jervo / Member

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Further thoughts on Klosterman's article

[article can be found here]

Couple things need to be pointed out here, mostly to Klosterman's attention:

1.  CK argues in his opening paragraph that videogaming in 2006 is the cultural equilavent of rock music in 1967, and he bases that argument on the premise that the economic value of the videogame industry is approximately $28 billion, and therefore they are an art form and deserving of better critique than a simple "buy it / don't buy it" review. 

Problem is, gigantic economic value does not necessarily indicate cultural importance - at least, not in the terms he describes.  After all, it's probably safe to assume that the porn industry does at least TWICE that amount every year... and I'm not even sure that there IS a review source for porn.  Nor would I suppose that anybody would CARE about such a source, either. 

No, the main reason why the videogame industry is at $28 billion is the same reason why Madden is the #1 selling videogame, and why DragonballZ games keep getting made, and why games like Psychonauts languish on store shelves - the reason is because the vast majority of purchasers don't care.  They don't care because they're 12 years old and it's not their money; they don't care because it's Madden; they're not interested in anything more than what they're already expecting.  If game criticism actually MEANT anything, Psychonauts would have sold 12 million copies. 

2.  CK goes into some detail about what kind of art videogames actually are, ultimately comparing it to architecture.   He then talks about Gone with the Wind, and how it would be played out if it were a videogame...

Near the end of Gone with the Wind, Scarlett O'Hara asks Rhett Butler what she's supposed to do with the rest of her life, and he says that (frankly) he doesn't give a damn. Now, the meaning of those lines can be interpreted in many ways. However, what if that dialogue happened only sometimes? What if this scene played out differently for every person who watched Gone with the Wind? What if Rhett occasionally changed his mind, walked back into the house, and said, "Just kidding, baby"? What if Scarlett suddenly murdered Rhett for acting too cavalier? What if the conversation were sometimes interrupted by a bear attack? And what if all these alternative realities were dictated by the audience itself? If Gone with the Wind ended differently every time it was experienced, it would change the way critics viewed its message. The question would not be "What does this mean?" The question would be "What could this mean?"

That, I think, is where video-game criticism should be going: toward the significance of potentiality. Video games provide an opportunity to write about the cultural consequence of free will, a concept that has as much to do with the audience as it does with the art form.

The problem here is that most games DO NOT offer that much choice.  What made GTA such a groundbreaking development was that it appeared to offer that choice, but even then, you never had the opportunity to make that sort of choice during official "missions". 

The other problem here - and this is more relevant - is that the vast majority of games aren't interested in making that choice anyway.  Most games are tightly scripted - they have to be, otherwise the code would break.  And, more fundamentally, most games are not interested in making you think (beyond mere puzzle solving, at any rate) - they're interested in keeping you entertained.  And even more fundamentally than that, most games are simply meant to be purchased.

3.  Ultimately I don't think there CAN be a Lester Bangs or Pauline Kael of videogame criticism.  For one thing, the fanboys would never stand for it.  For another thing, I'm not sure that anyone would take it seriously.  The industry is already so saturated with information and opinions.  One would have to go OUTSIDE the industry in order to be objective about it - and frankly, since the mainstream media still refuses to take the industry seriously, why would anyone believe that a mainstream critic could be objective?  More to the point - would the serious game player look to the New York Times or Entertainment Weekly to read about videogames, or would they look to Gamespot, IGN, Kotaku, 1Up, EvilAvatar, etc.?