARTsy BEAN-COUNTERS, VIDEO GAME DEMOGRAPHICS would only be made up of CASUAL and HARD-CORE! Of course, CASUAL and HARD-CORE don’t really exist except in some MARKETERS’ WET DREAM! VIDEO GAMERS really comes from much wider and different SOCIO-ECONOMIC STRATIFICATION in my humble opinion to just divided into TWO MAJOR GROUPS!! ;-)

SEARCH & READ “The Emperor’s New Clothes by Hans Christian Andersen”
SEARCH & READ “Lemmings Custom – Controlled Explosion”
SEARCH & READ “George Carlin – Advertising Lingo – everyoneisondope”
SEARCH & READ “The SINGLE Most Important Step to Protect Yourself from Government Spying – Washington’s Blog”
SEARCH & READ “Philosoraptor – If you have nothing to hide MEME”
SEARCH & READ “George Carlin – Airport Security – MikeTap4321″

VIDEO GAMES just isn’t very good NARRATIVE MEDIUM, but PROPAGANDISTS sure love NARRATIVE MEDIUM! It’s really sad that VIDEO GAMERS can not just enjoy our kinds of FUN VIDEO GAMES and have to be forced to watch CITIZEN KANE OF VIDEO GAMES at every chance with THEIR SLEAZY SALES PEOPLE instead of playing our kinds of FUN VIDEO GAMES now a day!! =(

SEARCH & READ “Final fantasy X/2 – Cascada Everytime we touch (slow) – ClaireBaby”
SEARCH & READ “3dfx Tribute – blata1994″
SEARCH & READ “Hardwired (full) by Crionics & The Silents – Amiga Demo – RetroDemoScene”
SEARCH & READ “Best game ever! Star Control 1 – Joseph Larson”
SEARCH & READ “First Video Game? – BrookhavenLab”

Noticed that William Higinbotham said that VIDEO GAMES are for SCIENCE not ARTY ART ART with their ANTI-GAMEPLAY BS or DO AS YOU’RE TOLD kinds of NAZI NARRATIVE BS! Hehe…. must be some OLD MEMORY before DUMB DOWN GAMEPLAY these days!! >=P

SEARCH & READ “List of best-selling video games – Wikipedia”
SEARCH & READ “List of World War II flying aces – Wikipedia”
SEARCH & READ “Manny Pacquiao’s physique greater than Bruce lee’s – Bodybuilding.com Forums”
SEARCH & READ “10 Deadliest Snipers of World War II – Military Education”
SEARCH & READ “List of best-selling video game franchises”

If those ARTsy-FARTsy are not on that BEST-SELLING Video Games LIST, then they are not on that list! It means that they are not as good as they think that they are! TETRIS had NO STORY and had NO ART to speak of except its PURE GAMEPLAY! TETRIS is essentially SIMPLICITY IN DESIGN by getting RID OFF UNNECESSARY NARRATIVE PROPAGANDA till its PURE GAMEPLAY, which is just LEAN and MEAN!! >=)

Den

On April 26, 2014 at 3:17 am

Three posts from ‘Taiwanese Guy’ of several paragraphs each, and none of them even approach a sensible or relevant argument. That has to be a record.

Taiwanese Guy

On April 26, 2014 at 7:17 pm

Den,

CUSS WORDS are AUTOMATICALLY CENSORED at GAME FRONT, which I have no control over ANY WORDS being OMITTED such as FULL OF SH!T and so on! Would MY POSTS still be here on net somewhere down in future!? =(

SEARCH & READ “George Carlin – 7 dirty words (best part) – tazredakteur”
SEARCH & READ “George Carlin – Dealing With Homelessness – DynamicMindLv”
SEARCH & READ “Lying Politicians And Words – ZooSolo MoHambone”
SEARCH & READ “Glass-Steagall, Dodd-Frank and The Volcker Rule: A Primer and Resources” {why would USA POLITICIANS close LOOP HOLES completely as BENEFICIARIES}

SEARCH & READ “Citizen Murdoch – Political Humor – About.com” {wonder WHAT KINDS of LIARS would enjoy watching CITIZEN KANE and aspired to be one of those TOP 1% MEN-S along with Cheney, Barney Frank, Mark Foley, and so on} {oh, ROSEBUD is CODE WORD for ANAL SEX kind of like FREDDIE MAC (giver) and FANNIE MAE (receiver) when ordered HOOKERS with TAX MONEY}
SEARCH & READ “[English 1-8] OUTFOXED! Exposing Rupert Murdoch’s FOX NEWS – KSHSamy”
SEARCH & READ “Rupert Murdoch’s Massive Spying Operations Finally Exposed”

SEARCH & READ “Alternate Universe – Citizen Kane – Know Your Meme” {our C&C Kane}
SEARCH & READ “Metroid Tribute – Chozoman” {C&C Hell March MUSIC}

Anyhow, VIDEO GAMES are still GAME not ART at all! No amount of PAINT thrown onto a SOCCER BALL is going to change that BALL into ART! This is a KNOWN FACT! William Higinbotham, a NUCLEAR PHYSICIST, made our FIRST VIDEO GAMES from his HIGH-TECH LABORATORY known as BROOKHAVEN NATIONAL LABORATORY not one of your ARTsy-FARTsy kinds of ART STUDIO!! >=)

SEARCH & READ “Nuclear Weapons: A Visual Timeline – The Daily Conversation”
SEARCH & READ “Secret History of Silicon Valley – ComputerHistory”
SEARCH & READ “!!! AUTOAIMING NEW GERMAN AIR DEFENSE !!! RELEASED!! – MANTIS! – xXWeC0dXx”
SEARCH & READ “Ballistic Missile Submarine – sonicbombHD”

SEARCH & READ “Most destructive occurance: Man made or natural? – Yahoo! Answers” {BadaBingReturns}
SEARCH & READ “Is a supernova more powerful than 1 trillion atomic bombs combined? – Yahoo! Answers” {?}
SEARCH & READ “Impressive! March Of The Exelion – Tomas Degutis” {GUNBUSTER with BLACK HOLE BOMB}
SEARCH & READ “Black Hole vs. Supernova – The Daily Cow”

Another word, VIDEO GAMES will always needs VERY TALENTED PEOPLE from STEM fields [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics] to push forward our beloved VIDEO GAME MEDIUM to even greater heights! Don’t be mad because I tell UNCOMFORTABLE TRUTH around here! Your PATHOLOGICAL LIARS sure loved NARRATIVE PROPAGANDA but hated SCIENCE TRUTH! If VIDEO GAMES are really just ART, shouldn’t Pablo Picasso or some REAL ARTISTS like him or her be making our FIRST VIDEO GAME from his or her ART STUDIO in our HUMAN HISTORY? How about Salvador Dali making FIRST VIDEO GAME from his ART STUDIO? Or, maybe Vincent van Gogh would be making our FIRST VIDEO GAME from his ART STUDIO? Of course, your ARTsy-FARTsy HIPSTERS must be thinking that Jackson Pollock can somehow SH!T one of our FIRST VIDEO GAME out of his arse or PUKE out of his mouth in some BS ARTISTIC WAY now a day, too!! >=P