The Sunday Papers

By Kieron Gillen on December 28th, 2008 at 10:39 am.

For you, Christmas may be over. For me, it continues in my enormous trek around the country to visit anyone who has the misfortune to share but a drop of blood with yours truly. But I will break this grand tour to compile a list of interesting game-related writing from across this week and try not to link to a track from an album I got gifted, especially because I think I’ve already linked to it wayyyy back.

  • Many people linked to this, and understandably so. It’s a good ‘un. John Lanchester in the London Review of Books takes on that most cringe-worthy of games-criticism questions: “But is it art?”. Point being here is context. To see a serious piece in favour of games – and, particularly, nailing gaming’s subcutural-yet-vibrant existence – in such a place is absolutely heart-warming. That it is pretty damn brilliant is even better. Go read.
  • Meanwhile, Tom Armitage takes a nose at Far Cry 2. A lot. Taking in everything from comparisons to Epic Oral Verse to novelistic structure and the exact nature of its much-ignored moral aspect. I tend to agree – the idea that morality in games is nothing more than feed-the-tramp/steal-from-the-tramp dichotomies is pretty loathsome. Africa wins again. As does Tom.
  • The Reticle talk to the 2D Boys of the moment in a hefty 2-part interview. First here and second here. Random quote: “A little while ago we plotted the number of sales we got on each day from the day the game first became available for pre-order until the day it launched. Every sales spike corresponded to positive attention from the gaming press. No press? No sales. It’s only through the passion and excitement that guys like you have sewn for the game that the word spreads. Winning IGF awards helped us in discussion with publishers, but didn’t generate very many sales.”
  • Over at Gamasutra Ian Bogost turns his gaze upon Mirror’s Edge and has a good old think. Smart, persuasive stuff – the idea of software as a window versus software as a mirror is particularly well done.
  • I suspect we’ll do a post about it when it’s all finished, but at least some of RPS (Alec didn’t vote but did comment, Jim didn’t comment but did vote [actually I just didn’t comment on those low-rung games – Jim]) have contributed their opinions to Eurogamer’s always amusing Top 50 games of the year. 50-41 and 40-31 are up already, with the remaining parts arriving over the next few days.
  • Hitten – These Dancing Days

Failed.

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198 Comments »

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  1. Heliocentric says:

    On art, i think people are much too fast to draw limitations. Its always been the way. People with little minds telling artists of new mediums “what you do isn’t art” i’ve heard so many desperate justifications. Like how games are not art because the player has influence. I can go to a theatre production and heckel does that make acting not artistic?

    Truth be if you are look at things from far back “art defines man from beast” is an old reference. But what is art? To me anything with creative expression beyond function is art. The form and flow of a user interface doesn’t require the attention it often recieves. Its subjective and capable of causing an emotional responce, ideally calm and a sense of control. The question is not *if* games are art but simply how long til it is acknowledged. I am of the belief the role playing fundamentally is method acting but in turn playing games could be art. Much like dancing or syncronised swimming.

    Are you really going to tell me that in blood money when i dropped the mans subdued father on his son killing them both that wasn’t a work of art?

  2. bhlaab says:

    Anything is art. Cans of soup can be art, vomit can be art. The question is whether it is respectable, high art. And the answer is, duh, “it depends.”

  3. Cunningbeef says:

    “Actually, if you do want to talk about the biases of the EG writers, you’re going to have to look away from the console wars – which is, as always, just people in Eastern Europe in 1939 debating about whether it’s best if they’re going to be ruled by Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia”

    I love you, Kieron.

  4. url404 says:

    These Dancing Days – Stereotypes of the girls I would like to sleep with except 1) I feel even at 28 I am too old and 2) I am married. I love my wife but *sigh*.

  5. Ben Abraham says:

    Yeah I’m pretty sure I *have* seen that video before, and I would only have seen it if Kieron linked to it.

  6. Confidence Interval says:

    Lanchester is one of my favourite essayists and I thought that was a very good piece – thanks for linking. I think he’s right about the mundaneness of a lot of gaming, too – like the (tedious) driving around in GTA, the grind of games of various types, and the micromanagement of money and people that is just like the micromanagement of money and people that I attempt at work. I also agree with the attraction of looking at beautiful cities and sunsets and landscapes – that’s a big part of what I enjoy, in games as well as life.

