The Big Problem Response

This is a response to the insanely well written rebuttal of my “Big Problem” essay. It’s worth checking out, I’ll highlight the points even I can’t defend, but otherwise, this will be a response to a response. Read the rebuttal here.

For the first two bits, Stewart Loosmore (the author of the article – lets call him Stewie – because I’m lazy) makes points that I agree with. The “Better than Life” statement a la Red Dwarf holds up strongly in this case and it’s certainly nice to see a like-minded person agreeing with me. The second bit concerns the outsider’s perspective of “games=art” and makes the exact same point that I did in my book (Up, Down, Left Right – Volume One) in response to Ebert’s argument, I argued “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. What I perceive to be enriching to my life, namely video-games, is clearly seen as a danger to my life by many others. Stewie makes the exact same claims I do, which is all fair and well.

Then we get into dodgy territory. Click below for more.

I argued that the same gameplay mechanic, shooting people in the face, is repeated time after time without meaning or thought provoking inertia. I did not seek to compare it to the film industry, which Stewie went ahead with, but I guess I have to go along with it.

How many films have guns in them? Thousands and what about violence in general? Even more. As for content that I would not allow a child to see, that pretty much eliminates every movie every made apart from the very obvious kid friendly movies and even then the very prudent might find things too suggestive.

I was not arguing about suitability when it comes to violence, I wasn’t arguing that violence should go away at all and I was not arguing at all that guns=immaturity. The main giant fact is that films that deal with violence, other than the whole Action genre that just replicates the same theme over and over (similar to games really), are often at times… personified. I can’t think of a better word but the act of violence needs to have meaning or understanding, something which spills out on to the character on screen and thus into the audience. In video-games this is harder to do because it has to straightly spill out on to us, since we are the ones shooting people in the faces.

This argument is poor at best and sounds like something Jack Thompson would cite as evidence that games are corrupting the youth of the world.

I’m sorry but I was massively insulted by comparing my arguments to that of Jack Thompson. Never did I once say “games harm children omg.” – I was not arguing violence without suitability, I was arguing violence without meaning. I’ve counted my collection, around 200 or so games, and around 170 of those involve shallow macho-empowering violence. I’ve been gaming since I was four years old, I’m sixteen now, and quite clearly video-games have made me the person I am today. The flag we bear is indeed one painted with bullet casings, which obviously harms our public image but even further goes beyond and harms our potential.

The breadth of entertainment in any medium is still untapped in its potential. Video-games have, largely, stopped trying to seek active and compelling experiences and are now engaged with full on ‘entertainment’ by repeating the same idea over and over again. Along the breadth of ours, through interactivity, we can go beyond cinema and beyond the written word. This medium is one of absolute massive potential and for that to be squandered on one lonely thematic, for the most part, of guns… it’s quite horrifying.

Further down the page Stewie takes the top 20 grossing films of all time and tells us that most of them have violence in them. I’d agree with that, but I wouldn’t agree with is the same point of “inappropriate to children.”

All of the films in the top 20 use violence as a means to show emotion, character development and punctuate the experience for the audience. It’s not the same gun shooting the same enemies over and over for effect, which is apparently all we can do in video-games, but it’s violence with meaning. There is a purpose for it other than for itself, it’s purpose is to guide the film and lead it along the track while obviously entertain us with dizzying heights of boom boom light pow. In games, however, I cannot name more than one single game that uses weaponry as a means to connect the player with an emotional response. Only one such title comes to mind and that’s the trial in Heavy Rain in which you are asked to kill a man. For the whole of the game, you haven’t killed a single soul and now you’re asked to come back to that great video-game halmark it feels dirty. It’s more powerful in that the same button usually reserved for shooting, R1, is used here as the choice. It really does punctuate the experience and asks a similar question of ‘guilt’ that Shadow of the Colossus also gave.

I would like to counter this point with movies like Saw, Hostel and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series, while the original may have been a thriller they have long since devolved into violence for violence sake.

That’s not the whole of cinema is it? Granted, shallow entertainment that we employ is also used by cinema, but they clearly have hit a sweet spot of using violence as a means of expressing rather than a means of itself.

Video games need to be interactive, without interaction it is a movie, I applaud Bioshock for introducing gamers to concepts that they may not have considered prior to this. So what if I gain an insight into communist movement from Singularity? What difference does it make if I learn about politics and corruption for Bioshock?  Introducing ideas in a form people like is a good way to encourage further learning.

I would argue in return that having intellectual topics in games is pointless if the interactive parts do not reinforce the same ideas. Finding inventive ways to kill people in Bioshock relates in no way to the ideology fight between Ryan and Fontaine, it only relates to the physical battle. I’m all for introducing tangential learning to audiences worldwide, but to reinforce that within the mechanics would make it 10x stronger.

To call all players of first person shooters or shooters in general a killer is an insult to those who play as well as trivializing the real killers of the world and the evil deeds that they commit. It is viewpoints like this that gives credibility to the argument that killers in games become killers in real life, and it’s simply not true.

Let me highlight something.

To call all players of first person shooters or shooters in general a killer is an insult to those who play as well as trivializing the real killers of the world and the evil deeds that they commit. It is viewpoints like this that gives credibility to the argument that killers in games become killers in real life, and it’s simply not true.

Whaaaat.

