Blog Post 4: The Video Game Effect

We’ve thrown around the idea of better games, and how a way to resist the the current video game industry is by possibly creating our own games. I wanted to look deeper into this idea of a critical game, or a more ‘deep’ game that could potential cause change starting within the industry.

After talking about Dear Esther and hearing about games like Spec Ops: The Line, it made me think about the games that had the most profound impact on me. Often, they weren’t showy or gorey or even very literal – the most hard hitting games were the ones where the meaning was more complex, and that left me with something unsettling that I had to digest on my own.

I reintroduced myself to this game recently – it’s very frustrating, but short enough that I don’t get all ragey about it. You spend so much time and so much error, and then you’re left so…unsatisfied. The meaning behind this game might not be as politically obvious like American Dream or the game Thomas posted a few days ago, Every Day the Same Dream, or purposefully upsetting, but I find this to be an interesting starting point for change within the industry.

In the Super Meat Boy demo, we talked about how Edmund and Tommy were angry and upset about the mainstream game industry, and, as T.L. Taylor would say, they wanted to go “start their own party.” Their game in itself was an act of resistance, but that resistance was also demonstrated in the game and gameplay. When thinking about the things I want to be different about the video game industry, I had this thought: What if there was a game that made people feel how I feel as a female playing games like Call of Duty? Or made the player sympathetic to another discriminated demographic.

This coincides with our discussion on ways to change the industry that are achievable and reasonable on an individual basis. I may not be able to make a game as successful as those featured in Indie Game: The Movie, but I can use the game as a tool to create something meaningful, profound, and that will leave a lasting impression on the audience it does reach.

I’m looking forward to our class tomorrow where we get introduced to Scratch – I don’t expect to see immediate change, but I do hope that my response to that class will be able to connect back to the ideas in this post. As seen in a game like Lim, there can be meaning in even the most minimalist ideas, and I think the key to change on a larger scale is believing that games like that on a small scale can eventually grow into something more.

I’m done being idealistic (at least for this post), and if you didn’t have enough games to depress you, here’s one more.

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2 Responses to Blog Post 4: The Video Game Effect

  1. dargan99 says:

    I like KJ’s approach to minimalism, as I felt very much the same way while playing Braid. I feel as though sometimes a game can be likened to an interactive visual medium through which authors write their particular style of literature. To make an example of that statement, I would relate World of Warcraft to a multi-series fantasy novel. There’s an dizzying amount of lore, character interaction, and plot development. Meanwhile, games like Braid or Air Pressure would be likened to that of a haiku: short and seemingly simple, yet rich with implied meanings and personal interpretations.

    In his work “Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals”, Hiroki Azuma discusses the unique role of novel games in contemporary Japanese popular culture. A novel game can be described as a text-based role-playing game in which the conversation choices made by the player affect the outcome of the game (which usually involves a romantic consummation between the protagonist and a female interest). These games, in which the action taken by the player is almost solely choosing preset responses to NPC interactions, are very short and simplistic when compared to high-quality, action packed shoot-em-up games like “Halo” or “Call of Duty”. Yet this does not make novel games any less important when considering how video games both produce and reflect popular culture.

    John Schmor, of the UO Department of Theatre Arts, considers certain classics like “Hamlet” or “Grapes of Wrath” to have been beaten to death in public education through exhaustive over-analysis. Although his opinions towards certain works of literature are (for obvious reasons) very subjective, I tend to agree. The classics in literature do have a lot to teach students about perceptions of history, culture, and social values, but they lack in how they can be used to approach contemporary social issues. Video games, as a considerably accessible and popular form of social media, have enormous potential to be used as reflections of perceived social problems: they could very well educate while they entertain. They might not be as popular as “Halo”, but I have a feeling they’d be much more popular than “Grapes of Wrath”. As KJ said, games produced for this purpose don’t have to be incredible multi-platform “9 out of 10” blockbuster hits; they simply have to leave a profound effect on the audience they do reach. We’ve discussed many times in class the importance of small efforts to produce social change, and I think this is a perfect opportunity for independent video games to make a contribution.

  2. cstabile says:

    Keep in mind that the makers of Braid weren’t issuing a political challenge per se to games and gaming. They just wanted creative freedom. They didn’t want to change the world. In a sense, they wanted access to mainstream audiences. That’s not to minimize the importance and beauty of the game, but it is a different kind of intervention.

    P. reminded me about the importance and cultural work of canons, too. And there is an emerging canon of “great” videogames: Shadow of the Colossus (which we didn’t get to talk about), Braid, Portal, etc. The problem with canons is this: someone’s determining what’s “great” enough to include in the canon and that’s really a matter of perspective.

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