Games are something.
For years there’s been the question; are games art? An ultimately useless question in my opinion, but one that won’t go away because people still aim to prove they are, giving the idea they aren’t already, and they are the person to make everyone else see. Art is undefined, people find binary concepts comforting, as a way to understand something because yes and no are simple to understand. Art isn’t a yes or no question, it has no answer. It’s silly to think that games have to fall under the same definition that a painting would have as to what classifies it as ‘art’, but the most prominent figures in the games industry right now only relate ‘art’ to one thing, film.
Roger Ebert always claimed games could never be art and because a lot of game directors looked towards the film industry for validation, they took this very seriously. As if the praise of one man meant games could finally mean something, as if they hadn’t for years already. The goal to be considered art as the same way films are. It feels like one man gave multiple men in the industry an inferiority complex and for years we’ve seen them to try and prove that the medium is art. Prove it to a dead man.
It’s almost laughable to see well known Game Director, Cliff Bleszkinski take the opportunity to take someone’s death and use it to promote something like Bioshock Infinite. But hey, the industry has never been above this stuff. Art is undefined, but it is incredibly funny that at the time Bioshock Infinite was seen as the art we’d been waiting for so long. The game that was so cowardly it couldn’t even denounce racism, instead it just said it’s just as bad as fighting against racism. Bioshock Infinite is art, but art does not inherent worth simply because it is deemed art. Infinite is art, it is art in the way we should analyse it for the mess it is, art in the way it shows that white people have no real understanding of racism, oppression.
I, with a lot of other people, am completely perplexed by games, something that I have taken a lot of solace in during my life I find so utterly baffling, annoying, funny. In the years they have existed for and the time I’ve had with them, I have no real knowledge of what games are and that is most of the time something I admire. They are, yes, undefined. They can be anything, but it is very, not sure what word to use honestly, annoying? I guess? That the medium is being pushed into the idea that games are x or y. Games have to resemble films in format and how stories are told, games have to be shooters or else they aren’t a game. That have to be visually realistic or the medium isn’t moving forward. Games have to be fun. Again, people take comfort in binary concepts, it’s why something as complex as life is given the idea of Heaven and Hell. People take comfort in those ideas, it gives them an understanding and understanding helps us feel grounded. For games there is the idea of what is and isn’t a game, it’s mind numbing honestly because it shows no real respect for the medium.
A headline from The New York Times. Already from the sub-header a game is compared to TV and film, there cannot be a space for any. It has to be one of them that is the ultimate art, all within the same dull box. Same as Bioshock Infinite, Red Dead Redemption 2 is art, true art is up to the person. But it is another piece of art that should be analysed as to how badly it falters in storytelling and design. This isn’t going to become a piece about ludo-narrative dissonance because there are already hundreds of pieces about that from people who understand it better than me. RDR2 aims to be a game about the relentless progress of humans and how they destroy for that progress, it aims to be about how nature was destroyed for machinery. I see a game more focused on how nature should be used to be killed differently, to be hunted and scavenged without mercy. A story that aims to discuss how we should respect nature and be more aware of it with gameplay that rewards the player for killing as many animals as you can, not what I’d consider true art.
“It’s a game, in other words, that implicitly tells its players to grow up — and it’s as sure a sign as any that video games are starting to do just that.” An excerpt from the same article. I touched upon this in a different piece that to me games haven’t come as far as some might consider. Games are still just as fixated on violence as a storytelling tool, trauma used a gateway. People’s suffering as a means to tell a story they have no grasp on, no real understanding of. It’s like hearing a story coming down the line of ten (10) people that’s been altered from person to person and when you finally hear it yourself, you make a game about it pretending you understand the original meaning.
Games love violence for the fact it cannot escape it. Some creators want to give the idea that they have grown past the concept of the need for it in their games. That they have moved on and matured, then direct a game that has a skill tree so you can kill better. God of War (2018) is a game that is about parenthood and that we should move past violence, but the game centres itself around the violence. You progress through violence, it revels in gore and the detail the game goes into show you this gore doesn’t give the idea that it sees past the need for it. It is the same trap many games have fallen into, it berates the player for killing when that killing is necessary to the very design of the game. Games can’t move past telling stories through violence and exploring the same tiring themes within it. God of War is not a game that should be taking a stance on violence when it’s a series historically known for its obsession of it, either create a new IP that isn’t or keep making God of War the blood captivated game it is. Don’t pretend it can be something else.