I said “Just think about how many people you’ve killed, you are a killer.”, isn’t that the sort of emotion reserved for an adult to feel? As in, genuine guilt at what they have done and reflection upon their actions? The type of guilt that finishes off the Greek tragedy, something which God of War did amazingly well. I did never say that “killer in game = killer in real life.”, I am saying that the amount of people we’ve killed in video-games should be something that video-games should explore more and more often. The very fact of the magnitude of body bags we’ve made should be forced down our gullet and be forced to face the truth, turning the downpoint into a massive strength.

I then make the argument about introducing variety to video-games such as – “taking my daughter to school” and “choosing between X and Y”.

These are noble ambitions, but without conflict they would be pretty dull games

Would they?

I can safely say that any great designer would change my brief concepts into compelling experiences. Why is it that when a topic such as morality, choice, freedom, political ideology and so on and so forth is always belittled to violence? Why can’t it be something else such as the very act of ‘running away’ – which the recent indy darling Amnesia: The Dark Descent did oh so so brilliantly – a dis-empowering thematic rather than a continuous power supply. I want my games to be more interactive than ‘shoot guy in the face to progress’.

Even in the event that the video games industry loses this court case, the first person shooter will not disappear overnight, they may start earning less and less as fewer people are allowed to play, this in turn would create a drive to find the next big thing which isn’t a bad thing, as personally I think that the generic FPS is passed its peak.

Did you just say that if we lost the court case, and we lost all FPSs, it wouldn’t be that bad of a thing?

You do realize that your point is a double edged sword. Granted, FPSs will lose a large percentage of their profitability and perhaps there’ll be less and less of them every year. At the very least there would be tougher regulation and a lot of the thematics would have to be pulled back. This also means that Bioshock could not exist, because it wouldn’t be seen as profitable under the new laws. It was never meant to be sold to children or minors, but it’s captured the late teen market more than anything else (as do most ‘shooters’) this means both ‘violence with meaning’ and ‘violence without meaning’ would disappear. We would lose our identity, we would lose an interactive medium.

At my point of “Ask more from your games.”

There are already games that have massive branching stories such as Mass Effect or Oblivion, the problem is that a game with scope that large require many more hours of development than an FPS that can be churned out on the same or updated engine year in year out, but under the example both of these games would vanish

I want more Mass Effects and more Oblivions. But I don’t want the same developers doing them over and over, others should join in on enrichment (proven to be profitable) than squander in the same sensibility.

Supporting the little guy will only do so much, as you put it they are the little guys.

“The strength of a medium is not defined by the independents.” – Anthony Burch

I agree, but I will say that whenever a successful indie title such as Braid comes around, you tend to see a new sensibility arise in the mainstream titles.

Heavy Rain is not without its problems as you have mentioned, however going back to the big ol’ pile of games. Heavy Rain has a story based around a serial killer who murders children. You can gun down a complete innocent, take drugs and to top it off there is even nudity. It may be an example of things to come but even then it would be condemned to the pile of games with unsuitable content.

What makes Heavy Rain different in my big ol’ pile of games is that it takes violence and all of that mature baloney and gives it meaning. Meaning which folds back on the player and makes him think about his choices. I saw the use of drugs differently after playing it, I saw a lot of things differently and all of it was not ‘unsuitable content’. It was intended for an adult audience and you’ve quite poorly made a statement that this should be condemned and not be the future of games. Designers are not toy-makers.

While there may be a market for that type of the game it will never be the norm, what you desire is an experience so real that it affects you in a very real way. Should this ever happen then we could have a much bigger problem to contend with as generations of people will have trouble separating reality and fiction.

Here’s my point. Games have the power to take you places in reality that you never ever will accomplish. You will never ever be a washed up FBI agent clambering around the giant pole between drugged up sanity and depression. The fuzzy line between reality and fiction is one that needs to be explored more. Our actions in video-games need to fold back on ourselves, otherwise there’s just no point other than for itself. Generations of people will be playing games with the same amount of realism, immersion and all that baloney in twenty years time. I can safely say that my kids won’t have trouble separating the two. When we play games, we ignore the rules of reality and we enjoy the rules of freedom in another world. When we come back, we should feel better for it and it should enrich our real life. Never ever say that it’s not worth it, and it shouldn’t become the norm, it’s the noblest of ambitions to elevate a medium based around escapism and build it around actual interactivity and its reflections upon people.

One of your “I wants” has already been and gone. The Perma Death was common with dungeon crawlers and arcades game where when you die you die.

For this, read Ben Abrahma’s little wordy picture book on his permadeath runthrough of Far Cry 2. You’ll see just how powerful it can be in a modern game, probably more powerful than a dungeon crawler. It hasn’t been and gone, it’s just been sedated.

All in all, I think Stewie has missed my main points.

  • November 2nd could decide if we continue with our problem or it kills us indefinitely.
  • Most games repeat the same thematic of violence without meaning.
  • We need more compelling experiences built around real life situations, with a sense of hyper-reality to keep in anchored to the virtual world while still radicalising our real life experiences.
  • Games are art, we won, we need to prove it on November 2nd.

Other than that, I appreciate the constructive criticism and I definitely look forward to his future  work. It’s been a while, since never, since I’ve had to reply to a creative response rather than a personal insult.

Good show kid.

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