Sunday, January 27, 2013

And sometimes I love it

This is a follow-up to my previous post, Sometimes I hate my hobby - but, despite the title, it's not exactly going to express a contrary opinion.

I frequently blog about computer games, and I hope it's clear why I enjoy them. Of course, I always point out what I don't like, even when I love a particular game, overall. And there are plenty of games which simply aren't for me.

Generally speaking, video games tend to be incredibly dumb. I can't deny that. Often, they're misogynistic, and they're nearly always violent. Sometimes, they glorify in both misogyny and violence, and they can be so über-macho as to be positively homoerotic.

All this is true. But what saves the game industry - for me, at least - is not just the great games, not just the games which rise above such things, but the commentary by my fellow gamers which points out such absurdity.

I showed an example of that in my last post, and here's another. Note that I haven't played Far Cry 3. I tried the original Far Cry (because I got it free when I bought a new video card one time), but it wasn't for me, mostly because I was so very, very bad at it.

I mean, I can't comment on the game itself, because I was so inept at the combat that I barely started it before giving up. (That was before I started playing such games on Easy mode, which might have helped.)

But if you're curious about Far Cry 3, you might check out this video clip. Lumin is always entertaining, and he makes most games look appealing. (Note his exclamation at 03:15: "Oh, oh! What did I hit? Please tell me it was a person." Lumin doesn't mind killing people in games, but he's very squeamish about killing animals. Funny, huh?)

Certainly, the graphics in Far Cry 3 are incredible. The game was one of the top titles in 2012, a mainstream game from one of the biggest game developers in the world, almost certainly costing hundreds of millions of dollars to create.

But I'm here to point out this commentary:
I don't know what's become of you. This thing you've been doing, it's gotten out of control. I don't even know you anymore.

I was with you in the beginning: You were a callow youth who quailed at the sight of blood, rich tropical vistas blurring to the rhythm of your panicked breath. Your security blanket — the militaristic elder brother who was going to make everything OK — died with a sanguine gurgle under your hands. You ran with the terror of a hunted animal through jewel-green foliage, the whip-sting of gunfire chasing your heels, and I sat on the edge of my seat. When you stumbled, I cried out. The merciless branches, the horrific, alien tropical landscape buffeted you carelessly, and I felt your pain. When you fell, my stomach turned.

And now, not even 10 minutes later:

You accepted a generic tribal tattoo — oh, sorry, tatau — without complaint. You have a radio, a fully-functioning tablet and generous access to vehicles, so you could try to contact your family; you could try to get a ride to the mainland, get to an embassy, call for help and let your family know your brother has died, that everyone you love is being held hostage by pirates. You could spare a tear, even.

Instead you are agreeably slaughtering tapirs for backpacks.

Role-playing games are fantasies. They're all fantasies. But do they have to be dumb fantasies? Do they have to be violent fantasies. Frankly, 'dumb' bothers me more than 'violent' - in most cases, at least.

Now, according to the lead writer of the game, Far Cry 3 is supposed to be a critique of other computer games. The over-the-top violence is supposed to be a commentary on over-the-top violence in other games. The idiotic plot line is supposed to be a commentary on dumb computer games.

These guys (that Polygon article is back-and-forth commentary between two gamers) seem to be a bit skeptical of that:
I don't think you're unsettled because Far Cry 3 was effective. I think you're unsettled — I think we both are — by this yawning gap between what a game says it wants to do and what it then goes and does. It's as troubling as the cheerful gawping tourists you met in that war zone. The game mines superficial rituals of meaning and then it puts a gun in your hand.

Of course, I can't intelligently comment about that one way or another, since I haven't played the game. But I really like the fact that gamers are asking these questions:
I always liked Kieron Gillen's take on BioShock. As gamers across the world took offence that sacrificing one Little Sister gets you the bad ending, Kieron says, "Well, how many dead children did you think were necessary for you to be evil?" How many furtive knifings until Brody is beyond reproach?


I hear the cry of a million bros: That doesn't sound like a lot of fun. No. But why do game developers build mansions and buy Ferraris off the back of efforts to neuter grotesque modern horrors, to make them fun? Kirk Hamilton's articulation of Medal of Honor's promo campaign as "mortifying" really resonated with me. I've heard my own gin-laced hiss — "war profiteers" — threading into the dark of some promo party, as regards certain kinds of industry people.

That's just a brief sample. But if you're interested in computer games, if you're interested in violence in computer games, I recommend that you read the whole thing.

These two guys are gamers, and they're writing for a gaming audience. But even if you're not a gamer, you might find it interesting. (Still, you might want to check out at least a bit of Lumin's video clip, if you don't have a clue what Far Cry 3 is.)

They don't come to any real answers, but I like the fact that game- players are asking these questions. I like the comments, too - most of them. These are gamers commenting (obviously).

Yes, computer games are entertainment. But what we find entertaining is still important, don't you think? Books and movies are entertainment, too, but that doesn't keep us from thinking about them - or thinking while we're enjoying them.

Now, there's a lot more to a game than the story. Many games don't even have a story, and a story is never a game by itself. But this is one of the things I love about computer games, that gamers can - and do - debate these things. If a video game has a story, what does it imply? And what does that say about us?

Computer games are just in their infancy. We didn't have them at all when I was a kid, and they still have a lot of growing up to do. But there's real potential here, even if we haven't gotten to it yet. And it's not just the potential for better entertainment, though that's certainly there, too.

Of course, I'm a gamer, so what do you expect? :)

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