Browbeating

Toups: hey I assume you’ve read this.
aderack: Now I have!
aderack: “We don’t have any highbrow games.”
Toups: it’s good, until he actually starts talking about what a highbrow game would be like
aderack: I imagine that will be… problematic.
Toups: and then… he starts talking about will wright
Toups: and the whole time I’m thinking “dude have you even PLAYED shadow of the colossus”
aderack: Myst is kind of highbrow.
aderack: Except a lot of people deride it as not a “real” videogame. Less so than about six-seven years ago.
Toups: maybe that says something doesn’t it!!
aderack: I guess so!
Toups: either a) a “highbrow” videogame can not truly exist (the more highbrow it becomes, the less it is a videogame), or b) people have come to define “videogame” in an inherently lowbrow way, so that when something highbrow comes along they are inclined to call it a “non-game”
aderack: And before yet another idiot pipes up with Standard Asinine Comment #1 (“but FUN is the only thing that matters!”), let me just say: No, it’s not. Shut up and grow up. Our overemphasis on fun—kiddie-style, wheeee-type fun—is part of the reason we’re in this mess in the first place. To merely be fun is to be unimportant, irrelevant, and therefore vulnerable.
aderack: I like that way of defining “fun”.
aderack: “Wheeee-type fun”.
Toups: yeah
aderack: Yeah, the problem is, I think, that we just don’t have the medium down yet. It’s been too caught up in “wheeee”. For the sake of “wheeee” itself, that is.
Toups: shadow of the colossus provides “whoa” type fun?
aderack: And also, it… at least strives to do more than simply entertain.
Toups: though, you know, I think “whee” can be highbrow
Toups: miyazaki’s movies have lots of “whee” in them
Toups: if any of the mario bros. games (save part one maybe) had some class, they could be highbrow
Toups: (class in their visual style, etc)
aderack: Honestly, I think that Tarantino is somewhat highbrow. Or at least could walk around in said company. And there’s “wheeee” all over.
aderack: That’s the benefit of virtuosity. You master a medium, you manufacture your own class.
Toups: I think he’s really just arguing against visceral thrills in games
Toups: which is a good thing, but for the aim of “high brow” is maybe a little misguided
Toups: it’s just sort of reactionary
Toups: can’t really blame him
aderack: I know. It’s… he’s on the right track, so far (page two).
Toups: that part of the article’s fine!
Toups: great, even!
aderack: “The serious games movement will help a little with this problem because serious games aren’t just for fun, but by itself that’s not enough. People write comic books to help teach kids about fire prevention and healthcare, but that doesn’t change the perception that comics are for kids.”

Another good observation.
aderack: In terms of “serious games” being silly things to take so seriously.
Toups: highbrow games would have to teach us things about our souls
aderack: Right. Again, it’s a matter of focus — principlally on the humanity of the art. What it has to tell us about ourselves.
aderack: The problem is in how to achieve that in a way that comes right out of the heart of the medium — and is therefore gripping and entertaining, and not just pasted in. Valve’s on the right track.
Toups: yeah
Toups: I mean
Toups: you can look at a handful of games that, from a design perspective, are on the cutting edge
Toups: really on the right track
Toups: you could say that they are there, if it weren’t for their subject matter
Toups: or, to put it another way
Toups: the games have everything there to make you care
aderack: Yes. It’s… encouraging that the pieces do seem to be out there. It’s just, nobody’s really been combining them into a definitive masterwork that will show everyone how things are done. Hate to say it, a Kane. That analogy needs to be banned, one of these days.
Toups: yeah
aderack: We’re getting there.
Toups: you know
Toups:
Toups: hm
Toups: I don’t know
Toups: I’m tempted to put my faith in Ueda, if for no other reason than he has the right ideas, he just isn’t that great at design
Toups: give him say, valve’s team
Toups: and you’d have… something
aderack: Yeah. I know. He’s not a nuts-and-bolts guy. That’s his only real problem.
aderack: And he pretty much has to do everything himself.
Toups: yeah
Toups: and his designs aren’t even demanding
Toups: they just need a certain elegance that most designers can’t do
aderack: That would be pretty much perfect, you’re right.
aderack: Valve plus Ueda.
Toups: of course, that’s the most frustrating part of this
Toups: I can point to any number of games that have the right parts
Toups: it’s just there isn’t one game that does them all at once
Toups: no one’s really picked up the ball that shenmue dropped, for instance!
aderack: And get the Silent Hill 2 guy in for color.
Toups: yeah
Toups: hell yeah
Toups: get that guy out of EA
Toups: man
aderack: The talent’s buried and scattered.
aderack: And doesn’t communicate.
Toups: see
Toups: if I was really rich
Toups: like
Toups: really
Toups: really rich
Toups: I’d just buy all these motherfuckers
Toups: base the studio in lafayette
Toups: and let the games write themselves
aderack: Feed them gumbo.
Toups: yeah
Toups: man, I had lobster tonight
Toups: for the first time ever
Toups: see the thing is
Toups: we eat lots of crawfish over here
Toups: and a lobster is basically a HUGE crawfish
aderack: It is.
Toups: so seeing one in the flesh (or er, shell), was pretty mindblowing
Toups: what a fucking weird creature, huh?
aderack: Seafood in general, actually, creeps me out. Like fungus. One of those things; hard to get around.
Toups: yeah, seafod is pretty fucking weird though
Toups: seriously though, you eat it here you’ll be converted
aderack: Lobsters — I mean, there’s this huge fucking animal on your plate.
Toups: yeah
aderack: It’s not abstract enough for me.
Toups: yeah!
Toups: it’s raw man
Toups: it’s medieval!
Toups: it’s… primal
aderack: It’s like that scene in Temple of Doom.
Toups: I haven’t seen that in a very long time
aderack: Yeah, I’m into “what would a Merchant Ivory game be?” section. And barf.
aderack: Right.
Toups: yeah
Toups: I mean, in a sense he’s right about the music and the visuals needing to be beautiful
Toups: and yet, way to miss the point
aderack: “In common with literature or poetry, a highbrow video game would include connections to the wider world; it would tell us something about our society and ourselves. Not the cutesy winking references of postmodernism, but real cultural roots.”
aderack: Okay, he’s got that down.
Toups: yeah
Toups: he just misses out on HOW it would do that
Toups: (protip: not with beautiful graphics or art)
Toups: (those games already exist!!!)
aderack: “Above all, a Merchant Ivory video game would be about people and ideas.”
aderack: Right.
aderack: He’s got the right thing going.
Toups: this is a much better question, anyway, then “where is the lester bangs of games journalism”
aderack: It’s a good discussion topic, if you can deflate the idiot arguments right off.
Toups: and, actually, it occurs to me why there can’t be lester bangs for videogames
Toups: because rock and roll was a counterculture… it had that “high brow” to rebel against
Toups: and then it had the means to make its own sort of “high brow”
aderack: Right.
aderack: Videogames… they don’t need a spokesman.
Toups: they need a role model, maybe
aderack: Role model. Yes.
aderack: That’s a good distinction.
Toups: they need a game that people play and say “I want to make games this way”
Toups: or hell, just “I want to make games”
aderack: Role model, not spokesman. If anything, videogames have been tooting their own horn prematurely for way too long.
aderack: Which is part of the perceptual problem.
Toups: yeah
Toups: it’s funny, actually
Toups: reading the history of atari
Toups: way back then, those guys were insisting that game making was an art form
Toups: and, well… look how that turned out
Toups: a lot of this talk is nothing really new. there’s just a lot more money involved now
aderack: Well, they were onto something at the time.
Toups: they were!
Toups: moreso than they were now, at any rate

