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Commercialism, Popularity & Art in Gaming


Camp
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Ok...bare with me...this isn't a developed thought. I'm just sort of typing something that's been forming in my head for a while.

 

I think it's safe to say that popularity eventually leads to commercialism. A work becomes popular and people want to make as much money from it as possible. Once a thoughtful piece of art becomes commercialized it often looses something to those who were there in the beginning. Sometimes it looses some of its artistry in the translation to a product for 'everyman', sometimes the fans just get jealous that they now have to share their baby with newbie?s, in other times the commercialized project keeps its artistry and is accepted by both old and new fans (Peter Jackson's LOTR films, for example).

 

I think the above paragraph is relevant to every segment of entertainment media except for the video game industry.

 

Books, music, film, television, etc. They all have a population of artists working on the avant-garde. They all have artists pushing the envelope or doing independent work that is smart and different from the commercialized mainstream. Eventually, some of this forward thinking work will influence the mainstream or become directly adopted into it and gain sudden popularity.

 

The crux of my little thought is that there is no real avant-garde segment in the video game industry. There is no true independent artist pushing the envelope. Everything is intended to be a popular commercial success out of the box. There is no Indie label, there is no college kid making films on a maxed out Visa card. Instead there is a business controlled entirely by highly motivated marketing people whose job it is to commercialize and popularize everything. This industry is creatively very different in structure than any other entertainment media.

 

Now before you go posting 800 responses about "____ ____ is an underground game and ______ was an independent work of art" let me state that I am speaking in generalizations. Sure, there are games on the market and in development that teeter in and out of my definitions. I will also allow that my definitions are severely flawed. I'd rather we discuss the topic at hand than simply create a list of games we feel fall outside the commercialized game category.

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I think your thought is the result of the tools and knowledge required to make a game versus the other media.

 

In film, a Kevin Smith could know nothing about direction, cinematography or the techincal aspects of making a film -- all he needs is a little money and a Super 8 camera. I can write a book without knowing how to typeset.

 

That just doesn't happen with games. I might have a good idea for a game, but it will get nowhere fast if I can't code the damn thing. No such expertise is needed to pick up a camera and write some snappy dialogue and interesting characters.

 

As the tools get simpler and cheaper, I think we could start to see the Kevin Smith's of the videogame medium. I believe we are starting to see this trend with user-created mods. Looks at this Unreal mod (info from a Gamespot article):

 

[This] mod is called Air Buccaneers, and it's best described as pirates with hot air balloons. Players fly around in hot air balloons armed with old-fashioned cannons. Working as a team, they have to maneuver and fire broadsides at the enemy, much like the naval combat in the age of sail. One player will have to reload the cannon, while another will adjust its aim. Still another player will fire it.

 

-j

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Your point is excellent but I contend that writing a successful book or producing a film is just as collaborative as game production. The bigger difference, IMO, is that their are very few Kevin Smith's (your example) in the game industry.

 

The game industry is set up to not allow for the recognition of individual producers of exceptional talent. Even those who are well known have seemingly less power to initiate projects than their counterparts in other entertainment industries.

 

That probably a huge reason why there's such a lack of avant-garde video game projects: there is no maverick to convince a company hooked on producing commercial hits to fund an art piece.

 

IMO, that's it.

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My spur-of-the-moment thoughts on yours:

 

I think the simple truth is that video games are a very very young field. I think, in many ways, video game 'culture' is still sorting itself out, wandering around following the revenue. Not only that, it's a culture based on kids, only now are the kids who grew up with games becoming adults (and having realizations like the one you're having).

 

All of the other arts you mentioned have had time to seep into culture, and none of them was specifically aimed at adolescent boys to the extent that video games have been. Kids generally aren't into avant-garde, they want something fun, cool, gross. Sometimes what kids are into turns out to be considered avant-garde by adults (or by the kids after they grow up) but that's not why kids like it.

 

IMO, the video game industry is growing up very slowly, lagging behind the age of the average gamer. There hasn't even been a full generation of people living with video games yet. I think it will be some time (10 years?) before the real art of gaming becomes understood by wider society.

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The video game industry is big business, not an artsy-fartsy medium for would be hippies to express their views about social, political or humanitarian issues. The other mediums you talk about (film, books, art, etc) are easier outlets for these purposes.