  7. Corbeaubm says:

    Bogost’s article was a rather good summary of what’s problematic about game consumption these days. I’ve particularly encountered this when discussing the new Prince of Persia game. When something deviates from a formula, everyone wants to call it either good or bad without looking at what it might be trying to convey.

  8. Xercies says:

    I wish everyone who was a non-gamer played Bioshock to see that games truly are art. But I do know that some of them will be held back by the violence, most f them will be held back by the controls, and some of them won’t know where to go. So basically they will miss everything that is good about it. Its one of those games where the gameplay is so-so but the ideas are the main heart of the game and your playing it to get to the ideas.

    And as the article said, most gamers will probably think about the so-so gameplay more then the ideas of the game. Which kind of goes into the Mirrors Edge thing as well. Gamers want action and dumb fun maybe, but these people like what happened to cinema will ruin the artistic quality of games and make sure companies just release sequels after sequels.

    The companies that used to bring out some artistic merit are becoming slaves to the gamers that don’t want these ideas but just want their fun.

  9. Edgar the Peaceful says:

    The ‘tedious’ driving around in GTA is my favourite part of the games. This is where I discover new music from the fantastically playlisted Radio Stations whilst soaking up the architecture of the city – ‘Inside my Love’ by Minnie Riperton is a current GTA IV favourite.

  10. Confidence Interval says:

    I enjoy some of the GTA driving, but it’s tedious when it’s the “dude, come and take me to play darts!” and you have to drive from one side of the city to the other, pick someone up, drive them to the pub, play darts, and drive them home again. It’s like having friends who you don’t really like but still have to go and hang out with. That’s tedious.

  11. Psychopomp says:

    As well thought out as the Far Cry 2 article is, I believe this is a case of seeing something where there is nothing.

    Still, made me boot it up again; unintentional or not, the game just got 500X more powerful.

  12. Joe says:

    Just to point it out, “Is it art?” is only the title of the John Lanchester article, and was possibly slapped on by a hurried editor. The article makes no attempt to address this question – and thank goodness. I for one have no interest in peering down that murky well, where lurk only quibbling, bad logic and Roger Ebert.

    I think the article is good. It pins down the sense in which gaming is this weird, cool island in the cultural landscape. But Lanchester comes close to self-contradiction. Despite mentioning Miyamoto early on, he later seems to characterise gamers as a homogeneous bloc of young males, disregarding what Nintendo have done lately to broaden the demographic. And when he notes how expensive it is to develop for consoles, he forgets how cheap it is to develop for PC – as our friends at 2D Boy note in their interview.

    I’m not convinced by his assumed anti-capitalist stance. He writes of LittleBigPlanet, “part of me wants to say that… nothing within a world so fully made by a corporation can be truly creative”. Why, exactly? And when he sees a future for gaming full of “battles between the moneymen and the artists”, I remember the many examples of companies that are both successful and innovative, and wonder whether Lanchester is presupposing an unnecessary conflict. Furthermore, this would be the perfect moment for Lanchester to name check some indie developers – is that omission deliberate, or does he just not know any?

  13. mandrill says:

    There is a simple answer to the question of whether games are art or not and a simple reason for that answer:
    Games are art because we say they are.
    There, done. It is not necessary for anyone else to chime in with their opinion of what art is and whether games qualify, what gives them the right to say if they are not consumers of games?

  14. Premium User Badge

    phuzz says:

    Pointed out the “Are games Art?” to my dad, who, as he’s only played a few hours of games, ever wasn’t in a position to comment, but then to me, they are, well, some bits.
    So maybe art is in the eye of the beholder. After all, is opera Art? Well, I’m told it is, but as an uncultured bast how would I know?
    Discuss.

    Picked up Those Dancing Days recently, and although it’s not my album of the year (mainly because it’s not Laura Marling or Dan le Sac vs Scroobius Pip), it’s probably in the top 10.
    The track Those Dancing Days will be partly responsible for the speeds I’ll be reaching on the M5 back to bristol this arvo.

