Yesss… I think perhaps I shall throw together that review. After looking through my usual collection of sites, I’ve come to the conclusion that almost no one else writing about the game has more than sixty percent of a personal clue toward the subject at hand. Come to think of it, it’s actually rather rare that I see more than a few mediocre hints at background knowledge — or even a strong desire to grap the inner essence of a particular work — in the analysis of those who would consider themselves to be game critics.
Even on fan-run sites, I feel like I’m running through a consumer reports analysis — more often than not, by someone without a whit of either aesthetic discipline or deep background in the essence of gaming. I’m not trying to sound pretentious here, as greatly as I might neverhteless be succeeding at it. I just mean — well, hell. You get the obvious hacks, but as often as not the people you’ll find reviewing movies in any respectable sense have some kind of claim to authoritativeness (whether or not their opinions end up being valid in the end). Yes, they’ve seen Citizen Kane and the works of Kurosawa and Wilder and Hitchcock. They’ll agree to the genius of Buster Keaton, and at least one Marx Brothers movie will be in their top five list of favourite comedies. They’ll understand pacing, framing, and they’ll have most of the tiresome “rules” of cinema memorized, so as to amuse themselves by checking them off during the more mundane features imposed upon their time. They might disagree as to what makes a great movie, but they’ll at least be qualified to have a public opinion.
This is, I fear, yet another extension of the current attitude toward gaming as an expressive medium. At best, videogames are generally considered little more than a profitable form of enterttainment. Even Miyamoto, of all people, considers it a mistake to think that videogames can be art. Hell, art isn’t in the object; it isn’t in the medium; it’s in the method. And frankly, although still immature, videogames have more expressive potential than any other medium out there. Hell, some of the most cherished art in the world was originally intended as crass, throwaway entertainment. I’m not about to compare Yu Suzuki to Shakespeare here, but you see what I’m getting at.
But that’s exactly what makes decent coverage all the more important — we’re at the early stage of a form of human expression quite possible greater than any previously devised. Even now it’s usually pretty easy to separate the pure throwaway entertainment from the worthwhile experiences. And then compare a developer like Treasure or Sega’s United Game Artists to the likes of Square or (ugh) say, Take-Two Interactive. There are some very different motivations going on here. Then check out a company like SNK. How do you explain them?
There’s so much humanity here that it seems amazing that it could be overlooked. And yet no, all people see are machines. It’s worse than the flak that electronic artists and musicians used to get up until a few years ago, since at least people are well used to the visual and aural arts. Again, the medium is still in its birthing throws. Look at the pain film has gone through. Some people even now still don’t comprehend photography as an artistic medium — and there will be any number of excuses, from the ignorant to the elite. But behind all of it, you still have humans pulling the levers. And as often as not, they’ve got something to say. In some cases it might just be “give us money!” In others, it’s a deep respect for the fans. In other cases you’ve got individuals working their butts off to form and maintain fleshed-out, vibrant universes.
Shenmue is art. Anyone who can’t appreciate it on that level will probably not be impressed. And you know how people have reacted to this game — particularly in the US. I could slap every single person I hear trash the game because of how supposedly boring it is, or because it doesn’t cater to his or her every whim. Christ, people. To appreciate art, you have to take it at its own level! But then we’re back to where we started. Videogames are meant to be entertainment. Even Miyamoto will tell you this. But you know what? Miyamoto is an artist. He’s a slacker art school kid who was hired as a favor to a relative who worked at Nintendo in the early ’80s. He’s not an engineer. Whether he chooses to admit or believe it himself, what he creates is as often art as it is entertaining. Never trust the artist to judge his own work, people. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about; he’s only the conduit for his vision.
And damn my ass, I forgot that I’m supposededly working.