Independent game developer Jon Blow recently ignited a mini-firestorm across the Internet due to his comments in a feature piece in The Atlantic, in which he proclaimed the mainstream game industry to be “a fucked-up den of mediocrity. There are some smart people wallowing in there, but the environment discourages creativity and strength and rigor, so what you get is mostly atrophy.” (Coincidentally, this exact quote serves as an accurate assessment of several aspects of modern post-secondary education... but there’s a different argument for a different day.)
The creator of Braid, the game most frequently cited by those in support of the perception of gaming as an art form (a closely-related debate), went on to describe his first venture into game creation as “a slot machine where you had to press a button at the right time to match a number on the screen, but I made the screen flash different colors and added sound effects. Really polishing the turd, so to speak — which, really, was a good education for the modern game-development industry.”
Blow is certainly not one to mince words.
In the same piece, journalist Taylor Clark concurs, writing:
[V]ideo games, with very few exceptions, are dumb. And they’re not just dumb in the gleeful, winking way that a big Hollywood movie is dumb; they’re dumb in the puerile, excruciatingly serious way that a grown man in latex elf ears reciting an epic poem about Gandalf is dumb. Aside from a handful of truly smart games, tentpole titles like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Call of Duty: Black Ops tend to be so silly and so poorly written that they make Michael Bay movies look like the Godfather series. In games, brick-shaped men yell catchphrases like “Suck pavement!” and wield giant rifles that double as chain saws, while back-breakingly buxom women rush into combat wearing outfits that would make a Victoria’s Secret photographer blush. In games, nuance and character development simply do not exist. In games, any predicament or line of dialogue that would make the average ADHD-afflicted high-school sophomore scratch his head gets expunged and then, ideally, replaced with a cinematic clip of something large exploding.
As you might expect, Clark’s work drew considerable ire, as he indicated in a follow-up piece defending and elaborating upon his position.
Clark and Blow naturally concede that there are exceptions to the rule, but point out that for every Flower, Braid, or Shadow of the Colussus, there are a hundred Call of Dutys, Dead or Alives, and Duke Nukems. The ratio of what they define as “intellectual” games as compared to mainstream games is miniscule, at best.
Clark also cedes that while the intellect of a game can be viewed as immaterial if the game in question is, bottom-line, fun, it is difficult to for a “creative medium” to demand respect and recognition if, in any debate over intellectual or creative merit, the same handful of examples keeps getting recycled over and over again from a pool of thousands, if not millions, of candidates.
While the recent resurgence of the independent gaming market may help stem the tide and slowly start changing the perception of gaming as a whole, the questions of whether or not it is too late, or whether this apparent perception even matters, are certainly reasonable ones to ask.
And so we pass it to you, dear readers. Are these concerns pretentious or valid? Have we, as gamers, lowered our standards irredeemably, as evidenced by the glut of so-called mediocrity flooding the gaming market? Is external perception of the medium — our medium, let’s be honest here — irrelevant, so long as we enjoy what we do? Or do we owe it to ourselves to chastise the laziness and cookie-cutter nature of the mainstream, and call for new ways of thinking and playing in order to garner respect for our shared passion?
In other gaming news this week, God of War goes multiplayer, the Uncharted franchise takes a hit, Lord Diablo claims your television set in the name of all that is unholy, Bethesda announces Skyrim’s first DLC, and Valve’s Gabe Newell professes his love of My Little Ponies... wait, what? Read on.
- Kratos returns to PlayStations everywhere in God of War: Ascension, this time with multiplayer goodness. But don’t get your Blades of Chaos in a tangle if you’re a series purist - there will be an extensive single player campaign as well, set sometime before the events of the first game.
- Too poor to buy a PlayStation Vita? Buy a car and get it for free! ...wait a minute.
- Bethesda has announced that Skyrim: Dawnguard, the game’s first DLC, will launch later this summer. Rumors that significant new content will be included persist, the most notable addition of which might be dragon mounts.
- Uncharted 3’s lead designer, Richard Lemarchand, is leaving Naughty Dog to pursue a teaching opportunity at the University of Southern California. Before taking up his new position, Lamarchand plans to channel Nathan Drake and backpack around the globe for a few months.
- Contrary to popular belief, Bethesda claims that development on Prey 2, a first-person sci-fi shooter with a Bladerunner vibe, is simply delayed, not cancelled. This doesn’t jive with the rumors swirling around Human Head, the game’s developers, which suggest there is a deep rift between Human Head and their parent company. Human Head has reportedly moved on to working on Rune 2 until all issues involving Prey 2 are resolved.
- With Diablo III’s May 15 release date nearing, Blizzard’s hype train has begun to pick up speed. The game’s latest TV spot showcases Blizzard’s trademark beautifully rendered cutscenes and gives viewers a brief glimpse at some of their demonic foes.
- Activision Blizzard is being sued for patent infringment for using a “system and method for enabling users to interact in a virtual space” in games such as World of Warcraft and Call of Duty. Perhaps it’s just us, but that’s an awfully broad patent, and could potentially apply to virtually any MMO, RPG, or sandbox game already released or under development.
- Finally, Valve head Gabe Newell has been exposed as a My Little Ponies fan — a Brony, if you will. This might explain the insidious infiltration of the disgustingly endearing equines througout the gaming world.