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Reiteration, remediation, & recourse (Part 2)

March 14, 2009

madbraidI spoke last time about reiteration without touching upon the importance of remediation. Especially for new media, remediation functions as an access point presenting the new with the familiar. It is no surprise that we see in videogames the necessity to invoke and relate to the cinematic experience as a starting point for new gamers. The advent of music games, Wii titles, and casual games are perfect examples of using these sorts of access points to introduce a new audience. But while remediation functions wonderfully in new media, its use in game design is questionable.

My main gripe with remediation in game design is, more often than not, is after taking mechanics and narrative cues from both game genres and film genres there is rarely any experimentation henceforth. What forms afterward is less remediation and more so plagiarism. But I am not unreasonable as this is a problem we see in all media. What concerns me is the lack of scrutiny and wide acceptance from gamers, at times acclimation. When Dead Space is lauded for its System Shock presentation and Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune has a narrative that is Romancing the Stone there is a crisis occurring.

It is not that I condemn this sort of borrowing and influence in games. More specifically, the concern is these games reek of studio formula. I will admit that these are good and enjoyable games with an amazing body of collective work behind it. But on a deeper more investigative level, they become extremely shallow. I specifically name-dropped these titles because they are new IP, but more specifically because they have impending sequels on the horizon. Following the logic of my previous post, what ultimately culminated is a game that becomes a parody of itself that is also a parody of another title.

What it comes down to is the almighty question of art versus commerce. I could go into the socio-economics of these two entities and the retaliatory dynamics of business and the art but that would only barely fill a dissertation. If you readers would like to get into this conversation I would be glad to abide, however. But at videogames continue to move out of the niche underground of geeks and fandom into the mainstream, the industry finds itself at a crossroads. And as I have commented on before, there is a pressing fear of the lose battle against the entertainment industry.

So I come finally to the topic of recourse: what can we do as gamers that not only admire and love this medium but continue to laud the aspirations that games are more than just a toy and can create experiences outside of mere exchangeable entertainment. We continue to talk about convergence culture, social gaming, persuasive gaming, and interactive art. But I do not want to be the gatekeeper of what constitutes as games of substance.

Tech hardware and game hardware have finally collided.

Tech hardware and game hardware have finally collided.

Videogames have a philosophy of technology that almost every other form of content media does not have. There is a dialog between the consumer and the developer. Only in television do we immediately see such regular communication between these two parties that shape the direction its content takes. But the developer should not be a slave to the consumer and nor should the consumer dumb themselves down to not be challenged by an experience.

I am not saying we should embrace bad design or broken mechanics, but rather look at it from a different angle. But like any media we should acknowledge developers that take changes and developers should understand that financial sacrifices must be made. There has to be a collective effort of studios changing the structure of their business models to promote creativity and risk and gamers acknowledging that they want a better experience. The philosophy of the games industry and design needs to evolve and at this pinnacle moment where games have become a mainstream pastime there is not better time than now.

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5 comments

  1. Again, these feelings are understandable, but also not unique to video games. As you’ve said, the American film industry has been plagued under a quantitative mindset over qualitative. As long as a film makes good returns on its expenses, then all is good with the Studio, regardless how it made its money. Of course, this does lead to stale ideas, less innovative storytelling practices, and films whose main drawing point is the experience it provides, rather than the reality it can convey, but this does not mean all films released in America through the studio have no merit to them. All films made during between the 40s and 50s had to conform to a very heavy censorship law, ALONG with being chained to a Star system, heavily tied with the Studio system interested only with the dollar amounts it can make in the theaters. However, this period is considered to be the most influential to cinematic history with its broad reaching influences in nearly every national cinema in existence. Critically acclaimed in Europe, America’s success worldwide was surprising not because it was created by a studio system, but because such great works of art were conceived DESPITE such a system in place. More often than not, because we have such a sea of mediocrity in existence in the world of films, exceptionally outstanding movies stand out because they were made in the same climate of mediocrity.

    I believe this holds true for video games, too. Pinnacles of series are not necessarily the first, and are not necessarily the last of the line. No one would hold Soul Calibur (or for that matter, Soul Edge) over Soul Calibur 2 in terms of quality, yet Soul Calibur laid the groundwork for the series. Soul Calibur 3 and 4, logically, should be better than 2, but these titles never got the same canonization the 2nd iteration had. Super Mario Galaxy, despite being the 7th game released related to the original Super Mario Brothers, managed to give an experience that exceeded anyone’s expectations. On the flip side, Resident Evil 3 and 0 were lambasted for offering nothing new (0, while its buddy system was a new addition, added nothing new for the series), and it seems to me that Resident Evil 5 will suffer the same fate. Yes, people will buy these games. But ultimately no one will remember them (or remember them as fondly as truly innovative games), much like how no one remembered the countless Western films in existence, yet still watched any western thrown their way. We do not need to feel as our medium is being threatened. This is natural for any medium mass marketed. Real gems and real art will stand out above all the other titles, regardless of the situation. We (as consumers) just need to remind the industry we are aware of how mediocre these games are. We should be, as you put it, the gatekeepers of substance. Our writings, our dollars, our activity will be how we remind the industry of their lack of substance.

    Arguably, video games are not the only medium that suffer from an intersect of philosophy and technology. Film suffers this too, but that is for another time.


  2. @ Vincent

    I would argue that the post-war period you are referring to in cinema may actually be detrimental as Hollywood began to dominate the foreign market. What we have now is a global market dominated by American cinema. that can be construed both as positives and negatives. One may contend that the various New Wave movement in many countries would not have occurred without American cinema to be a backlash against. I find that film does not suffer primarily to technology but rather the business of production. The tech of videogames offers a more unique aspect to me than film does because of the intrinsic nature technology has towards the programming, software, and development of games.

    My fear is that I do not believe that the videogame industry should necessarily follow the same path the film industry has. Rather I would like to see a more level playing field and have the videogame industry create a different business model for entertainment. This was my intention; not that these problems were new but rather new solutions could be culminated from this current period rather than recycling the history of the studio system in cinema. 🙂


  3. I would love nothing else but for the industry to be more toward a qualitative slant, however I’m simply glad that our little hobby, because of the industry, can be considered a medium. Sure, if it were we would have a higher standard of games, but as it stands the fact that we’re talking about video games in a critical sense is because games are now such a large medium it cannot be ignored.

    Also, in an attempt to stop leaving such long winded posts in comments, I’ve started my own blog. I thank you, for you are one of the reasons I’ve decided I might as well start one.

    The name might be odd, but the first post should explain the title.


  4. Hopefully you won’t mind the shameless plug, but if you do feel free to delete the comment.

    http://simulacrumofexistence.wordpress.com


  5. Man I’d love to comment more but your leaps and bounds ahead of me when it comes to theories and all that stuff. What I did understand was this:

    It is not that I condemn this sort of borrowing and influence in games. More specifically, the concern is these games reek of studio formula. I will admit that these are good and enjoyable games with an amazing body of collective work behind it. But on a deeper more investigative level, they become extremely shallow.

    I agree, with games becoming much more of a mass product and appeal, we are going to see games follow the formulas. Same with just about any other entertainment medium. Tons of people will copy Gears of War because it made loads of money and they know they can turn a profit from it. I think however we’ll always have those groups that come out with incredible games and who think outside the box.

    Good to be reading your stuff again, even if it takes me a little bit longer than usual to read. 😉
    Keep up the good work.



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