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September 18, 2014

Are Video Games Actually Hurting Us?

So I started watching Kamen Rider Gaim.

I said as much on Twitter, but it bears repeating: Gaim strikes me as what happens when a man watches the movie version of West Side Story, and takes it WAY too seriously -- and upon realizing that the streets of New York aren’t filled with gang battles won via elaborate dance moves, proceeded to have a nervous breakdown. 

The show starts in one place, and becomes something completely different barely a quarter of the way in.  Without giving away any spoilers, let’s just say that head writer Gen Urobuchi has evidently been playing a lot of Devil Survivor…and unfortunately, happened to watch huge swaths of the abysmal anime adaption.

That -- much like the majority of this post -- is pretty depressing.  So you might want to have your favorite comedic video or song uploaded.  

(Should your search fail, Gaim will provide.)  

Don’t get me wrong.  There’s a lot to like about GaimA whole lot.  It breaks the formula and conventions that have gripped the franchise for the better part of a decade, there are some exciting ideas at play, the lead is solid, his foil is godlike, the soundtrack is infectious, and the fights have that expected toku goodness -- to the point where I'd say Gaim makes a better shooter than every shooter I've talked about in the past six or so weeks.  But at this point, I have to admit I’m a little disappointed. 

The rival is one-dimensional, all but one of the villains is an idiot (and also one-dimensional), some interesting plot threads are dropped without fanfare, and I suspect the show’s run out of cards to play now that the “Madoka-level reveal” has come and gone, itself a bit flaccid.  Still, I can’t help but like Gaim.  Is it flawed?  Oh yes.  But I’ll gladly take it, and enjoy it.

You may be wondering why I’d go off on a Rider-related tangent, given the title.  Well, that’s simple.  It’s because right now, it’s easy to get excited about Kamen Rider.  In contrast, it’s hard to feel excited about -- or even proud of -- video games.

Now, let me back up a bit.  I take pride in trying to see the bright side of things -- as the self-proclaimed “Eternal Optimist” -- and that’s not going to change anytime soon.  So if you think the rest of this post is going to be about me playing the doomsayer and shaking my fist at everything that doesn’t suit me, don’t.  I love video games, even now.  And I know that there are good video games out there, even now.  And I know that even if things look bleak, there’s always going to be hope, and change, and, you know, good games.  The way it should be. 

I just thought I’d offer up that preface -- because DAMN is there a lot to be wary about these days.

I have no idea what to make of this whole #GamerGate situation.  I’ve read up on it, but the amount of information and opinions that need to be processed are staggering -- so I figure it’s best to just stay out of it and wait for things and people alike to cool down.  I can only hope by this point that it has.  Smarter people than me can say (and have said) what’s important and meaningful, and hopefully it’ll help lead to a better place. 

Hopefully #GamerGate won’t fizzle out with nothing gained and no one learning anything from it; even if there’s been some blood spilled over this, it may be necessary so we can all figure out what needs to be done, what lines need to be drawn, and most of all, who we really are as high-end hobbyists.

So let’s talk about something else instead.  Something that I think is just as important.

There’s an argument to be made that there are a lot of people take video games too seriously -- but I don’t think that’s such a bad thing.  If we’re being honest here, I take video games too seriously; that’s a key reason why I consider stuff like Watch Dogs and DmC affronts to my very being.  It’s why I can’t bring myself to give a pass to any title that irks me.  You don’t know how much it hurts me to not be able to enjoy critically-acclaimed releases like everyone else, but I only take issue because I love the medium.  And I expect that, if I someday stumbled into a seat of creative power, others would feel free to point out my failings.

In those cases (and many more), I refuse to overlook their faults because I have a hard time accepting that tens of millions of dollars went into products that fall apart in the first five minutes.  I know that games can do better, because I’ve seen “better” for myself -- be it from the past or present.  As long as it’s within reason -- and done with reason -- it’s a gamer’s duty to raise a stink.  The alternative is letting “par for the course” comb the roof of the average mole-man.

