Please Value Your Education In The School Of Games

I once read a suggestion by conservative philosopher Roger Scruton, that you could drop all of culture into two broad categories (I paraphrase): “High culture”, which is best appreciated with some formal education about what is going on with it (difficult literature, opera) and “Low Culture”, which is basically everything in folk, primitive, and pop culture, for which education is not required. Sounds stupid and elitist, doesn’t it? Scruton himself admits many caveats, as I recall. It’s clearly impossible to create two such categories. But recently, well, I’ve started to think that perhaps he’s right about the education thing. At least when it comes to videogames.

I speak with reference to this FT article about a non-gamer judging videogames, and subsequent defences of the same. Actually, no, I don’t think we really need to worry about what non-gamers think of games. And that is because, in this instance, we are the highly educated elite.

I’ve read a few people suggest that it’s important to listen to non-gamers when the speak about our form. It demonstrates, it is said, the overall emptiness of games as cultural objects. It demonstrates how impenetrable our communities are, how obscure game mehanics have become, how difficult their systems are to outsiders.

Which seem like precisely the qualities of the things that Scruton describes as “high culture”. You need to spend thousands of hours read and studying to have a proper understanding of Proust or Derrida, and the same is true of DOTA 2 or Dwarf Fortress. To master either requires research, thought, even experimentation.

What’s interesting for me, though, is that people get caught up on games not having anything to say – something which outsiders, with their superficial appreciation of games, are quick to point out. From the New Statesman article:

But what’s most infuriating about Kellaway’s piece is its underlying truth: most video games really don’t have a lot to say. They generally have the lyrical nuance of a Eurodance song, and even a game like Spec Ops: The Line can’t properly critique the horrors of war when the player herself is actively creating those horrors. Kellaway’s favourite game from the selection was Journey, one of my favourites too. But I also love Hotline Miami, an ultra-violent and sadistically challenging title where you dress up in an animal mask and murder gangsters in a hallucinogenic world. I’m not even ashamed – it’s a brilliant game! – but I wouldn’t pretend it had reached a zenith of cultural significance.

I can appreciate all that. As John pointed out recently – imagine if Dishonored had really had something to say. Imagine if Corvo’s exploits left us with some deeper, heavier message than “it’s great to save the princess.” Now that could have been something.

But that desire persistently misses the point. The great reward from Dishonored was never meant to be the story. It was meant to be taking your existing familiarity and skill with medium of controlling first-person perspective games and using it to explore the systems and challenges laid out by the game designers. Mastering these, performing feats of stealth or supernatural combat, and relishing the results, is what matters here. Perhaps this is little more than having understood tutorials and self-educated a bit with game controller-use in other games, but I think there’s more to it. Watching players figure out what is possible in Dishonored is more like scientific method: trial and experimentation. And the reward is both sensual and intellectual. The fiction might have been weak, but who cares when what were were doing was indulging in the atmospherics and toying with the models and processes that make the game world tick?

The games that have really rewarded me – and I will write something connected to this very soon – are the ones where I have had to fail, and then to persist, and to educate myself. Imagine what the FT judge would think when faced with Eve Online, a game I took months and years of extended daily play to master. Would she even comprehend what it meant without serious study? Hell, most MMO designers don’t seem to understand it. And I say that from indignant and disbelieving experience in interviewing those people, time and again.

Can you really be expected to understand Day Z without some time in the heartland of first-person games? Even experienced gamers baulked at its difficulty, and at Arma 2’s arcane controls and interface. No, it was the people who wanted to learn, and made the effort to learn, and usually had plenty of existing experience, were actually rewarded for their time, or understood what that story-free sandbox of horror and survival was actually about.

The arbiters of cultural value are too used to looking for metaphors and messages. In games, though, the active process is the meaning.

And it wasn’t about its message. It wasn’t a story that can be analysed and understood for its subtext. It was about how specific systems and fictions can be integrated and then applied to human interaction. It was about what people do when their actions are mediated through a simulation of zombie apocalypse.

The connoisseur of super-hard platform games understands what those games are about, because they have the physical and emotional framework for dealing with them, and appreciating them.

People who haven’t played games, and don’t have an education in them, usually don’t understand that. And that’s fine. We shouldn’t expect them to.

Hell, people generally understand the rules of chess, but I would rather hear a master chess-player discuss the nuances and process of the thing – for them to really decide what Chess was about – than leave it to casual observation, as casual a game as Chess might be.

I was impressed that the FT subject spotted the combat in Mass Effect is a bit rubbish, mind. Is it that that obvious?


  1. Terragot says:

    “…spotted the combat in Mass Effect is a big rubbish”

    It’s probably meant to be “is a bit rubbish” but can we keep this typo as is, it’s much more fitting.

  2. Tuggy Tug says:

    “But recently, well, I’ve started to thing that perhaps it’s right. At least when it comes to videogames.”

    thing = think ?

    “As John pointed out recently – imagine if Dishonored had really had something to say. Imagine if Corvo’s exploits left us with some deeper, heavier message than “it’s great the save the princess.”

    the = to (save the princess) ?

    “I was impressed that the FT subject spotted the combat in Mass Effect is a big rubbish, mind.”

    big = bit?

    Sorry. I don’t usually do this, but as the article just got published I thought I’d get in here quickly.

    Great article, though. It’s a shame we still have to defend games as something to be considered as a part of culture from which we learn. Play is apparently the oldest form of learning… and I imagine games exist wherever play does.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      All fixed. Was written a bit too hastily – I want my day off to start! Stupid words.

      (Actually starting another article now.)

    • Ninja Foodstuff says:

      So an incredibly thought-provoking article, and your first thought is to comment on the spelling mistakes? And spelling mistakes that probably didn’t even need to be pointed out?

      • arccos says:

        It’s generally a valuable thing to do. This isn’t a news-of-the-day article, it’s one people may return to over time, like much of RPS. Making the article as understandable as possible is a good way to keep the discussion going.

        • MiniMatt says:

          In this instance I have to concur. Complaining about typos online is rather weak and pedantic and something I’m loathe to take part in, but in this article I found nearly every paragraph required a second reading to mentally correct typos such that meaning could be extracted.

          We scan news articles and extract sufficient meaning – the release date of Man Shooter VIII or the proponents of the latest DRM controversy – with a skim read which is largely unaffected by typos. Comment and feature pieces like this have value in making an argument with each sentence and as a result we read them differently, more actively, taking each sentence at a time and mentally fitting it into the overal argument formed by the writer.

          I say typos but I suspect it’s an over active auto-correct that’s more insidious – spelling mistakes in individual words are mentally “auto-corrected” with ease by the brain without much conscious awareness. Missing suffixes (“spend thousands of hours read and studying to have a proper understanding”) or double words (“Is it that that obvious”) tend to require a re-read of the entire sentence in order to fit it into the article’s argument.

    • socrate says:

      actually gaming today teach usually bad skill and reward it…you can also teach bad habit and way to react and act in life…not all teaching is good and currently gaming is now teaching really bad thing compared to before because rewarding people for no effort get them addicted and feel like they are doing something when in fact they are just being shown that you get rewarded for doing no effort.

      Game dev now think hard=challenging…when in fact giving an unfair advantage in a game compared to giving them better AI just make it more unfair and not teaching you in any way at all or making people work harder to learn new thing…you just learn to use game breaking mechanic and exploit usually.

      Basicly nowaday Hard=unfair advantage

  3. danimalkingdom says:

    Fascinating article. Thanks Jim.

  4. McDan says:

    Well this is a pretty thought provoking article, I think it’s right that you do need an understanding of something to properly critique it though. Like most things, so why are games any different? I’d also say the understanding gap is there for game genres as well (obviously not if someone has played them) but if someone has only ever played the sims/rts games and other types without playing FPS’ then they might not see the appeal. At least that’s what I think. Also this needs to be more widely understood by people, such as when a news story claims “child kills a parent, he played a game once, it’s the games fault.” No, just no. You do need educated people having this discussion, it would be like asking peoples opinion on how to do brain surgery (an extreme example I admit). So yeah, lots of words there.

  5. Gap Gen says:

    I’m not convinced that high and low culture exist, and if it does, then I suspect low culture is a better depiction of how a people think than high cluture. Look at the transition of Rambo from anti-war troubled hero to gunslinging moral crusader for US foreign policy at the time. Even cheesy pop music taps into something primal.

    I’m unsure if the mechanics of a game represent the same thing as, for example, knowing enough about art to appreciate an abstract piece for what it is, though. But then, this is new territory, so things are bound to be different and new and exciting. I also do really want more things like Bastion, that are willing to turn a game about smashing things with a hammer into a social commentary with a surprising amount of depth.

    • jalf says:

      I’m not convinced that high and low culture exist

      If they’re defined as this article mentions (stuff you have to be educated to understand/enjoy, versus stuff you don’t), then it obviously does exist. The names might be awful because they imply that one is “better” or “more true” than the other, but we *can* obviously divide all culture into two piles according to this criteria.

      • Gap Gen says:

        I don’t know if it’s true that there’s a binary divide, though. I mean, all dance and music require technical skills to enjoy some dimensions of (i.e. taking part), and by the same token plenty of people enjoy videogames by watching other people play (there’s an example in the linked FT article). Equally, I can go to an art gallery or an opera house and get something out of a piece even though someone with a degree in art history could get something more out of it.

        Plus, I’m a little skeptical that High and Low culture isn’t just an attempt by cultural snobs to firewall off what they like from what the mob likes.

        • Jim Rossignol says:

          Edited this for clarity: I don’t agree with Scruton’s broader distinction, just that he’s right about something things requiring an education to be properly appreciated.

          • Tuggy Tug says:

            Doesn’t the problem come when you say “an education” ?

            That sounds broad when, in fact, you surely mean an education in that particular discipline?

          • Jim Rossignol says:

            Sure, it’s worth making that distinction.

          • SiHy_ says:

            Part of the difficulty in validating games seems to stem from developing an education in the discipline often being looked down upon. To draw from the article:
            “I gave up and settled down with a glass of wine to watch my son play instead, deploying a skill that I would admire had not half his life been spent acquiring it.”
            To people like the author of the article playing computer games shares no comparable aspects to, say, reading books.

          • tumbleworld says:

            Wouldn’t Scuton’s stance make complex sports like cricket and American football the highest of high culture, then? Well, except for the sorts of private, twisty games that small groups of bored 9yr-olds come up with. Heck, what about Sudoku, or those wretched ‘lateral thinking’ brainteasers? Compared to any of those, a night of Wagner is positively transparent. It would be easier, it seems, to bring someone up to speed on Swan Lake than on Dwarf Fortress…

            I know that’s not what you’re saying here, Jim. Just about anything needs at least a bit of priming to really appreciate. Even dubstep. Anthropologically, it’s common for enthusiasts of unpopular entertainments to insist vocally that they’re really, *really* important and everyone else just can’t understand. Scruton and his ilk are, effectively, being hipster.

