Reiteration, remediation, & recourse (Part 2)March 14, 2009
I 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.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.