I’ve always believed that, even if there are a lot of different factors that make us the people we are, it’s the art and stories we take in that hardwire us.  Think about it.  Sure, parents and teachers and family members and the like can inform us and give us a push, but those lessons are pushed our way.  Conversely, when you read a book or watch a TV show or -- yes, obviously -- play a video game, you’re doing it of your own will. 

You’re engaging with it on a personal level.  You’re taking in its particulars and learning from it instead of someone else.  So while a parent may tell you what’s right, art can show you what’s right.  And before you know it -- long before you even know what lessons you’ve learned -- you’re affected.  That’s what art is designed to do.

Yes, even this.

Everything I’ve said has pretty much been said better by Linkara in his History of Power Rangers series.  It’s true that Power Rangers is corny and silly and campy, but time and time again the franchise -- and its Super Sentai counterpart,  and its Kamen Rider contemporary -- has proven that there’s not only a genuine effort to tell a story, but to impart good feelings and morals to its viewers between the kung fu fighting and merchandise shilling. 

There’s something to be gained from that, I think.  As I’ve argued before, just because a story is superficially “kiddie” doesn’t mean that it’s without merit -- because more often than not, they’re the ones that are either much higher in quality than you’d expect, or so thematically dense you’d need a chainsaw to slice off a piece.

I’m not saying that everything out there needs to be of strong moral fiber and “teach a lesson” to an audience, because that would imply that all gamers are mush-minded five-year-olds.  But here’s the thing: we know what’s out there.  We know what’s good.  We know what can and will touch our hearts.  And we can ask for that -- expect it from those who want our support.    

Games can provide merit in a way that other mediums can’t; even if it’s just an illusion, they can put us right in the middle of the conflict du jour.  And when the credits are rolling and the pad’s set down, we can walk away with something gained.  We can have some new and special experience to call our own -- to open our minds, and make us stronger as a result.

Now more than ever, I’m afraid we’re in danger of losing that -- if we haven’t already. 

I know what you’re thinking, and I’m going to stop you right there.  Yes, I know that gaming has gotten bigger than ever, and (almost paradoxically) it’s given rise to a federation of smaller teams.  Indie developers are pretty much doing the Lord’s work at this stage, offering up plenty of quality titles on a regular basis.  Shovel Knight, Transistor, Fez -- all good. 

Those aren’t the ones I’m talking about, and for obvious reasons.  Those aren’t the games that are pushing out millions of copies on day one.  Nor are they confined to minutes-long glimpses -- at best -- in compartmentalized trade shows.  They’re the games that carry the most weight -- the games that suggest to any given outsider “what video games are”.

But I’m not here just to slam triple-A games.  That’s been done enough -- and despite the blessing of indie games, they’re not entirely faultless either.  I’m here because I can’t help but take issue with a hefty percentage of games as they are now.  Just think about what I’ve said so far, and think about what’s been said of games in the past half-decade or so. 

Think about the discussions, the articles, the commentary, and the products themselves.  Think carefully about what game, after game, after game, after game has been trying to say -- what developers and companies alike want to sell to you, on the grounds that you’ll love them and thus support them.

Think about what games used to offer.

Think about what they offer now.

I hope that helps explain why I hate DmC.

But since I brought it up, there’s a specific reason why I used those two clips.  See, I had every intention of using the Cerberus weapon demo -- or any number of other cutscenes -- for DMC3.  But then I remembered that Dante himself shoots a woman in the gut, and I figured that overlooking that would be hypocritical.  So let’s try and unpack these two scenes, and see if we can spot the differences.  And once we do, I suspect you’ll start to see what I mean.

The clip from Devil May Cry 3 shows the end result of a battle with Nevan, a sultry vampire out to turn Dante into a tasty -- and likely electrified -- snack.  Naturally the half-demon (and the player guiding him) pulls through, and gives her one last shot in the gut to finish her off and stop her sneak attack cold.  Shortly thereafter, Nevan concedes her loss and offers up her power to Dante -- rather amicably, just like the bosses before her -- so he can make his way through the tower of evil, stop his twin brother Vergil, and save the day.  Easy, yes?