            As an aside, I don’t remember signing any contract which said that I had to select deep symbolic meaning and allusion as the yardsticks by which entertainment’s value should be measured. Frak that for a sack of elitist bullcrap. I measure entertainment by its ability to transport me, and I suspect I’m not in the minority.

          • Reapy says:

            Just wanted to comment n the line quoted there, I think it is sad the author only allowed herself a minuscule of appreciation of her kids talent, then outright dismissed it as a waste of time. Overall the article just read to me as non gamer dislikes games.

            I can argue on her behalf that great novels you read once you are older, more well read, and more experienced in life have affected me more deeply than a lot have games have, though the fiction of some games are so much more hard written to my soul than the short lived heightened awareness I get after a good book or movie.

            What’s that state called, catharsis? Interesting that the journey guy who had a film school background mentioned in the article up on here a while ago that he was trying to achieve just that with his game. Either the author is more hard wired for this type of activity or it is more broadly applicable to get to with no prior knowledge.

            All in all I feel good I don’t have to have this gap with my children and look forward to gaming with them as they get older. Oldest is almost 3 but he had a great time with dustforce and nightsky the other day. I didn’t know a rolling ball game could elicit such screeches of joy, but it sure did…and in dust force the elation on his face when he figured out how to slide down a hill was pure gold, something I haven’t been able to invoke in him with our other toys.

      • welverin says:

        Or the way the traditionally are segregated, high culture being what the rich congregate to to distinguish themselves from the poor, low culture being everything else.

      • tentacle says:

        I think it’s actually much simpler than often thought. This has nothing to do with general education, or class, or intelligence. It’s just that as art mediums (for lack of a better word) develop, they develop a language which evolves and gets more and more complex. If you don’t understand that language, you won’t understand whatever it is that is being conveyed.

        Plop an ancient Roman in front of a movie, and they just won’t understand what is happening. Even a common point-of-view show (shot of a guy turning his head to look at something, then a close-up shot of an apple = guy is looking at an apple) is a dialogue that we the audience have had to learn to understand the meaning of. My time-travelling centurion there will probably not understand what the connection between this guy and the apple is.

        The same thing happens in all mediums, and most certainly it is not a binary thing (nothing ever is). It’s a sliding scale, and although there is a huge amount of overlap between, say, games and cinema (in recent years), there’s a lot that is unique to each. A LOT. You can make “simple” games, films, etc that will thus have broad appeal, or you can use the language to get more subtle and complex, and lose a lot of your audience in the process, but deliver a much bigger impact. Getting the right balance is extremely difficult, and it can fail on so many levels.

        So it’s nothing to do with “high” and “low”, or a “requires general education” idea, it’s just to do with the relative complexity of the dialogue of that medium. In the past, well-educated people were educated broadly in all the major art forms, which is both not true anymore today, and we’ve also developed new art mediums that have never made it into the education system (anyone ever seen a class on “Interactive Fiction Appreciation”?).

        This good article has much more to talk about as well, but I’ll stop here.

    • ffordesoon says:

      As a writer, I’ve always been most interested in creating intelligent pop writing, where people are encouraged to contemplate the deeper themes at play in the work if they want, but they can also just enjoy it on a surface level. The old “lacing the ice cream with multivitamins” trick, you know?

      Where do fit in that model? Low culture? Pretentious low culture? What’s my role?

      • Josh W says:

        The high culture low culture distinction seems to be trying to talk about depth in terms of accessible culture and inaccessible culture, and games show that you do not have to be inaccessible to have depth. You have to put some work into the combination, but it is possible.

        In fact that is the essence of the difficulty curve.

        A book with a difficulty curve in it’s allusions, for example, would create allusions at different levels of obviousness, so that it could stand in for the other sources at a pinch, or at least form a first draft of understanding what they were about, and then step up to greater and greater levels of obscurity off the back of things like that.

    • Ninja Foodstuff says:

      But there’s a difference, isn’t there, between games that are actively aimed at people who likely do not have much games experience but are trying to make a point (i.e. Spec Ops) and those that exist for those that do (i.e. EVE).

      If I create a visually appealing fashion photograph, it’s just as much art as something more abstract, even though it is aimed at different people. It’s not fair to give all games more leeway simply because they fall under a broad spectrum.

      Funnily enough I was thinking earlier today about how in the film biz people like to one-up each other on esoteric knowledge. Everyone has an opinion on Truffaut, despite the fact that his films aren’t really that relevant in the grand scheme of things, certainly not in the sense of what makes money at the box office. If I watch a lot of films, is my opinion of films “worth” more? Films, like games, are multi-faceted beasts. One person can espouse the intricacies of the roles of specific film stocks in telling a story, another with a literary bent might pick up on some carefully hidden subtext, and yet another on visual symbolism. Is one opinion more relevant than another? Can’t someone with a fresh eye, also lend a valid criticism?

      EDIT: The more I think about this, the more I think that, although I agree with many of Jim’s finer points, I’m less inclined to agree with the broad strokes. You can find examples everywhere. Am I in a better position to critique Facebook if I have more friends? If I develop websites for a living, is my opinion of other websites more valid? I suspect there’s a part truth to this, you really ought to have eaten at a lot of different restaurants to best have an opinion of one of them, but I also think the reverse still holds. Telling people that Half-Life 2 is excellent because of everything it represents may well be true, but someone coming along and saying that the core experience is too dependent on things like weapon selection and aiming may also be a valid point.

  6. Mike says:

    This is a pretty interesting standpoint, not one I’ve had put to me before! I really liked the article.

    That said, I do think it helps the medium grow by acknowledging those that do not engage with it. Whether or not we’re gaming’s cultured elite, the medium has expanded, and must continue to expand, to incorporate both high and low artefacts (or however you want to split it up).

    Yes, many games are about the elegance of systems and the reward of understanding them. But if all fiction were Man Booker entries, the medium would be considerably more dull, more narrow and less encompassing. We want games to have both things, right? So listening, understanding, embracing the opinions of the people left out in the cold, that might help us.

    • Fiohnel says:

      Does chess and poker grow by acknowledging those that do not engage with it? Are War and Peace and other novels acclaimed as cultural achievement made by acknowledging those that do not engage with novel medium? Are they made with accessibility for laypersons in mind?

      • Aninhumer says:

        Neither of those examples are relevant. Chess and Poker strategy is not a subjective medium, it has an objective measure of quality. War and Peace already exists, there is nothing to be discussed in how it should be written, because it is a finished work. The argument here is merely that accessibility is a good thing, and that the way to become more accessible is to study the opinions of outsiders. That accessibility may come at a cost of other measures of quality may be a valid criticism, but the I think it’s reasonable to say that all other things being equal, a more accessible work is “better” than a less accessible one.

        • Fiohnel says:

          But novels and films hailed as zenith of cultural significance are most often the least accessible to laypersons not used to the medium, so I have to disagree with more accessibility = better, because that’s like saying Harry Potter and Twilight are amongst the greatest novel.

          • Mike says:

            They may not be the greatest novels, but they enhance the medium of literature by broadening its scope and its audience.

          • The Random One says:

            It is easier for someone to read War and Peace if they have read Harry Potter and therefore know what a written account of a fictional event must be interpretated.

            That may sound like a stupid point, but there is no Harry Potter for games – or rather, there is no continuum linking Fruit Ninja to Dwarf Fortress, even if a commenter below me disagrees. It’s easier to celebrate novels and movies as being the zeniths of culture because everyone has a favourite movie and novel.

          • Aninhumer says:

            My point is not that a more accessible book is always better, it is that all other things being equal a more accessible book is better.

      • Mike says:

        Regarding the War and Peace example: that’s a single book. What I’m trying to claim is that gaming is mostly made up of these ‘high culture’ games that are designed for the gaming equivalent of literary theorists and book snobs. We don’t have a well-established continuum between our 50 Shades of Grey/pulp fiction and our War and Peaces. That’s what I think grows as a result of listening to all comers.

        • Somerled says:

          We have a continuum between the Farmvilles/Fruit Ninjas and the CoDs/Skyrims and the Dwarf Fortresses/ARMA 2s and so on. Accessibility has long been an established factor in game design and criticism. In fact, you can hardly find a gaming discussion board that doesn’t have someone arguing against letting the masses into their garden, or someone else damning the gaming elite, if maybe put in different words.

          But really, accessibility has helped the medium grow. By leaps and bounds even. But that’s only significant if you rate growth by body count. There are other ways to look at growth, such as advancing the state of the art; challenging established norms; merging, deconstructing, or discovering genres; refining an idea or a collection of ideas; etc. Some of these can not be evaluated by those on the outside looking in, but only by those on the inside. That’s not being snobbish, it’s just a matter of familiarity. And it’s not limited to gaming as a whole. I’d never stoop to judge one Street Fighter against another, but I can tell you why Deus Ex did more for gaming than Deus Ex: IW.

          Anyway, I don’t mean growth in terms of popular participation is meaningless. All of those types of growth are equally important to a medium. And gaming, like every other medium, sees growth in all of those areas.

  7. robandr3w5 says:

    Interesting article. I would never argue that games as a medium have reached what could be described as maturity or a cultural zenith – it has not had the time to be explored fully, the potential afforded to literature, film and so on. The core demographic for many games – I’m looking at you, COD et al – is, in many ways, more akin to X-Factor than Dostoyevsky. That probably doesn’t matter, as things will change and develop with time – so why are those games given such a terrible image when the huge array of vapid rubbish in other media forms tends to be at worst intellectually criticised? It’s possible to argue that this kind of programming has a larger negative effect on society than games.

    Of course it doesn’t mean that these ‘low culture’ games don’t have some merits, or that there aren’t (as we know) a vast raft of games that are entirely different affairs. I guess many of us simply wish for a rational and objective discourse. More cerebral or complex output tends to get entirely ignored by the knee-jerk sensationalists. We’re all aware that ignorance is the enemy of many things, as is the case in the perception of many. EVE is a fine example of something that goes far beyond COD in any number of ways, and it is far from alone. Crusader Kings II and its ilk rarely get a ‘other side of the coin’ mention in the Daily Mail’s stupidity-and-bile laden tripe, for example.

    It is high time people started to look more sensibly at all this. COD is an 18, yet that sort of game is blamed so often for young people doing idiotic things. Who questions the parenting? I’ve never seen that particular issue raied in the media. Plus, while Jim’s examples of DayZ etc. point at one key strength of this medium being the new abilities it has compared to others formats (I mean in being able to experience, being able to learn about human behaviours in new contexts), there is still more.

    Many ‘better’ types of game allow for many embedded educational opportunities. Play Eve, learn about economy. Play the Settlers or whatever and consider planning, forethought and more. Play Crusader Kings II and learn about historical dynasties, ancient law etc. Assassin’s Creed, for all its fantasy, yields some genuinely interesting historical and geographical information. As a teacher I have long believed that games have never been effectively harnessed as a tool for learning, and remain hopeful that one day this will change.

