Sunday, November 14, 2010

Why the stigma?

Let's pose a hypothetical situation that you are meeting a person for the first time and they ask you about what you do in your spare time. If you state you are a hobbyist director, writer/poet/screenwriter, visual effects artist, or something similar, there is typically a moderate amount of respect commanded by such an admission.  However, stating that you are an amateur video game creator would likely result in a less than favorable perception by a large percentage of the population. Why?  What is it about video games that immediately elicits the reaction that it is a childish or wasteful past-time?  How is it that games have such a stigma associated with them?

This is perhaps even more strange that if you're a modder working with a modern game title, you actually cover all the names roles above. A modder directs cinematics, creates the levels and environments for the characters, and writes the plot, setting, and dialogue that make up the story that they wish to tell. So what is it about games that means they are viewed with a sense of derision when compared to movies, television, books or other artistic/storytelling mediums? Even when you're dealing with a poorly received movie compared to an extremely popular game from within the same franchise, in the general population, the game will receive more ridicule. And that's even the case when we're talking about a movie franchise known for its obsessive fans like Star Wars.

One of these has a horrible story. The other is a video game.

Computer games are an entirely new storytelling medium.  Scriptwriters and novelists have been asked to contribute to it, and have proven that they don't fully grasp the consequences of an interactive medium. This isn't to say they've done a bad job, but they don't have the necessary skills to excel at it because they don't appear to understand the subtleties required.  Creators of cinematics in video games are taking their cues from film directing, mapping the techniques directly from cinema into video game cutscenes to assist their storytelling capabilities. Games like Half-life pushed the interactive boundaries, having few real cutscenes that remove player input entirely, but instead using design tricks to coax the player into following the action that is presented on screen.

For example, take the opening sequence of Half-life 2.  At one point, the player is herded down a corridor with an interrogation room on their left.  The player has complete control over their actions, but the combination of lighting and sound mean that the vast majority of player stop and look through the small window slot in the door. There is nothing forcing the player to do this, yet because of the game design, they do. How can the skill required to create this sort of scenario not be considered worthy by the public at large? How can the skill of creating a situation that almost guarantees a certain response despite giving the player complete control over their actions be ignored?

Who didn't look inside the first door on the left?

So creating games takes a lot of skill, and draws on and even extends from media that are considered "acceptable" and the people that create them are considered talented.  Yet still many people are reluctant to admit that they play video games, and I don't even want to speculate on what the general opinion is of people who create video games. If someone suggests a party to play video games, responses will typically not be positive.  However, if at a party someone suggests playing games like Guitar Hero or something on the Wii, then generally people are more than happy to get involved.  There appears to be a definite stigma associated with the concept of playing video games as a past-time rather than something that simply happens. Yet very little is said of those people who visit the movies three times a week, or spend a dozen hours or so watching reality tv shows.

Isn't it time that the people who play and create games stood up and stated that they are creating a medium of entertainment every bit as worthy as books, art, music, television and film? Does the creation of video games not require people who have talents that could be applied to one more of these other mediums? Surely the people who enjoy video games can sensibly state that they enjoy an artform that has merit? We need not sit on an evangelical high horse and attempt to convert the populace en masse to the church of video gaming, but at the very least, we can declare that this thing that we enjoy takes great skill to create, and that it does not deserve to be treated with contempt.

1 comment:

  1. Probably a messed up statement, but people are generally idiots when it comes to things they don't understand (i.e. video games). *Shrug*

    Perhaps as this current generation gets older, we'll start getting more respect.