Now let’s switch gears.

The clip from DmC shows the end result of a different boss battle, albeit one that’s presumably a few hours later (at least).  Donte and Vorgil’s fellow comrade Kat gets abducted after an enemy raid of their base, so in order to gain leverage -- and draw big baddie Mundus away from the Hell Gate that makes him unbeatable -- Donte storms the club of Mundus’ wife Lilith and beats her and the demon-baby she’s pregnant with into submission.  As in, you knock her around despite her scurrying away and begging for mercy.  (DMC3 may have also included violence against women, but on both accounts those women were portrayed as threats, and as Dante’s equals -- not his victims.)

With Lilith in tow, the nephilim brothers enact the trade -- but Vorgil shoots out Lilith’s stomach and head, presumably as a way to establish the fact that he’s not a good guy.  I would say it was “part of the plan”, but it’s not; given that the entire point of the kidnapping was to draw Mundus away from his Hell Gate, the most killing Lilith did was piss him off so that he’d unleash all his power and slaughter countless innocents.  So basically, the “good guys” got nothing accomplished and end up rushing Mundus’ office anyway, which was virtually the opposite of the plan.

DmC was not equipped to deal with a scene like The Trade.  And this goes beyond just discussing the ethics of killing a pregnant woman, even if she did (debatably) throw the first punch.  It makes no sense in the context of the game’s story.  It’s a bizarre departure from the franchise the game is trying to slot into.  It’s never discussed again, except maybe in a couple of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it lines. 

It takes the game to a place it was never meant to go, which it could have recovered from if it had anything meaningful to say.  But it didn’t.  At best, it was a way to show that Vorgil was the bad guy (as a way to cram in his “character” with the run time dwindling down); at worst, it’s just in there for a twist.  Shock value.  Proof of edginess, and some perceived sense of merit.  Nothing more, nothing less.

And we’re just supposed to accept it and move on.

I’m thankful we’re fans of a medium where scenes like The Trade are the exception, not the standard -- because if they were, that would be a strong argument right there to give up gaming, period.  But even if they tend to avoid that extreme, I still can’t help but feel like we’re in a bad place in terms of the content.  No, I’m not saying that we need to be all smiles and watercolors, or that grit is absolutely out of the question.  Hell, “grittiness” barely even factors in here.  What I’m concerned about is the message that a lot of games are imparting on us.  What are we learning from them on a subconscious level?  What are they doing to us?  Are they hurting us in ways we can’t even begin to perceive?

Yeah.  Yeah, I think they are.

I’m going to have to get a little presumptuous here, so feel free to disagree with me here.  But in all honesty, I get the feeling that the state of gamers is a reflection of the state of gaming -- that all the vices and failings of what should be the best and brightest are weighing down on us.  Chalk it up to any number of factors.  Pick your favorite of the bunch.

The over-reliance on lovingly-rendered, approaching-photorealistic violence.  The staunch, regular refusal to be more than just exercises in killing -- and the pushes to make that the main draw over anything else.  The absence of strong, identifiable leads in any number of games, putting the spotlight on the anonymous at best.  The narrowing of worlds and scope that turn sprawling adventures into funnels toward the next murder.  And of course, the stunning lack of diversity on all fronts -- ages, races, and gender most of all.

Art exists to circulate ideas.  They may be products designed to win bread for creators and companies, but almost by definition they’re allowed to be -- and are supposed to be more.    By circulating ideas, minds are opened; possibilities are perceived; even if they don’t necessarily bring about some world-sweeping reform, art can at least make someone stop and say “Huh.  I never would have thought of it like that.”

And that’s what games can do.  I know it, because they’ve done that for me, plenty of times.  Whether it’s with story elements, visuals, sound, or by virtue of the gameplay -- ESPECIALLY by the gameplay, in a lot of cases -- games can do more.  They can make us better without us even knowing it.

They can be more than just “fun”.  Especially now.  Because between you and me, I’m having a hard time seeing what’s so “fun” about plenty of games these days.

