Monday, February 15, 2016

Serious Talk to Get Games into News More?

Guys! Gals! We need to take video games seriously! Like super-cereal seriously!

That's what Naomi Alderman, a British novelist and game designer, is preaching on The Guardian today. If you are into the literary thing, look up 'Disobedience' and 'The Lessons.' From the games library, well I haven't heard of these products but according to Alderman they have sold millions. There is Zombies, Run! which was a Kickstarter funded game that combined fitness with outrunning the walking dead of the apocalypse. On Google Play and the Apple App store they have the game listed in the 100k-500k download category - free to play with in-app purchases. I'm not including "Doctor Who" as it's labeled as a novel, not a game, by Amazon and is available in hardback and paperback. Maybe it's meant to be an interactive novel? I don't know. It seems that Alderman's work is more from the writing side of the game design aspect, and there's nothing wrong with that.

This isn't about taking apart Alderman's credits as a writer or contributor. It does put a new perspective on how to read her article for The Guardian, which focuses on why authors are getting more air-time for books then video games, which has been a rising entertainment medium. Alderman's argument is that the gaming industry doesn't care about wooing news reporters with their content, so they don't bother to push for their award shows to be publicized.  Her books that sell ten's of thousands of copies get more air time then "her games" which sell millions of downloads. Leading to the question 'why isn't it the other way around?'

I think Alderman is overlooking a few aspects that can very well explain why gaming award shows are rarely, if ever, televised. Let alone why so few game designers are interviewed, unless it's a controversial game that spurred interest with politicians to bash against. (Yea GTA!)

- Gaming is still a young medium. Like television, movies, theater, and books before them, it takes time for people to become accustomed to the new kid on the block. People will eventually accept games as a valid form of art, in time. When the first Academy Awards were held, everyone thought it was a joke. Movies were still viewed as a fad, something that would quickly fade away, and it took decades for it to become the respected art-form that we see it as today. Even with Adam Sandler. Comic books are still trying to find that market where they move from kiddie fun to art. It's a long transition that doesn't happen overnight. When games get there, we'll start to see them more on the news for legitimate discussions. Not to bash them for destroying the youth of the world.

- The gaming community has too many award shows. The one's linked are just the big players - it doesn't include the hundreds of online, regional, or magazine awards that are handed out each year. There are a dozen indie gaming awards just for Texas developers that I could name. It's an area that hasn't been reigned in by creators, no matter how much Geoff Keighley attempts to do so. If Alderman expects more game awards to be aired, they need to limited the number of shows. Give a bit more prestige to them. Too many awards can have the opposite effect and they "big ones" no longer feel special. It's too much for any one person to keep up with.

- We've got eSports. This past year has been a huge boost to gaming around the world as eSports competitions begin taking center stage on ESPN. To claim that today we are not seeing more talk of video games in the news is rubbish. 2016 is going to be one of the biggest years where we see gaming everywhere.

- If you're a gaming news site, it's quite easy to get new games. Well, unless you piss off the developer. One of Alderman's points is that she has to spend hours making calls to get her hands on a game to review. Sorry Alderman, but you're not working for Kotaku, Game Informer, Gamasutra, or any of the dozens of top name gaming review sites. You work as a correspondent for The Guardian who makes maybe a handful of posts a year in their gaming column. The bulk of your articles that I've found have been related to writing and your books. Does it suck having to spend time calling around to get a game to review? Yes. But everyone who isn't Kotaku has to do it. My blog is 95% dedicated to gaming and I have to hustle if I want my hands on a game to review and not have to pay out of pocket. Because I'm not Kotaku. Just because you  make your own games, doesn't give you a free pass.

- Games work on a different time table from books, movies, and television. While it's not the sanest way, games have the luxury of being edited and de-bugged weeks before release thanks to technology. We can't do this with movies. It's not easy to jump in and edit an entire sequence in Star Wars without massive delays in the release date (a minute of footage can take up to 5 hours to edit, just as a general rule of thumb). So while it may seem weird to send out a game a week before release to review, and expect the writer to drop everything and play in one night, they'll do it. It's what we've been trained to do. It's not the ideal scenario for television review shows that require weeks, sometimes months, to prepare for each episode.

I think video games are starting to be taken seriously more then what we've seen before. We are seeing an increase in open discussions about the medium taking place outside of the internet. eSports is making a huge statement on ESPN that new shows are in the works. Yes there are people who still find it childish. But it is getting better.

Edit 2/15: For some reason...this posted my original version and not the last edit before publication. Sorry everyone! Blogger likes to mess with me sometimes. I've got this fixed to the latest draft. Thanks!


