The Big Tent.
So E3 2012 has come and gone, and made some people angry along the way. For my part I spent most of that period scouring the internet for any and all footage of one particular game, but what I did see of the rest of the event seemed just about as juvenile and unrelated to what gaming is to me as it has always been.
There were many things demanding of criticise about E3 and those things need to be criticised, vocally and repeatedly if anything is to change. The entire policy of “Booth Babes”, the fetishistic treatment of violence, the reliance on spectacle over substance, the substitution of “gritty and mature” for actual content, these are just a few of the problems E3 brings up. I can’t in good conscience suggest these things, and many others, should not be criticised, I just worry about the form some of these criticisms take and the language used to voice them.
Journalist and indie game developer Tom Francis is a smart guy, and the game he’s making is very good, so I expected to be impressed with his E3 inspired manifesto. For about ninety percent of it I was in complete agreement, however certain implied, and in one particular instance explicit, criticisms stood out.
If you hamstring that to ensure the player gets a pre-packaged experience, you’re crippling this medium to make it resemble a less interesting one.
Inherently anything described as a manifesto is going to suffer from some degree of exaggeration and grandiosity but still I find “crippling this medium” to be an unnecessarily aggressive choice of words. I struggle to find two people who agree on how to define what this medium that we call video games is, so to declare something as crippling it is either presumptive or simply naive.
The context for this statement is that certain design approaches, particular those of the likes of Call of Duty are attempts to make games resemble a different and “less interesting” medium, that of film. I can let the “less interesting” part go since these things are subjective but I find the underlying premise troubling.
Why is making a game that is “film like” a bad thing? Interactive Fiction is “book like” but that didn’t stop the Interactive Fiction panel at PAX East 2010 from being the single most creative and intelligent part of that entire event. To completely dismiss a design approach because it appears to represent or reinterpret one medium in the form of another shows either a surfeit of hubris or a dearth of imagination.
Call of Duty is not a film. The very things that make it “not a film” are worthy of examination and critical engagement rather than blanket ridicule. There are few better ways of destroying a community than by instituting a purity test and that’s exactly what we do when we use language like “actual video game” or “crippling this medium”.
Two minutes spent with the archives of this site, or thirty seconds in my presence, should be more than enough to confirm that my tastes in games, and my personal design philosophy is closer to that of Tom Francis than it is to the likes of Infinity Ward, yet I don’t feel that’s enough justification to imply they are acting in a detrimental fashion, either toward the work they create or games as a whole. Not liking something is not a valid basis on which to make the claim that it causes harm either to itself or others. Should all games follow the path embarked upon by Infinity Ward? No, but no more than all games should do anything.
Video games still have big problems, in terms of demographic reach, along with their representation of minorities, sexuality, and themes not defined by violent conflict. Against all that to single out one design philosophy as being flawed when it’s difficult to even find a consensus on the defining traits of video games to begin with is hyperbole that serves little purpose.
Ninety percent of Tom Francis’ manifesto is golden, and on the whole the criticisms of Kris Graft are justified, but let’s free them from the over exaggeration for a moment and accept that those of us who agree with them really have no better claim to what is and isn’t good for this medium than the millions of people playing Modern Warfare 3 right now.