A few days ago, Edward Smith wrote a piece for the International Business Times where he makes the suggestion that the attitude of players towards games like Her Story and Sunset are killing the video game industry. His argument stems, unsurprisingly, from the recent bankruptcy of Tales of Tales, the studio responsible for Sunset, and his perception of the general reception of Her Story, an FMV-driven narrative with minimalistic player input in the tradition of Night Trap. Edward explains how he longs for video games to grow up and become an artistic medium, and that player’s receptions to art games are preventing the medium to grow up. This is by no means the first article of its kind. Indeed several commentators have decried how the medium has yet to grow up and how players are preventing the medium from reaching maturity. I disagree with their premise.
After a brief conversation with an acquaintance, I have come to realize that many people seem to misunderstand the concept of a video game. In my conversation, I discussed with my friend the merits of several video games, including the recent Bloodborne, versus that of many indie titles like Gone Home. In the conversation, the idea that the always controversial Depression Quest, to quote my friend, “is not even a real video game”, then he went on to discuss issues such as win or lose conditions and degrees of interactivity – elements which, curiously enough, I discuss in my hopefully soon to be published manuscript that I am currently editing to begin pitching at publishing houses. In order to illuminate my friend’s perspective – and that of many others – I thought I should write a bit about what it means to be “a video game”, because why not beat a dead horse with a stick, right?
Not too long ago, Errant Signal put out a video where he echoed Gonzalo Frasca’s comments regarding the ludology vs narrativity debate. Quoting Frasca, Errant Signal suggests that said debate, whose opening skirmishes are chronicled in Game Studies, “did not happen” because there was no “debate” as to whether games “should be narrative or ludic”. And that’s true. At no point was there a formal moderated debate where game devs argued whether games should be about stories or about play. But there was, and there still is, a very real conversation regarding whether video games are best understood as stories or as games. You can find my full rebuttal below:
In his same video, Errant Signal agreed with Jim Sterling and suggested that the term Ludonarrative Dissonance is useless and should be discarded because it predisposes the critic to make negative assessments about the game. Again, I disagree. Ludonarrative dissonance is a useful term, as long as it is considered as existing within a framework. My full argument below:
On 1995, Sega published Phantasy Star 4, a game that consumed so much cartridge memory that, due to hardware costs, went for $115.00 at retail. Even though I had never played any of the previous Phantasy Star titles, the magazine reviews and game screenshots persuaded me that I NEEDED to have that game. I asked my mom for the money, but she – obviously – said no. So I did what any determined 15 year old would do – go to the local corner grocery store to work as a bagger after school. I worked every day from 3:00 p.m. (we were dismissed at 2:10 back then) to 6:00 p.m., at which time mom would pick me up. It was an unpaid job. The store manager didn’t really hire us as much as turned a blind eye when I, and all the other 15 – 16 year old kids, went to the store to help customers out with their groceries in exchange for a tip (usually a quarter). I felt incredibly proud when, after almost a month, I was able to save up the $115.00 for the game. I asked my mom to take me to Toys R Us, I bought the game, and I proceeded to neglect my school work for the following month.
This was not the first time I had done this, although it was certainly the most momentous one. The previous year I had done the same to secure copies of Shining Force II, which went for $85.00, and Samurai Shodown, which went for $75.00. Yes, I was a proud Sega Genesis owner.
Flash forward to 2013. I still have my original working copies of these games with their original save states. The only difference is that now, Shining Force 2 goes for less than $5.00 in Amazon ($3.00 if you download the digital PC copy), Phantasy Star 4 goes for less than $10.00 (or about $5.00 if you get a ‘Phantasy Star Anthology’ for the PC), and Samurai Shodown goes for a whopping less than a dollar.