Right in Front of Your Face

Elitism still is the big divide. It’s the biggest obstacle facing games today. Elitism is the belief that some individuals, who form an elite — a select group of people with intellect, wealth, specialized training or experience, or other distinctive attributes — are those whose views are the only ones that matter.

We are that elite.

Many of my friends resented when Nintendo positioned itself as a beacon to attract non-gamers (including some of my non-gamer friends, interestingly enough). Now, after piling them with shovelware for years, we see our dusted Wiis and state “The Wii Is Dead” in a dismissive tone that implies “See, we were right all along. You shouldn’t have abandoned us. We are the ones that get it, not them”.

Because (OMG!) gaming is art. And we are (obviously) the only ones who can see it.
Some pieces of art are difficult to understand or appreciate. That’s why the elite is the elite; and have Bach playing on the background as they discuss the peasant situation. The thing is that while there is only schooling and experience in the way of turning the Average Joe into H. E. Pennypacker, for gaming there is also the issue of skill. How can grandpa even start to appreciate games when just comprehending the controls is bound to take more spasmodic accidents than his patience and time could afford?

Yes, folks, this is my Omnitopic entry!

No matter how unapproachable a book or a movie may be, one can always get through it. The same is not true for gaming, as the skills it requires are primarily related to manual dexterity – which is not a trivial thing to acquire. It’s mostly an aptitude after all. Gaming is built on progression and not matter whether this progression if linear or open ended, the plot is not. One cannot skip to world 8-8 if one cannot even pass world 1-1 (and the first warp zone is hidden in the world 1-2, mind you). This is troublesome. It’s like buying a movie without knowing how to read it.

I find this unfair, especially now games are maturing into a narrative driven medium. I firmly believe that, if you buy a game, and this game has an ending to show, you should be able to see it, regardless of your skill. If the industry find it already hard to remain lucrative when they have to battle for a few hardcore gamers who have not the time and money to buy anything other than a few AAA titles a year for US$ 60.00 each, imagine selling their products to someone who already knows he/she won’t be able to enjoy it due to their lack of skill.

So, their answer was to simplify gameplay, thus alienating one audience in the sake of another.

But people, simplifying is HARD. Especially when you are simplifying for an audience you have trouble relating to. Most of our best and brightest designers have a hardcore gamer background and, understandably, the industry filter them from the rest. Why, to enter Digipen, one must critique a game or choose to analyse a character or world available from a set that pretty much seems like it sprung out from games. There is a very thin line separating a game that is simple (Mario, Wii Sports, Canabalt) to a game that is simplistic (Wii Play, Wii Music) and more often than not, this line is crossed by developers running like a drunk man runs to pray at the porcelain altar.

And yet, the perfect solution was already there! One that doesn’t negate neither the challenge nor the emergent narrative. As often when gaming is concerned, this ingenious solution was the brainchild of Miyamoto: the Super Guide.

Candy, anyone?

The Super Guide is an incredible tool. It marries both casual and hardcore market without sacrificing anything to both. Basically, the game takes control of your avatar to show you a safe path through a level. Any level! The player may interrupt the guide at any time and take control. After the game completes its own levels, the player has the option to try that level again, or skip it completely. It is not game masturbation, as the game is not only playing itself, but also teaching the player. Are you are hardcore gamer? Great! You won’t even notice the Super Guide. Are you a non-gamer? Great! For once, you will be able to enjoy that Gears of War game until the end.

The easiest criticism of the Super Guide is that it diminishes the value of the reward a gamer receives when beating a level. Poppycock. Beating a particularly tough stage should be its own reward, and the presence of the Super Guide ends up adding more value to it, as the game acknowledges you for finishing it yourself, without ever needing the Guide’s help. More often than not, people confuse the value of achieving something from the value of telling this achievement to everybody else (i.e.: bragging right). The first one is inherent to the accomplishment itself, the second one is a meta-game – perfectly addressed by another great invention, the Achievements. On a side note: Nintendo where are your achievements? You are missing out!

