Sunday, 12 April 2009

Being men

Ok. So recently Heather Chaplin (co-author of the book Smartbomb: The Quest for Art, Entertainment, and Big Bucks in the Videogame Revolution) at the GDC (I believe) gave this classic line, regarding the people, males specifically, working in the video games industry:

You aren't men. You are stunted adolescents.

I'm about to say I basically agree with this, but not exactly, assuming I understood the statement entirely, which I'm pretty sure I did, because I am an arrogant man.

The cryptic/irrelevant word here is men and I'll get to that in a bit.

So David Jaffe (director behind God Of War and Twisted Metal, among other things, as you all know) wrote this reply to what she said which, in my mind, totally backs up her point.

Firstly he starts by defending his business and his comrades, which is admirable and inspiring - he clearly loves what he does and those he does it with and I genuinely like that.

But there's a few things he said that I thought were just contradictory, and almost childlike, and I'm going to write some of them out here, as briefly as possible so we're not all bored senseless.

Although firstly I think Heather made a mistake when she said men.

What Heather should have said, if this is what she meant (and if it's not, it should have been), was you're not adults, you're blah blah blah.

Because David talks about having kids and a business and that an adolescent couldn't do that only a man could and but really couldn't a woman, really? Man is the wrong word. These examples of "manhood" that David references are the kind of things a child expects of the adult world. Well I have a family and a job, I must be an adult.

It's bad the way Heather said it like she did, but worse that the accused, namely David Jaffe here, didn't stop and think about what she might have meant. He takes maximum offense, instantly. Without any sense of maturity he polarises the issue. He talks on and on about MEN doing dumb shit, MEN being Steven Spielberg. Read it, if you like, it's here:

So: to my mind the idea of being an adult in the games industry would be to push yourself and your peers to excellence. I think a game could be as touching, on a personal level, as heartfelt and full of wisdom as any book or film or painting or post it note, menu or whatever.

Look at Contra. No, wait, bad example. Maybe Shadow of the Colossus.

That's a great game, a weird, lonely one, that I love. And yet it's very different from, say, God of War, Bioshock, Gears of War, literally all other games because there aren't swathes of enemies that you have to bludgeon to death. It's a game without the shitty little bad guys and it took how many games before someone thought to do that?

David Jaffe says: I agree that games have the potential to be more powerful and meaningful and that some games should strive for this...

Right, but not all, huh? Why not? Oh because you just want to make fun games huh? Just games that are FUN because games should only be SILLY AND FUN.

Noby Noby Boy is fun, it's weird and crazy, it's the same with that Katamari game (both by Keita Takahashi). Crackdown is fun, it's crazy, huge arcadey action, all cartoony. Gears of War is fun it's....over the top, macho and serious? Gritty and dark? Brutal and violent? Wait, hang on, I'm confused. Because I like the idea of stretching really far and eating everything nearby. And of course I like rolling a huge ball around picking up loads of crap. And I like jumping really high and throwing cars around. And obviously aliens are bad and I want to shoot them all day long, and sing songs about how messed up the world is, but you're saying war is hell? When did fun stop being so much fun?

My point is Jaffe could say a game like Gears of War which is, let's face it, like a cave drawing, only without any historical impact, is just supposed to be fun, big smiley happy dumb fun. Which it is. But it's also dark and brooding and gritty and serious. Oh but it's just supposed to be fun, you're not making a big statement it's just ALIENS and SPACE MARINES and FUN.

Can I also just point out, as a more personal burn, that David Jaffe says he is a man, has done all manner of man things, like lose his virginity, and then says Gears of War is "generic, 14 year old boy/Heavy Metal magazine power fantasy".

So, acknowledging the audience for Gears of War, and presumably God of War is basically 14 year old boys. Then later talks about "...An audience that we happen to consider ourselves a part of..." Real adult looking there. But it's hard to call David Jaffe a twat; he seems so nice.

But fuck it. I played Gears of War and God of War and I had a great time doing it. They are fun games, but afterwards I feel like I have to at least flick through the dictionary or something.

My real big complaint with what Jaffe said, and I know it's been a long time coming, is this thing he starts to end with, comparing Citizen Kane with San Andreas (which is an awesome comparison by the way, I love it).

"if you are talking about games that have pushed the very definition of what a game is...we have already crossed that threshold. Hell, we may have crossed it a few times (2D to 3D; linear worlds to open worlds; the invention of MMOs)...and yes, we will cross it AGAIN when someone makes a game- using MECHANICS"


This for me, sums up games today and really games developers. It's subtlety that's missing. Something beyond the physical, the technological. We've made the game bigger, so we've made it better. Look at how far you can walk in this game. How many guns do you want because we FUCKING HAVE ALL OF THEM IN THIS GAME.

Shadow of the Colossus, Braid, Portal. These games are great because they're different, interesting, unique. Not because they gave you something new to wipe your dick on, they made you think about what you already had in a new way.

This is what being an adult is about in games, for me. Doing something worthwhile. Or at least tricking me into thinking it's worthwhile.

But, fuck it, he says he doesn't want to be an artist, an innovator, so whatever. What the fuck can you say to that, apart from "well get out then, stop wasting my time." Because games like what he wants to make, that are just fun, there's a place for them. The same as there is/was for Frogger. It's just designed to waste time, but now the graphics are better.

But isn't just treading water, in terms of games, not wanting to innovate, push or invent ultimately extremely damaging to the industry? To just look at what someone else has done and think fuck it, let's just do that again propogates a staleness I'm already sick of. Especially when we could be doing so much more. The capacity for what a game is is infinite, so why are they all the same? Perhaps because 90% of games developers are stunted adolescents.

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