What more perfect example of a game that gives the idea it hates violence but revels in as The Last of Us Part II. The Last of Us Part II is the same boring story of revenge that has been told multiple times, it uses violence to talk down to the player when that violence is necessary within the game. It is unavoidable. Trauma is a tool for the sake of telling a story. It is about how people turn on each other during a pandemic and for a game that came out during a pandemic where communities were coming together to help each other, it shows it has no real bearing.
Not to spend too much time on this game because it isn’t worth it and again; there’s people smarter than me who have talked about this game. It is a corrupt game from within, including it’s development. Most people are commonly aware of work culture at Naughty Dog and that The Last of Us Part II could never escape that toxic culture and it is ultimately an issue that is seemingly more apart of games than say, sound design. The industry relies on this way of working that is incredibly damaging to achieve things that aren’t really worth it. One would consider The Last of Us Part II a technical achievement for gaming, but I don’t aim to marvel at anything that used human suffering to be produced. It is an unsustainable approach to creating games. A lot of games are focused on pushing the envelope instead of optimising the way they are made.
People always want a reason to be sold on something and visuals are among the biggest selling points for people. It’s easy to market something as the most ambitious to sell more copies, consoles. Because of this games tend to be put into a corner for whenever they resemble anything that could be considered old visually. This is mostly the fault of people who are in power and would rather keep a one way mirror up in front of developers. You get no idea of how games are developed, because higher ups don’t want you to understand humans are suffering for the art. It’s sad because it results in developers for being at the blame of something that isn’t their fault.
Visuals aren’t amazing, they’re lazy, they don’t care for the art. People have the idea that because a game is in development for five (5) years that it must be a perfect product, not knowing how game development really goes. They generally have no concept of what usually goes on, at the fault of publishers and others in power. Halo Infinite is the most recent game to be slanted for the screenshot above, it is expected to be visually realistic by consumers because it has been in development for so long, whilst they’re unaware of what’s actually been happening in development. Visuals haven’t been an issue for 343 Industries previously, so it’s odd for people to jump to the idea they cut back on the game for the Xbox One version when Halo 5 already exists. What I’d consider the most visually clean Halo since Halo 3 is a bad piece of capitalism because it doesn’t look like Killzone: Shadowfall.
Consumers don’t want developers to crunch but they want them to be creating products that would require it in the time frame it’d be releasing. Same with people in games media.
I don’t think game critique is something that is all that prominent in games media, mainly product analysis is what exists. I find it a side of gaming that has the opportunity to do good, but generally doesn’t want to. Ubisoft has been a popular company as of late for no good reason whatsoever. It is a company that is rotten to the core with sexual misconduct, it is a place that is riddled with creeps and abusers who should have no place in society, let alone a fucking company as big as Ubisoft. It is yet another side of the industry that hasn’t disappeared and seems unwilling to change itself, it is unimportant how you feel about the games they create, no company should be housing people like this, but they continuously do and games media doesn’t know how to talk about it. In any substantial way at least.
They are able to report on what is happening but they don’t want to stop talking about the games. A lot of what was happening with Ubisoft was happening just before their virtual game presentation, Ubisoft Forward. At the time games suddenly leak and it’s hard to think about the timing and not think Ubisoft had something to do with it. Hyper Scape, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla both leak during this time, perhaps to distract people from what is happening? Who knows but it surely pleased some higher ups as what did media sites do? They reported on the leaks, they stopped talking about the abuse to talk about yet another battle royale shooter. When it came time to the presentation what did sites do? They talked about the games yet again, without talking about the abusers inside Ubisoft. Not how they were allowed to retire with full benefits, how Watch Dogs Legion will have ray-tracing. How Far Cry 6 will continue the tradition of being a series that doesn’t respect the locations they are based on and how outsiders are needed to sort third world countries problems. Games media is more complicit in the activity than they’d care to say, at a point I might’ve held back on saying that, but I’m tired of the industry and how games media can’t talk about something for longer than a week. It’s like how black lives matter to white people for a week whenever a black person dies, after that week we go back to talking about whatever it was we were talking about.
Don’t give yourself the idea that a CEO would tell the truth when they can lie to save their own ass. An industry of snakes.
An article will come out about how games are hell to make and how said game is directed by an abuser, but when that game comes out it is given a 9/10 because that story about abuse was so good. They’ll talk about how Cyberpunk 2077 caused developers to suffer the worst of crunch, known as death march to those in the industry but when it releases it’ll be praised because that xenophobia was so damn cool. Similar to some of the people actually developing the game, games media seemingly has no understanding of what Cyberpunk is but because it’s being made by the people who made Witcher 3 it’s going to be good.