Or am I just being too demanding here?  Am I just ranting about nothing?  Maybe I should.  Maybe I should just sit back and watch while my squad mates in Battlefield 4 open fire on one man I don’t even know for sure is my enemy.  Maybe I should just embrace being a seven-foot tall super soldier that can’t be arsed to contribute to a conversation while his blue AI girlfriend proceeds to have more humanity than a cabal of saints. 

Maybe I should just sneak my way through the streets of India and ignore every inlaid desire to explore its folds for myself, on the grounds that there’s no one to shoot.  Maybe I should just point and laugh as meatheads, peons, and Batman wannabes show that the full range of human emotion is rage, angst, snark, or nothing.

Yeah.  I’m obviously being too demanding.  I’d better lay off a little.

I have my issues, and yes, those all come from some unshakeable biases.  But here’s the thing: I’m not so worried about how I feel about games, because I can get over them.  My problem is that I’m worried that this increasingly-popular, increasingly-accepted medium is going to start altering the perception of players and people as a whole -- if it hasn’t already. 

Let me put it this way: I consider Watch Dogs to be one of the worst games I’ve ever played, so unbearable that I could hardly bring myself to play past the introduction of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  And I’m okay with that (to an extent).  Some people feel as strongly about it as I do.  Others let it slide.  But whatever the case, the game -- despite falling short of the hype -- went on to sell, at a bare minimum, four million copies.  A lot of people are going to experience the misadventures of “The Vigilante” firsthand.  And I weep for those who buy into it a hundred percent.

The game brimmed with potential from the outset -- and once upon a time, the prospect of cyber-subterfuge excited me -- but Watch Dogs went entirely untapped.  What could have been a poignant tale and potential scenario of our future ended up boiled down to a single message: Ah, don’t worry about all that complicated stuff!  Just be a cool guy, and take down anyone who wrongs you!  It’ll be fun!  (If you’re feeling extra-cynical, you could say “be an ignorant cool guy” instead.)  It’s indulgent design that narrows the game’s worldview down to everything within Aiden Pearce’s distorted range -- one that barely makes it past his nose.

But the player is just supposed to buy into it because otherwise, the game can’t continue.  The player is asked not to think about the context, the consequences, or the contradictions created by Aiden’s actions and basic decency -- and often, common sense.  And that’s all setting aside the horrific devaluation of women in the game, almost from minute one.  Or am I just supposed to forget that despite being a 2014 game, the plot is still pushed forward by a double-whammy of a dead niece and a kidnapped sister -- both of which are largely Aiden’s fault?

But the player is asked to look past that.  And for what?  The chance to shoot people?  To blow up stuff?  To hack?  To steal?  To destroy?  Or in an abstract sense, to express the player’s power?  To make the player feel smarter and nobler, knowing that they’re “outwitting” foes who are only the villains because the plot says so?  For me, I can’t bring myself to do it.  There’s no merit -- certainly not intellectually, and not even viscerally.

And believe it or not, I suspect that I could if I had the proper context and if the mechanics were sharp enough.  I’m not against violence in games if it serves a purpose or is executed well; that’s the reason why Metal Gear Rising was my favorite game of 2013.  But while Rising asks you to think about what you’re doing -- in the story and out of it -- Watch Dogs asks you to stop thinking.  Accept it, learn from it, and think that what it’s doing is okay. 

And your reward is more mindless murder.

And for some people, that reward is more than enough.  It’s welcome.

Let’s be real here.  I’m not saying that just because you play or like a game like Watch Dogs, you’re automatically the scum of the earth.  If you’re reading this, then you’re probably fine.  But the problem is twofold; even if you can see the issues, and I can obsess over the issues, there are still people who don’t.  And beyond that, there are those who just don’t feel like there’s a problem -- that the games without anything substantive to them besides power and violence and the like are ultimately harmless because it’s happening in a game.  Fantasy.  Just a chance for fun, and nothing more.

