Editorials and Features
Article by: MrCHUPON
Editorial: You're Part of the Problem. [Written 2007-03-12]
Let's get a few things out of the way first. I don't want to make this a discussion about whether or not Gears of War deserves merit as a great game. I don't want to make this a discussion about poor storytelling being a cup of whiny hater-ade or a legitimate complaint. Instead, I want to explore whether or not we truly have a problem on our hands; I want to also explore the difference between those who play games, those who experience games, and those in between.
When Croal stated this "problem" - people who championed themselves as gamers who didn't care about the damn story because they were in it for the shooting being part of it - it really made me wonder what side of the fence I was on. I truly believe that videogames constitute an art form. Yet, this belief lies not in the foundation of external artistic measures - graphics and art style, engineering, storytelling - but with the understanding that making a piece of software, an intangible and abstract "thing", speak to the human heart through simple button presses is a craft all on its own. The presentation and story absolutely add a lot of artistic value to the product, but at its core, the "game" to me is artistic as well.
Naturally, I want to see this medium progress. If that means that the storytelling needs to be improved in order to see where we can go next from the already-impressive peak we've reached, so be it. If the player wants to experience genuine and well-thought-out dialogue in the next Gears of War, then yes, I think for the advancement of the medium the writing could and should be improved. If the next step in getting people to connect with the software; to feel the software; to be a part if it; bring on the writers.
Yet as a believer in the juicy core of the game - the gameplay design elements like mechanics, balance and level structure - as the defining pieces of the "art" of gaming, should I really care? Should I take offense to the insinuation that players who find simple enjoyment in one core element of a game are actually part of this problem that's preventing the medium from advancing - especially since I don't necessarily value story, for the sake of this example, as a hugely important factor of advancement?
There's no easy way about this argument, at least for me. It's easy for me to feel a bit of resentment towards Croal's remark, despite how fair it is, despite how much of a mark of Croal's passion for the medium it is. My primary fascination with videogames is how such things can elicit joy from the basic interaction achieved by the combination of fingers and buttons, how these masters of software makes such an experience possible. Therefore, I'm happy for people when they exclaim how much they enjoy Gears of War for the sheer thrill of the shooting action and combat situations. By contrast, I kind of cringe when people shower adulation on a game that has a brilliant story and fantastic graphics but gameplay that is so abysmal and mundane that it serves merely as something to keep the experience from being a completely non-interactive movie. What this does, in my eyes, is take the attention away from a game so expertly crafted in terms of what I consider to be the core essentials that skimp on the cinematography because of it.
But who's to say what the next step for games is? Why should I be right, when to some of you I'm probably wrong? Why should Croal's statement be deplorable, when to some of you he might be a hero?
So then, here come the questions I pose to you fellow fans of videogames. Why do you play?
Do you play to relish the challenge of that expertly crafted level in Gradius? Do you play to compete, to win, to dominate? Do you play for the sheer thrill of mastering mechanics and high levels of play? Do you not give two splits that Virtua Fighter 5's "color commentary" is probably causing the speakers in your sound system to plot your assassination, because you're entranced by the fact that three buttons can provide such a depth of gameplay, require such knowledge and physical (finger-wise) prowess to master?
Or are you all about the experience? Do you seek to be enveloped with the traditional artistic aspects of visual splendor, aural glory and the intrigue of an expertly-crafted story? Are you all about Ico, whose emotionally charged tale drives you through every nook and cranny of Yorda's prison? Does the Prince of Persia-lite gameplay not matter to you in the end because your heart beats harder and your eyes grow moister in the face of that game's touching ending?
PS Home - the new virtual world that lets you escape outside of Morpheus' "desert of the real," that lets you experience the wonders of an artificial yet beautiful new plane, that brings Ken Kutaragi's "jack into the matrix" guffaws to life. Xbox Live - the no-nonsense, matchmaking behemoth that lets you compete against your closest friends and most bitter rivals in a match of wits and combat skill, the online arena that lets you hone your abilities and bust out that torque bow on someone's unsuspecting cranium. Where do you stand? To one, the other, or somewhere in between?
As this seventh generation of consoles starts to pick up steam, our actions as consumers - as always - will dictate where things go next. It is not only that whether or not we're heading towards any "problem" is determined by our actions. Our own vision of where we should be with games is what determines what that "problem" actually is in the first place.
So, to finish off, picture this. Mr. Croal is in front of you buying a cup of coffee. He's not in any particular hurry, and he notices the PSP or Nintendo DS you're holding. You have his attention for a brief second.
What do you say to him?
[Feel free to leave comments in our mailbag, where they will be read on our weekly podcast.]
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