It’s been too long since I’ve written here, but things have been extra-especially busy lately. Specifically because I’ve taken on new freelance work. And, as luck would have it, it has me back in a hobby I’d somewhat abandoned during the last year’s turmoil.
Yes – I am once again professionally playing video games.
The job actually entails an awkward amount of grunt work, and if ever there was a way to turn video gaming not fun, walkthrough writing would be it.
The specifics are thus: play video game extensively; write down a step-by-step guide to finding, doing, and beating everything in said game.
But it’s been fun, specifically because, this time around, I’m figuring I should make it fun. With such a goal in mind, I’ve started a new Twitter account for live-tweeting game walkthroughs: @hornshawguides. Actually, it’s more like live-playing video games and trying to be funny at the same time. Find it and follow it at http://twitter.com/hornshawguides.
This new gig is actually something of an offshoot from a previous walkthrough job I picked up last year while living in Chicago. I previously wrote a bunch of walkthroughs for mahalo.com (I prefer not to grace the site with a link and extra traffic), of which this is one, for “Killzone 2” for PS3. I wrote quite a few others, but I’m having trouble tracking them down by searching my own name. Even Googling myself doesn’t come up most of my walkthroughs even 10 pages in.
Anyway, I did a bunch of them. And I’ve gotten pretty decent with it. However, after awhile, I started to feel like mahalo had no problem exploiting its already underpaid freelance gaming staff – especially when they started paying us in mahalo dollars, which are slightly less valuable than Monopoly money.
So I bailed on that gig. I didn’t really need the money. Plus, I’d ended up working a few massive walkthroughs that were not worth the amount of money I got paid to do them. Anyone of the opinion that this sort of thing is not work needs to play to completion a little horror called “Tales of Vesperia.” Then explain how to do everything to someone else, in writing. Hate-hate-hated that game.
A few months later, I was contacted by my former editor at mahalo, Mark, who’d since moved on to another job, and who was looking for writers for a video game site the company he worked for had recently acquired. Already the job was better than the one I’d previously done – they reimburse for the games you have to buy! That was nice. It also made me realize how bad the old system sucked.
In the last month, I’ve blasted through four walkthroughs and I’m starting on my fifth. “Red Dead Redemption” should be on that list but isn’t, for some reason. “Transfomers: War for Cybertron” hasn’t been edited yet, but it’ll be soon.
The return to gaming for pay has me remembering what I liked about gaming for fun. It also has me thinking about the medium a lot more than I have in the last year.
Video games made a huge impact on me when I was young. Adding to the slurry that was my media exposure, they presented another mode through which I was exposed to deep, engaging storylines. My appreciation for video games reaches well beyond the very minimalist, superficial thrill of blasting away at virtual bad guys or opponents from foreign lands – though to say that isn’t satisfying would be a dark and horrible lie.
I’ve always been captivated by games that present moving, involved stories. Really, when I buy a game, so long as it’s competent, I could really care less about the game aspect of it. The game is a method of delivering an engaging narrative: that’s what I’m shopping for.
And so when I recently read the Roger Ebert column with the bold and sweeping claim that “Video games can never be art,” I took issue with it, just as many nerds all over the Internet (and even in print) have.
But still, this needs addressing.
First off, Ebert loves this stance. His claim: that he’s never seen a game that interested him enough to make him play one. That’s right – he’s never played one. He’s only watched others.
I recently heard that described as “the equivalent of watching a movie without the picture.”
And that’s exactly right. Ebert’s claim that a game can never be art relies on his extremely dated conception of the word “game.” He asks in the article, can you win it? Are you scored? He likens the idea of video games being art to a single game of chess, a chess match, being art. It isn’t. A player’s choices can be elegant, his method of play beautiful, but it isn’t art.
Okay, granted. However, a video game is more than just the conception of points and winning and achieving goals.
Instead, the medium is something much more akin to an interactive film experience, but it’s even much more than that. Because where film and literature are passive, video gaming is becoming much more conversational. The art is emerging as the people making games realize that their medium is not about dictating what happens in the story, but by allowing the player to interact with the vision of the creators to produce something new.
I recently read an interesting blog about the game “Alan Wake,” which is a narrative horror adventure-type vehicle. The article discusses how we’re on the cusp of the video game medium really becoming art because the creators of games are discovering what the language of games is. “Wake” puts you into the role of the protagonist, but is created in such a way that you are not him. You animate him, but you are also separate people – a narrative convention that games struggle with. Up to now, games have been weak in the sense that they invite you to place yourself into the role of protagonist, but then fashion stories about characters that you’re supposed to be, independent of your input. You act out the story in the game, but that’s about it.
“Wake” creates a relationship with the narrative, the game and the player that’s such that you’re driving the story, but you’re also interacting with it. It’s set and yet it is fluid. This is one of the few games that has created a situation in which playing the game creates an experience within the narrative. You couldn’t get the story experience of “Wake” by watching it or reading it only. Interaction within the game’s construct is key to understanding what it means to convey.
The point is, there are games out there that are more than what Ebert claims they are. I hate to play this card, but I whole-heartedly believe – he’s too old to get it. His closed-mindedness defeats the medium before he can experience it, and that bias means he would never get the real experience anyway.
Yes, not all games are great. That’s clearly true. It’s also true of everything. And gaming is a child-aged medium, struggling with its own growing pains and sense of identity.
But it’s getting there. The next decade will be a very exciting time to own an Xbox or a Playstation or a Nintendo. Just as television has really amped up in the last fifteen years, video games will be pushing the envelope in a real, impossible to ignore sense.
Anyway. I missed the culture and I’m glad to be back. So no disparaging an entire mode of expression, Pulitzer Prize Winner Roger Ebert.