That’s not fair to games.  And that mindset isn’t doing anyone any favors.  Not developers.  Not gamers.  Certainly not the outsiders looking in.  But that’s the message we’re in danger of sending as a collective of hobbyists -- that “this is our standard” and “this is what we want”.  We’ve already sent that message, in a sense, given the stuff that makes the most noise (and the sequels greenlit in the same week as a game’s release, based solely on sales instead of, you know, quality).  It all feeds into this nasty feedback loop that we might not be able to escape from.

In a lot of cases, the difference between a good story and a bad one is how willing a story is to explore the possibilities -- to play with its tools, dive into its concepts, and offer up something based on its terms and particulars.  It’s true that you can’t always count on or expect games to even have stories, but the same rule applies via its mechanics, if not its narrative.  The possibilities -- the end result -- are there, no matter the framework.  And that’s what gamers are looking for, more than just the chance for the next thrill.

We are affected by the art we consume.  It helps us consider possibilities -- new perspectives, and new facets of life.  So in theory, the possibilities are endless, simply because a creative medium allows for so many potential products.  But when a creative medium -- when this creative medium keeps slotting into roles and “standards”, and when everyone on every rung of the industry ladder accepts “this is how it should be”, then we really are hurting ourselves -- and our cause. 

You’re free to disagree with me, of course.  It’s almost certain that I’m reaching here (and if not that, then at least trying to play the moral guardian).  But you know what?  Maybe I’m not so far off-base here.  Remember my summation of Watch Dogs: ah, don’t worry about all that complicated stuff!  Just be a cool guy, and take down anyone who wrongs you!  It’ll be fun!  There’s something horrifically small-minded about the proceedings of that game.  It’s not the first, and it won’t be the last, but the mentality behind the lesser-fare strikes me as a little too familiar.  And as much as I hate to admit it, it feels all too real.  I wish it wasn’t, but this is what we have to accept. 

Maybe Jack Thompson, Fox News, and an armada of cross-armed parents were right all along.

So that’s about where I stand.  I’ll be the first to admit that this wasn’t my favorite post -- because it sounds a little like a hare-brained rant -- but I feel like it’s something I had to say.  So if you disagree with me, go ahead and do so.  Offer up some perspective.  Prove me wrong.  Give your own examples.  You read my post, and I thank you for it.  Giving you the chance to strike back is the least I can do.  Well, that, and at least try to end on a positive note.

Cripes, Gaim has got one of the dopest super modes I ever did see.  And that opening theme…delicious!

DON’T SAY NO!  JUST LIVE MORE!  Man, that should be the gamer’s rallying cry.


  1. This reckoning's been a long time in coming.

    Well, all bets are off concerning children. Impressionable is an appropriate adjective because you can make craters on a poor lad's psyche pretty easily.

    If you're an adult?

    Short answer: no.
    Medium answer Our media can create impulses, such as an ad's push to get that impulse to get that can of Coke. Past that, though, the sugar and addictive phosphates in that Coke will do more to influence you to keep drinking Coke than that ad will. On the other hand, thoughtful media can actually change us through good ol' persuasion because that's a tool of the conscious that our rational mind can enforce when we agree with it. But no, fiction and advertising have short-term effects. That doesn't mean they're negligible, just that they're temporary and driven by highs.
    Long answer: Forthcoming. Still ends in a "no."

    Stories can enrich our lives. They can also cheapen them -- of that, I have no doubt. What they can't do is pervert them and what they actually do is liberate us for a time, for good or for ill. What you have to remember is that society at large pins social ills on media in order to assuage its own guilt and draw attention away from its shortcomings, such as with the McCarthy hearings in Hollywood. Hysteria isn't new.

    At the same time, discussions of whether or not something is or isn't -ist should be had because that's how mediums are interpreted and analyzed. Neither film nor literature get off free from feminist or Marxist lenses. However, those discussions are much more dialectical and less condescending, and that's why I'm not willing to engage in many -ist debates over games at present. I dislike how everyone conducts themselves. I also dislike how the science fiction community handles it as well, but that's a different matter for a different time.

  2. "This reckoning's been a long time in coming."

