Monday, June 7, 2010

MAJOR BLOG [UNDER NO MORE CONSTRUCTION]

NOTEv2: This blog is never going to be finished! - it was submitted in this format for a class to show what the finished product was supposed to look like. I never got around to adding all of the links because I was so tired of writing and editing it that once I submitted the paper I just said "screw it". Let this be a lesson, never mix schoolwork with the hobby work, it makes you hate the hobby work because now its just schoolwork... Sorry, but I need to get past this specific blog so that perhaps one day I can write more blogs.

On the bright side, I took a 3.6 in the class, so this was definitely not a complete waste of time! ^_^

This used to be a place of peace and humanity, where order and democracy ruled. War was not about life and death, but about ideologies and possessions, religion and commodities of the earth and stone. Now, our world is ravaged by monsters; beasts of claw and fang sent from the underworlds to judge us as they please. All order was lost centuries ago with the fall of our savior. As the winged ones fly over - in the shape of man; but not - spotting from above what the ground crawlers cannot, I can only confide in my faith that what the soothsayer said was true: her prophecy that the savior will return in the form of a young boy wrapped in green clothing. And he alone will purge the evil from this dark world. All I have is faith. The beasts can never take that from my bones, no matter how long their claws are.

Now, that sounds like a pretty good story for an enjoyable video game - a chosen one comes to save the world from impending doom, lots of action and adventure, a coming of age, trial and tribulation, etc. all of those good literary devices thrown together in an interesting fashion. However, this story actually sums up my first reaction to my favorite piece of artwork from the Renaissance period: The Isenheim Altarpiece, an altarpiece painted by the German artist Matthias Grünewald between 1512 and 1516.

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The Ebert Factor

This week in All's Fair Between Love and Score the goal is to explore the idea of Video Games as art. If you have accidentally happened across any one of the many forums, blogs, or webzines about video games within the last month, then you'd know that on April 16th, Roger Ebert, America's most acclaimed movie critic, wrote an article that claimed "no video gamer now living will survive long enough to experience the medium as an art form." Prefacing this statement, Ebert makes a provision to his original claim that "video games cannot be art" by saying the only reason video games can NEVER be art is because, "[never] is a long, long time."

Now, Ebert wrote this fully expecting a large response from the gamer community to his blog, this isn't his first time being the spotlight for gamer reaction. And he addresses this in the introduction to his blog. However, instead of creating an understanding tone that puts gamers on the same level as him, he attacks their beliefs with harsh opinions. When he says,

"The three games she chooses as examples do not raise my hopes for a video game that will deserve my attention long enough to play it. They are, I regret to say, pathetic."

Ebert is essentially looking down on gamers and video games as a subculture to media (specifically his movie industry). But this is an outdated view, especially in 2010 when the world's largest opening-day sale of an entertainment property belongs to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 last winter's major blockbuster video game release. Ebert has to understand at this point that you can't propose something that goes against gamers beliefs without getting backlash, because from a gamers' perspective his blog is a CHALLENGE - you know, the thing that gamers are PRIMARILY trained in: accomplishing challenges. To put it in perspective with an analogy, setting gamers up with a challenge like this is like opening your fridge to world famous competitive-eater Kobayashi. He is going to give you a run for you money!

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My Challenge

As far as Mr. Ebert's argument goes I respond with the following:

You wouldn't read a song.

You wouldn't listen to a movie.

By not actually PLAYING the game, you are denying one of your core senses the experience of the art, neurobiologists refer to this sense as Kinesthesia, the key component in muscle memory and hand-eye coordination. Its an intuitive sense that affects how people play games and react to their interaction with the medium, and Ebert, in his research, jumps the shark by discussing games without even touching a controller. You might as well be judging a compositional music piece based solely on looking at sheet music.

Art - Not a Definition, a Theory

Seriously though, this is a REALLY big question - can Video Games be considered art? It's a question much larger than some Roger Ebert and his opinion of some other person's opinion. It is easier to think of Mr. Ebert's role in this is more as a catalyst for real thought to take place. But art is such an overwhelmingly large concept! How do we tackle it? Wikipedia breaks art up into three ideas: skill and craft, value judgment, and communication.

As Aaron Smuts of the Philosophy Department at the University of Madison Wisconsin analyzes in his essay titled "Are Video Games Art?"

