note: this editorial is my attempt at formulating ideas; its not perfect. I need to think it through carefully and probably spend more time on the phrasing of my sentences. It's a personal thing, but if you stumbled on here I would like your opinion so comment below!
Video games have a special place in my heart. They've given me thrills and excitement, they've shown me stories that will stay with me forever, and they've taken me to places I've only dreamed of. These are not to be taken for granted, but I sense that video games can be much more. I'm not just a video gamer, my love extends to movies, movies and books. When I compare how much they mean to me personally, video games fall behind. I've spent more time in video games than probably any other past time, I love it to bits, but what I get out of the experience is significantlly less than what I've gotten from say, "To Kill A Mockingbird", or "Life of Pi". Why don't video games give me the same life lessons, knowledge of humanity, thoughts on life, and death, empathy for people?
Let's look at what we have now. Clearly there is a problem with this industry when it comes to being an artistic medium. Let's define quickly what I mean by artistic; a way for human expression and social and cultural significance. That'll do. Look at what is around us; mindlessness. Lot's of death, lots of killing, lot's of broisms and booth babes. Very little soul, very little telling of the human condition. Games that do come by like a hit in the face, such as Journey, and remind us that we are as a medium, incredibly lacking in artistic expression and meaningful pursuits. Games can just be fun, there's nothing wrong with that. But there is a striking imbalance that will keep our beloved medium from being accepted broadly.
There are many reasons for this, and we must identify them before we can solve them.
Firstly, the medium is a new one and we have yet to fully understand the language of interactivity. This gives artists and those who want to tell stories very little in terms of tools to do so. I'm not talking about technology that gives us sparkly graphics, photorealistic faces or densely populated cities; I refer to the fundemental ideas of what it means to be "interacting", or a participant. Movies developed camera techniques, editing techniques, actors and frame work; a length and a story arch, for the artist to use. This happened in a quick 50 year period, and is still developing now although it has slowed. Video game are still young.
Secondly and relevant to this is the people who lead these teams; they are computer scientists, system anaylists, managers and video gamers. We rarely have the person yearning to tell a story, or to spread a message; Ken Levine is an example. At this stage the only people equiped to handle development of a medium so infantile are those who can master the development process and the juggling of complicated systems, and those who are passionate about recreating those feelings they had playing games as a child. This makes unearthing this secret language a slow and arduous process.
Thirdly, the problem is the consumers. Unlike film where the audience was wide and reached people of all ages and backgrounds, video games are targeted towards a depressingly narrow demographic; young, adolecent staight males. The singular demographic already restricts experiences available, but this is the one demographic that results in the most banal and stupid products. Lot's of klling and power fantasies, that is what sells the most and so long as large publishers think this way it will be a long time before change can take place.
Lastly, its the cost. Game development isn't as easy as making movies; all you need to make a film is a camera and a willing audeince, and even that is easy with the advent of youtube and social media. Game development takes time which takes money, and people who want to tell stories are better off being writers or movie makers. To be in such a position to create something meaningful takes a bizzare amount of luck. Publishers are haste to publish it; people don't want to stick around risky development, and there are few paths to get there in the first place. Someone like Ken Levine, is very rare and even he cannot believe it. Spec Ops: The Line required to be a dumb shooter first and foremost, with requirements that it be set in an exotic location and have a generic military name to even get the green light. Costs go to talented individuals as well; requirements in this catagory are steep. Film makers benefit from movie editing knowledge, writers should know how to type, but game developers need a specialist team of programmers and writers. It can be done, but it's another obstacle for the budding visionary among the many others.
It's a rare medium however mainly because of its potential. Unlike comic books; video games have potential and I do believe it is the medium of the 21st Century. This means that so long as people care, it will live on, and it will. But it will be slow. What are the cures for this ailment and what are the movements that are speeding up the innovation? I discuss it in the next blog.