Guardian’s Games as Art Debate

The Guardian’s Lindesay Irvine expressed reservations about best-selling author James Patterson’s move into computer games. Apparently Patterson is planning on working on games that will appeal to his current audience: women and middle-aged people. Irvine just can’t fathom the idea of these people going out “to buy PlayStations and get their thumbs around the controls”. Fine, but apparently Patterson is selling his games for the PC, mobile phones, and possibly for the Wii…all things that casual players own.

Also, ugh. Middle-aged women just wouldn’t know how to play video games? It’s an outdated way of thinking.

Patterson thinks that he may be onto an untapped market. People like his books, and they may think that they don’t like video games, but they may enjoy playing video games based on his works. Lots of people don’t think they play video games, but they do play Bejeweled without a second thought. They think that they aren’t gamers since, you know, video games are for immature males who just want to shoot things. In fact, Patterson says so himself:

It strikes me that the videogame area is an incredibly lucrative niche market, one populated by a small number of boys – and grown-up boys – who like to shoot things and spend a lot of money.

I’ll first say that he isn’t saying anything that the game industry hasn’t already accepted, or at least had the opportunity to accept. Plenty has been written about the hardcore audience and how they used to be considered “mainstream” until people realized that there was an entire mainstream audience that was being ignored.

But here is Patterson, intentionally or not, slighting that audience. If you’re an adult, you’re just being a child when you play games. And if you’re a female who already plays games? You know, a member of a significant part of the market? Well, clearly Patterson needs to reach out to you since you’re not really playing games. If you were, you’d just be an immature boy. Also, there has already been a lot of money spent outside of this niche. Casual games are making, what, billions now?

Patterson should be applauded for trying to bring out the gamer in people who think they aren’t gamers, but the 80s called and it wants its video game market perception back.

As for Irvine, he doesn’t get a free pass on his outdated perceptions, either.

I wouldn’t dispute that computer games have the potential to offer something more than the joys of pretend killing. There’s room for imagination in worlds like The Sims and the strangely banal parallel universe of Second Life.

The joys of pretend killing. Roger Ebert called, and he wants his perception of video games back, although good job on knowing the name Second Life. What about games like Maniac Mansion, King’s Quest, Myst, Tetris, and any other game where the focus is not on death and destruction?

Is this a Luddite response? Should I look forward to the Iris Murdoch quest where players race to collect symbols and Jungian archetypes, and the first Martin Amis first-person shooter? To the Henry James adventure where you attempt to escape from inside 3-D versions of his sentences? The Crime and Punishment actioner where you must get away with murder; to rescue fantasies where you can save Tess or Anna Karenina?

Just because you have an inability to see what someone can do with a new medium, it doesn’t mean that others will have the same problem, Irvine. The Guardian’s Alastair Harper argues that video games are just a new medium for storytelling.

Of course, this idea isn’t a new one either, is it? Lots of game developers, past and present, have thought of video games as just another storytelling medium, and many more see story as a significant part of a game. Lorne Lanning’s Oddworld is one result. The IGDA’s special interest group for game writers is another. Of course, other people might argue that games aren’t about telling a story and aren’t ideal for doing so, just as movies aren’t ideal for showing off a live performance. They excel in different ways.

I guess if anything, I find the entire “debate” old hat, but I’m sure there are going to be a lot of people who will read about Patterson’s decision to enter the video game market and learn about this debate for the first time. A lot of these people don’t yet realize that they already play video games because they don’t think they count. After all, they aren’t acting like immature boys shooting anything that moves and spending hundreds of dollars to support the habit. They just play Peggle or Tetris. Or Myst, or Wii Bowling. But not normal video games.

Perception doesn’t change to match reality fast enough, I guess. I guess I’m a bit upset by the generalizations that go unchecked by all parties, but I’m glad that video games are becoming at least somewhat more accepted outside of the hardcore market.

I’m going to go play Homeworld now. I could read a book or watch a movie, but a lot of them are ultra violent, although I admit that sometimes you can find something good like The Great Gatsby or Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. If I were to base my opinion of an entire industry based on what the top sellers are, I’d say that the movie and book industries are just full of gore and sex for the immature audience that consumes them. Trashy romance novels and movies about fart jokes? Please. Pot, you may continue calling the kettle black as long as you want, but understand why Kettle might make fun of you for it.

1 comment to Guardian’s Games as Art Debate

  • I’m not familiar with the author this article is about. But I am a middle aged man, I guess, and I play games. But I don’t particularly like them. I like certain aspects of them, but the parts of games that tend to appeal to younger people, I find annoying. And they often get in the way of my enjoyment. So I applaud wholeheartedly any efforts of making games specifically for older people. So we can really enjoy them instead of playing games despite themselves.