January 7, 2011

Puffed Up Jackassery

The game industry is a relatively young industry that has always, and probably will always, try to crawl out from under the shadow of the century old film industry. At least, that is the perception, though I don't think it's one we need to hold.

Valve has written the book on tight, interactive fiction with Half Life and Portal. Bioware and Bethesda give you fantastic worlds and choices to make in them. The Sims and Minecraft don't give you story at all, but a plethora of tools to make your own, which millions do quite happily.

But, it's not just the film industry with whom we contend. You'll always have your Roger Ebert's who take their reactionary stance that games cannot be art. You'll have your politicians like California's Leeland Yee (terrible name bud) who attack games with legislation because of the irrevocable damage games deal to our youth. Games are a truly evil sign of the times, much like the rap musics and the internets of the 90s, comic books in the 40s, movies in the oughts (the last round), and a long time ago, the wheel and stick game.

There's a lot of Grade A bullshit smacking our industry from external forces. Yet, at the same time, there's this coterie of emo, douche bag game designers and press who have erected this banner to champion games seemingly only as art at the expense of fun, to quibble over the most ridiculous of semantics, and to whine about everything. It's an internal cancer and it's killing my soul. My solution is to purge many from my Twitter feed, but also to be more vocal about what games are and what they should continue to be: Fun. Toys. Entertainment. Interactive.

One of my favorite arguments is this post, written by some "Fun Consultant" type ass, that everything should be a game. And all of our companies will have "Chief Engagement Officers" as a member of their leadership teams by 2015. This gem was followed promptly by this one, where the designer makes it very clear how people who like achievements are drones, and we shouldn't use the word gamification. What are you arguing about? It reminds me a lot of the anti-gay arguments. Why do you, heterosexual person, care that another human being wants to do something differently than you with their life? Does it change yours? No, not really. If this guy wants to sell the notion of Chief Engagement Officers, go ahead. If you guys want to continue enacting cultural change with your play experiences, please do so.

But don't act like children while doing so. Don't make broad generalizations and make this a bigger deal than it needs to be.

My other favorite trend is for game designers to rant and rail against mainstream award ceremonies. Chris Remo, a former Shacknews and Gamasutra writer for whom I have a lot of respect, noted on Twitter that there were "people complaining about the Video Game Awards but apparently watching them anyway." And boy were they! Jeff Green, former PC Gamer editor and now a community/PR type guy at PopCap had several Tweets about the awards. Then wrote this long rant about his thoughts.

Ron Gilbert launched into the Writing Guild Awards today with "I wish the WGA would stop giving out game writing awards since they know nothing about game writing. Hollywood arrogance at its best." I'd be curious to know your thoughts on game writing. I haven't played all the games nominated, so I cannot comment one way or another. I have played Deathspank. But, we'll get to that.

Perhaps instead of Spike T or the Writer's Guild, we could just do everything through the Independent Game Awards, which are awarded at the Spring's Game Developer's Conference?

In that case, 2010's winner, Monaco, would have received last year's award. That's great! Monaco looks like a really cool game. I say looks, because it's not done yet, it's not out, and it still may not come out in 2011. Chris Hecker's SpyParty is up for the 2011 title. Congratulations! This game is also not finished. I don't need to finish games to receive valid rewards? That's fantastic! Please tell me exactly how much I need to complete so I don't waste any time. Thankfully Minecraft is up for the top spot. Though not "finished" it is in a lot of ways. Plus, it's been experienced by 3 million people, 1 million of whom have paid for it.

I would hope that some of my favorite art games would have a category. Games like Rod Humble's The Marriage. They are just so full of artistic expression. And fun. Mostly the fun. Hmm, I'm going to go back and highlight that section in green. We'll call green the sarcasm font.

Are only independent games worthy? I guess the title does say independent, so perhaps we'll have to open up a third category. Could Call of Duty: Black Ops stand in contention? It has earned a BILLION dollars already, though it IS a sequel, and a shooter (so pedestrian), plus its player base probably has on average a high school education. Actually, I'm sure that's not even the average.

What about Angry Birds or Cut the Rope? Do iPhone games qualify or are they not important enough? Ron Gilbert's sure sick of them!

"I'm sick of hearing about Angry Birds. It's jumped the shark. Someone should make a iPhone physics game based about jumping a shark."I'm curious when Deathspank jumped the shark? Perhaps around the first zone when the writing was about as funny as an average Saturday Night Live skit? Or maybe when it tried to be a Diablo hack 'n slash but wasn't quite as fun?

I suppose I should lay off Mr. Gilbert. His schtick is being the "Grumpy Gamer." Plus he's contributed so much since Maniac Mansion in 1987 and Monkey Island in 1990. Oh yeah, green.

I'm sick of this puffed up crap. I'm sick of whining. Be glad you don't require a massive publisher to push out your games anymore. Be glad that the iPhone, Xbox Live Arcade, Steam, flash, Facebook, Playstation Network, and good old fashioned PC gaming allows you to make fantastic, small budget games really quickly. Be glad you get to make games. Be glad you are the only medium that brings interactive storytelling and combines it with play and fun. Be glad you get to make toys.

My Twitter feed is purged. Hopefully my blood pressure will go down so I can get back to GETTING PAID TO MAKE TOYS.

Disclaimer: I like a lot of different games, including indie games (I own both Humble Indie Bundles, for example). Yes, I have a lot of anti-indie rage, but that's often geared towards what these guys say publicly, not their work. There are some incredible indie experiences. I just don't consider Deathspank one of them.

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