Missing the Objective, Not of the Game, But of Games Themselves

What are developers striving to produce and what are audiences hoping to gain from games, their communication or their raw stimulation?

In over two years of writing for PopMatters, I’ve never scored the review of any game higher than an 8 out of 10, and I've only reached that plateau on three occasions. Those three games, Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams (8 Nov 2012), Expeditions Conquistador (17 Feb 2013), and Hate Plus (28 Aug 2013) earned those scores because I knew I’d have plenty to write about in the weeks after playing them. I found every time that I tried to write about these games that I couldn’t -- and still haven’t -- given all the ideas they dealt with the treatment they deserved. It might come across as trite, but these games gave me a lot to think about, and in some small measure, they had an impact on me. Recent coverage on the latest major release, however, has made me wonder if I've been doing it wrong

When editor G. Christopher Williams handed me my reviewer’s badge and gun he warned me against scoring anything higher than an 8 out of 10 and that a 10 out of 10 probably doesn't exist. Though doing away with a score entirely would probably be for the best. If one must have a review score, then PopMatters’s standards are probably the fairest to go by (they’re in the right column on any review page). But with Grand Theft Auto V making the rounds in every major gaming publication associated with Metacritic, it begs the question of what we're hoping to get out of video games in the first place.

As the reader is no doubt aware, Grand Theft Auto V was released last week, and immediately every critic worth their salt has promised that in moment one can expect to be having at least 9 of a possible 10 worth of fun. Some moments in the game reek of misogyny (Carolyn Petit, "Review: Grand Theft Auto V", Gamespot, 16 Sep 2013), and sometimes the violence therein is gratuitous and disturbing (Simon Parkin, "How Evil Should a Video Game Allow You to Be?", The New Yorker, 17 Sep 2013). However, there is apparently still enough "funs" available in the game for it to represent the art of interactivity. There is an exceptional fun to dollar ratio to be had in the game, making it the Citizen Kane-themed Slip 'n Slide of video games

Questions about what kind of fun it offers and for whom the fun is intended are not fun to answer. In fact, questions of any kind aren't fun. Looking too deeply into GTA V isn't just pretentious, it literally devalues the game. So what is the point of GTA V other than to preview GTA VI? Why was it made if not to raise the standard of fun a little bit, but not so much that it can't be raised yet a little further that next time?

Games very frequently communicate thought provoking ideas. They are a powerful mode of communication that often say beautiful, frightening, and meaningful things. Even GTA V might be capable of such things, as suggested last week on this very site (G. Christopher Williams, "Grand Theft HBO", PopMatters, 18 Sep 2013). But that still begs the question of what developers are striving to produce and what audiences are hoping to gain from games, the communication or the raw stimulation?

It isn’t just that games are often reviewed like kitchen appliances (Lana Polansky, "I’d Give It a 7: Reviewing the Weight of Reviews", Bit Creature, 31 Oct 2012) or that every new triple A release is fawned over by self important yes-men (M. S. B. "Satire Doesn’t Change Anything But I Still Enjoy It", Magical Wasteland. 20 July 2013.), the problem is that it's unclear what the point of video games is. Games may do many things, positive and not so positive, intentional and unintentional, but around the time of a major release sometimes it's hard to see what the objective is.

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.