  15. Shadowcat says:

    “Every sales spike corresponded to positive attention from the gaming press. […] Winning IGF awards helped us in discussion with publishers, but didn’t generate very many sales.”

    I’m inclined to suggest that winning IGF awards probably resulted in a greater press awareness of the game, and a greater willingness to spend time and/or pages covering it at all.

    IGF -> attention
    positive attention -> sales

    Particularly if the gaming press can mention the aforementioned awards to its readers. Readers notice that kind of thing (I know I did).

    There may not be a convenient sales spike to associate with the IGF awards, but I’m a little surprised that they didn’t acknowledge the possibility that the awards helped to generate positive publicity.

  16. yousif says:

    great track, obv. was definitely in last year’s top 50 singles on gillen’s blog if not on here.

    on driving in gta – this appears to have been the most common complaint with the game (ranging from the lack of mid-mission checkpoints meaning you have to endure a long drive each time you restart, to the above post talking about picking people up for activities).

    it just doesn’t stand up at all, because if you don’t feel like driving you can just get a cab. and if you don’t feel like waiting you can skip the journey. what’s the problem?

    (note: i can think of perhaps one or two exception to this where missions stipulate you have to drive particular vehicles so – yes – you would have to endure repeating the journey if you fail. considering the game’s scope, this is surely an issue so minor it doesn’t warrant discussion in reviews?)

  17. AndrewC says:

    I’m surprised someone as crumblingly old as yourself would like that song, Mr Gillen. It certainly has that slightly battered optimism that the best Indie has, but you have to forgive so much to get to it: the singer’s nasally affected, Furtado-esque voice, that she blathers on about self involved guff in the way only teenagers can get away with, that the arrangement shows little imagination, that the keyboard sounds horrible and rips off ‘Here Comes The Sun’ by way of The Cure. And on and on.

    It’s positively unseemly that you should like this. Tsk. I totally would the singer though, if she straightened her hair.

  18. Pags says:

    I dated a girl who looked like the Hitten singer once. Curly hair an’ all. Thankfully, she didn’t sing like her.

  19. Chris Evans says:

    Woop more Sunday Paper goodness :D

  20. Cian says:

    I walked through the midst of Those Dancing Days carrying their instruments down the main street the other week. It would’ve been even better if I in any way liked them.

  21. Saflo says:

    Psychopomp said:

    As well thought out as the Far Cry 2 article is, I believe this is a case of seeing something where there is nothing.

    You contradict yourself. The article was well-thought-out precisely because Tom Armitage understood what the game was trying to do, even if it didn’t always succeed.

  22. Bob Arctor says:

    Don’t like that indie look where they look like they’re children.

  23. L.B. Jeffries says:

    Lanchaster thinks that movies are better than games? I agree that games have not yet broached the range of subject matter that films have…but a superior medium?

    In a film or show I sit on my ass and have a director display an organized series of camera shots that convey a message. Hopefully I will perceive everything they have said and following that, I will appreciate their intent and grasp some kind of personal relevancy. I struggle to understand how the viewer is any different than a cow chewing grass watching cars go by.

    In a game I use a symbolic representation with myself to interact with a series of rules and develop an understanding about the world based on those interactions. It is crisper, more efficient, and more profound than films could ever hope to be.

  24. AndrewC says:

    Yes, LB Jeffries and games are just pressing a button and getting flashing lights in return, I struggle to understand how the player is any different than a monkey in a lab, trying to earn a banana.

    Dismissive definitions are never useful.

    Which is why the ‘art’ question is so annoying – it brings out deeply foolish nonsense on both sides of the argument. Better to just ignore it and get on with enjoying and encouraging the intereting stuff.

  25. Kieron Gillen says:

    Bob: But… they’re 17 or whatever. They *are* children.

    AndrewC: That it annoys Cure fans is all the more reason to like it, y’know?

    KG

  26. L.B. Jeffries says:

    @ Andrew C

    Monkey in Lab Pressing Button vs. Cow Watching Cars, Monkey still better.

  27. Larington says:

    I hereby nominate AndrewC’ comment about dismissive definitions as comment reply of the year.

