Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Videogames to Me

Coming off of my outlook on 2011 into 2012, this post is about my thoughts on videogames as a whole. As is obvious, my outlook and opinions on videogames change with every single game I play. It doesn't matter if it was amazing, if it was bad, if I put in over 100 hours into it, or if I only played it for 30 minutes; every single videogame I play effects my opinion and outlook on videogames as a whole. This is because every videogame I play shows me what the industry and developers are thinking and doing in a given time period, and my mind sees this and judges this, and thus my outlook changes; it may not change very much, or it may completely change the way I think about everything. But, let's get on with my current thoughts on the entertainment medium that is videogames ...

Videogames are art. That is what I believe. Perhaps the more correct way to say it, however, is that videogames have the potential to be "art". When someone says "art", they usually think of beauty and of flawlessness; and that is simply not true in the gaming world. In the gaming world, there is a lot of mediocre and ugly to go along with the beauty. Now this is true of any medium, for throughout antiquity there have been mediocre sculptures and poor arias; it is simply that because those art mediums have had centuries to age, we in modern times simply do not think of the mediocre. This is not the case with videogames yet, for it is a very young art medium; one only a few decades in age. With this is mind, I can understand that throughout my history of playing videogames, I haven't truly enjoyed that many when looking at it in the scope of things. There have been hundreds if not thousands of games made since I've started playing games, and yet I would say I've only enjoyed around 60 of them. But, I digress, what are videogames to me?

Well, they aren't a true artform yet. They are art, but haven't reached the point where I'd say the world should recognize them as such. I think the main problem is how many view core aspects of videogames as "art", but they're looking at it all wrong. A game can have an incredible soundtrack, but that doesn't mean the videogame itself is art, it's the soundtrack that's art, not the game as a whole. And that's what people need to recognize, the art of the videogame as a whole. Videogames combine many separate aspects that can be considered art, but it's the interactivity aspect of the videogame that makes it capable of being a truly satisfying art form.

This factor of interactivity has indeed been used in games very well; in classics like Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VII, and Okami, but none of it really reaches a level equal to that of grand symphonies, beautiful paintings, or powerful films. I think this is because the developers behind videogames aren't taking games seriously enough. Many game developers make "serious" games, but their focus is always to try and make the game serious, rather than let the serious tone simply come out of what they're creating. I think the reason for this is simply that making videogames is hard. The simply fact that a player has to interact with your work makes the creation process of videogames difficult; they aren't like movies where the viewer is simply watching or an aria where the listener is simply listening. The factor of interactivity is the x-factor of videogames, for it is both their greatest strength and their greatest weakness.

I recognize the fact that videogames are a young medium, and that the creators behind videogames will need much more time to perfect the art of creating videogames and then after create variations of that process. Many would argue that this process has already been mastered. To that I say: perhaps. After all, I have had many incredible gaming experiences, but I can't say I've had a game experience that really, really impacted me. There have been amazing experiences like Okami, Chrono Trigger, Metroid: Other M, Klonoa 2, and others, but nothing that impacted me the way a movie like Fantasia or Spirited Away have.

I think that the reason for this is because videogames, in their current state, feel almost like toys. They're something we buy because we want to play with them. And we do. We play with them, have fun with them, and enjoy their creativity; but can a toy truly be timeless? Perhaps, if we develop some type emotional connection to it, like the way I have an emotional connection to the game Sonic the Hedgehog 2 because it was the first game I've ever played. But still, I think of Sonic 2 not as a timeless entity, but rather, an unforgettable toy I had. I don't mean to demean videogames to that of small pieces of plastic (and besides that, toys can be very fun), but what I want to get at is: I want videogames to move past being something simply to be played. This is where that "experience" factor I write about so much comes into focus, and some games have this experience factor, but it's usually just for key moments in a game. I'd like for a game as a whole to be that experience factor. Similar to how a movie crafts the experience from beginning to end, I want a videogame to do this as well. Many would argue that many games have already done this, and I understand that thinking, but what people tend to think about is a game's story, visuals, and music, of ten forgetting completely about the gameplay. I do this with Chrono Trigger. The pacing, visuals, music, and story of Chrono Trigger had the elements of a superb movie, but his is a videogame, not a movie. I don't think that videogames have reached a point where I can only think about how a game was not only superb in visuals and music, but superb in an interactivity respect as well. I think that is the next step for games.

Many games have come close to my ideal, The World Ends With you perhaps being the closest, but it just doesn't hit that "sweet spot".

Heh, I think about videogames in such a way, and yet the reality of the situation is that videogames are a business built around consumers. And I perfectly understand arguments against my views. After all, videogames as toys isn't a bad thing; toys are fun, and people like having fun. Not everything has to be deep, story-driven, or rich in history. And to that, I understand. But simple, fun games can be great experiences as well, as the Megaman games have shown. But I don't think that people should lower their expectations of what videogames can achieve simply because they're based around a consumer market. After all, weren't sculptures, paintings, film, novels, and classical music built around consumers as well? Yet they managed to touch hearts and stir the soul. Why not videogames as well?

I think it's a matter of waiting. Waiting for developers to create rather than simply build. There have been many, many great videogames, but I still think they remain in the realm of products rather than experiences. To get out of this realm of products, I think videogame developers need to move past the trivialities of what goes into a game and forge an experience based upon creativity. Just as a great movie is a master of the sum of its parts as it brings together visuals, music, and acting, so to must videogames become a master of the sum of its parts, as it brings together visuals, music, and interactivity.

Currently, I find myself wondering if I will soon grow tired of videogames. And with the current state of the game industry, I just might. However, as I stated before, I believe that if I wait for the game industry to develop and "find" itself, I will find the game to completely satisfy me, and then, perhaps, many more equally satisfying games will follow.

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