A terrible post about gaming media and the nature of play

The recent Game Awards show was not better than it had been in previous years. There’s nothing much I can add to the shitshow I haven’t already mentioned a year earlier. The event was, in all essence, an industry patting its own back with the support of video and computer game media massaging its shoulders while whispering sweet nothings in its ear. Much like how the Oscars are given to movies that are of a certain style that which the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (it’s not really an academy), game award shows all are entwined with the industry itself. There is a major problem in objectivity here, or rather, the lack of it. Even you gathered a group of journalists and ex-game developers to determine the best games of the year, the sheer number of produced games would make some of these titles vanish from the radar, and the whole issue of the media being completely mixed the producing industry will create blind spots. Numerous games that had release dates close to awards seem to always miss a spot, or get unnaturally good spots despite nobody really having time to play them enough to assess their merits. Smaller games that are nothing short of fantastic like Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin don’t even exist on the lists despite doing something new, while the game industry’s big Triple-A titles are there to control the list. Despite gaming touted as one of the elements of counter-culture back in the day, all these award events and Top lists on gaming media sites show how nepotistic and outright corrupt they are. Then again, these events aren’t really meant to show what are the best titles of the year. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have advertisements and trailers thrown about and would showcase these titles around the latter first quarter of the next year. That’d allow all the titles of the previous year to come and ample time to play through them and assess them. That is if these were actually about the merit.

Mind you, if you were to point out this nepotism and how badly the whole scenario has been screwed, the media will defend itself and attack its customers. No other media is as rabid when it comes to insulting the people they’re depending their livelihood on, though all these media influences and journalists probably could make a living by getting paid by the companies and selling gift game merch they constantly get. If you check eBay for promotional materials directed at reviewers, a lot of them are making a small bank on them.

There is now academic listing what makes “a good” video or computer game. In the past, I’ve argued that we’d need an objective listing on what would define a high-quality electronic game, but on further inspection that might be a moot point. Mostly because games themselves are an absolutely boring topic to research and categorise in order of their merits and most people are only interested in the surface of these games. Again, we’ve yet to see a category in technical achievements as that would require actually inspecting the game’s code and how well it runs, or how well the play rules have been designed and realised. Films are rather transparent compared to electronic games as we can see their building blocks on the screen. Even traditional games don’t have anything under the hood as you have the rules set out in the manuals, but electronic games have stuff running behind the curtain all the time and all we’re seeing is the reflection of it. Even if companies would allow a reviewer to see their coding, it wouldn’t tell much unless the person was properly educated on what to look for.

There is a need to separate the journalistic media from the game industry, especially now that people have become strained politically to each direction. Currently, all the media is concentrating on what it should be seen as correct and choosing sides to push a view. You can blame me doing so too if you want, as I’m effectively promoting the idea of an apolitical, separated approach to the electronic gaming industry that doesn’t concern itself with the views of the titles or their creators. In the current state, the media is that is all but impossible. Outside individual reviewers and sites, game reviews are advertisement sold to the highest bidder and service rendered to friends. This isn’t anything new, I hear the echo saying, and that is sadly the case. Reviews of any form of entertainment media has always been used to advertise its product and buying reviews is about as old a thing as reviews themselves. Giving a good word for a friend is about as old a thing as lying is. This is especially transparent in films, where you often see someone else who has nothing to do with a movie’s production but has a reputation, comes in and says only good things about said movie. James Cameron did this to many of the Terminator films he had nothing to do with but did it just so his friends in the industry could get paid. Lying to the audience in order to get sales is not uncommon, it’s a daily practice and many pay for the privilege of getting lied to on a standard basis. Unfortunately, there’s nothing that can be done outside a total paradigm shift within the media or among consumers against the current practices, and that’s not going to happen as that’d mean losing money in favour of gaining integrity. People are blind to their own faults, especially when they’re being reinforced all the time.

There is an approach many consumers practise in reviews, which is to follow people who share similar interests and taste in entertainment. That way they find ways to find titles they might otherwise miss. I do agree that this is a sensible approach, it does end up creating a bubble of certain kind of titles being introduced alone and subjectivity getting the best of things. It’s the whole previous dilemma on a personal level again, but at least there’s no pretending. In this, the merits a piece of entertainment has gets skewed and the parts that reinforce the bubble get hyper-charged. Using the blog as an example, the argument of what a distilled video game ends up being is the rules of play and the framework its set in. This leaves no room for a written plot, as the play drives and is the story in a dynamic manner dependent on the play. This is against the grain with the gaming media, where the story is treated similar to films, where they’re the readily built scenes and events rather than as the framing structure the playing is done in. To make a comparison with tabletop roleplaying, the framing device of video games is the scenario written by the Dungeon Master. The background and reasoning why the characters are here are readily set up, and the players’ actions and decisions are what build the true story. Video games, however, are less plastic and have to railroad the player. In Super Mario Bros., you can’t ally with Bowser no matter how much you want. In a tabletop RPG you can do that as long as you can justify this. Here the rules of play step in, and how gaming, any genre, share more in common with card games and sports as they have strictly defined rules that allow no deviation.

The gaming media, and to large extent, the gaming industry have their own twisted mind what games are and make no connection of them being part of the whole culture of play. You may not have noticed it before or thought about it, but your brain did. It has made the connection well enough to understand that, in all essence, a play of cops and robbers is the same thing as Grand Theft Auto. Perhaps the media wants to, or rather has a need to, portray video games as a higher form of art and entertainment in order to justify their line of work. Film critics have some prestige as films are generally accepted as a form of art while video game critics and journalists are considered to reside at the bottom of the barrel. It’s not about their lack of integrity or vehement hatred towards their own audience, but again with that whole thing of selling video games as something completely separate from actual play. Toy manufacturers and toy collectors understand that collector’s toys are just more expensive toys for kids, but the same isn’t with the gaming media, or parts of the industry. They’re not making films or literature, or even toys, but something that is, in effect, a hyper-advanced method to enforce rules of a play. It’s as if the media is afraid to admit that their lives and work they’ve done have been all about talking about and making games for people to play. They may be afraid of the ridicule such thing often produces as the general association with playing is towards children. That’s something most thirty-something people are afraid of, but when you hit your latter forties, most people are grown enough to realise that play never changes. The children’s culture of play simply gains more expensive dimensions and more refined elements to it. At some point, playing becomes a hobby, and to some it becomes work. For some cultural reasons, playing is for children, and thus people game.

Aren’t you too old to be playing games? When will you grow up?

 

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