Sunday, 28 December 2008

Psycological ramblings

This post falls just after two events. Firstly, there was us going to France to ski. Secondly, Christmas occured. My flight left from Heathrow (Terminal 5!) where I picked up an edition of GAMES. The UK's favourite caps-locked glossy fronted broadsheet magazine which covers almost every aspect of gaming. Anyway, it got me mulling over gaming on the flight. Magazines which come out per month are obsolete in terms of news because they compete with the internet which (in the case of gaming blogs like Kotaku or Joystiq) update every ten minutes or so. Gaming magazines need to move towards having more articles, less pictures, less reviews and more generally intersting things about gaming that you can't find on the internet. The other thing which came across me was that many people try and classify 'interactive media' (Best not to mention 'games'. Sounds childish.) as art. I myself think of Half-Life 2 as being the closest video games have come to being called art. Now, this mostly stems from the fact that the environment in Half-Life 2 is so pretty as to have been designed by an artist, everywhere you look the world is visually appealing as to call it art, not to mention the sound, the music, and the emotional responses you get from the various actions which happen to you as a person within Valve's brilliant world. All this combined is enough to call a game art. However, other mediums which involve stories with plots and characters, such as books or theatre are not necessarily classified as art. For example one would not say that my holiday read 'Starship Trooper' was art; merely an intersting yet simple story. Therefore if some games are simply not visually attractive enough or don't have good enough elements of that which we would call art but they still have a story then they can be considered part of the medium for storytelling.

Often games come up to a schism when it comes to merging a good story with interactivity, or vice versa. As Yahtzee Croshaw puts it, it's like having gameplay and story locked in seperate rooms and you can only stay in one room, always peeking through the door's keyhole to the other room. That may have been wrong since it was a while since I saw his commentary on Braid, but the point still stands. Games which properly manage to maintain interactivity with a world which involves characters and a plot can be part of games as a storytelling medium. Even stubbornly open-world games like Grand Theft Auto or Just Cause are unable to extinguish the fact that they play out a perfectly lineat story with characters and a plot. They are still linear experiences, they just give the player direction. MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft are even better at this, they give the player freedom to create his own story and the direction offered by the game is often un-noticeable.

One of the criticisms often levelled at World-War 2 shooters is that the story is already there and known to all: the Nazis loose. Innovative attempts to divulge from this version of events usually end up offending a large proportion of people. In fact, games have very rarely dived into that grand lake which I regularly frequent called politick. Some games have subtle nods to politics, but they never venture far from there. Halo's rather blatant religious tones was accepted quite graciously by the christian community and is the one example I know of a quite major game pushing something which was at first glance quite controversial. Storytelling in games is still in it's shaky steps, there are great examples which won't name but it's coming along. Art in games is still a long way off, but a difference needs to be made between labelling games as art and labelling games as a medium. The two are seperate and it does the industry no credit to try and merge them as one under the banner of higher public acceptance of our hobby.

PS: I just found this site after looking up games and art in google.

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