Appreciating a Medium

Every once in a while, when I muster up the strength to not implode with the chunks of sluggishness and bile that fester on the Internet, I explore social media networks. While doing so, I ran into a passing comment made by Roger Ebert where he not-so-subtlety displayed his skepticism for games once more.

Prior to this, I ran into another remark concerning Double Fine’s Kickstarter campaign. For those unaware, Tim Schafer and the folks at Double Fine have raised millions in lieu of their request for $400,000 to make a new adventure game and accompanying documentary. The remark read as follows “The money could have went to a better cause. Aren’t games just simulators, anyways?”

Both statements brewed thoughts in my mind. It wasn’t until I played through thatgamecompany’s Journey that this accumulation of thought frothed over and a realization hit me. Videogames are just as much of a medium as film, novels, television, and so forth. What follows is how my respect for a medium was renewed.

The public’s perception of videogames

The general population’s image of the videogame industry has had its ups and downs. If Fox News’s terribly bias and misconstrued reports have shown us anything, it’s that there are still people out there who want to do their damnedest to shine a bad light on games. It’s also showcased that The Muppets have an agenda to brainwash children, because the Confirmation Bias fallacy is the only way Fox News can manage to actually come up with things to report on.

Here’s a wonderful example: Mass Effect. Fox News reported that “full graphic sex” and “sodomy” were portrayed as well as “full digital character nudity.” What’s actually in the game is no worse than what one can see in a PG-13 (MPPA ) film. No one involved with handling the story had actually played the game. Another instance: Sim City. Yes, Fox News decried an entry in The Sims series. Why? Because you can recycle items. “OH, THE LIBERAL MEDIA WILL PAY TO PUSH THEIR ENVIRONMENTAL AGENDA AGAINST CHILDREN!”

Hey, Fox News, why did you report on SOPA in a slanted manner that involved taking snide shots at Google? That’s right, you’re owned by News Corp., and they lobbied money to have the bill passed. You didn’t mention that in any of your news reports, though.

Film, books, and so forth seem to dodge the “controversy” bullet of the public eye, when something menial becomes “controversial” in games. These forms of media can have just as graphic or “offensive” things, yet escape being called “sex/sodomy/rape/violence/murder” simulators.

Although they’ve been a part of the entertainment industry for a fair amount of time, games are still considered a “new” medium. Perhaps this is because it was only until recently that “mainstream” ground had been broken for the industry. Perhaps it’s the de-evolution of information that firms such as Fox News instill. Or perhaps I am just taking another unfeathered shot.

Digression aside, games have taken great strides to cater to different kinds of people, much like other mediums expanded. So I suppose there’s still some inkling of surprise to be had for that demographic when the natural act of fornication is depicted or perhaps a limb is blown off a character. Although, common sense would dictate that the logic that follows other mediums follows video games. The concern rests with those that scoff at the medium, then return to reading the literary masterpiece that is the Twilight series, in a poetically ironic fashion.

Controversy does not represent an entire industry

I could take a stroll in the local bookstore, which isn’t really “local” so much as it is Barnes and Noble now, and find a wide selection of books. My focus could be on the part of the store I’d like to call the “humorously cheesy” section, otherwise known as the “erotic fiction” aisle.

I could raise a storm of criticism and ire, and attempt to have all books banned for “filth” of this “erotic literature.” Or I could step back, and calmly accept that the wonderful thing about a medium is that its range ensure it appeals to everyone.

One genre does not represent an entire form of entertainment. Just as there are rich pieces of literature to absorb for every Twilight or Dan Brown novel, there are engaging experiences to be had for every generic (RAGE) or embarrassingly made (Call of Juarez: The Cartel) game.

The strength of the medium

I could dedicate an entire column to this topic (and I just may), but for now a section will do. Video games are a medium with both the blessing and curse of being interactive. A film requires the audience’s attention (unless it’s Sharktopus). A novel requires the imagination and attention of a reader. A game requires the active participation of a user.

My recent experience with Journey re-affirmed my respect for being able to feel as if I am in control of the experience being unfolded by a group of storytellers. With film, there’s room for interpretation, but a majority of the work is handled by the filmmakers. With novels, the reader can participate by creating the imagery, but it’s with the help of the author.

This is where the crux of why games are special came to a front upon playing through Journey. There is no dialogue spoken. The music, mixed with the wonderful imagery, invokes emotion that rivals other mediums. Fright, curiosity, wonder, happiness, and excitement.

In Journey, one plays a robed figure in pursuit of a mountain with a beacon of light on top of it. Throughout the game, players encounter other figures, although it doesn’t rely on menus, chatrooms, or anything more than the simple mechanics to allow communication. In fact, it’s not until the ending credits that you discover just who you encounter during your play-through.

Despite this, a bond can be formed between fellow users. Players learn from what they see and there’s comfort taken in the peril faced with a stranger. Journey accomplishes what it sets out to do masterfully with precise design and skillful execution. I enjoy other forms of entertainment, but I don’t believe I’ve been affected by them in the same way my time with Journey has.

Looking to the horizon

Like any other forms of media, games are one dipped in subjectivism. Roger Ebert’s backhanded comment regarding playing over 100 hours of Dark Souls is flawed in what it’s trying to convey. Every year, Ebert lists his favorite films. Take note of the plural in that sentence. Ask anyone who plays games to pick just one favorite title of the year, and they’d certainly have a hard time narrowing their list past a handful. But I suppose, since game’s aren’t art and films are (per Roger Ebert), arbitrarily picking one thing to use as your punching bag for an entire medium seems fair.

I can’t say I much care for that stance. I, however, embrace novels, film, games, comics, and what have you for their strengths and weakness. It’s a matter of appreciating entertainment for what it’s trying to say, without the needless bias solely based on its form.

I don’t hold a personal grudge, as I own Roger Ebert’s book (Life Itself: A Memoir), and can say it’s something worth reading. What I have is indifference. I know games can invoke feelings and experiences that rival other art forms, and I don’t need this validated by others. Yes, Mr. Ebert, we understand; you don’t care for games. You don’t get it, and neither do the folks at Fox News.

Those that do understand the impact a medium can have will continue about their business. Which is the wonderful thing about the freedom of taste. Although many will argue against the idea of ignoring naysayers, as this is the Internet and our voices should be heard, apparently.

I won’t waste my time jumping atop the “games are art” bandwagon. I’d much rather spend it enjoying games and appreciating the medium, which is something many seem to lose sight of.

The author, Michael Corbisiero, would like to say he penned this feature with a sharp cup of coffee and bright smile, but that would be a lie, because he scrawled it late into the evening and there’s nothing to smile about at three in the morning.