    Too right. I've been mulling over the question for a while now, but with all of this GamerGate business, and with Battlefield 4 (thankfully) behind me, I just couldn't let it slide anymore. I am a regular holder of many straws, and now I am out of them.

    In any case? You might have held back on your long answer, but what's here is still solid, for sure. I would prefer to leave the real-life business out of games and such, but I guess that's pretty silly of me -- and not exactly possible, I'd bet. A while back, MovieBob argued that the rise of modern military shooters like CoD and Battlefield came from a need to boil down complex, present-day conflicts to simple run-and-gun affairs where the baddies were right there in spitting distance -- and to give the player a sense of power and control over the situation. That's some shady business, but I can't exactly deny it.

    But still, games aren't exactly doing very much to avoid being media scapegoats, are they? It's true that they do liberate us, but it just makes me nervous, knowing that what a lot of people are escaping to. What does it say about the medium when in the days of old, Mortal Kombat used to generate tons of hype -- and in the months to come, a new Mortal Kombat is primed to do the same, only with even more hyper-violence?

    Ah, listen to me, showing off my bias like I'm doing the can-can. I'd better back off for now. But on the bright side? There is something positive I can say about the situation, and games in general. And I will. Someday.

    Like next week, maybe. That sounds good.

  3. I'm not pro-GamerGate by any means. Its sordid beginnings are enough to turn me off entirely.

    However, the opposing side HAS been harassing people on the pro-GamerGate side and then making no mention of it or self-policing at all. I've counted at least five doxxings and three harassing phone calls. That, if anything, makes me sympathetic only with the harassed to the extent that they've been harassed, and every article that comes out disavowing harassment whilst paradoxically backing up a subset of harassers in "their" corner dulls my concern.

  4. Hrm. I can tell you a bit about gamergate in general, but I'm sure you know most of it. What I will say though is that there has been a pretty big abuse of the press, which is far more worrying to me than any issue in games. This issue is big enough for 4chan itself to censor gamergate. Think on that a minute. You can post gore, beastiality, and a whole host of other horrific things, yet not talk about that? Strange.

  5. To clarify: I'm pro gamergate and have been in it from near the start whenever the censorship piqued my interest.

  6. Yeah, I know...enough about GamerGate, I suppose. Not all the details, not all the opinions, not all the reactions, but enough to know that something big has gone down. Very big. Although the fact that you have to use a term like "pro-GamerGate" leaves me more than a little worried.

    I'm going to mirror the sentiments of others and ask: why would making the medium more inclusive, thoughtful, and diverse AND creating platforms for discussion that anyone can get into somehow a bad thing? Like, is this even a fight we need to have?

    I don't know. It just makes me hold Pikmin 3 that much closer to my chest. Well, as close as I can, seeing as how it's installed into my Wii U. So I guess I'll clutch the GamePad as a proxy.

  7. Well, this comment sure helped to affirm my faith in humanity. I'm not singling you out, of course; it's just that this whole situation is just too much, in any number of ways. I can't help but wonder why we have to be "pro-GamerGate" in the first place; like, wouldn't it just be GREAT if we could all be "pro-decent people who can be rational, open-minded, and inclusive"?

    I don't know. I guess in the long run this situation is good, because it could be the turning point we all need. I hear that BioWare/Dragon Age is doing some kind of campaign to stem sexual assault...but then I hear that plenty of people have complained that games have no business bringing that up, or clogging their feeds with politics or whatever.

    This is the part where I'd say "This makes me sad and tired", but I don't know what's making me sad and tired the most -- the games, the people behind them, the people who enjoy them, or just a situation mired in gaming.

    Well. Let's just see where everything stands by year's end. Maybe then, something good will come of this. Maybe.

  8. The fight isn't against gender. It's against an abuse of the press. That's the point I'm trying to make here. Here's a recent example:


    It demonstrates that the Ars Technica piece was willfully put forth without the intent of basing it on fact.

  9. The reason I am pro-GamerGate is I am against censorship, as well as abuses of the press. I know how that sort of thing can damage innocent folk.

