Friday, February 1, 2013

Bioblogging Part 2: Questions? Answers! Answers? Questions!

at 12:15 AM
It probably doesn't hurt to start with Part 1
This started in the comment section of the previous piece, but it got long so I'm going to make a full post of it.

Ezio asked:
"You wrote: "Trying to place everything on a level playing field is part of my larger push, especially with this blog, to evaluate games based on their ideas, not their mechanics." Wasn't the original intent of this blog to review controls of individual games? Was the shift to "ideas" more externally driven (i.e. there is not that much good stuff to talk about control schemes) or the internally driven reasons you gave here? Either way, that column needs to be revisited."

The control customization options thing was largely a joke. Remember, it wasn't about reviewing CONTROLS. It was about reviewing control OPTIONS. From the first Back in the CCCR: "But of course, I'm not here to review controls, I'm here for the customization options.". I might revisit the column at some point, but it's frustrating because I do most of my writing when I'm not at home, so I don't have access to the options screens.

The switch in personal focus from mechanics to ideas hit me hardest when Golem and I spent a month playing every game (skipping sports/ports/turn-based rpgs) released in 1990 (about 150 total, I believe). We did that back before the blog was even a tiny fetus conceived in its momma's womb (first time I've ever figuratively described my brain as a womb). I realized that even if every single one of those games was a platformer or shmup, I didn't care because of the wealth of unique ideas. A smaller genre-pool and limited technology couldn't put a damper on the imagination of those forerunner developers.

Your question still applies though, and the answer is that it was a combination of the "external" and "internal" reasons. Internally, a lot of it was my change in perspective after creating a game of my own (and deciding that was what I wanted to do with my life). Externally, yeah, you're right; playing so many games eventually made me realize it isn't really interesting to talk about every last battle system and boss pattern - who gives a fuck? It's one of a million.

I was also affected by my developing taste for cinema. See, in the world of film, I'm an outsider. I don't really know much about the process that goes into creating a movie and I don't see myself ever being involved in creating one (except that high school Moby Dick adaptation). So when I read film criticism, I ignore incessant discussion of what millimeter film it was used and the type of lens and focus and blah blah blah don't care. To me, that stuff is just, DUH, it's there, it had a subconscious impact, why do we need to analyze it. When I read a review about a video game that talks about skill trees or physics engines, I have the same reaction. The critics I prefer are people like Ebert, who just talk about plot and theme and motif - the things that last in my mind after the credits roll.

What has gradually seeped into my consciousness is the notion that great artwork is independent - it doesn't need contextualization. If you have to know the difference between 25 and 50fps filming, or what MOBA means, to appreciate a work, then it becomes something technical. It loses its universality. It can still be interesting from film buff to film buff or gamer to gamer, but the public isn't going to watch fifteen other movies or buy a Dreamcast to understand this one work. I'm not saying that broad aim is inherently good, but that the target audience should be distributed across all of a culture, not a particular subset. That is to say, if your game is intended to resonate with teenage females discovering their sexuality (what game isn't!), it should resonate with any teenage female discovering her sexuality, not just teenage female gamers discov-their-sexu-etc. Execution is just a barrier of entry, and the more complex it becomes, and the more we focus on it, the less people we can communicate with.

When friends or family tell me they don't read the blog because they "don't really know much about video games", that's extremely frustrating to me, because what I'm trying to do here (most of the time) is expand the number of people who want to know about games. Freestanding games and game ideas that can be appreciated in a complete vacuum, that you don't have to be a gamer to understand. The idea that games are only for gamers is exactly what I wish to dispel, because I know this medium has the potential to reach just as wide an audience as film, music, and literature.


  1. Your last paragraph at first reminded me of Nintendo and their "blue ocean" strategy...but I find this interesting because while both you and Nintendo share the view that games can be for people that are "non gamers" you're argument seems to be that this is because they can be, loosely, about higher ideas like film or lit, which I'm assuming wasn't what Nintendo was thinking when they put out Wii fit.

  2. Also you seem to be saying something about challenge and complexity without saying it when you talk about barriers to entry. How do games that are challenging enough to require significant experience in the genre fit in with your conception?

    You might have talked about this in another blog but I forget.

    1. I dunno, guess I would need an example of a game so challenging that you can't learn to play it just by playing it. Seriously, throw me some. You thinking along the lines of like, Dark Souls? That's not really a 'smart' game, that's just difficulty for the sake of fun.

      Bit.Trip is hard as fuck, but completely functional as a standalone experience. It's equally hard for gamers and non-, and the variant difficulty plays into the games' themes. Notice that Fate, in which Commander Video becomes a corrupt bastard, is the easiest chapter. Wait, this sounds familiar. Did I just post about this?

      Today and yesterday's bioblog is just the latest iteration of my ongoing contemplative theme about the dichotomy between games for fun and games for experience. I guess it kinda sounds like I'm choosing sides, which actually isn't true. I still love just-for-fun games like Dark Souls. I'm just a lazy writer.

  3. You do compare games to other games - and make references that I know nothing about. That gets in the way of my interest in this blog.

    1. Twopartanswer:
      1.) I'm not calling people ignorant - my frustration is with myself and my own inability to communicate ideas beyond the gamer clique.

      2.) Yeah not ALL posts are for everyone. I like to nerd out sometimes too, 's *my* goddamn blog. It's maybe 50/50 or 60/40 or 40/60

      3.) I don't expect anyone to know all the references I make. Again, not because I think people are ignorant, but because it's presumptuous. I try to explain enough context so you don't have to, but...

      4.) Yes, the "games as art are for everyone" tack does require a bit of intellectual curiosity on the reader's part. You have to be somewhat willing to look things up and have to want to learn. I try to inspire that drive, but you do have to bring a bit of your own. Otherwise, yeah, don't read.