Author: Azure

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10 thoughts on “Browbeating”

  1. I think the issue at hand has as much to do with the fact that most highbrow types aren’t very good at pressing buttons. If we take the timing part away from the button pessing whats left? You can’t really controll the pacing if you cant wrangle the player by forcing him to figure out when to press what where. Maybe the wii can help. Though it looks like Wii type fun will at first be only weee type fun.

  2. I had an interesting experience with World of Warcraft recently — my connection dropped, but it took the game a few minutes to realize that. So for a while I was allowed to roam the world without monsters. It’s not Shadow of the Colossus, but it’s a fairly reasonable approximation, especially given that WoW is about as mass-market as you get.

    The key has to be… a story, or a world, or both. There’s a number of tricky balances to work out — if the story is too linear, you’re losing out on the potential of the medium, but, well, it’s simply harder to ensure the quality of a non-linear story. And likewise, if there’s no challenge to progression (whether that be twitch skill, cleverness, stats or knowledge (such as Riven — the other games rely more on cleverness)), again you might be losing out on the medium’s potential, but the harder it is, the fewer people can fully appreciate it.

    We may have to surrender “videogames” to weeeeee!-style fun the same way “comic book” still reeks of super heroes punching through walls. “Interactive fiction” is a good start — and hey, we’ve already got some examples of it! Something along those lines. Something evokative that isn’t too far buried, either in the time commitment required to get started or the conventions of videogames.

    And beyond that — I don’t know!

  3. Yeah, it’ll take about a year for anyone to do anything substantial with the Wii. Really good potential there; just, you know the way people are.

    The button thing might have some credence to it. I think part of the problem is just a lack of subtlety: most games are still working with on-off logic for everything. Either something happens or it doesn’t. Life is a bit fuzzier than that. And that’s one thing that the Wii can, in theory, help out with. Just — again, assuming someone figures out how to use it.

  4. Yeah, again. More subtlety to the success/failure balance would be nice in many cases. When you boil down the basic motivation to life and death and violence… well. Those should be last resorts, really. At the end of all else.

  5. While I was at work today, I thought about responding to this entry by commenting that the interactive fiction community already exhibits a lot of stereotypically highbrow characteristics. I’m not surprised the discussion kind of rolled in that direction, already.

  6. The author seems confuse the “noble in ambition” of high-brow with “flawless in execution”. No 3D videogame can be as flawless or … intentional … as he describes; the knowledge and skills for that simply don’t exist yet.

    I’m surprised no reference was made to that growing movement for games that attempt to teach the player about complex social issues. (“Political games”? Is that the label they go under? I can’t recall.)

  7. No, I’m aware. And perhaps something along those lines is a good start. It’s evokative yet generally intuitive, it’s a genre not mired in conventions, and it’s a medium not particularly conducive to exploding hoverboats in bullet-time. The ones we have so far have the added bonus of being easily run on any PC, although the Wii(iiiii!) definitely has potential. But no keyboard, which will make for a very different kind of game. Hm.

  8. “Toups: highbrow games would have to teach us things about our souls”
    While you mention the Silent Hill 2 guy later, I think that Silent Hill 2 already tried to do this, just so few people were listening.

    Also, I don’t put my faith in Ueda so much as I put my faith in Suda 51. I think he will be the Tarantino of games (if I have to make a cultural connection) if he is not already. If you look you have Killer 7 (his game) which reached critical mass in discussion, and then you have Contact (which will probalbly do the same) yet he only was mildly involved in it (much like True Romance was only written by Tarantino).

    Anyways, I think things are about to reach critical mass for gaming and it will soon be a make or break time for games ever being “high brow.” They have had 30 years of history now. The “historians” are all of voting age, and the eldest are of important position holding age. Nintendo really should have kept the name Revolution.

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