September 26th, 2005

At the moment, we’re stuck in something of a whirlwind.

“Video games are bad for you!” shout concerned parents and politicians across the country. They rot your brain; they keep you away from your school work; they incite violence; they make you want sex. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Whether or not you agree with this standpoint (Personally, I’m of the opinion that these people have never picked up a controller in their goddamn lives and therefore have no idea what they’re talking about. It’s not LSD; you have to try it before you get a say on whether it’s good for your health.), their message is clear: video games are bad. Bad, bad, bad.

Here in the gaming community, we don’t take that lying down. Those be fightin’ words. So we talk back. We point out all the great things about games: how they improve your mind, how they make you think, how they offer you a constructive outlet for violent urges that are otherwise repressed by society. Video games aren’t bad, we say. They’re good. Take, for example, Steven Johnson’s recent must-have-on-your-coffee-table video game-related book, Everything Bad is Good for You. That pretty much says it all.

So the country dukes it out. And we, the gamers, are the radical ones. It’s still a relatively new idea that something like video games could have cultural value. Granted, for every new eye we open there are hundreds more (mostly in the South and the Midwest. How do all you gamers survive out there in the middle of the country?) that close forever. Still, we’re slowly convincing at least part of the world that gaming is in fact good.

Which must itself be a good thing, right?

The problem is, it’s not a question of good and bad. Or, at least, it shouldn’t be. Instead, it should be a question of art – of narrative, of design. We demean that artistic integrity by pushing to the forefront a single, blanket qualifier: black or white, thumbs up, thumbs down. You don’t read novels because they’re good or bad for you; you don’t like paintings because they’re culturally accepted. (Or, if you do, you need to reconsider your art appreciation tactics.)

Of course, the argument could be made that, before games can be regarded in an artistic light, they have to be accepted by the general society. Personally, I don’t believe that. Contemporary art is rarely appreciated in its time. Much of what we now consider high culture was, at it’s creation, looked upon as smut. Conservative members of society, in whatever period of history, turn to one another, raise their eyebrows and demand, “Can this new medium really be good for us?” Sounds familiar?

Video games are hindered further by the popular perception of their consumers. Most people think gaming is for kids, or childish adults. They see the way most of us talk about games (“Fucking rox! Teh babe is so hot.”) and they feel justified in their unwillingness to acknowledge the artistic quality of video games, because even we are unwilling to acknowledge it.

Maybe we’re afraid that if video games become art, they won’t be fun anymore. The thing is, they already are. Art, that is. And we’re still having a good time. Just because something has artistic value, doesn’t mean you can’t sit back and enjoy it.

We need to start giving our games and their creators more artistic respect, whether or not it’s good for us.

Tags: Blog

7 Responses to “The Good, the Bad, and the Artistic”

  1. Illidan Says:

    A game called Homeworld was, for me, one of the most significant experiences I have had.

    It’s a real time strategy game, and those don’t usually focus on the storyline very much.

    .. Well, don’t get me wrong; the storyline is there. Blizzard’s Starcraft and Warcraft series’ spawned entire universes including books. But when you get that feeling of emotion that overrides everything else.. you’d expect it to be an RPG.

    The graphics were state of the art for its day, but those aren’t what propelled it to glory. Doom 3 was technically superior to anything preceding and was nothing in the least special.

    But Homeworld was a perfectly produced work of beauty, from the maneuvering fleets to the ancient relics to the gorgeous nebulas, to the small, single blue planet in the last mission that meant everything. Everything. That made it all worthwhile.

    Not to speak of a completely unexpected plot twist that hits right out fo the bat, and unlike most disasters actually emotionally affected me.

    Games like the renditions of Mario were classics, artistically crafted with simple yet wonderful themes and colors; other games like Warcraft 3 and Starcraft are just fun no matter the looks, and RPG’s like Final Fantasy and KotoR let you pilot a a group through their destiny.

    All of them have their points in favor. But none of them, none of them come close to the complete planning of every aspect that made Homeworld what it is to me.

    *looks* The CD is beautiful. The CD jewel case is beautiful.. I even still have the music cd with the instrumental game rhapsodies.

    And I can just stare at the cover, on and on, and remember.

    Yeah, that’s art.

  2. Bonnie Says:

    Homeworld… I’ll definitely have to check it out. Thanks, Illidan!

  3. Ian Says:

    Actually, the middle of the country is the bastion of tabletop gaming(what else is there to do?), so in many cases video gaming is more accepted.