  28. Saflo says:

    I struggle to understand how the viewer is any different than a cow chewing grass watching cars go by.

    I’m sorry to hear that.

  29. qrter says:

    Monkey in Lab Pressing Button vs. Cow Watching Cars, Monkey still better.

    I don’t know, Top Gear can be a lot of fun.

  30. L.B. Jeffries says:

    I realize we all like a lot of different movies and I’m not trying to say film doesn’t have its strengths. I’m just disagreeing with Lanchaster’s belief that movies are inherently better than games. As in, mechanically, one is better at communicating with a person than the other. I don’t agree with that sentiment at all. I rank books and music higher than games, but I consider movies to be inferior to the other three in terms of communicating anything except basic stuff to an audience.

  31. AndrewC says:

    Yes, Cure fans are the worstest, but mocking them is kind of like punching grannies in the ease of attack and lack of possible reprisal.

    And I get that there’s joy in that song’s ‘naive’ musicianship but I can’t get past that they’re really rubbish musicians. It’s sort of like going to a school performance of A Christmas Carol or something. ‘Aw bless’ maybe, but you wouldn’t go for the enjoyment of theatre.

  32. Heliocentric says:

    Music better than games and movies at communicating? Surely you jest. Today i dub this arguement the medium wars! Not media wars as “there can only be one”.

  33. BooleanBob says:

    I’m going to gush now. It will be unseemly, it will probably not be coherent. You have been informed, and if you will proceed regardless, then may I commend you for your patience. Otherwise, take it under advisement: This post is strictly TL;DR TL;DR TL;DR TL;DR TL;DR TL;DR

    Lanchester might be my new personal deity (associated power: the believer may cast Conjure Muesli once per day). Many games journalists have written impassioned and convincing defences of our lovely hobby, including some (if not all) of the RPS pantheon, but this is the first piece of games journalism that reads as the findings of an Outsider looking in and reporting back to their strange, vivid world, of Royal Academies and News Nights and Isles of Dogs and Banks of Englands, having performed due diligence, conducted research and actually played games, instead of hastily constructing an opinion of ethereal impressions a la Ebert, Bozza Johnson and the Mail. The conclusions he arrives at, so aligned with my own (that is, those of a confirmed and lifelong gamer) are an immense source of satisfaction equalled by nothing in the industry since the Byron report proved that a TV psychologist, of all creatures, is capable of having an open mind and personal integrity. Society at large is beginning to validate games: isn’t it thrilling?

    The aside he makes about LBP did have a somewhat discordant ring, bringing to the ear an echo of, bizarrely in the context, none other than Andrew Ryan himself, but I suspect in him a subscribed auterist, and if he had fleshed that thought out fully he would probably have another 3,000 words on his hands, spanning all sorts of media to the point where he was barely writing about computer games at all (but doubtless still well worth the read). The first 3 and final 7 paragraphs of his 2005 article on that Blunkett biography are a peerless summation of how British political geography has unfolded in the last 25 years or so (the only thing he failed to anticipate for the intervening period since its publication was the return of the pre-Thatcherite ‘New’ Tories under Tony Cameron).

    TL;DR TL;DR TL;DR TL;DR TL;DR TL;DR

    I’m digressing like a tipsy and nostalgic vicar in the Christmas pulpit; my enthusiasm for this guy is messing with my clarity of thought: I really liked this article. Thanks, RPS.

    P.s. Eurogamer totally ripped off this site’s Ultimate Collection of the Best 2008 Ever shtick by having Ellie Gibson do a month-by-month recap of the gaming year in news. Her writing doesn’t seem to enjoy consistency of form (which breeds paranoid theories in my brain about her being a cynical editorial construct: note the initials of her name! And everyone knows girls, gaming on the internets, is the perfect storm of existential impossibility!)… but, in two days’ writing, she contrives more laughs than you guys managed in a month of copy*. And that’s from someone who enjoyed Furious Web Fellows jokes.

    *games journalism question: Do hastily-edited MSN conversation logs qualify as copy?

    Wishing everyone a TL;DR festive period, and a Jesus Bob, STFU already New Year!