    Finally, many people have read War and Peace without performing a textual analysis on it or studying it academically with the aid of reference materials etc. For them, it was a story. A long one, perhaps a great one, but nothing more. For all that Scrotum or whatever his name is attempts to crudely stuff stupid generalisations into weird places, games simply have not had the type of treatment yet that other media forms have. Many games are intellectually stimulating affairs, and would reveal much if their narratives were probed with the time and effort given to great literature. It is, as such, naive and inappropriate to label such a diverse genre as low culture, when so much of it, as Jim suggests, is far from it.

  8. Tei says:

    I find that when “nerfing something so is easy to understand by outsiders” result in making the result no worth investing time, is best to avoid.

    Other than that, Videogames continue in a curve of adding more and more usability and making better interfaces, and make games more “playable”. This has nothing to do with outsiders.

    My preference is to make games better for these that play videogames. But I understand that theres other forces and this why we have third person shooters… so games are more interesting for casual watchers (people that watch other people play).

    • Post-Internet Syndrome says:

      What are you even trying to say?

      • The Random One says:

        I think a fair translation would be:

        “How dare you suggest these filthy outsiders should encroach on our god-given right to play inscrutable videogames? Isn’t it enough that they have to be dumbed down for people who don’t play the right videogames?”

        • MD says:

          That’s not what he said at all.

          It’s hard enough expressing yourself in a foreign language without people willfully misunderstanding you, then being smug about it.

    • Nogo says:

      Third person games exist so passive viewers can enjoy them? What?

      That’s a silly thing to say and you know it, Tei.

      • Josh W says:

        It may not be the reason, but it is true; a third person camera often has various forms of stability associated with it, which make it much less likely for you to have vertigo or travel sickenss when watching and not being the person with the mouse.

  9. Pindie says:

    “Video games are empty and void of meaning, they are nothing but kids toys”
    One year later:
    “Despite the critical acclaim “Shingler’s List: the survivor” was only a limited commercial success. The commentators pointed out the wider audience might simply not have been ready for the acceptance of mature themes in a medium that is traditionally associated with children entertainment.”

    For those who do not get it and think this is a joke: the same facebook moms who now complain about shallow video games would be the first to write petitions and organize marches had video games actually started to touch sensitive topics or contain mature writing.
    It’s damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

    • SuperNashwanPower says:

      How to get Facebook mums buying Xboxes:
      “50 shades of gray: The Video Game”

      • Gnoupi says:

        Would probably fare better as a Wii game.

      • Inglourious Badger says:

        Yeah, that always gets me about ‘the outsider’ view of videogames. My mum would look at me playing something like Dishonored with its graphic assassination animations and say “you sick bastard, you enjoy playing that!?”. But then toddle off to read another gruesome crime novel, or 50 shades, or shout and squeal as James Bond shoots another 50 foreigners in the face. She’s become desensitised to violence in film and books, in the same way I’m desensitised to it in games. It’s not shocking or horrific that I’m desensitised, it’s just my brain has cleverly noticed that, for all the realistic animations and blood, this is definitely not real and means as much to me as scoring a point in sport. Plus I would have snuck past those 50 foreigners and only shot the main bad guy, the one presumably stroking a cat (I’d save the cat.). Gaming taught me this.

        These sort of discussions always bring me back to ‘No Russian’ in COD:MW2. Now that level was ridiculous, unnecessary to the story and a blatant attention grabber aimed at the same outsiders we’re talking about here, but Infinity Ward understood that within our gaming culture you live the story. You shouldn’t be made to watch or read why the baddies are bad, you should experience it. It was an extension of the opening level of Modern Warfare where you get dragged to your own execution. I’m not trying to defend it, worse than finding it sickening (which I did) I found it pointless and too unbeleiveable to maintain my suspended disbelief. They had the right idea it was just poorly executed, and broke a major rule of gaming by denying you the ability to make the obvious response which was just shooting the bad guys. Game Over. Mission accomplished.

        Anyway, nice article Jim. Nice thought provoking stuff on a Sunday morning. To go back to the original point, I agree being educated in gaming opens a greater enjoyment in a lot of games (and the realisation that some rather popular games suck) but as with art and other culture the very best stuff will be immediately arresting to the uninitiated AND deep enough to provoke a satisfyied response from us ‘educated’ pokers and prodders.

      • karmafarm says:

        Better on Kinect, probably. Co-op mode?

  10. DerNebel says:

    It is a process, figuring out how the medium of games behave as an art form. Games are not litterature, music isn’t a film and a painting isn’t a game. If you compare Spec Ops: The Line to Proust you will be disappointed. Of couse you will be, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. But you will also be disappointed in the writing of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly if you compare it to, say, The Old Man and The Sea.

    We are learning how games really work as art, and I would argue that games like Minecraft are one of the purest examples of it. Through very simple, yet quitenuanced, rules, and through mods, almost endless interactions are possible. I don’t suffer from the illusion that Minecraft is perfect, but the way the systems capture the imagination is a great step forward in learning how video games seperate themselves from, say, litterature.

    And there are other examples of how games can tell stories that movies, litterature or music can’t: Just try playing DEFCON and see if you don’t feel that stab in the stomach when a nuclear missile lands and 7.8 milliopn people dead is displayed as a cold hard number. And then the feeling escalates and mutates as the screen is filled with these numbers, all meaning immense tragedy and all condemning you for causing it. And look at Silent Hill and Amnesia, how they can conjure horror unlike books and unlike movies, because you as the player character is the one being hunted.

    And those are just one form of games. Competitive games, like Counter Strike, DOTA2, League of Legends or Starcraft 2 all offer the heat of the battle, the swordfight, the dance on the edge of a blade, where reflexes, intelligence and understanding of the game is crucial in every moment, these have nothing to do with storytelling or even art, but are just you and your team fighting another team to see who is better at the game.

    Games are varied, and there will be something for everyone. Gaming is, the way I see it, is in most its shades very unlike litterature studies and more like a growing musical scene. Everybody is playing their own musical instrument, playin with their band, listening to the new sounds and discussing it with friends. Not everybody plays the same music, but it is still the same medium and it is growing right now. Don’t believe the mums and dads who know nothing of the new sound, believe the kid who is playing it and singing it.

  11. AndrewC says:

    Perhaps these high arts are not worth emulating. If an open mind is not enought to understand a thing, then the rules a thing functions by are arbitrary and arkane, thus appreciation is not artistic but merely a mark of education. like learning lists. Opera is like this. Finnegans Wake is an example of this. Game UI’s are another. Difficult doesn’t make good.

    No, defences of elitism are very dangerous. ‘you aren’t good enough to get this’ is a poisonous statement, especially in a comments section as miserable, bitter and laced with passive aggressive prejudices against ‘the other’ as this one.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      I disagree. ‘you aren’t good enough to get this’ isn’t what is being said.

      What’s being said is: “Some education and experience make it possible to genuinely appreciate this experience.”

      Just because bittertrolls play the elitism card in situations where it is cruel to do so doesn’t mean you should devalue what it means to have expertise.

    • Continuity says:

      That a subject requires some expertise to fully appreciate merely shows that the subject has depth. Personally I think depth is essential to any medium that we’re to find interesting and entertaining beyond a few minutes or hours. Its like the difference between noughts and crosses and chess.

    • Continuity says:

      In fact I’ll go further:

      In many cases Difficult does make good, absolutely so, because sometimes the challenge of the difficulty is the gameplay (by which I mean learning is the hook which keeps you playing). You might say that X3’s UI is a horrendously complex mess, and i’ve spent something like 240 hours on that game and have still only learned a portion of the mechanics and controls available, I can guarantee you I’d of gotten bored of it long ago if I could of learned everything about it in a day.

      • The Random One says:

        How would you say it compares to reading Joyce, Saramago or Pynchon?

        • Continuity says:

          Joyce I found difficult to be frank, and I haven’t even heard of the other two. I’ve tended to stick to English, and French literature up to now with occasional exceptions. My love of literature is second only to my love of computer games, yet I have made little time for reading over the last few years which is a shame.

          How do they compare? I’d say games are more engaging but less rewarding, though that’s a horrible generalisation. Its certainly true to say that I treasure many of the books I’ve read more than I can ever imagine treasuring a game.

          Damn, I should

        • jrodman says:

          Having read too much of both, Joyce is a bore and Pynchon a waste of time.

          Joyce describes a human condition that fails to connect with me, despite far too much study on my part to grasp it. Pynchon describes a monument to his own intellect.

          Give me Austen, or Dostoevsky, or even Saul Bellow. Works don’t have to be inaccessible to be quality.

    • Gira says:

      Haha, did AndrewC just suggest that opera, a thoroughly populist musical invention, is somehow inherently elitist?

      Your fervent adoration of the lowest common denominator is really bizarre.

  12. Mctittles says:

    Reminds me of a line in Donnie Darko:
    “You can’t just lump everything into these two categories and then just deny everything else”

  13. Shiri says:

    I have a further criticism to level at defence of games at art here. People often defend games as not needing things like subtext to be works of art, because they have the mechanics and interactivity other art forms can’t explore to evoke specific feelings and so forth. That’s true. But there’s no reason we CAN’T have subtext, mechanically expressed or otherwise. Take a look at Mass Effect, Dark Souls, Alpha Centauri, Silent Hill 2…the list of games with stuff worth listening to may be considerably shorter than the list of all the works in the medium, but that’s not exactly new, and it doesn’t mean we need to give up the critical analysis of meaning. Furthermore, three of those games were really engaging even on a superficial level, something that’s a lot harder to find with high literature…

    For that matter, this site ran a great series of articles on Pathologic. It didn’t seem to feel constrained to telling its story only one way.

    • Pindie says:

      Why do people keep bringing up SH2?
      Silent Hill 3 was definitely the best written game in series, with plenty of themes for literature geeks to appreciate. Most people just missed those because they were not spelled out. SH2 is the most trivially in-your-face game in the series with some symbolism sprinkled on top. Not to mention the conclusion was telegraphed pretty early on.

      Seriously, imagine SH2 was a novel for a second.

      • Shiri says:

        Because people are more likely to be familiar with SH2. I agree that SH3 was great too, but it was less familiar and harder to relate to for a lot of people. There’s a reason I named high profile releases (and then Pathologic because we already have a series on it here.)

      • Mman says:

        “Seriously, imagine SH2 was a novel for a second.”

        This is utterly irrelevant because it’s not a novel. A lot of SH2’s mood and story building excellence comes from the ways you interact with it as a game.

        • jrodman says:

          Imagine most movies novelised without taking the license to add in filler. Imagine a direct novelisation of the screenplay.

          For a few it might work. For most it would be a a thin work, both in pages and substance.

          • Pindie says:

            I did not mention filler material.
            Padding out the length of any form of media is a sign of bad craftsmanship.

            By complaining about SH2 I rather meant things like large plot points I called well ahead and it was in context of fans of series praising the entry for writing in particular.
            Writing was good but would not blow away or even impress a literary critic.