The same goes for cutscenes. A cutscene is not – or rather: should not – be the reward for beating a particularly tough level. In fact, the notion that story should be a reward to gameplay is flawed to begin with, as it implies that story and gameplay should necessarily be divorced.

But look at the world of gaming today. Where are the influences of such a marvelous invention? The only ones who used it since its debut was Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Donkey Kong Returns! Not even other Nintendo games, like the awful Metroid: Other M, a game with “controls as simple as those of a NES game” so it would appeal to euphemistically “modern” players, bothered to include it. So instead of an accessible game to everyone, we have a Metroid that never understands the difference between going into Morph Ball mode and firing a missile!

Meanwhile the great divide endures. Sony and Microsoft both decided to copy the not-a-novelty-anymore of motion controls instead of this awesome software innovation (well, actually, Microsoft has a patent for something similar, but that didn’t go anywhere). Publishers try to juggle conflicting tastes of the Patricians and the Plebs by trying to repositioning their brands all the time, instead of simply adding a version of the Super Guide in it and maintaining their authenticity. Instead of uniting both worlds, we have segregated the hardcore from the casual platforms.

In the meanwhile, you continue your histrionic outcries that games are art while only offering examples that are incomprehensible to your opponents as there is no way they would be able to experience.

They might as well retort that games are mere toys and go back to Angry Birds.


Posted on May 24, 2011, in Feature, Opinion, Random and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I agree with you completely (except for the hate on Metroid Other M). The elitism also strikes against the Wii along with non-gamers. I’ve gotten into arguments with people who refuse to like the Wii. I’ve been told that the Wii can’t have a good FPS (bullcrap), and that RE4: Wii Edition isn’t better than the original. A lot of people who call themselves “hardcore” (a flawed term to begin with) just play Halo or CoD. They don’t really understand that there are different types of games, including causal ones.

  2. At first i didn’t agree with the point of this article, however after putting some thought into it you are completely right. As an industry we need to step up and create games that make it easier for the less experienced to enjoy a game while not ruining the experience for those who are more familiar with gaming. The super guide is a great way to do this, it adds to the experience for players who aren’t so experienced but it doesn’t take away from gamers who are experienced.

    When i first saw the super guide while playing Mario Galaxy 2 I thought of it as a bad thing, i thought it was dumbing down the game. Your article helped me realize that if we want games to be looked at as an art form we need to revolutionize the industry and make it into something that everyone can enjoy and appreciate while not ruining the experience for those who are already familiar with gaming.

  3. “you continue your histrionic outcries that games are art while only offering examples that are incomprehensible to your opponents as there is no way they would be able to experience.”

    Please explain this, along with why it is only applicable to games, and not any other entertainment medium.

    I ask you to do this because I am about to suggest examples that should be “comprehensible” to any human.

    • Why, it’s not only applicable to games.
      It is certainly applicable to movies…
      … if the person you are trying to convince movies can be an art form has never seen a movie it could relate to before.

      It is certainly appliable to books as well…
      … if the person you are trying to convince books can be an art form has never been told a story before.

      Problem is that is not so easy to find such people. For games, however, it’s different. You live through an 10+ hour long experience of YOUR time in Bioshock and then try to explain to someone who isn’t a game that you have just experienced art for 10 hours. You can show them pictures, but that how is that going to create an emotional response on that someone that couldn’t already be achieved when reading the news? You could make them play Bioshock, but how would they when they are unable to coordinate pressing 2 buttons at once? You could play Bioshock yourself and make them watch, but would anyone be willing to watch somebody else play a game (a toy, in their minds) for 10 hours?

      Why not offering 10 second long artsy-fartsy flash game instead? Why, if that was that easy, such a tired argument about games being art would have been solved long ago, right? Alas, people simply dismiss it as a toy that is no fun.

      My point is simple. Unlike other art mediums, games are too alien for those watching at the other side of the mirror. An effort to familiarize oneself is needed, and that can only be achieved by playing games… and for that, games must be playable – which, more often than not, isn’t the case for non-gamers.

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