  34. L.B. Jeffries says:

    @ Heliocentric

    That gnawing sensation in the back of my head is the usual indicator that I have stepped into a giant pile of s***. Ah well, if I get shot down, at least it will be interesting.

    I think music can transport us into an emotion or feeling almost instantly. True, not many people listen to lyrics, but on a pure emotional basis they can make you sad, happy, or angry in minutes. You might still outright reject the emotion, but almost any other medium it takes much longer for the person to absorb the sentiment.

  35. Gap Gen says:

    I noticed quite early how Far Cry 2’s morality differed from other games. I was tasked with stealing gold for one faction but checked in with my “buddy” in case he had a better idea. “How you like to kill a king?” he asked, and so I turned and walked out the door. Of course, later I was blowing up supplies of medicine, etc.

  36. nabeel says:

    Mass Effect at 49?! :((

  37. Kieron Gillen says:

    Nabeel: Worth noting that Mass Effect was also in last year’s charts. Most people would have voted for the 360 version last year. That it was in this time around is impressive full stop.

    BooleanBob: It wasn’t MSN logs. That’s the Verdicts. We probably should have gone for gags though.

    KG

  38. Dreamhacker says:

    BooleanBob: It’s spelled müsli. Now have a happy new year and stick to milk for the rest of this year…

  39. Muzman says:

    BooleanBob; dude, month by month recaps of ‘that was the year that was’ style are a decades old journo trope I don’t think RPS would dare lay claim to inventing nor taking lightly.

    Tangent from the games as art thing; he mentions Rand in that casual off the cuff dismissive way that foreigners do but, while the internet can skew apparent popularity of anything, that stuff is pretty damn huge as far as I can tell. People read it at highschool and in philosophy class, as in it’s on the syllabus in many places. Many consider it the definitive American philosophy and I dare say it’s a huge undercurrent of 20th century American thinking, not just self absorbed nerds. That’s definitely the impression I get anyway. That most of the world ignores her or thinks she is a bit of an extremist joke shouldn’t distract folks.

    (incidentally ranking the arts in terms of communication is ludicrous. Speed of affect surely holds no insight into their respective potential for overall impact. I bet ya don’t have to look far for an argument that says such speed is a case against music, pop in particular, having any real worth. Because it’s cheap quick and merely pushes all the right buttons, which by now everyone knows. Unlike say Mahler or someone whom requires a longer attention span to reveal its true rewards etc etc. Not saying I agree or it’s that simple, but it’ll be out there somewhere.)

  40. Grandstone says:

    Get me out of the country if Objectivism is the definitive American philosophy.

  41. A-Scale says:

    I rather liked Mr. Armitage’s take on FC2. It was interesting to have someone explain to me the connection to Apocalypse Now, the story arc, the transition from “awesome, I’m the hero again” to “I don’t want to blow up the medical convoy…” to “fuck it all, I’ll shoot everyone so long as I finish this damn game” which I experienced. I think his explanation lost steam in his discussion of the wildlife, which seemed to stretch the analogy of wildlife to people and country just a bit too far. I don’t think the journalist is the protagonist, it seems quite clear that the Jackal fills that role. Mind you that I have not completed the game ( I expect that I am about 3/4 of the way through), but the Jackal is the only one in the game who offers the possibility of change for the country. Mr. Oluwagembi is a meaningless blogger floating in a sea of meaningless bloggers. Certainly he has something to say, but he cannot issue his message through the traditional media outlets, and on the internet his voice is washed away by the profusion of blogs which exist. The Jackal offers a direct and meaningful solution. Guns against guns, power to meet power. Isolation by means of mutually assured destruction, only on the scale of individual men.

    I don’t want to complete FC2. I enjoyed the game for a while, I marveled at the fire and brush, the squeaking of the rusty cars, the way that NPCs in ceasefire zones will push you around like tough guys if you get too close, but throw their arms up and plead for mercy if you aim your gun at their face at close range (did anyone notice this? I was VERY impressed. Also, try aiming an explosive weapon ala the grenade launcher at them. They respond in a different, and reasonable fashion), I eventually dreaded the repetitious sounds of the car, the annoying checkpoints and the rough terrain which immobilizes cars regularly. I want to complete the story only so that I can get it out of my mind. It’s not fun anymore, and they don’t want it to be. As Armitage said, the game pulls you in with the narrative, but pushes you away with the harshness of its gameplay. This is truly a remarkable game, and certainly one of the best and most understated of the year. I don’t know if I’d buy it again, but I do know that Ubisoft deserves much praise for their work of fiction, and I pray that they will continue along this path in order to advance narrative in games as a whole.

