Q: Is it enough to talk about Games Individually or do we need to talk about Games as a cultural whole?

One is a tragedy, many is a statistic.

Is it possible to gain insight into the art of Video Games (the storytelling, the cinematic design, the character design, the gameplay elements that make the package compelling or not) by looking at a game by itself? There is insight to gain in a market report sense, did you have fun, where the controls buggy, were parts of the game overly frustrating, but what I mean is on a digestive-sense can we learn from games in isolation steering away from the idea that all art is a reproduction of past art

To gain insight we look at games as a comparison of others, naturally fashioning some order of which is better than another in some respects but worse in others and we can discuss why things are better in some ways than others. But a lot of elements that make up a game that make it good don’t necessarily get carried over to subsequent generations.

For many games, there is no genetic evolution for its offspring, taking the best elements of the ancestor and passing it along to the offspring. For many games, they are incestuously stuck tweaking the best elements they have disproportionately augmenting their strengths to overcompensate for their weaknesses.

There are some traits that seem to skip genetic bloodlines and some that reach an evolutionary dead-end. Peripherals seemed to skip genetic bloodlines if this were still 2010 and the Wii was king. Being a dead-end in the NES/SNES era, there was a revitalization for gaming peripherals when Guitar Hero was released and lasted until the end of the Wii’s lifetime when shovelware and $5 accessory packs flooded store shelves. Asynchronous gameplay, the Wii-U’s revolutionary design-spiration, falling flat on its face after the first two years when all of their ideas for the touchpad only proved useful for their first-party titles.

But the only way to understand all of this is to view it with a wide enough lens. The microscope isn’t enough to gain any insight in why things are going to work or why they won’t. If you talked to people in the gaming community during the first year of the Wii-U’s release, the big recurring phrase would be Asynchronous Gameplay, a term meant to inspire you a new avenue to explore the design of a game being reduced to an antiquated buzzword.

The wide angle that we put on scrutiny isn’t only set to how far back we look at games either, but on which games that we talk about. Games are getting released constantly and we only ever have a select few as centerpieces in our conversations. When we talk about MMOs, we only talk about World of Warcraft, EverQuest, FFXI, FFXIV, or Guild Wars. We bring up games that we know other people know because there are only ever a select few games that ignite interest in the community and that ever get to shape the gaming culture.

If I look back at the Nintendo 64 library, I can recall maybe two-three dozen games on the console (I did it below to verify) and even though I know that I played many more games that this on the Nintendo 64, these are the games that I’ll remember to bring up when talking about that era, and worse when I’m comparing games and pulling from the library of design choices and development techniques. Having such a small recollection of a game’s library isn’t something that you’re supposed to have when talking about any art form because it means that your view is limited only to the scope of the culture, and it’s only a few games that ever really set flame to become part of the cultural collective.

Games like Rocket League, League of Legends, World of Warcraft, Halo, Pokemon become part of the cultural collective. Many other games, 9s and 10s filling up the review cards, get released every year but that doesn’t mean those are the ones that we all play. There are games that the culture knows about, there are games that the culture has played as a whole, and there are games that the culture doesn’t even know or remember existed. The aforementioned are games that the culture definitely knows about and has played for the most part. Even if they don’t play it anymore or keep up with it, they are games that when it gets brought up in a conversation you know exactly they’re talking about.

Then there games like Army Men or Snowboard Kids, where the game has fallen off of the cultural consciousness and only a few people remember the game. They are rarely discussed and dissected and compared with, so their remembrance becomes less often and will soon fade away from the culture altogether.

I’m not saying that we need to have an Alexandrian Librarian’s knowledge of all gaming at all times, but it’s important to still take time to look at the contemporaries of similar times and contemporaries of today. Every game has a lesson of what to do and what not to do and just because there are only a few games that we ever talk about doesn’t mean that they are the best examples to look to.

Twitter: @GIntrospection

Blaugust Day 24

Nintendo 64 Remember (in 5 minutes or less)

  1. Super Mario 64
  2. Legend of Zelda OoT
  3. Legend of Zelda MM
  4. Megaman 64
  5. Goldeneye
  6. Perfect Dark
  7. Blitz
  8. Blitz2000
  9. Diddy Kong
  10. DK64
  11. Banjo Kazookie
  12. Banjo Tooie
  13. Army Men
  14. Jet Force Gemini
  15. Army Men 2
  16. Conker’s BFD
  17. Mario Kart
  18. Super smash bros
  19. Mario Party 1-3
  20. Snowboard kids
  21. Snowboard kids 2
  22. Yoshi’s Story
  23. Paper Mario
  24. Superman 64
  25. Spiderman
  26. Starfox 64
  27. FZero GX
  28. Buck Bumble
  29. Mortal Kombat Sub Zero Mythology
  30. Clay Fighters 63-3/4
  31. Castlevania 64
  32. Mischief Makers
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