I’d be very surprised if Cyberpunk 2077 actually included the “punk” part of the genre in the final game because of how it constantly bends backwards to appease to real life billionaires is very odd? Maybe unsurprising is another word for it. Cyberpunk 2077 at it’s core is a game that cannot escape the hole it is in, it should be a game against capitalism but it being thrown into a capitalist world to serve its purpose of being a product sold under that ideal. It’s a million dollar game appealing to billionaires such as Elon Musk, it is devoid of what the genre should be about.
Games try to escape the past they have but just find new ways to show those old problems. Tomb Raider is a series that is very well known for its past with how it depicted Lara Croft to appeal to men. She was on the cover of Playboy, a video game character, she was nothing more than a product by men for men and that she is praised as a badass woman in games is laughable. I don’t think the newer Tomb Raider games are all that great, Lara Croft is still very much at the mercy of the players just as she was originally, it’s just different now. Women trauma seems to be the only way people in the industry know how to write women, Lara Croft is continuously at the mercy of the writers, she has three (3) whole new games dedicated to her suffering. They are torture porn, she dies in grotesque ways for the player and the player can abuse that by killing her multiple times, for their pleasure. I don’t see a series that cares about a woman character, I see a series that decided to abuse a woman character and mask it as progressive and funnily enough it worked because her chest wasn’t the same size anymore.
Whenever a trans character exists in a game they are written by a cis person and because cis people don’t understand trans people they write them to be traumatised by transphobia and hate. So that same cis writer can then say “no, transphobia is wrong”, to pat them self on the back, because nothing says ally such as a cis person not wanting to do the work and raise the voice of trans people, instead raise themselves above them because they did the bare minimum. Men writing women and saying it’s wrong to be sexist. White people writing black characters and saying it’s wrong to be racist. The industry does not want to be better, it does not want to raise the necessary people it needs to improve, it’d rather house the same people that keep it in the same place it’s been for years. Trans people don’t exist in games to be told meaningful stories about, they exist to be marketed and make cis people feel better about themselves for not being transphobic. The only meaningful trans stories are being done by people in the indie scene, the only scene I’ve seen evolve in a more substantial way, it is not exempt from the issues of the AAA industry but at least when an abuser is outed something tends to be done about it.
Games that are praised for having well written women are still rotten of outdated ways of doing things. Horizon Zero Dawn a game praised for it’s leading character, Alloy; however, not scared to racist. Heavily recommend reading the piece by Dia Lacina on the issue because this is definitely not a subject I can do justice by discussing it myself. Horizon Zero Dawn is cultural appropriation in a major way and what did narrative designer, John Gonzales have to say on the subject? That “it wasn’t their intention to insult or offend.” A cowardly response by someone that doesn’t mind stealing from another culture and degrading it. It’s a response that doesn’t take responsibility and it the same way cowards in the industry to anything, no one wants to take responsibility but they also want the medium to be taken seriously. Who knows, maybe for the inevitable sequel they’d do right and stop the appropriation. No. Horizon Forbidden West is the exact same thing, the industry doesn’t want to change, that’s too hard.
Ninja Theory is praised for Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice for its depiction of mental health but they then go onto making more games about mental health as horror games. The gamification of mental health, told as a scary game. In Hellblade 2, Senua does silly faces because that’s what mentally ill people do right?
I think the games industry needs to be dismantled and built from scratch, it is broken like it was broken in the 90’s when men didn’t know how women worked, when white people couldn’t do a game with a PoC (person of colour) without being racist or doing the bare minimum, when trans characters had to be dehumanised. I enjoy games but I do not like the medium a lot of the time, it makes me angry, upset, unwanted. The games I used to enjoy such as Call of Duty have become distant memories because I do not want to play a game that glorifies the US military and war, what I enjoy now are games such as Necrobarista which are about deeper stories such as death. It is made by people who understand the concepts and themes they are basing their work on. Like a lot of industries, the games industry is broken and needs to be dismantled to really change, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.
Sometimes I wish I could enjoy looking at the medium and be happy with good aspects of it, but the bad aspects are too horrible to ignore and ultimately why change never happens. We have to see the good side of games when talking about the bad side because good people were involved, I’d rather focus on those who have suffered from the industry. Not everything has to be about seeing the good and bad, the bad is too potent in this medium to be half of a conversation. Who cares if games are art or not when the people who create games suffer and when the games make others suffer.