Friday, June 05, 2009

Are games allowed to be serious?


The Futility of Video Games

Last week, friends of mine and family members gathered in the living room for some informal chat time on various topics, including video games, which is rather rare to notice since I'm generally embarrassed to talk about them, even when it would come down to business.
We came to discuss about novelty, following some newspapers' or TV news' commentary that this year, there wasn't anything new in the video game industry to be craving for.

To me, it was rather clear that you could not expect something new every semester, but someone had to stand for our industry, so did I, one hand full of snacks, a glass of Martini in the other, climbing the twenty something centimeters of my mental soapbox.

I said, no matter what you think about Nintendo lately, the Wii and DS clearly brought some fresh air to the medium. It reached new markets, new people, whose last game could have been Pong or, if you're lucky, Tetris.

My youngest aunt asked what kind of revolution could there be, beyond those more hardware orientated bangs?

I replied that software wise, it would either be an original take on old formulas with new game mechanics, or the rise of a whole new genre, which is pretty much rare. We exchanged and argued over examples, and pleasantly, the difference between these two concepts was quite clear in the minds of all.

I talked about arcades, their disappearance, the social factor and Bushnell's new enterprise - some topics which I had articles about since half a year if not more, not released... yet.

Finally, I came to talk about games in education, health and engaged games, that is, serious games, notably those dealing with current political issues.

And it's where the truth lies. Although I don't agree that all games can be summed up to a bunch of shooters, I reckon that they're pathetically devoid of any true political message.
There are some attempts at tackling social aspects of life, but they're all low budget ventures.

All in all, it's not a question of literally daring saying in the open something that would surely bring all publishers to close the money tap, we're not even there guys.
It's about bothering using mere information as presented in general newspapers to generate a form of reflection, without sacrificing game quality.

Indeed, big budget hardly comes in hand with thoughtful political critique, either past or current. All games about WWII, for example, are terribly dumb in the way they deal with the context and subtle realities of war, its origins and parameters.

I was pissed off to see what Six Days in Fallujah was all about, nothing more than a mere shooter with some one sided background. It would be absolutely stupid to deny the fact that there's an immense critique of the US' actions in the Middle East. For good or bad, video games don't even begin to remotely approach any form of invitation to discuss these matters.

Ironically, those who have taken a more serious stance on this is the US Department of Defense, with the shooter America's Army, which precisely promotes and feeds the mindless, cretinous and ignorant acceptance of war, regardless of the motives, and there's no opposition to this.
Or perhaps unwittingly, Quake Wars showing how Earth's single line of defense against the Strogg is the GDF, an English acronym for Global Defense Force, which operates everywhere on the planet, but is uniquely composed of "Americans", no matter if GDF fights in North Algeria, Japan or Norway. The mindset behind this decision, largely dictated by cutting corners on budget (I hope) is still creepy though.

A debate needs an opposition, and there's no debate, in video games, which couldn't be more perfect for all those who can't help but point at games and say they keep people lethargic, undermotivated and ignorant, making consumers easy to curb.
Surely, playing retarded MMOs is never going to help.

If it wasn't enough, while the whole planet is aware of what happened in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and the Democrats and Republicans are leaping at each others' throat over the topics of tortures, abuses, violation of human rights and murder, for the first real time in the history of games, a product appears to be about to say something smart for a change, it's preemptively sacked by the current US administration.

The game? Rendition: Guantanamo, by T-Enterprise, based on the testimonies of UK citizen Moazzam Begg, who personally experienced the luxuries of Guantanamo and wrote a book on it. The question is not about knowing if it was right or wrong to jail him so far from his homeland, but what actually happened in there.

Now, do you remember Obama's promises about putting an end to the legacy of Bush's fascist warmongering doctrine? Well, you can forget about that. The dude seems to have lost his gusto or something, as he's backpedaling full speed. That Obama has lost his balls, too bad for him. But censoring a game for what most gamers are aware of is nothing more than revealing your hand in the most awkward way possible.

What is clear is the message: Hussein's administration doesn't want games to even toe the line.

I guess games are encouraged to be serious about their laissez-faire.

No comments: