Monday, June 28, 2010

Keep Pollock and Schafer separate

If we're going to get off on the right foot, I need to be very clear about something: I don't play video games for their “art” and anybody who does is an ass.

I don't really care if anybody ever takes video games seriously. In all honesty, I have a hard time taking them seriously myself.

Don't get me wrong, though. I adore video games. I spent countless hours working Ken's target-combo-to-Fierce-Shoryuken-to-Super-to-Ultra in Street Fighter 4, months trying to free all the captives in Castlevania: Rondo of Blood and 10 years trying to beat Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos. I've got my credentials in video games.

Take a look at those three games I just mentioned. Do you notice something about them?

If you're sharp, you'll see that they all have their focus in the right place: gameplay.

This is the problem with the “are video games art” debate. In trying to play up the artistic qualities, we ignore what we really play these things for and thereby miss the heart of our love. It's like trying to sell a car by only describing its leather seats.

These three games are perfect examples. SF4 has amazing style and fluid animation, Rondo of Blood's soundtrack is a standalone classic and Ninja Gaiden II's cutscenes tell a classic action story with a grim flair rarely seen in the Nintendo Entertainment System days. All of these factors are what we'd mention if we wanted to prove their artistic merit.

But what do we come back to these games for? The kickass combat system, whipping Death in the face and getting knocked into pits by those fucking eagles, respectively.

There may be art in video games. Metal Gear Solid's story rivals any narrative ever told. Grim Fandango's blend of speakeasy and Dia de Los Muertos was outright genius. But again, you play the game before you study the art.

The problem is that you can't play art. Try Linger in Shadows if you want to dispute that.

My point is that we don't play games for the pretentious aspects of it. We don't play because it looks good or because it sounds pretty.

We play because there's nothing better than pounding punks into mulch as Venom in Maximum Carnage. We play because there's nothing better than calling in that nuclear strike in Starcraft. We play because there's nothing better than swinging around and dropping grenades on fools in Bionic Commando: Rearmed.

All of you kids crying about Roger Ebert and the merit of Okami, shut up and play. Pop that monocle out of your eye socket and stop pretending that you enjoyed playing Killer 7.

As for me, I'm going back to trying to beat Contra 3: The Alien Wars on hard. With a little luck, I've only got another year or two until I get there.


  1. Okami in my opinion isn't a game that you can hold up and say "this is art". It's more of a game that you can say "this game's art direction is awesome". To top off the brush painting graphics, the combat system was amazing. It wasn't overly complicated and allowed for some pretty spectacular regular combat and interestingly puzzle-like boss combat. The plot was the tried and true "evil is spreading, go stop it". Yet the characters were engaging enough and the writing was good, even spectacularly funny in parts. A great game with unique graphics.

    I think we can continue the car analogy.
    *Engine and Steering system/suspension = Basic game mechanics and controls
    *Frame/Chassis/Windshield/etc = Game theme and overall premise
    *Electric windows/door locks/seats/air conditioning/radio/luxury options = Story, art direction, graphics quality, game music, menu navigation, meta-game and gimmicks...

    I want my car to run beautifully, the frame and stuff just has to be existent and hopefully sturdy. I don't need seats or A/C or anything of the sort, but driving would be much more enjoyable if I wasn't sitting on steel and listening to road noise.

  2. Stan knows what is up.

    I think developing gameplay is an art.