This is a round about response to both Leigh Alexander’s response to Heather Chaplin’s GDC rant session. It’s worth noting that I wasn’t at GDC and that all my information is second hand, and as such, susceptible to Chinese whispers-style misinformation. To quote Leigh’s post (as a good source of a direct quote)
‘She argued that medium’s age is not the correct source of blame for the often insultingly juvenile nature of games, the tiresome prevalence of space marines, bikini girls and typified young male power fantasies. Her point: Games aren’t adolescent. Game developers are a bunch of, in her words, "fucking adolescents."’
This is really not a response to Leigh’s post at all, but more to the original subject that it made me aware of.
I always feel a bit defensive when people imply that the only video games that ever get produced are space marine staring male power-fantasies.
Just as a case point, lets take a look at the top selling games of last year (via a quick Google search)
Mario Kart Wii
Super Smash Bros Brawl
Grand Theft Auto IV
Call of Duty: World at War
Gears Of War 2
New Super Mario Bros
Madden NFL 09
It’s difficult to claim that all of those titles fit into that narrow criteria.
There’s often talk of cinema reaching a comparative maturity with the release of Citizen Kane, and The Beatles representing the maturity of pop music by a similar timeframe in their respective mediums development.
I really don’t think that the respective age of the medium is a safe measure to judge it’s maturity. By the time of Citizen Kane and the Beatles arrived in their respective mediums the supporting technology had plateaued to a degree that allowed for artists to have unencumbered technical freedom in comparison to the respective "technical freedom" that game designers have now.
There are a lot of critics that underplay the difficulty of perfectly nailing both concept and execution of a game. It’s difficult, stuff, even more difficult to make the game work well, be playable and be great. If you manage artistic integrity and ingenuity on top of that you’ve managed something exceptional.
It’s no surprise that some of the most celebrated titles in video gaming are often technically flawed "classics" that get lauded for being "near misses". Taking risks on titles is difficult and expensive on top of the desire to be artistically vibrant.
I certainly don’t think Citizen Kane would have had the budget and resource to be "great" if the camera men were still learning how to use cameras and I really think that we’ve got a way to go before we can expect every game made to be a high concept piece.
Even after the technology reaches this point (as it has in the film industry) there’ll still be more summer action films / games made than artistic victories.
It’s also worth nothing that in this constant strive for something else, it’s easy to loose the purity and fun of more "pure" game play experiences, including male power fantasies and computerised D&D implementations. Some people find game mechanics fun, to some people that is the point and it always feels that some critics always call so loudly for something different that they miss some of the point of what we already have.
The artistic indie film vision of influential games is a laudable one, but without the Gear of War’s there just isn’t the ecosystem to support them. Much like when I watch films, I don’t always want to watch Capote or Chinatown. Sometimes I want to watch Die Hard, and sometimes I want to watch Star Wars. And sometimes I’d quite like to watch Twelve Monkeys or Being John Malkovich, but without Star Wars, the framework to support those often loss-leading productions just wouldn’t exist.
I don’t pretend to play at “legitimate game criticism” however I certainly follow the area with more than a casual interest and I’m often very surprised at how the desire for strong artistic games in the “niche of a niche” press seems to forgo the need for any other kind of game.
The last thing I’d want is for the games press to take a Pitchfork media style pretentious view of the world, reducing anything that isn’t trendy or progressive to dirt. There’s tonnes of very good games writing out there that I very much enjoy reading and I really hope that people allow at least some games to still be “just games” alongside the more “worthwhile” and “deep” experiences available.