          • jrodman says:

            Yes, obiously I mentioned filler materiel, because I already understood the point you are making and responded to it in fact. The point is that different mediums work with different types of works. Most movies have the amount of materiel of a moderate length short story, and games similarly. They wouldn’t work as novels becacuse they aren’t novels. The medium is conveying different things in different ways at different depths and with different ways to infer tone and background.

            That a game won’t work as a book is no more a slight than that a song won’t work as a painting.

    • JamesPatton says:

      Agreed. This article says:

      “The great reward from Dishonored was never meant to be the story. It was meant to be taking your existing familiarity and skill with medium of controlling first-person perspective games and using it to explore the systems and challenges laid out by the game designers. Mastering these, performing feats of stealth or supernatural combat, and relishing the results, is what matters here.”

      Okay, judging a game on a scale that it never intended to be on is unfair. We should take each game/book/poem on its own terms. BUT, what if Dishonored really *had* had something to say? Maybe about cities or justice or what it means to rule or what power does to someone? Granted, I haven’t actually finished it (just started the masked ball mission) so maybe it deals with some of that. But I’d really like a game that makes me think, not just about jumping and killing and teleporting and what those mean within a fictional world, but about justice and killing and how humans can live together in a confined (urban) space, in fictional AND non-fictional worlds.

      And, see, you don’t even need text (ie. words) to do that. You can do it with systems. One thing I LOVE about Dishonored is the fact that the level designers understand how cities grow. You’ve got gleaming metal next to slums next to ruined palaces. Dunwall feels like a real place because it clearly grew organically. It wasn’t just laid down all in one go like so many sci-fi cities are. And this expresses a PROCESS, ie. cities grow, like hives. And that expresses something about human expansion: we’re messy, we cram stuff wherever we can, we try to be efficient but aren’t always good at it, we have only limited space. So once you introduce other processes like competition for living space, you can actually have a game that talks about how humans interact with each other – for better or worse – under difficult conditionss. And it needn’t necessarily have any actual text, because games talk in processes, not words (generally speaking).

      My problem with Dishonored is that it has these tightly modelled systems – running, jumping, teleporting – and these implied but not-really-modelled systems – growth of a city, political intrigue, the terrible damage you can do by killing somebody in a fit of rage or fear – but they don’t really interact. There are these implicit (more interesting) systems that the player can only touch tangentially (“kill too many people and you get more rats”), if at all.

      • The Random One says:

        Here’s an example: The Matrix, in the sense of the deeper story it was trying to tell, didn’t have a lot to say. It was interesting but other than the intrinsic novelty of the ‘brain in a vat’ theory and its teenager-focused metaphor of the oppresive system, it wasn’t exactly ground shaking. But it was an action movie. It didn’t need even that. It could be all well-dressed people kicking each other in slow motion and jumping off buildings. Simply because it had something else to offer – even if it was small – and because it weaved what it was trying to say into its structure it was considered excellent.

        I think most AAA games nowadays are like action flicks. We shouldn’t be tying to make Citizen Kane, we should start by making Inception.

        • JamesPatton says:

          That’s not a bad way of looking at it. And I’m not saying Dishonored would have been a better game without the teleporty-stabby-choky bits: it wouldn’t. The same way Inception wouldn’t have been better without action sequences. But I would have liked it if Dishonored had brought a bit more to the table, intellectually. It’s great on its own merits, but I want games that do more.

          Also, there are some devs doing experimental stuff that shows that the future needn’t be dictated by AAA titles. In fact, it’s hardly surprising that AAA titles aren’t trailblazing, since the money-driven mainstream seldom does. Which means that Inception may or may not happen on its own, but we can still have low-budget noir, edgy B-movies and things with a whiff of The Seventh Seal. Which is fine by me.

          I guess I just wish that I had more faith in the games that are currently available to deliver stories that I’d consider meaningful. My favourite films are ones like The Seventh Seal or some noir films, that really make me think; my favourite TV shows are ones like The Shadow Line or Sherlock, which make me think; my favourite books are ones like Middlemarch or Infinite Jest which, yes, make me think. I like things that challenge my worldview and make me reasses everything. When it comes to games… I know they’re capable of doing that, but so far only Braid has done anything remotely like that. And Braid was clumsy in its delivery. Even something like Shadow of the Colossus I don’t find particularly moving, because while I understand what they’re doing, it doesn’t connect with me emotionally, because I’m not a guy with a sword killing monsters. Perhaps The Void does this a little, with its abstract notions of generosity, investment and theft? Even then, I’m not sure.

        • jrodman says:

          It’s not like you couldn’t present the core idea of Citzen Kane in a game anyway. It’s not a complicated story, nor a complicated idea.

          Sure you’d have to do a lot more character exploration than is typical in a game, but I think it’s possible.

  14. SuperNashwanPower says:

    Who needs experts? There is nothing quite like the layman’s or disinterested party’s Ad Hoc Reckon to keep the fires of intellectual debate burning [click for comedy]

    • Apolloin says:

      That is a hillarious video. And somewhat to the point. I’m sure we can dig up someone aggressively disinterested and completely uneducated in whichever manifestation of ‘High Culture’ she’s interested in to talk about it’s lack of cultural relevance.

      Cultural. There’s part of the problem in and of itself. If you get to be the people defining ‘Culture’ then it becomes incredibly easy to have a discussion about what is and isn’t relevant to that definition.

  15. Lambchops says:

    As a bit of a side point here; if you can’t jump in at the deep end and if playing, as a comment in the Sunday papers suggested, “Mass Effect 3 when you have played absolutely no other games is the equivalent of never reading any books then attempting to read Proust’s A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu. Then giving up after 5 minutes because it’s too hard and renouncing books all together.” then, well, where do you start?

    Fuck it, where did I start? My earliest gaming memories are Privateer and Commander Keen in Dreams and let me tell you, I was atrocious at them. But I stuck with it for some reason. But these games didn’t train me for FPS games, other than perhaps cementing the groundwork of “I enjoy games” maybe like reading the Hardy Boys as a kid cemented the groundwork of “I enjoy books.”

    OK so I want to move onto something more complex. I remember bouncing off the demo of Half Life as far too hard. So what trained me to play FPS games. I guess it must have been Unreal Tournament, with it’s instant gratification and the fact that constantly dying didn’t prevent me from having a good time and inspired me to learn how to play so I’d die less. I’m not sure that has a literary equivalent really!

    But you couldn’t expect every gamer to use the likes of UT as training wheels, it’s just about the killing and that might put people off. So what other games could be used. How about Deus Ex, that was a game that hooked me early on. The thing was, the first time I played it I couldn’t get past Liberty Island on easy! It’s a hard game (I was playing it simultaneously to UT so my improved skills were not yet there!) and I can see how people would bounce of it. SO you know what I did? I cheated. I used God mode and played most of the game with it on. Terrible admission for a gamer to make, eh? But I guess you could see it as reading a piece of classic literature with Cliff Notes or whatever open beside you. It helps you through and as you play you gain the tools to understand what’s going on so that next game you attempt you can get through without that crutch.

    And for me that was the case, a return to Half Life and completing it on easy without cheating (albeit with a ton of quicksaving!).

    I guess my point is, if a non gamer wants to dive into games, I’m not sure if saying “don’t dive into an FPS” is perhaps the best thing to do. By all means they can dive in, if they want to but we should be prepared, or perhaps encourage them, to use crutches that we, as experienced gamers, may usually tend to scoff at.

    • SuperNashwanPower says:

      I love seeing people get into games I have enjoyed and am frustrated when the difficulty makes it unenjoyable for them. Classic example is my gamer dad, who I bought the STALKER games for. I found them amazing experiences and want others to share it, but I have a feeling that the somewhat vague objectives and difficult combat will put him off totally. Hell, I played it 3 times before I got into it, but then I had hours to spare to put in.

      Another example for me is Dark Souls. I have never used a controller and never really played 3rd person games, and have always really been an M&K FPS’er. I am 67 hours in and only just at Sif the Great Grey Wolf, who has killed me about 80 times. Its a real effort to want to keep going back, and I am aware that if I was better at these games, I could more readily appreciate what it has to offer – to feel something other than frustration when I play it. What I have seen of the world amazes me, and frankly a wolf with a sword is one of the best enemy ideas I have seen. But will I complete it? I’m not sure.

      Skill does seem to be a pre-requisite for some games, and so I agree, there is an element of being ‘trained’ to the point where you can like them.

    • SiHy_ says:

      I agree that the challenge in itself shouldn’t be something to hide new players from but the first games a person plays have to at least be accessible in some way.
      I started playing games on a C64 where often you had 3 lives, if you lose them all you have to reload the entire game which could take 10 to 20 minutes. This would seem to be much less accessible than a game with infinite respawning at first glance however a lot of the game concepts were a lot simpler to grasp. There was a clear goal and much simpler controls. Simply pressing a button and getting the instant feedback of the character jumping was enough to get me to continue trying to get to that end point.
      Games have become a lot more complex. While that’s brilliant for people like us well-versed in the lexicon of computer games it’s completely incomprehensible to people with no prior experience. That’s why ‘casual games’ like Peggle and Angry Birds became so popular with ‘non-gamers’ – simple controls and clearly defined goals. They are the perfect ‘gateway games’, if you will.

    • Post-Internet Syndrome says:

      I cheated a ton when I was younger and sucked at games. Commandos, Oni, Aladdin (yes, that one!), Jazz Jackrabbit, C&C. Often it was just the demos too. Years later, armed with better understanding and motor skills, I returned to Oni and completed it for real. Man did that feel good. I never repeated the feat with Commandos though, I think I got halfway through the Africa missions or something like that. I did get to the last level of the expansion though.

      And when I said cheated I don’t mean I skipped the occasional hard level. I mean full-on invincibility codes unlock everything and teleport around the map cheating.

      My point being: I agree with you. It has been noted many times that gaming is one of few mediums that actively lock down parts of its content behind barriers until the player meets some predetermined condition. This is as it should be, but one should not scoff at people sometimes needing a shortcut in order to appreciate them (though I feel that keeping the shortcuts unofficial is just as well, I hate it when “unlock everything” and similar are provided as DLC…). Had I not cheated in Commandos and Oni, I would never have seen the – awesome – later levels, and never felt the drive to try and get to them legitimately. (When I first tried the demo of Commandos I was flabbergasted. What is this stupid game? You can’t even shoot a single enemy without getting destroyed from multiple angles. Booring.”

      • BathroomCitizen says:

        I was just like you when I begun gaming! Cheating in singleplayer games and using “give all” commands in the console to see all the cool weapons that I’d use to kill powerless NPCs. Then, when I discovered multiplayer deathmatch with Quake 1 and Half-Life 1 mods, I learned that I could strive to be better, so I did! Then I could finally enjoy all the things that I missed back then.