  42. Kieron Gillen says:

    Muzman: “That most of the world ignores her or thinks she is a bit of an extremist joke shouldn’t distract folks.”

    Well, that’s kind of the point – Rand is the American Football of Philosophy. That the rest of the world stares and blinks says much.

    KG

  43. Nick says:

    Not that I’m a huge fan of the Cure or anything (I like maybe three of their songs – how can you not like the bass line of Lovecats?) but I’m not sure how they are rubbish musicians, they are perfectly fine technically.

  44. Muzman says:

    Yeah sure, but after reading the article someone unfamiliar might be forgiven for thinking that Rand was read and revered by an obscure club of internet denizens and high falutin businessmen and that’s about it. More a small-ish Rennaisance Fair sort of crowd than American Football, one might think. (and Bioshock going after a big part of the American psyche like that is, of course, unusual and daring)

  45. A-Scale says:

    Well, that’s kind of the point – Rand is the American Football of Philosophy. That the rest of the world stares and blinks says much.

    As an American (Detroit, MI), I had to read Anthem by Ayn Rand in early high school. I thought it was interesting, and it probably piqued my interest in dystopian novels. I read the last few pages recently when going through a stack of old books, and it’s pure shit. Rand is a pathetically bad novelist, her fiction simply acting as a means to keep people interested in hearing her own ideology.

    There is much to be said for the individual rights and laissez faire capitalism which Randian Objectivism espouses. I don’t expect Brits to get it. You people grow up in a very different atmosphere, and are willing to accept far more restrictions on personal liberty than Americans. We too look back at you and shrug. Why any nation would permit itself to be under constant state surveillance, retain a monarchy (though as an ancillary feature, but still with all of the cultural trappings), and stripped of any means to defend themselves or to overthrow an oppressive government is perfectly strange to us.

  46. thomp says:

    Applying the ‘mirror vs window’ conception of software (which feels very management-speak) to games-as-artistic-effort is interesting, bcz one of the big abused dictums of first-year literature courses is ‘the mirror vs the lamp’ as a view of art. (Specifically the artist’s intention/imagination, which i) is kind of outmoded in literature terms ii) obviously not applicable the same way to a development team, unless you assume an auteurist role for the project director–) I’d develop this further, but eehh I haven’t actually played Mirror’s Edge, as such, so it’d be a bit of a reach.

  47. thomp says:

    “You people grow up in a very different atmosphere, and are willing to accept far more restrictions on personal liberty than Americans. ” — this is faintly ridiculous, unless you regard nationalised healthcare as an oppressive tool of the state

  48. A-Scale says:

    “You people grow up in a very different atmosphere, and are willing to accept far more restrictions on personal liberty than Americans. ” — this is faintly ridiculous, unless you regard nationalised healthcare as an oppressive tool of the state

    Unless you are proposing that the same topics are taught in British schools, in the same way, using the same topics, and that the same philosophical milieu exists in England as in the Americas, you will have a very hard time arguing that point. Things like gun bans, knife bans, and talk of banning violent video games go down very differently in England than they do in the States.

  49. A-Scale says:

    *Using the same texts

  50. The Hammer says:

    “Why any nation would permit itself to be under constant state surveillance, retain a monarchy (though as an ancillary feature, but still with all of the cultural trappings), and stripped of any means to defend themselves or to overthrow an oppressive government is perfectly strange to us.”

    How fortunate for America that you’ve been selected as representative of the nation.

    It’s lovely to see The Movies get some credit in that “art” piece. I think I might have to install it again – I miss its take on the film industry. It’s probably the “worst” Lionhead title (if we’re discounting the disappointing Black and White 2), but that’s saying little. It had bundles of charm, and was a perfect game to huddle around a monitor alongside your mates. It’s a shame it’ll probably never have a successor.