"Almost anything said about video games is controversial. Some game developers even scoff at the idea that video games are an art, as do certain filmmakers, even distinguished ones. Theorists who call themselves ludologists argue that video games should not be considered just another narrative art form, but a form of play. Other theorists, narratologists such as Janet Murray, argue that video games can and should become more narrative-driven in order to realize their artistic potential. This seems to be the path game developers have chosen."

It is easy to see the views that Smuts’ is discussing here by looking at some of the opinions that follow these trends when reading the comments that follow Ebert's blog post. Many of these comments even pass up the argument all together saying, "Art is subjective." I disagree with this idea because it is a lazy answer that doesn’t move the argument anywhere. If art is so subjective, then why is Roger Ebert appreciated as a movie critic? Why do so many people enjoy Lady Gaga's wacky performances? And how does James Cameron continue to create such ridiculously popular films? This anchor point in the article discusses artistic judgment quite clearly,

"Though perception is always colored by experience, and is necessarily subjective, it is commonly taken that - that what is not somehow aesthetically satisfying cannot be art. However, "good" art is not always or even regularly aesthetically appealing to a majority of viewers."

This brings me to the first game that I would like to highlight as art.

What is art? Baby, don’t hurt me.

Grand Theft Auto 4:

The classic controversy comes back to its cradle. In most news stories Grand Theft Auto is the standard public view of how video games are being mishandled by their creators, which is sad because where Grand Theft Auto 4 is an immoral, violent, racist, misogynistic, and most of all reactionary video game - it is also many intrinsically fascinating artistic values and ideas. For those of you who don't know, which is understandable, there IS a story to this game, and it isn't about having sex with hookers to gain health. Bob Chipman describes GTA4 in his award winning Youtube video 'Game Overthinker EP 25' by saying, "The game's narrative places the player in control of an immigrant as he explores an urban hellscape that challenges his idealized fantasies of the 'American Dream'". This gripping hyperrealism falls under exactly what Wikipedia's article says about art that is not aesthetically pleasing but reactionary and a result of the time. Basically, if Grand Theft Auto 4 were an art piece, it would be Francisco Goya's 'The Third of May 1808'.

ttp://preaprez.files.wordpress.com/2009/06/goya-may-third1.jpg

Although the contexts are different, the artistic value of dark, cynical, and modern hyperrealism can be easily found and appreciated in both pieces. But that is just one game, how about something that you can appreciate for yourself.

Today I Die / Every Day The Same Dream

These games are the exact opposite of Grand Theft Auto 4 - they are part of the rapidly growing 'indie' scene in gaming. To see games as art, I implore you right now to try them out by following their links Today I Die / Every Day The Same Dream. Both games are short and simple. The first game, Today I Die, is a game that combines poetry, an artistic style that alludes to the 8-bit era of Video Games, and a soundtrack that controls the dynamic mood of the game. Every Day The Same Dream has a different tone from Today I Die that Paolo Pedercini, the creator, describes as, "A slightly existential riff on the theme of alienation and refusal of labor."

Craftwork or: Where the Seeds Begin to Sew

These games are not very similar to what the average person thinks of when they hear about video games, but they show the wide capabilities that video games have to make people feel emotions and to think philosophically about the world around them. This is similar to Duchamp's 'Fountain' Duchamp described that his intent with the piece was to shift the focus of art from physical craft to intellectual interpretation. Are these games the pinnacle of physical craft? Definitely not - EDTSD was created in six days (although, from a creator standpoint, that is impressively quick coding). It is all about the meaning, which in both cases is widely up to interpretation, as many of the comment boards show. Both of these games show how video games can be art on the philosophical/interpretational level and they represent the new, growing trend of 'Indie' game creation (Today I Die was a finalist at the Independent Game Festival 2010) that holds parallels with the Indie Art Scene in how they try to bend the rules of their medium.

Video Games hold artistic value and should be considered another medium for art, just like movies and music. The major difference between Video Games and these other forms is that many people reject it as art and compare it to sport, which is true. Games, like film, do have different points and some ARE more artistic than others. Some are for sport, some are for entertainment, and SOME are art.

Quick and Dirty Quantitative Breakdown:

Madden and Super Smash Brothers are games for sport; there are infinite possible outcomes to the game and you compete against others to become victorious. Metal Gear Solid and Super Mario are games for entertainment; there is an overarching story line with character development and other qualities similar to genre films such as Transformers and It's Complicated. Finally, there are games made for art, which Roger Ebert claims does not exist, but if games aren't art then what do art directors do in game studios? How come when I look at the "sun" in Halo there is a mechanic that creates a lens flair? Why do I feel depressed when I find out that my princess is in another castle? Because video games cause a connection with the player that is similar to (and can even supersede) the connection you feel when you look at a piece of artwork. Video Games mirror artistic direction like that of film. Video Games allow people to roleplay as characters and connect on a deeper level with characters and develop characters more than what many books can achieve. Video Games employ music like other forms of media, however, the music has to match the dynamic, always changing mood of the game to make for a much more immersive experience than any other form of art can give you.

Achtung!

Right now, a revolution is rising. We have the potential to expand the boundaries of what we consider art to be just like the artistic revolutions before ours. Video Games have the ability to bring us to a new age and it is time to seize the opportunity instead of dismissing it as childish or unimportant.

People may not be ready to accept it yet, but video games are art.

Also, dear Mr. Ebert, Mario and Buster Keaton are the same person.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Destruction of Inaccessibility

Imagine this with me:
You are the overseer of a brand new civilization on a distant planet. Based solely on your whim your people build and expand. Each new day is spent exploring the new terrain in search of resources that can be harvested for further expansion. You are the master of these people and everything they do. As their loving omniscient you help these small people hunt and gather by showing them what to build and where to build it. Everything seems great until all of a sudden, in the midst of training your people in the ways of your arcane power, you hear someone right next to you shout, "ZURG RUSH!"

In just moments, the civilization that you spent so long building up has been decimated, everyone is dead and nobody was spared. Your resources have been scavenged, and the people who blindly trusted your omniscience are buried underneath the piles of their own structures.



This is my experience with Starcraft. One of my least favorite games.



Alright, let me explain myself: Starcraft isn't the worst game I've ever played (Spiderman 2; DS). In fact, it isn't a bad game at all. However, out there in the world of video games there is a list of games that have good sized fan bases that I just can't stand playing! This isn't a long list- it technically only contains two games- but I don't like them for the same reason:

Inaccessibility.

When I use the word inaccessibility, I don't mean something is wrong with the game I'm actually talking about something that is wrong with the fanbase of the game. When a game is made that takes a good amount of strategy, skill, or plain-old pattern recognition, then, as it gains popularity - a fanbase is made. This fanbase is the reason that I hate these games.

The games that I'm talking about are Starcraft and Defense of the Ancients (and all of its bastard children). These are games that, at this point, you don't play alone. If you are playing either of these games its because you have played it before or someone has told you to play it. I've fallen in the latter category many times now and every time I play it, it is prefaced with the same "I'll show you how to play" attitude from my friend. This is, of course, a TRAP. My friend is actually saying "I haven't played this game in a while and I need to beat someone at it, unfortunately, you are physically the closest person to me."

Back on topic though, DotA (Defense of the Ancients), is the best example of inaccessibility in video gaming. A game where the fanbase has become so elitist that it had to make new versions of itself just so it can be who play DotA. (HoN, LoL, and other silly acronyms). If you want to find out how much you suck, you can play any of these games and not only will you lose, but everyone will tell you how terrible you are. This is the inaccessible part of the game. Of course, if you can work past this, Starcraft isn't a bad game (DotA has a stupid concept though). But it is such a social game, that if you are bad at the game or new, then your whole team loses and they have to suffer because you aren't good enough.

The difference between this and the new trend of Online Cooperative games like Left 4 Dead is that Left 4 Dead is easy to learn. There is strategy, but the main strategy of Left 4 Dead is: 'click on things = they get dead'. When you are learning to play DotA or Starcraft, your friend might give you the race or character that is easy to learn. But then they can just choose the race that expands faster or larger than yours. It's like letting someone choose the balanced Mario and then using Bowser because he's stronger or Yoshi because he's faster. (But everyone knows that Wario is the perfect balance between Speed and Power)



Inaccessibility. I'd like this to be more than just a rant- but it probably won't translate to be so... But, I point this out because games like this have a limited lifespan. This problem will be what keeps these games from growing. The fanbase is large for now, but mainly because the games in question are free (go download HoN, Beta is free for now) or easily downloadable. Once money has to be passed, it's hard to believe that many new people will be willing to put down money for a game that the venomous fanbase doesn't want them playing. You can have a high difficulty curve but it just doesn't match well with multiplayer gaming.