 

There in fact may be some college kid, or small group of friends that have made a game as you describe, but there is no way to market the game, so you never hear about it. There is no Cannes for the game industry.

 

I think Robot Monkey makes a good point: Any goon can pick up a camera, paint a picture, write a book, etc. The learning curve for developing a game is much, much higher.

 

But, I also don't think that just because a game is popular, or developed by a huge company that it lacks art, or doesn't push the envelope.

 

You are right, this industry is much different than the mainstream forms of entertainment, and it probably always will be.

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Originally posted by scobeto@Apr 27 2004, 04:40 AM

The video game industry is big business, not an artsy-fartsy medium for would be hippies to express their views about social, political or humanitarian issues. The other mediums you talk about (film, books, art, etc) are easier outlets for these purposes.

What's funny is that Atari was run and populated almost exclussively by hippies back in the seventies. And yes, drugs were a major part of that company when it came to being creative.

 

I'd like to add another point. Yes, it's true that the gaming industry is a big business. Then again, so are the film industry, the music industry, and publishing. The difference with gaming is that I do not believe that it is a medium for personal expression at all, whereas films, music, and books can be and are. For me at least, it is simply a form of entertainment from which I don't expect nor need any insight on the world around me. I do admit that an enormous level of creativity goes into making a good game, both at an artistic and technical level. However, that does not mean that anything important (or not important) gets said during the course of most games. It's an activity the same way a sport is an activity.

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But, I also don't think that just because a game is popular, or developed by a huge company that it lacks art, or doesn't push the envelope.

 

I don't think there are that many popular titles these days that do anything remotely like pushing the envelope. They're mostly variants or slight alterations on a theme with better graphics and a couple new gameplay elements tossed in.

 

The only original popular game that's really stood out to me in the past few years would probably be Dance Dance Revolution, and even then DDR isn't a huge market, it's more of a niche title.

 

I guess it depends on what your definition of envelope is. Technically sure, but artistically maybe not so much.

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Originally posted by scobeto@Apr 27 2004, 03:40 AM

The video game industry is big business, not an artsy-fartsy medium for would be hippies to express their views about social, political or humanitarian issues. The other mediums you talk about (film, books, art, etc) are easier outlets for these purposes.

 

But Camp's question is, in part, why is it easier? And the response that gaming is a big business doesn't work because so are movies, books and music.

 

I think Robot Monkey makes a good point: Any goon can pick up a camera, paint a picture, write a book, etc. The learning curve for developing a game is much, much higher.

 

I still maintain that this is largely due to the young age of video gaming. In the early days of TV, you could not go buy a video camera and make yourself a documentary, in the early days of film no 'goon' could go down to the store and buy a movie camera. To make a music recording in the early part of last century required very expensive gear and technicians to keep it running.

 

There is nothing different about video gaming, except that the production technology has not filtered down to the mass market. In fact, gaming is still at the upper echelons of computing technology, it's what is driving some of the biggest advances in this field (see ATI and Nvidia among others).

 

You are right, this industry is much different than the mainstream forms of entertainment, and it probably always will be.

 

I don't agree that it always will be. Video games are simply the latest in a long line of entertainment forms that will eventually become as ingrained into culture as film, music and books...and just like those other forms, the technology used to create them will get easier to use and so inexpensive that any 12 year-old kid, or even 30 year-old artist, will be able to take a stab at creating their own.

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Originally posted by FreakTornado@Apr 27 2004, 10:48 AM

But Camp's question is, in part, why is it easier? And the response that gaming is a big business doesn't work because so are movies, books and music.

 

I think Robot Monkey makes a good point: Any goon can pick up a camera, paint a picture, write a book, etc. The learning curve for developing a game is much, much higher.

 

I still maintain that this is largely due to the young age of video gaming.

Hear, hear. As to the relative youth of the videogame industry, this is precisely what I was saying when I suggested that as the tools get simpler and cheaper for making videogames, we will see "Kevin Smiths" in videogames. I believe that the mod scene is an indicator of what is to come.

 

-j

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The difference with gaming is that I do not believe that it is a medium for personal expression at all, whereas films, music, and books can be and are. For me at least, it is simply a form of entertainment from which I don't expect nor need any insight on the world around me. I do admit that an enormous level of creativity goes into making a good game, both at an artistic and technical level. However, that does not mean that anything important (or not important) gets said during the course of most games. It's an activity the same way a sport is an activity.