        Damn, I get astounded when I think about the growth in skills that a gamer experiences during his life. Yes, many people find games to be timewasters, but these are timewasters that actually DO require some skill and ‘education’ (via previous experiences) to be enjoyed, so I definitely agree with Jim on this one.

      • Reapy says:

        Megaman 2 was the only hard game I beat back then without cheating I think. I was full on trainers all the time. Dooms iddqd idkfa all the way past level 10ish. Civ was pegged at 30k gold. Star control 2 unlimited fuel and crew in melee. That’s how I played as a kid and I had a good time with the harder games, no shame there IMHO, only shame that achievements and multiplayer have choked away that type of gaming. Also I don’t condone online cheating, only the presence of it can work against sp hacking.

        For the gp, that’s a good point about wanting to stick it out despite sucking. I was descent at doom 2 with my hands all cramped in around the arrow keys and the right shift and alt for advanced strafing. The I tried to play quake online with keys. Page up to aim up, haha.

        I had done some bastardized mouse look in elder scrolls games but nothing like asdw, and could only liken it to flight sims in my head, hence my dependence on inverted mouse controls to this day. Interestingly I find newer gamers typically do fine with non invert, trying to teach my wife gw2 she does much better with non invert, have always wondered if the reason i had for it is why others might use invert.

    • The Random One says:

      Man, this reply is going to end up miles under the post I’m replying to. @Lambchops: I think you underestimate how well stuff like Commander Keen prepared you for FPS games. A sidescroller lets you quickly realize how you control an avatar in the game, which makes you used to this when you’re playing an FPS and can’t see your avatar. Knowing what the UI is and how it works is a skill.

      Mass Effect might not be Proust, but it sure as hell ain’t Dr. Seuss either.

      • YourMessageHere says:

        I think this is relevant. My first ‘wow, I have to spend the time to get good at this’ game was Quarantine; that prepared me for the idea of controlling an avatar by putting me in charge of a vehicle, rather than in a body, but still being an FPS of sorts. I think this is part of why I still don’t quite click with third person cameras.

        It also let me realise that the idea of an open area to move about in at will and explore could both reap rewards in game terms and be rewarding as an activity in itself, akin to going for a walk, or in this case for a drive.

  16. SiHy_ says:

    I believe that culture can be divided into two seperate classifications but along different definitions to the ones stated above. I don’t believe culture should be seperated by the social class that it is enjoyed by but by the intent of its purpose. To me cultural media can be social commentary and/or pure entertainment.
    Social commentary can be seen more as “art”. It poses a question or relatable situation to the audience and the intent is for them to think about something; either themselves or the world around them.
    Pure entertainment is something where the audience can switch their brain off and simply enjoy; much like a Hollywood action movie or Call of Duty or something.
    These two classes are not mutually exclusive from each other. I have played a lot of mindless games that offered insight into life, or at least gave some desire for tangential learning.
    I believe that computer games currently have the pure entertainment market cornered but have less social commentary. However that’s the same in almost all media; pure entertainment is highly commercially successful whilst social commentary often develops more of a cult status. The people simply enjoy escapism.

  17. RedViv says:

    I do not think that the “brows” are fit for any medium, really. I dismiss works that want pander to one of those supposed categories of consumers exclusively, and likewise dismiss criticism that relies overtly on aspects that fit one or the other to definitely put something in one of the drawers.
    Mostly because you can, through dismantling and categorising and analysing aspects, raise almost anything up to the higher level. Almost anything, because overt pondering to the supposed “low brow consumer”, with all the included applications of the primitive, just leads to awful things. Likewise, the opposite case can lead to a nigh unrelatable product for anyone with an experience outside of that of its creators.

  18. ChrisGWaine says:

    I think Dishonoured deserves a little more credit than being reduced to “It’s great to save the princess.”


    They kept the story simple, but I think they were at least smart in what they did do in having an assassination game where the player’s side is a parallel for the enemy. Including the game being kicked off by an assassination performed by the player character’s parallel. Then it lets the player choose not to actually assassinate anyone and responds to that choice. (Or you can go ahead and enjoy the brutal murder.)

  19. Tom De Roeck says:

    But isnt this making the culture more closed off, though? Just as with the “openness” of a culture, if thats one of its main features, there will be a closedness opposite it, being actively countered if you dont know whats going on, basically causing elitism.

  20. Eich says:

    tl;dr: If you don’t understand something you can’t judge it’s quality. duh. Known that since I drank my first glass of wine.

  21. nootpingu86 says:

    I think the confusion as to the nature of what the medium of gaming can accomplish arises as a result of “cinematic” games’ narrative presentation. Their writing is poor because you were (and still are, I hope) expected to experience the bulk of the narrative through playing (yes, I’m opening that rotten old can of worms), and yet something like a cutscene of exposition has become by far the most accessible dimension of games for an outsider. No one explains this to them, by the way. And of course the story looks stupid, because it is! So then it’s left to new players to negotiate with an input device and a display that follow visual and tactile language wholly endogenous to the medium, after frontloading the game with hokey pap. IMO this latter part’s inaccessibility is something people overstate — look at the appeal of some truly difficult and nuanced NES and arcade games, for example. The difference was their clarity of purpose and simple presentation.

    I guess my point of emphasis is this: it’s important to realize that what’s at stake in making games more accessible to people unfamiliar with them isn’t necessarily “dumbing it all down” or “forfeiting our education” but rather making their presentation not so god damn misleading. It was much clearer before gaming had to be a movie, an immersive experience, and a system of rules all at once. The current emphasis on literalist (from the perspective of a medium defined by its interactivity, cutscenes are more of a telling than a showing) storytelling is not an improvement in a strict sense but rather existing ideas from other media bolted on in an almost obligatory fashion. It’s not a matter of doing one thing well to the exclusion of everything else, but ensuring that the strengths of what gaming does actually gets across to the uninitiated.

    Anyways, personally I blame the PSX era for it all. Fuck you, FF7.

  22. hello_mr.Trout says:

    makes me think of this calvin & hobbes strip: link to

  23. guitarspider says:

    Games ultimately, like movies, like music, like books are “texts” and follow the same narrative rules. A game like FTL is great fun because it forces you to try and fail and try again, but ultimately it’s a game that is great at tickling the player’s brain to generate stories. The memorable moments it creates are all story – being stuck in the medbay while the oxygen is draining out of the ship, a boarding crew surviving by a few hp against overwhelming odds, etc. There’s the satisfaction of doing better, but again, that shows in small story moments. Another example is Spelunky, which is veritable Pulp story creation machine, so closely does it follow Lester Dent’s checklist for pulp fiction. Does it matter that few players will notice that? No, because they still experience it. Does it matter that nobody seems to be aware of this unique opportunity for story that games possess? Yes!

    So yes, we desperately need more games that have something to say, be it as an explicit story, or be it as story bits that our brains will piece together automatically. Incidentally, Crusader Kings II and FTL both do the latter, and they are among the most beloved games of the year. Coincidence? I think not. If gaming as a form of entertainment wants to grow, it’s in that direction. We’re able to achieve pretty much anything technically, we have explored most genres’ mechanics so deeply that there’s only nuances to be added. What games haven’t done properly is explore story.

  24. NathanH says:

    Great to see an article by a prominent figure who hasn’t succumbed to “gamer guilt” and the desire to conform to social standards of what is cultural and what is not. Perhaps it would be good to stress that we can pay attention to what non-gamers say about games without necessarily worrying about it though. It’s always worth listening to people on the offchance they might have something sensible to say. But definitely not worry if they decide (or have already decided) that it’s of no “cultural value”. So let’s listen, but not be ashamed.

    • Pindie says:

      “Great to see an article by a prominent figure who hasn’t succumbed to “gamer guilt” and the desire to conform to social standards of what is cultural and what is not”

      But that’s completely wrong and backwards.
      She is trying hard to fit with the social standards.
      She is just too old to realize these standards have changed.

      She’s forever stuck in Nintendo era when gaming was shameful and unacceptable for an adult, so she conforms to that standard.

      • NathanH says:

        The prominent figure I was referring to was Jim, not some random non-gamer that I don’t care about.

  25. Feferuco says:

    Okay so how about we think which games could be used to educate a new comer?

    I’d start with Tetris to show the basics of video games in a welcoming title. Then go for Super Mario Bros. to show level progression, death, bosses, upgrades, etc. After that a puzzle oriented 2d game that looks and feels interesting, maybe Limbo or Braid. Then it’d be time to move to 3D. Go for an exploration game, Proteus and Journey used in the Game City prize would be good. Just to familiarize with 3D navigation. Then Katamari Damacy, a more fast paced 3D game but with very intuitive controls and objectives. Perhaps after all of that Portal.

    • Pindie says:

      Football Manager.
      Deluxe Ski Jump.
      Sim – … series.

      Try to think about games that are based on concepts the person is likely to already have a grasp on.
      This is why The Sims is so popular with women and CoD with boys, it’s all based on familiar concepts.

  26. Runs With Foxes says:

    You should aim this argument at all the self-styled game critics who sperge about Spec Ops and the emotional resonance of Mass Effect romances. They’re the ones missing the point.

    • subedii says:

      If you say so. Personally I really enjoyed Spec Ops, and that was largely in-spite of the critical reception because I read it and decided it was all probably bunk.

      Well, perhaps “enjoyed” is the wrong sort of word to use.

    • Unaco says:

      What is “the point”, exactly? You seem to have grasped it pretty well… but you don’t elaborate on it. I don’t think you can accuse others of missing “the point” so widely, yet not say what “the point” is that they are missing.

      • Runs With Foxes says:

        I’m continuing a point from the article, which you may have read.

        But that desire persistently misses the point. The great reward from Dishonored was never meant to be the story.

        (Though I wonder if Jim would excuse Spec Ops being a shit game because being darkly emotional was that game’s ‘point’.)

        • Unaco says:

          (Maybe we need Jim to elaborate on his point).

          Forgive me if I’m not reading this right… but the point is that games can’t do story worth a shit? That they can’t do anything besides mechanics and ‘gameplay’… no emotional resonance, no subjective interpretations, nothing like that.

        • Nogo says:

          I imagine John would give a pass to Spec Ops serviceable gameplay (shit is a terrible word to describe it), because the game was obviously aiming to subvert military shooter conventions for emotional resonance and actual characterization, in contrast to Dishonored’s aim obviously being rich and rewarding gameplay.

          This is no different from reviewing blockbuster movies on the barometer of ‘fun to watch’ in lieu of ‘intellectually stimulating.’

  27. Frank says:

    This reminds me of a review for Staind’s “Dysfunction” on allmusic. That was one of my favorite albums as a teenager, but the review basically identified that my tastes were very educated/refined.

    Anyway, I think plenty of accessible games also qualify as art if art can be derived from game mechanics. Tetris, Bomberman and Mario Kart all leave (limited) space for innovative tactics on the players’ part. I never got into fighting games (because I’m terrible at them and don’t really want to learn), but Sirlin the Kongai-developer has strong opinions about the higher purpose of that genre.