  10. One other thing: Many of the games I enjoy are inclusive. For instance, hanako games are quite entertaining for me. I'm also playing Letter Quest. Give it a try some time.

  11. There already are good things. For example, Defy Media has stepped up to the plate, revised its' ethics policy, and has gotten down to business of actually reporting. That's what we're shooting for primarily. More gaming sites should be acting like The Escapist in their response to GamerGate. Other good things are The Fine Young Capitalists being funded, partially by 4chan of all things. In addition, over 5k was raised for the national suicide hotline in recent days. It's not all bad.

  12. Whew, that's a relief. It's good to know that there are people mobilizing on all fronts -- trying their hardest to make things better.

    Heh ha. Looks like idealism and optimism wins again. Or if not that, then at least make their presence known. "Not all bad", indeed.

  13. Indeed. Might as well use that momentum for something good!

  14. Hey I have been lurking this website for days now. Interesting perspective you have on videogames. However, I think the problem with games nowadays especially western games try to use the grimdark or even pretentious approach. And I think it is because developers want to make the game as an art piece to appeal to the social masses. However there is good grimdark and bad grimdark, like the comics from the 90's. However what I would like to ask you is it is okay to play games that solely are excellent on gameplay, but incoherent/cheesy/tongue-in-cheek in
    their story(um, Platinum games and I love the studio).

  15. Yeah, I think that games that have excellent gameplay CAN get a pass. Even if a game can't always express itself well in terms of its story, it can still express itself with the gameplay, AKA the thing people buy them for. Example: Watch Dogs was a hot mess in terms of its story, but it could have saved itself -- said something meaningful, or made a case for its presence -- with its gameplay. It didn't. It just set itself up as a bland power fantasy (at best) on every level. Boring, hackneyed, and ultimately offensive.

    Now, Platinum Games? They can "get away with it" because their gameplay systems and mechanics are superb. The core mechanic of Metal Gear Rising is all about dicing up enemies and harvesting their spines -- but setting aside the fact that it happens in a situation and method FAR removed from the real world, AND setting aside the fact that the style gives it merit beyond pandering to an audience, it was a core mechanic that had a purpose. You cut people up, or you lose.

    But even with "violence breeds violence" at its core, MGR was about more than mindless killing for satisfaction. The game made a case for itself by being a struggle for survival. You had to learn how to defend yourself -- through mastering your mobility options, learning enemy attack patterns, and of course by learning how to parry -- or else you'd get smeared across the asphalt. Every gameplay element served a purpose, and told a story even as MGR told its story.

    It's pretty much as you said. Just like there's good grimdark and bad grimdark, there doesn't have to be a black-and-white distinction between what a game can be or should do. There's just one basic rule above all others: "Whatever you do, do it well."

    In any case, thanks for reading my blog. Here's hoping you stick around.

  16. Been a while since I checked out this blog. Hey, if you're not too busy and still want some good toku goodness with a side of absolutely everything (mechas, magical girls, aliens) and bunch of stuff to pick apart and over-analyze, I think you should watch Samurai Flamenco.

    Now, back on topic. Yeah, that's an interesting perspective. Of course, some video games are merely meant to be an escapist tool, and while we shouldn't take that away from people, there's nothing wrong with analyzing them to see a deeper meaning to them. Power fantasies are an interesting thing.

    They're meant to empower the player/reader. It's something that supposed to be consequence-free and a chance to escape reality. Is that healthy? Should power-fantasy forms of medium be free from criticism and be allowed to do what they want in their own secluded corner? Of course, that doesn't quite fit as well as I'd wish it would in here since Watch Dogs is a AAA game.

  17. Samurai Flamenco, eh? I've heard of it, but I've never really considered watching it. And it IS a pretty good time for me to have a look; I finished up Gaim, and now I need something to fill the gap. And I really should take a break from Kamen Rider to see what else is out there -- especially with a new anime season starting up.