 

I respect that opinion but understand that's exactly the opposite of what I expect from games. Game play hasn't really evolved much since the introduction of Super Mario 64 (the last real innovation). There isn't much more we can do technically to alter game play in a significant way. The next revolution in gaming is going to have to come from challenging dramatic storytelling convention. It's going to have to bring the story to the forefront and change the way we experience drama.

 

I guess it depends on what your definition of envelope is. Technically sure, but artistically maybe not so much.

 

Agreed. Gameplay from one game to the next is a simple variation. That tells me we've done just about all you can do with a TV-controller-console interface. We've reached a technical height. It's time to start investing in dramatic storytelling.

 

I don't agree that it always will be. Video games are simply the latest in a long line of entertainment forms that will eventually become as ingrained into culture as film, music and books...and just like those other forms, the technology used to create them will get easier to use and so inexpensive that any 12 year-old kid, or even 30 year-old artist, will be able to take a stab at creating their own.

 

I agree 100%. -and it's going too slow for me too.

I would not be surprised at all if games don't eventually oust non-interactive films from their culturally dominant position. Really, why would anyone want to sit in a dark room for 2 hours watching someone's bad drama happen before them when they could be fully engaged in their own fantasy drama controlling every detail?

 

There will be some sort of movie/game fusion which will ultimately become the main form of dramatic entertainment.

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in the early days of film no 'goon' could go down to the store and buy a movie camera.

 

Well, not entirely true. Back in the early days of film, when the industry in America was generally centered around New York, there were supposedly a great many filmmakers who were just goons who got ahold of film cameras and went around coming up with their own stories to tell. It was relatively easy considering that movies back then were very short. It was diverse, too - almost 50% of the filmmakers back then were women, and there was a high percentage on nonwhite filmmakers as well. When the movies started getting more ambitious and more expensive, the industry moved west and Hollywood was founded and the "undesirables" were weeded out. But anyway... :)

 

Aren't there a certain number of people out there coming up with their own "underground" games? I've seen shareware and freeware sites that sometimes have some rather interesting games on them. The productions values are modest, of course, but there's good imagination being put into the games.

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Originally posted by iCamp@Apr 27 2004, 11:19 AM

... the technology used to create them will get easier to use and so inexpensive that any 12 year-old kid, or even 30 year-old artist, will be able to take a stab at creating their own.

 

I agree 100%. -and it's going too slow for me too.

It's only been recently that simple and effective tools for video or music creation and distribution have been available to Average Joe With An Idea. Yes, I'd like things to happen instantly, too. But realistically, I think you're asking too much from such a young medium.

 

I'm also wondering about the basis for the claim that Super Mario 64 represents the last "real" innovation in videogames.

 

-j

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Hear, hear. As to the relative youth of the videogame industry, this is precisely what I was saying when I suggested that as the tools get simpler and cheaper for making videogames, we will see "Kevin Smiths" in videogames. I believe that the mod scene is an indicator of what is to come.

 

I suspect we already have seen some Kevin Smiths, at least in terms of creative output (as opposed to commercial success), when it comes to the technologies that are available to more people, such as Flash.

 

There was a Flash game posted here a while ago (8 months?) that almost oozed creativity. It was reminiscent of a Terry Gilliam animation, very organic and earthy looking, and it was filled with logical puzzles that made you observe the action of various things in order to figure out how to produce a particular result.

 

But, again, I do believe that there is something to the roots of video games that is also stunting the growth of it as an expressive medium. And my hunch is that is due to games traditionally being explicitly aimed at boys. This is changing, but it's taking a long time, probably correlating with the average age of the audience, along with mainstream acceptance.

 

Really, why would anyone want to sit in a dark room for 2 hours watching someone's bad drama happen before them when they could be fully engaged in their own fantasy drama controlling every detail?

 

Actually, I think there will always be a rather large place for non-interactive drama and art. People have no trouble shutting off their volitional brains and vegging-out to someone else's story, if anything they love it too much (witness the absolute ubiquity of TV). Interactive board games, for example, are extremely marginalized.

 

But I agree that interactive stories will become more and more popular, especially as our generation ages, and moreso as the next generation, who never knew a world without video gaming, become adults.