  28. aepervius says:

    I wonder what the woman in the original article would think of planescape torment…

  29. !Chow says:

    Great article!

  30. Dog Pants says:

    Excellent article, as can be seen by the number of equally well discussed comments. The point which struck a note with me is of the medium of inspiration in gaming rarely being the actual story. The events which fire the imagination are more base – the inevitable downfall of your best-so-far Dwarf Fortress (as shown by the Boatmurdered tale and its further inspiring of others to play), running a blockade against the odds in Eve when by all rights your most valuable ship should be so much space debris, or the events of a centuries long catastrophic war in Civilization. Interestingly too, gaming is a medium that can also cause the same kind of emotional response that sports do. The euphoric feeling of accomplishment when you win a hard game of LoL, or even complete a WoW raid for the first time. That feeling is similarly shared by spectators in professional games, as with sport. I can’t think of another medium which can both fire the inspiration like an art form while provoking immediate emotional response like a sport.

  31. Maldomel says:

    I think I understand your point, but honestly I don’t like this type of reasoning, and I’d argue that on most ‘high culture’ topics, people are just not making enough efforts, because it is far easier to say ‘I don’t get it’ rather than to research a bit of useful information, or to look into the basics.
    When you start looking deeper into things, you usually see it’s not that complicated to understand.
    Of course, there is the overall experience and time you can spend researching stuff. Most people won’t have enough time spend playing video games just to get what they are all about. But they could make an effort, if they are really interested. And it’s the same for everything you could drop into the ‘high culture’ bracket.

    So, I think that theory is not entirely wrong, but it is a very simplified and lazy way of looking at how things work, and how people react to them.

  32. Jamesworkshop says:

    I feel that the main problem is that education should really be described as background, then people wouldn’t make confused IQ analysis, when what is being discuss is ignorance, not understanding the bible severely impacts the enjoyment you can get from something like dante’s inferno, it won’t mean anything to you otherwise.

    I think in an abstract way that not having much to say, videogames do have a significance, why does this broad(new games every week) medium have so little content outside of their respective narratives and conventions, maybe it’s a trapped geek culture that rewards dillegence in the collected knowledge of minutia, something like how you are expected to just know broadly how to control and navigate in which every genre the game frames itself in.

  33. ReV_VAdAUL says:

    The FT article annoyed me, the New Statesman article articulated my annoyance better than I could and Jim’s article was good but seems to me to be feeling around the edges of something.

    This is not in any way meant to say Jim isn’t saying great and worthwhile things, I just think it is the foreshadowing of Jim having something even better to say.

    One thing I certainly hope emerges from this assertion of cultural values and games not being either all good or all bad is a greater willingness to look at the bad aspects of games. As I’ve said before, most people in the “games are art” camp is concerned with finding gaming’s Citizen Kane whereas I think we should really be looking for gaming’s Triumph of the Will or Birth of a Nation. With the increasingly egregious propaganda in games like Call of Duty we really should be worrying more about what negative impacts this specific art form is capable of rather than focusing on dismissing all the negative things it isn’t.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      “This is not in any way meant to say Jim isn’t saying great and worthwhile things, I just think it is the foreshadowing of Jim having something even better to say.”

      Possibly. I have a list of other articles I want to write, and they are all outlining something bigger, I feel, rather than hitting the nail on the head.

  34. LionsPhil says:

    The connoisseur of super-hard platform games understands what those games are about

    They’re the same kind of nutters as those who eat casu marzu.

  35. iZen says:

    Recently I am often asking myself if the “skill I have aquired spending half my life” is really worth anything. Is it helping me in my applications? What else could I have done in that 10s of thousands of hours. There are surely things that would had more use in my general life. In fact, a lot of those hours were only dedicated to the mechanics of a specific games. Having played a thousand games in League Of Legends doesn’t even get me further in other games, only in LoL. And now that I have mastered “gaming”, as provocative as that sentence may be, I come to realize she’s right. Most games are completely empty. Dull, in fact. Dishonored felt rather boring. And I can’t even tell why. Everything about that game is done right, even very good in many aspects. There is nothing I can complain about. It’s just boring. This, of course, comes down to taste, but I notice that I feel like this about a lot of games.
    The thrill of DayZ was a unique experience, but I GOT IT at some point. Wether thats earlier or later…the problem is, when you have achieved that skill to understand and grasp the mechanics of a game without tutorial in half an hour tops, there is nothing left. I don’t need to trial and experiment any more. I have played every shooter in the last 15 years, I learned to read the actions of my enemies and then interpret to get in their head, actively being able to foresee what their next step will be, and then countering it. I also spent my time on OFP through ArmA2, I know how to apply real world tactics and all that stuff. The problem is, I know everything about that. There is no experimentation in it anymore. I start a new game, I already know what to do and how to do it. And thus I master it in half an hour. When we talk CoD, well, you can of course still train 10 hours a day to get a few more milliseconds out of your twitch aim, but thats not the point, or even worth the time.
    I immensely enjoyed Xcom for maybe 30 hours. I haven’t played too many roundbased games yet, but once I finished my second run, everything was there. I knew what to do. How to tackle wich enemies, what general or specific tactics to employ. I didn’t read any forums, I did it by experience. If you fail at the beginning, the game takes a harsh route (i played only ironman mode) that becomes increasingly difficult to reroute to the right route (while your experienced soldiers die, you advance in the game wich becomes more difficult). Also I wasnt interested in tackling the higher difficulties, because it just doesnt feel like an organic challenge when on hard some low-level-enemies critshot your fully covered soldiers with a pistol over half the map. Thats artificial difficulty, and I gain nothing out of that.
    Most games I try out wont last even an hour until they are never touched again.
    So, I discovered, she’s right. Most games are just empty and boring, and the satisfaction that comes from mastering control schemes is gone as soon as you do.
    So, whats left if immersion, Multiplayer and the ability to create your own story in a world you shaped to become what it now is. Im not talking shooters only here. Company Of Heroes felt great when you first saw your Machinegunner set up his weapon in a window and go boom on the enemies.
    It was great visual and audial represantation. Skyrim had a lot to explore, and was fun, for a while. All Bethesda Games get boring the instant you saw the last location. Be there millions of mods, I don’t really care. I would’ve cared to play the first time with mods. I dont care about DLCs where you get shitty horsecombat or adopt children. Its just another line in the dialogue screen. Theres nothing behind it.
    Yesterday a friend asked me, “are there not any games out at the moment, where you can really shape your own world and write your own story during your actions?”
    He wasn’t talking of Singleplayer games with branching storylines or different endings.
    He was referring to Tibia, a game he has played for a long time, a graphical represantation that couldve been done in paint (probly was lol), that was very harsh. It was an MMO with immense Death sentences. At higher levels, you would lose 4 weeks worth of grinding on death, as well as all your inventory could be looted. So players made their own rules. You wouldnt just kill somebody for teh lulz, he would become hunted. There was lots of social interaction, players became known to everyone, in fact some ruled entire servers.
    Long story short, I answered “No, there are not.”
    Indie games either try to reinvent Pacman for nostalgia (yawn) or bite off more than they can chew, wich results in well…interesting, admirable, games, that you cant really play a lot. Mount and Blade was awesome. But it didnt tackle Severance: Blade of Darkness, wich featured a combat system never seen again since then. It was the last of an era, before controls got adapted to be graspable easily for 4-year-olds and fit on a 4-button-controller and timing and combos went entirely over to beatemups and remained only there. Severance was awesome and there is no reason it shouldve not been remade. In fact, there wasnt even anything close to it since then.
    AAA games…well. I wont comment on them. Deus Ex didnt live up to the expectations a single bit.
    I have high hopes on Chris Roberts now, Dark Souls was also great, but it was SP, truly. Once I killed the last boss I never touched it again. Because there would never emerge something new out of it.
    Mobas are somewhat interesting. Too bad all ten of them are making the EXACT SAME GAME.
    Smite tried a third person aproach, but sucked badly at the implementation.
    I have proposed a moba-style gamemode for mount and blade years ago, why does war of the roses not feature it. It has great long time potential, we see that in the numbers every day.
    But get away from childish comic grafics and little girls firing fireballs (seriously, who in gods name can identify himself with even 2% of the characters in LoL or DotA).
    Get away from top down- 4 skills each- philosophy. This is an area open for absolutely genuine experimentation, and nobody tackles it. Sins of a Dark Age will probly suck too, because they fear going a step too far in this newfound country.

    Seriously? Games are boring, and they are empty.
    Until Devs understand that MMOs are not about endless grinding, and thats not what ppl take their joy from. Its from the social interaction with other people, and in some instances, the history you create. Moments to remember.
    We can be gaming-junks all day long, we currently rarely have an argument against those who criticize us. Work your body, make a diet, go out with friends, you will get much more out of it. But it requires a lot more courage and initiative.

    • Mman says:

      “Dark Souls was also great, but it was SP, truly. Once I killed the last boss I never touched it again. Because there would never emerge something new out of it.”

      The only way a point like this makes sense is if you also think Books and Movies are only ever worth reading/watching once. Especially in the case of a game like Dark Souls that can be replayed in fundamentally different ways and likely has whole bits of content you missed.

    • JackShandy says:

      “Recently I am often asking myself if the “skill I have aquired spending half my life” is really worth anything. ”

      In order to be useless, the videogames you’ve been playing would have had to invent skills that are used by nothing else in existence. I consider this impossible.

    • iZen says:

      I know what Dark Souls has to offer. But 95% of what I’ve seen is what I’ll get in the next playthrough. Im not saying its pointless, DS is way better and theres way more reason to keep playing than most other games! Also Im not playing a different character just to play a different character. I made the character I like the most in the first playthrough. I know that because of my experience ;)

      And I certainly hope those skills are not useless, and Im sure they arent (completely). But they are not as all-encompassing or universally applicable as the skills you might have gained spending your free time elsewhere.

      I dont wanna be the gaming-midlife-crisisy guy here, Im just thinking.

      • NathanH says:

        I think that if you are looking at gaming as something that develops skills and abilities you can apply elsewhere then you’re probably missing the point. Not to say that it doesn’t involve skills and abilities that you can apply elsewhere, just that the idea that something you do has to develop skills and abilities you can use elsewhere is poisonous. Rather than trying to argue that things you do in gaming is useful outside gaming, I want to argue that simply doing something intrinsically enjoyable to you is just worth doing, regardless of what it means for you more globally.

        Perhaps you are a practical person and find the idea of gaming to be fundamentally trivial and silly. I don’t want to deride anyone who holds that opinion; that’s their identity and they’re welcome to it, it is not for me to criticize or try to persuade otherwise. But if you’ve played a lot of games as you say, I’m not sure you are this sort of person. I think there are a lot of people who feel guilty about playing games not because they think it’s a waste of time but social norms suggest to them that it’s a waste of time and they’re not confident enough in their own lifestyle to say “fuck off social norms, I don’t want to play by your rules”. If you are that sort of person, I suggest you say “fuck off social norms, I don’t want to play by your rules”, and get on with doing what you *know* to be what you want to do, even if you can’t justify it to other people who don’t agree.

