Opinion: Most games ARE dumb, but then, so is everything else.
This post has a very real danger of getting ‘rambly’ (That’s a word, shut up), so I’m going to get as ‘straight to the point’ as I can.
Stop banging on about how ‘dumb’ games are.
I’m getting quite sick of posts like this, now. I’m getting sick of this notion that gaming has to primarily be some kind of in-depth exploration of the human condition. Please don’t misunderstand; I’m not saying it can’t be. I’ve found some very thoughtful themes and experiences in games like Shadow of the Colossus, Bioshock and, more recently, Journey that to me, highlight and celebrate the unique ability that gaming has to present ideas and concepts in an original, unique way.
That said, trying to forcefully perpetuate the idea that this is mainly what videogames should be about is, to me, laughable, pretentious, and insulting, and demonstrates a total lack of awareness of the world we live in. To orchestrate the kinds of changes called for by the author of the article (and too, I suppose, by Jonathan Blow), you’d need to somehow change the fundamental tastes of millions upon millions of people, across all forms of media.
Gaming is not the only creative output for humanity. We have books, movies, television, theatre, music and the internet (and probably some more I forgot). We’ve had most of these for quite a lot LONGER than we’ve had videogames and the fact that perpetuators of the ‘games should strive to be more’ stance have failed to acknowledge is that the majority of these things are dumb. Always have been, likely always will be unless, as I said, you somehow fundamentally change the tastes of most of humankind.
Look at the trends in cinema for the last few years; Twilight, Batman, Transformers and, right now, the Avengers. Two of those four things are based on comic books, on the ‘dumb’ concept of superheroes, the other two featuring vampires and giant alien robots, respectively. You could argue for the artistic merits for any of these things for as long as you like (although I doubt Twilight would get much in the way of support), but this does not change the basic fact that most people like dumb things. I should know, I’m a person, and most of the things I like are pretty dumb.
Does this mean that they’re devoid of ‘worth’? That they’re not ‘good enough’? I don’t think so. I think The Dark Knight, for example, was a damn good story and I enjoyed every minute of it, despite the obviously ludicrous premise. I don’t think context is any reason to dismiss something, but unfortunately, the author of the article seems to disagree, citing Vanquish as a primary example.
Vanquish, as I recall, was a stylish, well-crafted run-and-gun third-person shooter with some impressive set-pieces, a lot of ‘wow factor’ and provided a solid, if somewhat short experience for the player. It didn’t try and be ‘high brow’ in its approach, but then, neither did The Dark Knight. Both delivered a competent example of what they aimed to achieve, and both resonated pretty well with most of the people that experienced them (I don’t hear too many bad words said against Vanquish).
However, because the context of that solid gameplay was presented with a pretty average, normal plot about saving the world, the author of the article dismisses the entirety of the game, outright, as ‘dumb’. I think this is incredibly insulting to what is, overall, a very good game. The same logic could be applied to Devil May Cry, Bayonetta, God of War and countless other games and series that, while technically sound, don’t choose to present themselves in a particularly ‘high brow’, artistic manner. You can’t just write off everything about them because of context, because to do that is to dismiss 95% of all media, everywhere. Which brings me nicely to my next point:
What’s probably most baffling is how the author seems to think that this is a situation peculiar only to videogames. It isn’t. Never has been.
Reality TV consistently brings home the highest ratings. The most popular shows in theatres are musicals, where the shallow, mostly irrelevant plot serves only as a vehicle for the music. The most-watched videos on the internet feature such stellar titles as ‘Charlie bit my finger’. Nicki Minaj. This is what the world likes, and the world is largely dumb.
Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t strive to make more thoughtful, in-depth games. Of course we should. If every game that came out was as rich and intriguing as something like Shadow of the Colossus, the world would be a better place. But then, if every TV show was as good as Sherlock, if every film was as good as Fight Club, if every artist was as good as David Bowie… Etc, etc. It’s just never going to happen.
What we should do, developers and players alike, is to make sure we have a balance. Those ‘dumb’ games are always going to exist, and shouldn’t be dismissed just because of their context, just as you won’t dismiss The Avengers just because it’s about superheroes. So accept that, and make or play something else, in addition to the ‘dumb’ stuff. Create and utilise the choice to do something more meaningful, because gaming, like every other medium, is a big thing, and there’s room for everything.
Just stop getting so pointlessly angry that most things are dumb, because they always have been, and they’re probably not going to get smarter any time soon.