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I'm also wondering about the basis for the claim that Super Mario 64 represents the last "real" innovation in videogames.

 

It seems obvious to me. Mario 64 introduced 3D in a way no previous game could. In addition to the technical feat of displaying a 3D world it had to face the challenge of control and game play elements in 3D.

 

Mario 64 is the last significant leap in gaming because no other technical challenge has come along to leapfrog 3D gaming. In my opinions above, I contend that the technical challenges are done and the next major innovation needs to be in the art of story telling.

 

But, again, I do believe that there is something to the roots of video games that is also stunting the growth of it as an expressive medium. And my hunch is that is due to games traditionally being explicitly aimed at boys.

 

You bring up a great point here. Perhaps that's what needs to happen before gaming becomes more entrenched in the culture. Games that appeal to a wider audience (as opposed to just males) will turn the industry upsidedown.

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In my opinions above, I contend that the technical challenges are done and the next major innovation needs to be in the art of story telling.

 

I've made similar arguments before, but kind of in reverse. From here, posted just over a year ago:

 

Yeah, there's a lot to like about modern games...but there was something great about those old games. Because realism wasn't even an option, pure game design took precedence.

 

Don't get me wrong, I love realism, but way too often realism seems to be more important to game designers than FUN and thoughtful gameplay design.

 

I also don't want to imply that every game from the 80's was pure genius. That's far from the case, but the great games relied on ingenuity over technical prowess.

 

I agree with you that once realism has been achieved to the degree that games are indistinguishable, visually, from TV, then the pressure to innovate gameplay...and maybe even intentionally abandon realism, will arise...at least that's my hope.

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I've seen shareware and freeware sites that sometimes have some rather interesting games on them.

 

I'll further that by saying the mod scene is a good spot to find, well, while not necessarily art at least things that are less likely to be accepted mainstream. Counter-Strike, though hideously commercial now, started off as a take on DeathMatch that most commercial companies wouldn't have touched with a ten-foot pole.

 

Neil Manke is one of the best modders around, and his They Hunger series of mods for Half-Life are some of the scariest damn horror games ever. And his Project: Darkstar is another bit of brilliance. There's one sequence in that game in particular that is absolutely amazing and a truly neat idea, carried off well. Popcorn art, maybe, but it was definitely a treat for those of us who saw it.

 

So modding may have a ways to go, but I think we'll see the type of "art" games described here coming from that scene a lot sooner than we will any particularly established company.

 

Mario 64 is the last significant leap in gaming because no other technical challenge has come along to leapfrog 3D gaming.

 

Yep, I agree with that. I get what you're trying to say, at least, and I believe you've got something there. Taking games into well-done three-dimensions was really the last place left to take 2D gaming to change it, and now we've ceilinged on tech for a while except to make it prettier.

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It sounds to me as though we're discussing several different kinds of "leaps" here. Videogaming is dependent on so many things - technology, design, scripting/writing - that while one advance may be great, it can be hamstrung by another lagging.

 

Take, for instance, the technological leaps of the last generation. Better graphics, amazing 3D engines, particle effects, surround sound. All great stuff. Unfortunately, it seems that the design and writing teams haven't really caught up. They're just re-making last generation's games with the better graphics and sound.

 

What will be interesting is the coming generation. While graphics and sound will continue to improve, it doesn't look like the technological leap will be as huge as the last one. One may posit that this means we'll finally get to see design and writing take some time to catch up since by them everyone will have been wowed enough by the last generation.

 

Of course, the day that a game company actually invests in writing and multidimensional character development will be the day that... well, I'll be an old man.

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Originally posted by FreakTornado@Apr 27 2004, 09:48 AM

But Camp's question is, in part, why is it easier? And the response that gaming is a big business doesn't work because so are movies, books and music.

 

Obviously I was not suggesting that these industries are not big businesses. It was just a statement. Perhaps "big business with a very limited audience that knows the competition for every gaming dollar is fierce" would have been a better way to put it.

 

I still maintain that this is largely due to the young age of video gaming. In the early days of TV, you could not go buy a video camera and make yourself a documentary, in the early days of film no 'goon' could go down to the store and buy a movie camera. To make a music recording in the early part of last century required very expensive gear and technicians to keep it running.