        Perhaps you are not that sort of person, I don’t know, it’s not my intention to judge or lecture. You know yourself better than I do, no doubt. I just wanted to add a possibility that I suffered myself for a time but have escaped from.

      • Mman says:

        “Do you think Books and Movies are only ever worth reading/watching once?”

        You didn’t answer this part of my post (changed slightly to make it more of a question). If your answer is “yes”, I don’t agree with that philosophy but if that’s how it works for you then okay. If the answer is “no” then, to put it how you just did, this is nothing more than double-standard “gamer mid-life crisis” stuff.

        • iZen says:

          That really depends TBH. In general though, I like watching a movie/reading a book I have not seen before over one I already know. There are exceptions for very good movies, but they are, of course, rare. And they come into play when there is no movie I havent seen yet (that somewhat fits my interest-cluster). Usually I consider myself a mature player and I am not ashamed of what I do (to the contrary). Maybe though, you guys are right and Im just fed up. Interesting enough though, I feel the same about my other hobby, which I have also pursued for a rather long time by now.
          Thank you for your insightful posts!

          • Mman says:

            Fine then, that’s close enough to “yes” that I’ll accept it as that :) .

    • Apolloin says:

      I think I see what your problem is and it has more to do with you being toweringly tedious than anything else. Really. What a lot of words you used to say that you burned out on a hobby!

      Nice advice you’ve given, but I have to wonder how much it applies to somebody without your acquired level of digital ennui.

      Somebody else mentioned the question of consuming linear media more than once. I find I often do that – less for the unfolding narrative and more because of the emotions and ideas that these stories trigger in me. Playing games works along the same lines. Some of it is to do with establishing and perfecting a system – especially in games like Dwarf Fortress or the new Prison Architect, in short there is a mechanical/mental challenge to be faced.

  36. JackShandy says:

    Audience sizes are always going to descend in roughly this order:

    1. Music.
    2. Film.
    3. Literature.
    4. Videogames
    5. Tabletop games.

    Games are always going to have a smaller audience than film, because it’s easier to watch a movie than it is to complete a game. The sooner we accept that that doesn’t make gaming less worthwhile, the sooner we can all get on with our lives. Inviting a non-gamer to give out game awards is such high school thinking, like we need to be popular to be successful.

    • NathanH says:

      Sport first, perhaps?

      I think it’s good to get a non-gamer opinion on things from time to time, the important thing is not to feel guilty or insecure if they say “lol, this is crap” because that’s both a valid opinion and one we don’t give a shit about.

      • JackShandy says:

        Sports are above videogames right now, but I don’t think that state of affairs will necessarily hold true forever. Comic books are more approachable than books, and videogames are about as approachable as sports, but they’re currently stuck in backwards order due to weird cultural stuff. No idea if that will keep being true, but it doesn’t seem like there’s anything stopping it from changing.

  37. daphne says:

    I have a simple metric for assessing games’ significance as cultural objects.

    “If I was spectating someone playing this game, would it seem frivolous to me?”

    It turns out that most games satisfy this criteria. Even Day ” It was about what people do when their actions are mediated through a simulation of zombie apocalypse” Z, in which “what peaple do” is again, comically restricted to the barrel of a gun.

    You may call up on your vast experience in the various genres of gaming as you play other games (and I do), but it will not resonate with others, and that will not render gaming high culture, in the same way that knowing the most intricate way of enjoying a good beer is also not high culture.

    • JackShandy says:

      Judging a game by how good it is when you aren’t playing it seems to miss the point of the medium.

      • daphne says:

        I’m not judging the game’s “goodness”. I’m judging its gravity, I’m judging whether it’s something that warrants taking it with a degree of seriousness, I’m judging whether it can truly inspire thoughtful contemplation beyond its mechanical aspects (the so called “great reward” Jim alludes to, which is actually not games-exclusive).

        Most great games fail this test. Most games that are about something are also about some fantasy. Day Z, Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Call of Duty, Skyrim, Thief, Deus Ex, Bloodlines, Fallout, Dishonored, XCOM…. Any passes? Sure. Minecraft, with its immediate encouragement of curious tinkering, celebrating the creative act, never ashamed of being a game. Journey, with its emphasis on the other person. Amnesia, with the genuine fear it induces in the person playing.

        Most games are just games. Sorry.

        • NathanH says:

          That you don’t consider “just games” as cultural objects shows that you are in the thrall of standard cultural norms rather than saying anything about games.

          My main counter-argument would be that while you are playing a game you are actively involved in creating the story-of-the-game whereas when you are just watching it you are just watching it. If i was a slave to standard cultural norms I would say that the experience of creating the story-of-the-game (as you do every time you play a game) is clearly a creative artistic experience and therefore more culturally and artistically worthwhile than the simple consuming of art as found in more limited media such as books or films. But I am not full of shit so I wouldn’t say that.

          • daphne says:

            There’s no need to make cute, half-baked accusations like “being in the thrall of standard cultural norms”, come on. And I don’t discard just games as cultural objects, because they are, but I see them as far removed from their potential. And (as a gamer of 15+ years, mind you) I don’t appreciate games being called “high culture” when the commonly cited other cultural object types (music, movies, books) also offer the same “active process” that apparently qualifies games to be “high culture” — they, too, can be mechanically analyzed in the same way Dishonored is, with great enjoyment.

            The principle difference is that with the other types, with their good examples there is often also an emotional, or some other associative connection in addition to their mechanical strengths. I feel that the majority of games do not provide this. The three games I mentioned above, in my opinion, are examples of a few that are exceptions (and I would argue the Walking Dead games are also contenders), so there is some hope. But citing Day Z instead of TWD an example is just misguided, I feel. Persistently missing the point, as it were — and surely the consideration of games as cultural objects is still something that is unresolved, from a point of discourse.

          • NathanH says:

            It’s amusing that you deny you’re in the thrall of cultural norms, and then criticize games for not adhering to the cultural norms that you’re in the thrall of.

          • daphne says:

            I’m not denying anything, I’m just calling the accusation unneeded. If you feel that my being a thrall (or not) changes anything about what I’m saying, that’s your problem — and a unhealthy way of approaching online discourse.

          • JackShandy says:

            “(music, movies, books) also offer the same “active process” that apparently qualifies games to be “high culture” — they, too, can be mechanically analyzed in the same way Dishonored is, with great enjoyment.”

            Could you explain this further? How can movies, music and books change based on user input?

          • daphne says:

            [This response does not take into consideration your edit, JackShandy, as it coincided with my writing the post. See the addendum below I just added]

            JackShandy, consider movies: By now, the art form has pretty much evolved to possess its own language. It’s quite possible to dissect a film in terms of the various types of shots used, the colors used, lighting and the focus, its sound design, the locations and actors’ affect. It is possible to take apart the editing, the montage, And then this analysis can be combined with a discussion on the authorial intent, and how the various elements and this intent combine to act on and manipulate the viewer’s experience. Note that this is all before any kind of subtext or “message” analysis. It’s the most basic, crudest of analyses.

            Celebrating Dishonored for its immersiveness, or Day Z for its emergent properties is, I find, a very similar endeavour. It is an elementary step, a mere word in the language of games that haven’t yet formed, because most games so far, even good ones, are babies. And that’s why I’m against prematurely calling games high culture.

            ADDENDUM: With respect to your edit, I have not made any claims regarding how movies or music change on user input and you are misrepresenting me — you may disagree with me, but why assume I am stupid? Games are games because they are interactive, I don’t disagree with that. I am only describing the similarities of the analysis processes relating to both games and the others.

          • JackShandy says:

            I don’t assume you are stupid. You wrote that other genres, such as film, could be analyzed in the same way that you can analyze Dishonoured. It’s obvious that you cannot analyze the way a film changes based on user input. Thus, there’s at least one way you can analyze Dishonoured that you cannot analyze a film, and your statement was false.

            edit: I understand now that you were referring to the mechanical analysis of technical issues. You’re right; it’s obviously not a type of analysis inherent to the medium of games, and not the most important part of games criticism.

          • daphne says:

            [again, I missed your edit — sorry! :)]

            Well — yeah, but that’s kind of obvious, is it not? Each cultural artifact type has different mechanical properties that can be discussed, after all. My point is that the other types also provide plenty of mechanical discussion points, and as such are not dissimilar to games from that issue.

          • JackShandy says:

            You don’t consider analyzing interaction to be fundamentally different to analyzing the lighting, color and focus of a film?

            The other thing is: games include every other medium in them. They often have books, comics and films inside them. You can analyze them as those media, and analyze interaction on top of that.

        • Bhazor says:

          Have you ever seen opera or modern dance? It looks absolutely ridiculous.

          A bunch of gay people jumping up and down? How is that art?

          • Unaco says:

            Why is it not art? And what the f*ck does the sexuality of the performers have to do with it being art or not?

          • Dominic White says:

            Unaco, I think he was being just a *teensy* bit sarcastic.

          • Unaco says:

            Really doesn’t read that way to me.

          • Bhazor says:

            His point was basically “does it look meaningful”. My point was that by that standard ballet, opera, modern dance all look ridiculous and so have no cultural value at all.

            This is something we call sarcasm in England.

          • Unaco says:

            Yeah… Right… Of course it was Bhazor. And the sexuality of the performers? Why bring that up?

          • Bhazor says:

            It was something we call sarcasm.

          • Unaco says:

            Yeah… Right… Of course it was Bhazor. (Hint: this is also called sarcasm).

        • JackShandy says:

          “I’m not judging the game’s “goodness””

          Ah, then this is where we part ways. I believe games should only be judged on their Goodness, and all other concerns are secondary (Gravity, Social justice, non-gamer appeal, etc). If you are valuing something else above quality I believe you have made a misstep.

  38. Bobtree says:

    High and Low culture are rather poor labels. What if we said Demanding culture and Casual culture instead, to better reflect the spectrum of accessibility?

    • Hastur says:

      Good suggestions. “High” and “Low” are too loaded, and direct conversation about the topic down the wrong path.

  39. The_Great_Skratsby says:

    Games aren’t any one thing. Reductive attitudes are absurd, as is lumping any other media into the same category, from Piss Christ to Transformers 2.

    But unfamiliarity encourages it, and it’s a shame people often can’t see past that at all.

  40. Bhazor says:

    I think the best analogy is comparing videogames to fine wine.
    A regular diner might enjoy a good drink with their meal but it takes a connoisseur to appreciate it.

    The analogy also works on games as art. In terms of artistic value does a wine have to question the nature of humanity to be classed as art? Or is simply being very good at what it is enough?

    • the_p says:

      Bleh. Would you have to be an expert on film to appreciate great cinema?

        • the_p says:

          Really? Isn’t there a reason so many people love great films?

          • Bhazor says:

            .. because they’ve grown up watching films. They are experts in film.

