Monday, July 11, 2005

I had to post the following from today's Penny Arcade. If you don't understand why people like Penny Arcade, it's because they have a feel for what it means to be a gamer and they can express it eloquently. Witness:

Proponents of our medium, your host included of course, use the term "art" to describe games because that software has been the catalyst for transcendent experiences. That said, we approach it with a suite of highly specialized, hyper-refined skills that allow us access to it. Most people don't don personas with an easy motion of the wrist. And it's not hard to see why they might fixate on superficial elements like "violence" when the fact of the matter is that they lack the skillset to fully discern electronic space, to take the mantle upon them and manifest another life.

Simultaneously, I think it's rare that we as players truly think about what it would mean for a game to be "art," straight up, with no qualifications. I'm not even sure the two terms can abide without rancor in the same sentence. Games are products, we buy them, and like other things we buy we have a reasonable expectation that it will produce a certain quantity of "amusement" before we have exhausted its supply. This definition is not sufficient to describe art. Art can be illegible. It can be exhausting. It can be maddening, offensive, and
revelatory. Sometimes, it is literally Our Savior in a jar of pee. There is certainly no guarantee that you may be amused consistently; we take it for granted when we play a game that such was their intention, even if they have failed in it. Art can and will elude you. I'm fairly certain these themes are incompatible with the entire anatomy of consumerism.

As a side note, the current series is pretty funny. I try not to link to things on my blog, but because this present series of comics represents the hopes and dreams of many of my kind, I link to it in this sentence. I shall return to this theme below, after the following rant.

It's funny that Tycho (for the uninitiated, that's not a blogname, that's his pen name) should post the italicized text above only a day after Dad and I were once more lamenting the diminishing of the serious wargame market. I have reasonable hopes for Starsiege: 2845 to be fun, and I have reasonable hopes that it will be a good depiction of the universe. But let me tell you, if I were making that game, things would be different, and I would happily send anybody who couldn't handle it crying to their mothers.

The thing of it is, though, that the skills required to "handle it" are just that - a specialized skillset that very few gamers have. I'm willing to bet that if you asked your average gamer, who can soak in most aesthetics without even trying, how armor works, they'd give you a blank stare. Most of them think that "tank" means "something whose job is to get shot." And they haven't got a clue what "sniping" actually means. Sigh. All I can do is try to educate people, I suppose.

And speaking of educating people, that is why you need to read the comics I linked to above (there are four as of this posting). There was a time when I couldn't imagine being romantic with someone who didn't have the skillsets necessary to process games as art. That time is past. And now, can you imagine me dating someone who doesn't dance? But that is silly too.

It is silly for two reasons. First, because having the skillset isn't anywhere near as important as having the willingness to try and acquire it - and that isn't anywhere near as important as loving the fact that I have it. Second, because the only real reason why I want to date a dancer (and the only real reason why that comic has resonance) is because it's a point of shared adventure - an activity that lets the two of you share a deeply cherished experienced. But the point of romance is learning to find more of those, and who is to say that the ones you truly share are supposed to be the ones that came ready-made?

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