  1. Valerie -- I agree with a lot of the things you brought up here, but I believe video games receive so little coverage in mainstream cultural media because of the industry's lack of variety in genre. And while Alderman makes valid points as well, the real argument here is that there needs to be more diversity in types of games being made. Reaching out to people with different interests will help strengthen the industry's reputation and would also help rid the medium of the nasty stereotypes that plague it. Films, television shows, and novels span across so many different types of genres, themes, and character types, which makes it is easy to see why there is always a lot of buzz surrounding them. It is simple for an individual to find something that they enjoy within these mediums, which helps them gain a more diverse audience that garners the attention of reviewers and cultural “taste-makers.” These more mainstream types of entertainment influence culture because of the wide array of things being written and spoken about. Video games have failed to reach this broad type of audience because they still stick to formulaic story matter. Why is anyone outside of the gaming industry going to care about video games when so many of them are still directed towards such a small niche of people?

    It is difficult to find a well-made and strongly narrated game outside the genres of science fiction and fantasy. I think cultural “taste-makers” and reviewers have trouble finding heart in video games because they all seem so similar, making it hard for the public to care. If the game industry wants to be taken more seriously, it needs to stop relying on repetitive genres, stories, and archetypes/tropes, and learn to explore new territory.

    Just in the past five years, narratives in games have become more poignant than ever before, reaching a level of story-telling that can compete with critically acclaimed films and television show. Even then though, most of those well-told stories took place in the same few genres that games have always resided in. The game industry should be hard to ignore with the kind of profit it makes -- total revenues in the U.S. last year hit $23.5 billion (Fortune), but reviewers and editors still do it, refusing to analyze and talk about the medium in the same way that other story-telling devices are spoken about. I really believe that this is due to a severe lack of diversity in games, most still focusing on a very limited scope of narrative.

    And while, yes, we can put some blame on reviewers and those who control programming and edit papers by simply saying that they don't understand this new narrative medium, it is important to keep in mind that game developers and the players have a lot more agency than we give ourselves credit for. The game industry can be helped by creating more enticing and well-developed games in narrative genres such as drama, comedy, horror, mystery, or even thriller/suspense. Wouldn't these be interesting types of games to play? A breath of fresh air amongst zombies, aliens, magic, and gun-wielding soldiers? Even David Cage's Beyond: Two Souls was a step in the right direction, despite it having minor story problems. A video game drama starring major actors like Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe, it was given the honor of premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2013, “an event billed as the first time a video game has ever been shown in a film festival” (Film Maker Magazine). This marked a huge step in the right direction. And just this past year, Telltale's fairly short comedy game, Tales from the Borderlands, was nominated for 'Best Narrative' at The Game Awards 2015 as well as being named 'Game of the Year' by Hardcore Gamer's Best of 2015, proving that different genres have the ability to be successful and catch people's attention. Different genres can only help change the attitude towards the medium. By reaching out to a wider audience, these games will begin to affect our culture in a more substantial way.

  2. Kendra, thank you for taking the time to type this comment.

    This is why I love to talk about video games. Having diverse opinions and open dialogues - and being mature about them. That's the kicker sometimes. Film nerds are dreadful about this (I know...I am one and have gone to school long enough to be absorbed in the madness. Gamers are tame by comparison).

    I don't think more diverse content and themes is the answer. We already have a wide variety of genres in games, sometimes all within one game (Final Fantasy, I'm looking at you). Yes the world could do with less Call of Duty and Halo, but it's a disservice to gaming to say that we need a variety of genres. Horror, action, drama, romance, sci-fi, fantasy, short-story, non-fiction, biography, historical; all of this is right at our fingertips with a click of the mouse on Steam. At PAX South I found so many different types of games on the show floor, it would be wrong of me to categorize them as only "this genre" of game. And they weren't all fantasy or sci-fi. I think that's too much of an over-generalization on the type of content that is out there for gamers. I saw military simulations and history games about the Revolutionary War. I saw a biography on Abraham Lincoln, a romance between abstract shapes, and a quirky maze runner revolving around existentialism.

    The games, the content, the diversity of topics are there (not characters and representation; that's a debate for another day). A lot of what gaming is experiencing now is stigma. It's the same with comic books and graphic novels. Before that it was TV, movies, books, theater, the list goes on. It's part of the entertainment cycle where anything meant to encourage joy or stimulate the creative mind is demonized.

    Eventually it will get better. As the gaming community grows up and it becomes part of daily nomenclature, we'll see it in the news more as art and topics of interest that are not focused on violence.

    My 2 cents! I greatly appreciate you posting your comment. We need more dialogue like this. :)


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