Friday, October 15, 2010

Extra Credits

On the Escapist, a video game website, there's a show called Extra Credits. It's on once per week and, in the style of someone giving a lecture, it's an animated series delving into the video game community as a whole, and some of the problems they feel it faces. I apologize in advance, but this is probably going to get pretty rambly and I'm not quite sure where it's headed. Ahem...

I disagree with them on a base level. A lot of the things they talk about, I disagree with in some form or another, but really, when it gets down to it, I just disagree with their whole premise.

This week's episode is about diversity in video games. It's a broad topic and while it did go into some detail about gender, race and sexual preference in video games, it was more trying to cover diversity as a whole while leaving specifics for future episodes. Part of it may be me, but, well, it was just wrong to me.

They talked about how there aren't really any video games that pass the Bechdel Test, a test for women in movies. The test asks three quetions: Are there two or more women in the movie that have names? Do they speak to each other? Do they speak about something other than men? A lot of movies fail this. So do video games, but at the same time, I don't think it's necessarily something that is a big problem. First, let's just go with Mario Kart or any sports related game. Should MLB2K10 have women that speak to each other about something other than men? I know that for the most part, a lot of baseball announcers are men, and a lot of the well-known ones are men, and so when choosing announcers for a baseball game, you're probably going to pick men. If a woman is chosen, she'll probably be the only woman. Should there be women in the game itself as playable characters? Well, that's something that falls upon Major League Baseball. There really aren't women in baseball and a video game about baseball, in my opinion, shouldn't add them just because.

Now, sure, sports games don't really count for that, as there isn't a lot of communication in the game in the first place. Heck, the only male characters that talk to each other are the announcers, and you never see them. Still, that's a decent amount of games where the system is irrelevant. See, a lot of games may fail that test, but because it's not a test that really helps in any way. Sure, Halo or Gears of War may fail (I don't know, since I haven't played them), but, well, communication in games is almost always limited to the main character and people he or she comes in contact with. In Star Wars: Battlefront 2, there isn't interaction between characters. Period. Now, the only female characters are the Rebel snipers, but the point still stands (and there weren't a lot of women fighting as ground troops in Star Wars anyway). In Shadow Complex, there aren't a lot of characters in general with names. You pretty much have the main character, his girlfriend, the main bad guy and that's about it. In Spelunky, there's no names given to people period and no interacting. You could say that the game is sexist in that you rescue girls from the dungeon who are there simply to be rescued, but you can also make it so that she is the main character, and she rescues the guy, so, really, not.

My point about this is that a test designed for movies isn't necessarily going to work as well in a video game. They were aware of this, I'm pretty sure, but didn't really discuss that except for adding a component of whether the game has a playable female character. First, that isn't really something either. In The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, you play Link and that's the only character you play as. Still, there is Twinrova, who is two old, evil witches, named Koume and Koatke, who have names, talk to each other and talk to each other about something other than boys. It also has Zelda, the Gerudo, Ruto, Saria, and plenty of female characters, Zelda being incredibly competent and useful as Sheik, and Saria and Ruto being guardians of temples. But it would fail because you can't play as female Link? I know they were trying to do something to make it work, but adding a female character just because is kind of silly to begin with and interferes with their discussion of token characters. In the same vein that I don't want Zelda to be an equal character playable in Zelda games, I don't want some male character equally playable (the "Remember me? guy or Adam Malkovich or somebody in a similar suit) in my Metroid games instead of Samus. I realize men are the main characters in video games a lot more than women and often times the women are used as male fantasies, but, well, the Bechdel Test (which fails in games without communication outright) isn't close to being the answer.

There are other things they talked about that I'd discuss, but this is getting long, so I'll start ranting about the main thing that annoys me about the series, although I do kind of like it. Be warned, as this may be incoherent.

Video games are different from almost every other media out there. The closest I can really think of are Choose Your Own Adventure novels, where you actually decide what happens. What makes video games really different is that you control the action. I don't feel video games, as a whole medium, are art, but for the purposes of this, whatever. In other forms of art, you don't do anything except interpret. The closest would be creating your own art, or maybe in a play, where you can disrupt the play. The people behind Extra Credits are trying to jam video games into the art culture, making video games out to be some kind of artform and not just something in and of themselves.

Problem number one with making video games into art is that, well, for me, anyway, I rarely play games because I want to have a situation where I look at the game and interpret the way art often does. You look at a painting and can think, "Oh, that makes me think of the good old days, when people didn't have cell phones and VCRs were the new cool thing." Somebody else could look at it as "Oh, that makes me think of the time where everything started going downhill, where people started turning to technology instead of people and things started to get all technobabble." I really don't care for that type of thing in my video game. Sports games aside, when I play Star Wars: Battlefront 2, I play because I want to play as Stormtroopers and shoot some rebels, or play as some clones and blow up droids, or etc. Basically, video games, to me, aren't a form of self expression as much as a way of letting me just do things. I don't play Spelunky for some deeper meaning, I play Spelunky because it is challenging, fun, and something that I really want to beat (500+ deaths and I still haven't beaten it once yet). The one time that's closest to something like the situation above for me was playing Braid, which I played originally because it was similar to Spelunky in that I wanted to play because it was challenging and fun, but the end makes you actually think, somewhat, about the entire game and is kind of cool in that regard. Still, I wasn't playing for that twist ending at the end, I was playing because it was fun, and I just happened upon something that also could make you think.

Problem number two with making video games into art is that they are different. Like I stated two paragraphs ago, games are very different from any other media because most media is fed at you, where in video games, you take a controlling role. This may seem like a small difference, especially in very linear games, but it is a pretty big difference.It isn't simply adding another dimension, something like how paintings and sculptures are different, or how books and movies are different. Every single other form is non-interactive and that makes all the difference.

More than anything, though, my first point about making video games into art is my main one. I really like video games. I currently own an XBox 360, a Wii, a DS Lite, a DS, various Game Boys, at home I have a Gamecube, and N64, older Game Boys, look the point is that I like video games. I don't look for meaning in my video games, I look for mindless entertainment. And that's what I get, for the most part. I will play a game if it is fun. That's the only way I'll play a game. I enjoy my MLB2K10 just as a game. I enjoy Spelunky just as a game. I enjoy the Metroid Prime series just as games. A lot of the things that they discuss in the series have nothing to do with making games more or less fun. The way I see it, it is complaining about players' jerseys in professional sports. The jersey's just kind of there, more than anything. Or it's like complaining about the art on a Magic: The Gathering card. The art does nothing to change my outlook about the game. I'd play a card with worse art and a great effect over a card with great art and a bad effect. Most of what they are complaining about seems to me to be complaining about the way it looks, something that's relevant almost zero percent of the time in my video game experience. I really don't care how something looks in most scenarios, heck, in life. In a game, the plot is secondary to the gameplay. In a movie, the effects are secondary to the plot. Complaining about a movie's plot is something that makes sense to me. Complaining about the effects seems stupid (a lot of the time, although movie effects are more integral to a movie than plot to a game). I didn't watch Avatar because of various reasons, one of which was that I heard that the effects were awesome while hearing nothing about how great the story was, mostly hearing that the story was bland and derivative. In that same vein, I wouldn't play Crysis because it looked really good, if the gameplay itself was boring. Honestly, the things they complain about are things that are completely irrelevant to me when picking a game to play.

Anyway, if you stayed to the end of this, holy shit, that's amazing. Seriously, that's amazing. I'm impressed. Sorry, but I had to go off about this to someone somewhere and this seemed like the place to do it.

No comments:

web counter