            If you showed Citizen Kane to a tribesman from the heart of the Amazon rainforest would he appreciate it the same way you would?

          • the_p says:

            Wuhbleh? These comparisons are going strange places. If you showed Citizen Kane to a tribesman from the heart of the Amazon rainforest he’d probably have no idea of how you’d made moving pictures happen.

            People aren’t film experts because they’ve grown up watching films no more than people are wine connosieurs because they’ve grown up drinking liquids. The wine distinction is: someone who recreationally drinks wine versus someone who makes a point of knowing things about wine. With films, the difference would be between someone who watches films on TV and a film critic, no?

          • JackShandy says:

            Yes, but a non-gamer has never played a game. They’re in the same place as the amazonian tribesman.

          • the_p says:

            Oh cripes. I think I’ll just go outside.

    • The Random One says:

      Hmmm, yes, games are a lot like wine.

      An experiment showed that even experienced sommeliers will think two cups of the same wine are very different in quality if they are told one of them is an expensive vintage wine. And according to my teacher at college, wineries send 80% of their production to supermarkets to be sold as table wine, and 20% with different packaging to specialty shops to be sold as fancy wine, and people can’t tell they’re being ripped off.

      Just like most gamers think a dull $60 corridor shooter is better than a quirky free game.

  41. Ateius says:

    Count on Rossignol to raise the bar of gaming journalism again. A great read, this, with plenty to think about.

    • Dances to Podcasts says:

      I’m not sure I’d call this journalism. Criticism, yes. Journalism is a word that reminds me of scoops, sources, meetings in parking lots. You know, the kind of thing that doesn’t often happen in the game world. Not even here.

  42. DickSocrates says:

    “The fiction might have been weak, but who cares when what were were doing was indulging in the atmospherics and toying with the models and processes that make the game world tick?”

    We should care because it would have made the total experience more satisfying, and the bar shouldn’t be left lying on the floor just because people are prepared to step over it. Aren’t we beyond ‘real’ games having flimsy set ups to justify carnage? It’s no longer a miracle that we have 3D environments to explore. Bad writing and plotting is just that, doing better is a question of hiring the right people. I wouldn’t hire anyone who has won an award for comic book writing.

    • JackShandy says:

      Setting is what matters in games, not set up. Dishonoured has a wonderful place and an irrelevant plot.

    • Kilometrik says:

      So you wouldn’t hire Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Warren Ellis….. JOKE OPINION!

  43. duncan_is_me says:

    Why are all you self-professed “gamers” so obsessed with acceptance from people who have no interest in it? Why the need to have games labelled as art, or high culture?

    Sure, there are such things as high and low culture – and video games are low culture. It’s not a bad thing, either. Low culture is defined by accessibility and enjoyability. Most things described as high culture are relics of past low-culture entertainments, redefined by a measure of financial (or occasionally intellectual) exclusivity. A steep initial learning curve to a game doesn’t

    The first linked article is not particularly terrible, and shouldn’t be as insulting as gaming culture seems to have decided it is. Someone who has never really been interested in games tried some, liked a couple, disliked a couple (and those opinions were in line with opinions expressed on this very blog), and in the end wasn’t converted. That was the most likely outcome, from the start. Our interests (in culture – books, music, art, whether or not we are interested in any of those) tend to reflect our backgrounds and upbringings. This article could have been written about someone trying any new form of culture (again, books, music, food, anything) and finding that they’re happier with what they already know.
    This could only be interpreted as insulting if you read it with the belief that the only conclusion could be one that was in line with your own opinion.

    The second article is not so good. The author lashes out at a perceived insult, awkwardly cobbles together half-formed arguments, and misses the point of the original process entirely. An award was established, on the premise of being judged by people with no previous experience with the subject. Why attack someone for simply doing what they were asked to do, within that context?

    The thesis in this article – that it takes a lot of practice to become skilled at playing some games, and this makes Eve Online analogous to La Traviata – is also flawed. You’re comparing two completely disparate things, and playing right into the practice you all seem to dislike so much. Why the need to justify your interests as comparable to those you perceive to be “better”? This only matters to you because of your own sense of inferiority.

    Two points:
    1 – 95% of journalism is crass, poorly written, poorly thought out, and commercially driven. Gaming is no different from literature, music, or film in this regard. Fear-mongering articles are written to sell media (newspapers, magazines, online subscriptions, etc), and make money. There are plenty of accusations floating around about violence in other mediums, as well. The masses (ie. all those with no interest in any given subject) will have poorly considered opinions, the uninterested will always outnumber the interested, and the goal of capitalism is to make money (and clearly, more money can be made by catering to the wider market).
    2 – There is no need to be concerned by the opinion of those who do not share your interest. Opera buffs should not be concerned by what gamers think of opera, why should gamers be concerned about what opera buffs think of games?

    In summation – don’t be so damn thin-skinned.

    • Kilometrik says:

      The answer to “why should we be concerned with games being art, etc, etc, etc” Is easy. Most people let themselves be identified by an easy label. Gamers play videogames, enjoy them participate in gamer culture, etc. Some people are more interesting, nuanced and with more dimensions than that. I consider myself a gaming enthusiast. I love games, but i’m not part of the “gamer culture”. I don’t partake on their rites or opinions. In fact, sometimes, i enjoy more movies, books and music than games. I get more experience and engagement out of them and would love if games could provide me an experience as deep and engrossing on an intelectual and emotional level as some of my personal favorite art pieces. And i love it when they do. And would totally love them more if they did that more often than they do.

    • Pindie says:

      Opera fans, art connoisseurs and Jazz fanatics are all respected. They are not diminished as immature or primitive.
      Nobody understands them, nobody can write about their hobby, but at the same time nobody writes about them in disrespectful, dismissive and ignorant fashion at the same time using authority in an irrelevant field to buff up their own credibility.

      I can guarantee you if a major site published an article on Jazz music and wrote something to the effect of “I tried it for 15 minutes and got a headache” there would be an uproar.

  44. The Random One says:

    Personally, I have my own point of view as to what separates high culture from low culture – even if I readily admit that’s an academical distinction that shouldn’t guide one’s decisions as to what to consume, and especially not to judge people as to what they consume.

    Low culture is anything that can be taken at face value. High culture is anything that needs to be read between the lines.

    Under that definition, no, video games are not high culture. There are almost no video games that require any effort to understand their deeper meaning, mechanical or otherwise. Spec Ops wears its allegory on its sleeve: while it can technically be enjoyed as Yet Another GOW Clone, its anti-war (or rather, anti-war-as-super-fun-video-game) stance is being blared towards the player. Braid has some deeper significance, but it doesn’t have any shallow significance; if you don’t understand the game as an allegory, you don’t understand the game at all. So you’re not really reading between the lines as there are no lines for the game to be between.

    GTA games are the only ones that approach ‘high’ culture by my definition. You can (and most do) enjoy the game as a pedestrian murderer simulator and just drive cars off cliffs for six hours while listening to songs from a previous decade. But anyone paying a minimum of attention to the setting will notice what a grim commentary on American society it is. It’s not very hard to notice, and it’s not very deep or revolutionary, but it’s there.

    • Grayvern says:

      Is authorial intent more important than audience interpretation and does connotation magically not happen because the author(s) didn’t stamp their size eleven’s in the soft mud.

  45. Igor Hardy says:

    I don’t like the way games are generalized in the article.

    First of all, meaning does not necessarily come from a storyline, so the fact that the plot doesn’t matter for a particular game is a poor excuse for why it doesn’t have meaning.

    Secondly, why obsess about that there’s some kind of restrictive paradigm(s) that games (including chess) share in what they are supposed to be? I prefer the designers to be free to add all the meaning they want.

    “It was meant to be taking your existing familiarity and skill with medium of controlling first-person perspective games and using it to explore the systems and challenges laid out by the game designers. Mastering these, performing feats of stealth or supernatural combat, and relishing the results, is what matters here.”

    This sounds exactly like the kind of game that has nothing important to say. And of course that doesn’t mean it’s worthless. It doesn’t have meaning, but it has other desirable qualities (rewards). It’s not representative of everything that games can be though.

  46. LionsPhil says:

    Something something insecurity over just plain enjoying oneself with some diverting frivolity; has to have strong (faux-)intellectual bent to justify expendature of time.

    Not even slightly restricted to games.

    • Raiyan 1.0 says:

      The term ‘insecurity’ is thrown around too liberally these days.

  47. fooga44 says:

    Games are not movies, everyone who talks about “games as art” doesn’t get games. Games are something you participate in. They are fundamentally different from novels and movies since you are participating.

    That and I’d venture even most expert gamers and developers can’t talk about videogames in a “high culture way” because the way genre’s have been defined are completely and totally arbitrary. Most game genre’s are mere arbitrary categories. If you were to talk seriously about games you’d have to seek mathematical and thematic relationships running through all games.

    There are tonnes of similarities between “Genre’s” the many gamers think are TOTALLY DIFFERENT. Just look at all the whining by RPG players when Dragon Age 2 came out, the only fundamental difference between Origins and DA2 is DA2 has faster autocombat and more cool animations.

    Everything the average Dragon age origins player whines about is just proof that gamers generally speaking are blithering idiots (they don’t know what they don’t know about games).

  48. MadTinkerer says:

    “And that is because, in this instance, we are the highly educated elite.”

    Well duh. Otherwise the Call of Duty series would have a better inventory system, environmental puzzles, and character interaction. And Xboxes would come with mice and keyboards.

  49. Hoaxfish says:

    Someone has probably said this already, but…

    Games basically exist in a space between foreign languages and entertainment.

    Film, books, music, etc have existed for many centuries, and are basically ingrained into our culture. From birth everyone experiences those things, and by the time they’re an adult they have a passing familiarity… along with their own preference of “flavour” (action films, romance novels, etc)

    Right now, computer games are still a relatively new cultural space (as are computers in general). My parents have never touched a game, my sister has occasionally played some of my games while we were growing up, etc.

    If someone wants to get into games, they basically have to “learn the language”. In the same way you might start learning French by reading French picture books for kids (because that is your level when you start), you might want to learn some basic FPS controls in one of the more generic games (since you can no longer read the non-existent manuals).

    The “grammar/vocabulary” rules might be arbitrary in a lot of case, and often unique for specific games, but nobody is going to learn it overnight. Some may never try to read anything more complex than “Harry Potter”, but nobody is going to master every aspect of culture anyway.

    Eventually, as games continue to exist in our culture, people will be “well read” in gaming, just as much as they are in film, books, etc.

  50. MavisWren says:

    Kellaway wrote a poor article on something she knows nothing about, which she admitted right up front. The thing I don’t understand is the university project’s goal to: “get people talking about them [games] in the same way they might about Ian McEwan’s latest novel or the new Woody Allen movie”. What people are they hoping will have these kinds of conversations? Surely not gamers? We’re not a homogeneous lot, are we? Those of us who are the type of people to engage in those analyses are doing so already. We don’t need Puttnam and Kellaway et al to motivate us.