There are far too many in the video game industry who wish they were working in more “prestigious” forms of media like movies and television, and it’s really hurting the quality of what’s being put out there. I really don’t think I’m saying anything controversial when I say that. When even the bloated hypocritical ball of sentient salted butter known as Jim Sterling sees fit to launch his unique brand of faux righteous indignation at the buzzword “cinematic”, you can rest assured that it’s a pretty safe target.
This desire on the part of many creators and sadly even many gamers to create games that are “cinematic” is what leads to stuff like The Last of Us being praised as the “Citizen Kane of gaming” for its amazing narrative. Apparently, “amazing narrative” means yet another zombie story in a world full of zombie stories. Granted, the fungus explanation for the zombies is kind of interesting, and actually based—albeit very loosely—on a real fungus.
But if I accept that this was the apex of video games as art because it has zombies explained in a slightly more realistic way and is staring America’s increasingly annoying little sister Ellen Page [CORRECTION: Ellen Page wasn’t the voice of Ellie, I had it confussed with Beyond: Two Souls. Sometimes I get my generic, annoying, mouth breathing little white girl characters mixed up.], then I have to conclude that Roger Ebert was right all along about this medium.
But I do think video games are art, and I don’t think they need to ape other mediums to be art, any more than films should have more text to be more like literature. Part of the reason I have such a deep love for the old, cartridge era of gaming is I think in many ways that was a more artistic time in gaming. The amount of feeling and story creators were able to convey using so little is just remarkable, especially considered that these days, bloated budgets, bleeding edge technology, and Hollywood actors often produce the equivalent of B-movies you punch buttons during now.
We’ve gone from doing more with less to doing less with more.
I think the video game industry has a self-esteem issue. Many of the creators—and indeed, many of the fans—want so desperately to sit at the cool kids’ table. Movies are the real art in their mind, so we need to be more like them. The Gen X creators want to badly prove to their Baby Boomer parents that video games aren’t just toys, that they’re serious stuff. The irony is that even with as bad as the video game industry is doing these days, it’s still largely in better shape than movies and especially television.
Video Games Need To Be Video Games
When television first because huge, did the writers try to be more like radio shows, or did they move forward, seeking to tell stories using the full potential of a audio and visual medium? Likewise, video games don’t need to be movies you sometimes punch buttons while watching, provided that doesn’t interfere with the narrative they seek to cram down your throat.
It’s time for the video game industry to stop begging for the approval of older mediums and be the best damn version of itself it can. Because I’m personally tired of crap like The Last of Us being treated as the best this medium can do.