I’m never quite sure what I think of Leigh Alexander. I don’t really read Gamasutra, and I only read her blog on and off. In general I think she’s at the very least a professional and knows her stuff, and she does post some really interesting thoughts and musings sometimes. Other times she’s come off as haughty and arrogant, but I guess at the end of the day she is who she is, and people are never perfect. Some people I know think she’s the Dog’s Bollocks, other people think she’s pretentious. Swings and Roundabouts etc…
In her latest article though, she talks about some retrospective debate that apparently this website called Slate hosts every year. This year the subject of Call of Duty: Black Ops game up, and I was slightly puzzled by the viewpoint some of the guest speakers, and Leigh herself, put forward.
As I type this they seem to be debating how seriously to take video games; Schiesel likes Call of Duty: Black Ops best and says that it’s fine for games just to be fun; Bissell says fun is not the point, that Black Ops is cynical and that Schiesel’s favourite of last year, Dragon Age, is “boner-killing” (yes, thank you) … Either way. Black Ops is a spiritually dead piece of work, and I don’t want to reward that. And that’s all beside the point: Even if games, or just some games, were just for fun, Black Ops isn’t that fun.
Well “millions and millions” of people (as she points out just before) would beg to disagree. To be fair, Leigh is more mild about all of this then Tom Bissell is (not that I’ve heard of him before today, mind) – I think he gets a bit arrogant during the particular discourse in which he talks about games, fun and boners.
…but you’re dead wrong that “fun” is the point of video games. No, I say. It’s not. That’s a fallacy that grows out of this unfortunate etymological ensnarement the medium is stuck with. Games, for me, are supposed to be interesting or engaging, and can arrive there in any number of ways. But fun? Who cares about fun? This “fun” shibboleth is so often used to validate games’ overall lack of ambition—something that Black Ops has, yes, a ton of.
It’s a shame I can’t get into the specifics of this debate as much as I would like as I haven’t played Black Ops. This was going to be the subject of another blog post, but I have personal reservations against Activision, so I don’t really want to give them any money. I’m not a pirate of games either… I think someone still has our press copy, so I’ll give that a go if I can get it sent to me.
In a way, I’m kind of reminded of a Ricky Gervias skit from his Politics DVD, which I re-watched recently. It’s a little segment about when the UK Gay Age of Consent was brought down to 16 in the late 90’s. I’ll type out a transcript, but if you want to watch it there’s a clip here.
I think the last successful protest was to bring the Gay Age of Consent down to 16, and it’s what I was talking about earlier – it forces the hand of democracy, being heard… and there were millions of people on the March and they said ‘this is what we want, we want the law changed’ and the Government – I think this was 1997 – they said ‘yeah, if that many people want it, that’s a referendum. They changed the Law, and the AOC was brought down to 16… I didn’t see many sixteen year olds on the March.
Admittedly, I don’t know anything about the arguments surrounding the Gay Age of Consent in this country – I was 9 in 1997. Also admittedly, this is a comedic sketch in a stand up show, but I still think there’s a valid general principle behind it. Whilst it doesn’t matter who fights for your rights in any given circumstances, you have to bear in mind that the people your fighting for may not care as much as you yourself do. If they did, they’d be there with you.
Which brings us back to this whole debate about videogames and what Bissell said about ‘fun’ not being the point. With all due respect, I doubt he has the right to decree what the ‘point’ of videogames are. Don’t get me wrong, I agree in principle with much of what Leigh and Bissell are saying – games should always strive to be creative, see how far they can go etc… And as much as Black Ops seems to me to be a bit souless and Michael Bay, at the same time, the sales figures for Black Ops show that on some level the consumers – who we must remember are the real people of importance here – enjoy games of Black Ops‘ ilk as well. Some might say “well they shouldn’t because it’s garbage” but again we’re just reviewers, critics. We have no right telling anyone what they can or cannot like, we can merely express our opinions and hope for the best.
I think this is a good sign for videogames journalism though. Leigh, Bissell et al are now starting to write about the bigger issues of games and games journalism, and there’s now a legitimate separation between that and what people like me do, which is more consumer orientated and locked in the preview/review cycle. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – I serve the consumer and simply evaluate games as a product, although I do like to include bits of culture and the ‘wider issues’ when I can. Leigh and Bissell can serve a higher purpose – the significance of gaming as medium, where it can go, what it means etc… but they must never cross the line between the two.
So Bissell didn’t like Dragon Age – that’s fine. But even so, it was still ‘good’ as a game, as a product. The story didn’t suck, that can be sure… it may not have done it for everyone, but there are as many opinions as there are people. It was also fairly well made (although the console version did kind of suck) it had a good engine behind it… so it may not have done much for the medium or the genre – No one said it had too. Black Ops… well, the entire franchise is a bit of a special case due to Activision’s particular influence – which I do have a lot of objection to.
Oh look at that… another long-winded post today. I’ll leave it there for now – might post more if it’s warranted, but feel free to comment. Do check out the Slate debate whilst you’re there as well. It’s really very interesting.
Until next time.