Alright, that is enough ranting. I know I'm not going to make any friends with this blog, but I want to give everybody something with this. So here is a recommendation: If you haven't played DotA or HoN before, find some friends who know about it and let them show you how it works. Because as much as I dislike it; the game, the community, and all the camaraderie are, at the very least: interesting. It is a very special type of video game that deserves attention and if it weren't for such a loud, elitist fan base (the inaccessibility), I'd probably like the game more.

Thanks for following for so long: Here is your reward. Great flash game: Much better gameplay than DotA, not quite as good as Legion TD Warcraft.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Lethargy? More like LOLergy!

If you are wondering why a blog hasn't come out in a while...
I Blame this:




















So much Pokemon. So little time. This Pokemon Tournament is eating up a lot of recreational time. (It's TOO MUCH FUN) But I haven't been playing many other games to blog about. Don't worry, things will come. Give it time.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

DDR Zen

Where audio-visual memorization meets agility you get one of the most noble of all video game pursuits: DDR Zen.


If you haven't figured it out yet, I am a huge rhythm game junkie. Everything from Elite Beat Agents to Audiosurf to Taiko: Drum Master to Harmonix's older games like Amplitude. But the grandfather of them all is Dance Dance Revolution.

It was freshman year of high school when I first played DDR, it was during a swim team get together when I first set foot upon the plastic mat. I had seen it played before, but never had the urge to try it. While I tripped along on 'Light' mode, keeping my feet centered beneath me, hitting one arrow at a time, my opponent next to me was flying. He put on a mystifying performance of unfathomable foot-flying fury. Between his act, the hypnotic J-Pop, and the cheering of the onlookers - I was tranced. Hooked into the effect of it all. This person was a god among men.

DDR became the last half of my freshman year, and most of my summer. It was the reason that I ended up purchasing a PS2 (which was good for my dad since now he could play finish playing his Metal Gear Solid series). I wanted to get my chance in the light, to be a Master in the Art of DDR.



It was a long and uphill grind. After about a month I began to get comfortable with moving both of my feet and not coming back to the center of the pad after every beat, and that led to unlocking the next level of difficulty: Standard. Oh, the joy that there was when I started to learn the pattern to the cover of Phil Collins' "Against All Odds" From there it all started, as if in a Rocky-esque montage, I kept getting better and better running through all of the Standard level songs. Playing until my legs were butter, getting stronger, moving faster, memorizing the step pattern and working through the best way to hit all the buttons as if it were as natural as breathing. I was finding that Zen. People could watch me dance and say, "Wow, that is great!" (As long as I wasn't playing someone better than me.)








<--- Optimal physique for DDR.
<--- What I do not look like...
<--- :'(





It became that time. I had beaten almost all of the Standard level songs and was ready to transcend into the depths of the final difficulty tier: HEAVY. The sacred land where the notes no longer follow the rhythm but the melody as well. Where we separate the elite from the meat. "If you can learn heavy then you are the master." - was what I told myself. This was my Dolph Lundgren. I attempted to dance my way through the easier songs on the game: Genie In A Bottle, Get Busy, I Will Survive, Oops!... I Did It Again. Those simple pop songs that they put on the disc to advertise the game with their distracting music videos. But this was a different level, I limped my way through these so-called "easy" songs and called my E rating a victory. I won the fight, but I was losing the war. And the war was never meant to be won.

I had hit that wall. That evil wall that all athletes understand as the make-it or break-it point. However, there is a difference between sports and video games. Video Games change. Here enters Guitar Hero, the newest peripheral to entertain my fingers giving my legs the rest they deserve. My mats now rest in the corner of the room, shredded and taped up like a heavily loved pair of shoes. Dolph was left undefeated but my mind was elsewhere, my mind was more on Ozzy Osbourne then it was on the late Captain Jack and Smile.dk.

Heavy was left for Frankenstein on Expert but I still came back once in a while for later generations of DDR. When I look back now, I realize that I had found that DDR Zen the whole time. I was in good shape, had a ridiculous amount of fun, and I can still always go back to it if I want to impress friends. (Which I do sometimes since Guitar Hero no longer impresses people) In the end I got everything I wanted from it, and someday I might finish what I started, especially since I do want to get back in shape.




College knows how to make a kid fat...

Finally, for your entertainment: Meet Stepmania.