Sunday, 7 August 2011

What's in a Game?

Why is it that many people (I hesitate to use the term most, due to an abundant lack of actual statistics) see video games as childish? If I tell certain people that I've spent the evening on the xbox, it's met with a dismissive shake of the head, or, if I'm lucky, a sympathetic thing's will get better soon. I don't want or need them to get better, it was no doubt a very enjoyable, frustrating and ultimately diverting evening.

If I was to say I spent the evening watching a film or listening to music, I'd not receive such a patronising reaction. (Unless, perhaps, the film was Meet the Spartans and Justin Bieber was on the stereo.) Video games are becoming more and more sophisticated, not just in terms of graphics but in terms of story, character and all-round immersive environment. Take LA Noire, the game from Rockstar (GTA) in which your character is a detective in 1940s Los Angeles. The narrative twists and turns, splits depending on how you investigate the crimes. It's an engaging story in which you become emotionally involved with character. Why, then, is it not taken as seriously as, for example, film?

There's certainly as much work that goes into the product, both in terms of production, marketing etc etc. Could it be that it suffers from being the youngest child? Cinema, at its inception, was not considered anywhere near a serious art form, until pioneers such as Chaplin and Griffith (racist he may be) pushed it firmly into the classification of "culture". Video games, in their modern form, as still relatively young, and the simple fact may be that it just takes certain people some time to consider something new to become "worthy".

Hindering the cause for computer entertainment is the misconception that games are mindless, and often needlessly violent. Whilst there are undoubtedly some games where this is the case, it is unfair to criticise the whole art form of gaming. There are films that are mindless and pointless (just earlier I caught a snippet of Cats & Dogs on TV), there are books that are mindless and pointless, but you can't criticise The Great Gatsby because Dan Brown is a trashy author. And there's no doubt he is.

But games like LA Noire, even entertaining family fare like the Lego Adventures of Indiana Jones (brilliant) require active brain power. You have to solve puzzles in order to progress, and it doubtless improves your hand-eye coordination. Maybe a fair accusation may be that it can be antisocial, but it is no less so than a film, a book, or a play. In fact, it's probably more so, as most games now feature online modes where you interact (shoot) with other people from across the globe.

When all is said and done, though, I imagine the cynics will keep coming back to the one prominent argument: it's just a waste of time. Well, it isn't. If it's a waste of time, then all art forms are a waste of time, then sport is a waste of time. We don't stop watching films when we grow up, we just change the type of films we watch. So it is with games, except the margins are less easily defined. They're not for everyone (usually because they're no good at them, hence they become pointless) but they are a burgeoning art form, and should begin to be treated as such.

Tom Brown

No comments:

Post a Comment