 

I agree, but I still don't think that you will be able to run to WalMart and pick up a video game maker and make your own video game that will be more artistic or expressive or pushes the envelope any more than what is out there now. Even if you could, the market will be relatively small, and the learning curve still high. Maybe once all the people that can't stop the VCR light from blinking (if they still do that now) die off there will be some hope...

 

Video games are simply the latest in a long line of entertainment forms that will eventually become as ingrained into culture as film, music and books...

 

I think you're dead wrong there. Gaming is not considered, by the majority of the population, a viable entertainment medium. Gamers are dorks and it is a waste of time. That's the belief. Not that I believe it, but it has had, does have, and will have that stigma attatched to it for a long time. "Eventually" will probably be after we are all dead :shock:

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Originally posted by scobeto@Apr 27 2004, 07:23 PM

Perhaps "big business with a very limited audience that knows the competition for every gaming dollar is fierce" would have been a better way to put it.

That's well put and a good point.

 

I think you're dead wrong there. Gaming is not considered, by the majority of the population, a viable entertainment medium ... "Eventually" will probably be after we are all dead :shock:

 

I'm not sure about that. We've discussed this elsewhere on occasion, but I would just say that I've seen attitudes changing in surprising areas and in surprising demographics.

 

A buddy of mine who never liked videogames of any kind recently confessed that he has an Xbox and he and his wife (who also was not a gamer) spend hours playing Halo co-op. He had little interest in Live until I told him that for me (and many others) online gaming is about mainly socializing, not playing videogames. Now he's considering getting Live.

 

-j

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Originally posted by Robot Monkey@Apr 27 2004, 06:47 PM

 

I'm not sure about that. We've discussed this elsewhere on occasion, but I would just say that I've seen attitudes changing in surprising areas and in surprising demographics.

 

-j

I sincerely hope you're right.

 

Out of 10 close friends I have, 3 play video games. While that can't be considered a viable sample population, 30% ain't bad ;)

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I think you're dead wrong there. Gaming is not considered, by the majority of the population, a viable entertainment medium. Gamers are dorks and it is a waste of time.

 

I think this again is a function of the fact that more than half of adults alive (the one's making these judgments) today didn't grow up with video games. I was born before video games were a commodity, I remember seeing my first one, it was something special...kids today have no such disconnection, video games just are part of life, they are like TV, or movies, of music, another form of entertainment.

 

Another facet is the fact that games were aimed at kids, which is not a good way to garner respect for your past-time. I suspect a lot of the first video game companies probably figured kids would always be the ultimate audience for video games...and so it was probably surprising to them that as kids who grew up with games became adults, many of them kept on playing games. At least enough to make it a multi-billion dollar industry.

 

I agree, but I still don't think that you will be able to run to WalMart and pick up a video game maker and make your own video game that will be more artistic or expressive or pushes the envelope any more than what is out there now.

 

You are right, buying a video camera does not make you a filmmaker, and buying the audio software Reason does not make you a musician...but there are people who have talents that have in fact be able to create an amazing works of music or film in their bedroom or in their neighborhood.

 

Imagine being in a recording studio in 1940 and someone tells you that in 50 years, someone in their bedroom will be able to vastly surpass the quality and quantity of all the recording equipment in that room by a huge factor, which would enable them to emulate a cathedral full of singers and even synthesize their own sounds out of electrical impulses to create music so complex it would take hundreds of live performers to even get close. Such a claim would have sounded outlandish, but in fact it has happened.

 

I don't see any reason why games won't end up the same way.

 

And much like music has changed dramatically in 50 years due in large part to advances in production technology, I believe will games change dramatically for the same reasons.

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A great poet once said, "Know when to hold em and when to fold em" :P

 

I must concede Mr. FreakTornado, you make excellent points (didn't want to quote the whole damn thing ;) )

 

I guess not everyone plays the guitar because they are available, and not everyone would make video games if the tools were made available on the same scale, although it could be done.

 

I don't, however, believe that gaming will ever be as mainstream as TV, movies, books, or music. I've witnessed people actually physically uncapable of playing a game. Not due to a disability, but just lack of coordination. I don't care how uncoordinated you are, you can still read, listen and watch. I suppose it advances in technology made hands unnecessary for gaming, maybe the tide would turn.

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Working voice command will probably be a reality within 10 years.

Games are mainstream. They'll get to the point where they're on par with books/movies...they won't look much like what you think of as a "video game" today though.

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