  4. Bonnie Says:

    Hey, Ian. Are you a middle-of-the-country gamer? I’d love to pick your brain :-). The whole geographic dynamic of game popularity/acceptance in this country is so interesting from a cultural standpoint. Someone should really take a look at the issue more closely, and figure out why the numbers work out the way they do. Personally, I’m from the East Coast, Philadelphia to be exact, and of yet I’m the only games writer I know of from this side of the USA. Of course, I’m sure there are others, but it really is slim pickings. Anyone have thoughts on the issue?

  5. Lleld Says:

    I’m a so-called ‘middle-of-the-country gamer’. I was born (and raised, regretfully) in Northwest Arkansas, and while the Central region of the country _does_ happen to be the hub of the tabletops, the RPing, and…woe is me, LARP (though thankfully, even here it’s rare), our v-gaming culture thrives quite seperately. Just as in larger communities, but not full scale L.A./N.Y.-type, gamers are evident yet seperate and secluded. Something of the very people we hate, we gamers have become elitist snobs, in some respects.

    I started this comment for one point, and my ramble-prone mind took it somewhere else. Gamers and the gaming population have become elitist! If you don’t know certain things about certain games you don’t belong, or are in a subset directly set against the questioners. If an RPG-subset asks an FPS-subset a question about VII, they may or may not know. If they do know, it’s no big deal, but if they don’t it furthers the rift between the two. We even have elitism inside of our culture, nevermind the mobs of unwashed masses that are the non-gamers. What strikes me as odd, is that among games of skill (such as RTS, FPS, etc. ) the better players don’t seclude themselves from the lesser via elitism. In fact, with Warcraft III, you hardly see that (when you get passed the initial, idiot-infested playing levels (as all games have)). There is _respect_. I have a friend who nearly _worships_ Grubby, who is supposed to be one of the best War3 players in the world. Of course, there’s always his natural tendancy to minorly obsess, but…

    It’s saddening, though. It used to be that being ‘cool’ was cool. Then, it was being ‘uncool’ that was cool. Then something else, and now being a ‘gamer’ is cool. I walk around my high school and _spot_ people wearing shirts displaying gaming icons and simple phrases like the NES controller and ‘Know your roots’. And just by looking at them you can tell that they have never even picked up an NES controller, let alone a SNES, an N64, or regularly one of the current gen systems! You see some wearing shirts with the Legendary emblem and the Legendary quote on the front of the shirt and the Halo 2 emblem on the back, and you can feel the inability to play the first level as Heroic. I hate to use this word, but we’re becoming _infested_ by posers. I can only hope that Fate will deem that we’ve had enough problems and make something _else_ ‘cool’.

    ‘Woe be to us, those pitiful creatures bound by the sickly humored Fate to be subjected to the torture of our fellows.’

  6. Bonnie Says:

    Hey Lleld, you bring up some interesting issues, though I’m a little confused… you say that gamers have become elitists, at least among themselves, and you mark that as a bad thing. But then you go on to express displeasure that “posers” are trying to get in on the cool of the gaming community. Wouldn’t you say that separatist attitude is in and of itself elitist?

    The larger issue though of the non-gamers playing off the mass “cool” of gaming is an important one. Is it a good thing to get game recognition out there in the general society, even if it’s accomplished by non-gamers? Or are we as a gaming community somehow losing our integrity to the mass culture? Thoughts?

  7. Lleld Says:

    I would say my attitude is elitist, because I will not lie and I am not a hypocrite. I hate that the community has begun to seperate as it has, and I am unhappy with myself for helping to further such ends.

    It is a good thing for game recognition out there in general society, else we will always be a subculture. Once we are accepted by society as a culture unto ourselves (some say we are, but the targetting of politicians and such say otherwise. You no longer hear of movies being attacked for sexual and violent content, do you?) is when we may…I wish I could keep my thoughts going in one straight line.

    The fact about non-gamers getting the culture into the public’s eye is misrepresentative. It would be like a stereotypical blonde cheerleader averaging B’s only due to the integrated courses she takes being the frontperson for the Academic Decathalon or some such intellectual competition. Sure, it gets the point across, but it doesn’t show the truth, and that is precisely what we need. Especially at times like now, what with ‘scandals’ such as Hot Coffee and the escalating violence in games affecting the minds of the currently faceless ‘gaming population’. It’s easy to say something without a face is being manipulated, but when that something gets a face and a voice, things change drastically. Gay rights, for instance, wasn’t bothered with until some gay people stood up and complained. The saying ‘the nail that sticks up gets hammered down’ held true for a little while, until all of the nails were standing up. That’s when things began to change, and that’s what we need to do. We need to rise up as a single culture, full of it’s unique twists and special flaws and everything, and say in one voice ‘This is us! We have minds of our own and we refuse to fit into your perfect mold any longer!’

    And one of my favorite quotes…

    ‘We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish, without a fight! We’re going to live on, we’re going to survive.’

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