    In any case, power fantasies. Yeah...they're tricky stuff, to be sure. As much as I'd like to say "DUMP THEM ALL IN THE OCEAN!" it's not as if they're completely without merit (and in a lot of ways, worked into a lot of stories -- games or otherwise). I've been having a blast with Hyrule Warriors, and that's pretty much built on making the player feel like an uber-powerful badass. So there's some merit to them.

    I think the problems come in when there's a lack of balance. That applies to games on an individual basis, of course -- i.e. a game can offer more than just pander and be escapist -- but more to the point, it's especially dangerous when there's an excess of those harmful games. When the biggest voices in the industry tell us "THIS IS WHAT YOU WANT!" and gamers in drove buy those games and confirm "THIS IS WHAT WE WANT!" then my concern is that the medium's possibilities -- damn near infinite, without a doubt -- are getting narrowed. And when that gets narrowed, minds in general get narrowed.

    That's a bleak-ass future, if there ever was one.

  18. You won't regret watching SamFlam. It's definitely an interesting show.

    I wouldn't call them harmful, I'd call them static. They don't really offer much to the industry or the medium. However, too many of them will lead to stagnation, but I don't think we're at that point yet.

    New and creative games are still being made. Atlus is still releasing plenty of its games, Squeenix remembered how to RPG again with Bravely Default, Fire Emblem got saved, and Nintendo decided to form a new IP again. Stories and ideas are still being explored and told.

    I mean, with movies you have Transformers and stuff making millions, but there are still great and inventive movies coming out every year.

    Maybe there just needs to be some kind of big thing to happen. A game that blows people away and inspires others to do the same. I'd love something like that.

  19. Oh, absolutely. Everybody's looking for the next big thing. But it's as I said before, here and elsewhere: the key to true success isn't about giving the people what they want. It's about giving them something they never even knew they wanted. What is that? Hard to say for sure. But there are plenty of possibilities, and a trailblazing developer can take on the challenge with ease.

    Well, relatively speaking in this risk-averse day and age. But you get the idea.

    Still, I can certainly appreciate the efforts of those that ARE trying to keep things from getting too static. Atlus and Nintendo are pretty godlike right now, and Platinum Games is making damn near everybody look like a bunch of clowns. They're circulating ideas and exploring possibilities -- and they're giving us gamers the chance to do the same.

    That's what matters most. And that's what we need, now more than ever.

    ...In my humble opinion, of course.

  20. Yeah, I gotta agree. It's always nice to see people try out new things and getting rewarded for it. Atlus has been backing up other people as well. They got Citizens of Earth after their kickstarter failed back up and finished it.

    But sometimes it doesn't work out so well, like Gone Home, Fez, and Dear Esther, yet they get unwarranted praise. So, it's a double-edged sword.

  21. Unwarranted praise? Huh. I didn't know that was a possibility for those games. Well, I've heard some criticism towards Dear Esther, IIRC, but I figured the others were mostly in the clear. Shows what I know, I suppose.

    Still, I'd say that any game that tries to go past the expected borders deserves some praise, however slight. Given the choice between a fully-functional and well-made game that takes no risks and offers nothing new OR a stylish and daring game that's got its faults and maybe not enough power under the hood to do everything it wanted, I know which one I'd go for.,

  22. I must disagree. If something works the way it's supposed to and it's at least somewhat fun, then it's passable. However, Gone Home does what it wants to do and it original, but what it does isn't very good. It could hardly be called a game since you can't really "win" or "lose", and it's dull and uninteresting. And Fez is just boring, albeit somewhat impressive. They're failures in my book.

    Games like Cave Story, nobody has to die, and stuff like that DO merit praise because they do something original, and what they do is either fun or engaging and entertaining. There's substance to them.

    Of course, that's merely my own opinion.

  23. Ah, fair point. I'll support an original concept, but it's not so easy when the execution isn't up to the task. In a perfect world it would be, but oh well.Some guys have it. Others don't.

    I won't lie, though -- I'm kind of interested in seeing Gone Home for myself. I wonder if anyone's done an LP of it...and by extension, if it's the sort of game that can even be LPed.