Monday, May 11, 2015

You Can Be Bad at Playing a Video Game

I recently saw a joke by a comedian, Dara O Briain. It was about video games, and it was pretty funny on the surface.
"Video games do a thing that no other industry does. You cannot be bad at watching a movie. You cannot be bad at listening to an album. But, you can be bad at playing a video game - and the video game will punish you and deny you access to the rest of the video game. No other art form does this."
The joke, clip here, continues, expressing how absurd it would be for a book or an album to test your abilities before allowing you to continue.

The exposition to his joke was pretty funny, but after about the 50 second mark where he starts tying the joke into a real life experience with video games, it wasn't funny anymore.

Now, now, I wasn't offended or insulted by his story or his outlook on video games, it just... wasn't funny. I wasn't the audience of that joke. In the rest of the clip what I saw was an older man who was complaining about how weird video games are because he's not good at playing them.

and what's the deal with airline food?

As a gamer, that's not a "joke," that's the conversation I've had with the majority of older people if video games were brought up. Maybe not so much anymore - the video game audience has been growing dramatically since I was a kid - but that was just one more person going on and on about how he doesn't get video games. It was a common story I've heard a dozen times, told by a stand up comedian to an collection of people who, if I had to guess, where the perfect audience for that joke. "Haha, that's those kid's video games for you!"

hahaha! wait, dear, what are video games? isn't that the cult?

It was as unfunny and exhausting to hear as it is when my grandmother or my aunts make a joke to my family about not understanding video games, and they all laugh and laugh while I sit there uncomfortably.

I don't get them either! haha how relatable!

It's true, if you make a direct comparison between video games and other consumed art - but you shouldn't be. No other consumed art - music, tv, movies, books - requires the same level of interaction by the consumer. You watch a movie, you listen to an album, you read a book, but you play a video game. Comparing video games to movies in this way is just inaccurate. You "play" a movie or an album, but once you start it, it will continue to completion without any further input from you. In fact, books are the only comparison here with any semblance of validity - you'll have a hard time enjoying a book without being able to read and understand it.

But still, it all falls short of accurately comparing to a video game, because video games are not only entertainment and art, but they are also games.

I know the man's joke was just that - a joke - but his delivery made me realize why we see video games so frequently miscategorized and misunderstood. That manner of direct comparison between listening to an album and playing a video game seems clearly absurd to a gamer, but that's how people who don't understand video games look at them.

they look at them as a bewildering, complicated, and scary thing

That's the only way that they can attempt to understand them, because you're showing them a brand new thing and immediately their brain tries to label it as a thing they are already familiar with in order to comprehend it. It's as weird to me to try and imagine not being able to understand that video games are interactive entertainment art as it is for some people to understand that they are all of those things at once.

Hence the setup for the comedian's joke - you can't be bad at watching a movie or listening to an album, but you can be bad at playing a video game. This joke only works if we see the comparison between movies and music and video games and consider it to be valid.

This concept persists because every preexisting thing those people have ever experienced has always been one or the other. There is nothing barring video games from being entertainment, games and art all at once, but for no reason other than familiarity, there are people who try to insist on stuffing video games into one or another exclusive category that ignores a huge portion of it.

Sometimes people will try to discredit video games as art because some video games don't translate into great art. 

Like movies and books, video games tell a story. Video games integrate music and art into them in order to augment and affect the experience of playing them. Some video games do this less than others, but is a horrible drawing of a cat I did in MS paint any less a drawing than some fabulous, competent artist's awe inspiring piece?

at this time I am taking commissions

It's awful art, but it's art. You can write a horrible story. You can make a terrible movie. Video games can be bad art. They can be bad art, but be a good game. They can be good art and be a bad game. There is nothing keeping them from being able to be these things, to simultaneously be a game and be art, or be good at one aspect but not the other. It being bad art doesn't make it not art, it just makes it bad art. It being a bad game doesn't make it not a game, it just makes it a bad game. Just like my very awful cat is still a drawing. It's not not a drawing.

this isn't what I meant when I looked for 'cat painting'

A beautiful video game that I consider to be an absolute work of art is a simple flash game called William and Sly. It's made by a guy who goes by Kajenx or Particlasm and is available to play free online. The second one is much prettier than the first one, but both are marvelous works of art.

both start out relatively similarly

the art and music combine to make a whimsical world

It's a side scrolling, free flash game, but it's gorgeous. It's a work of art that you can be bad at it - but that doesn't mean it isn't art.

Video games are indeed unlike any other industry. They are unlike all other art forms. But, somehow we find it necessary to compare them to other industries and art forms and make conclusions about them based on their loose connections with things they are not.

We make comparisons to traditional art - drawings, paintings - and put video games in the same category. But you don't interact with art - in fact, it's generally expressly prohibited. You can't go into a museum and start interacting with the paintings. We can't regard video games in the same way we regard a painting because they aren't the same thing.

Video games are unique. There's nothing wrong, or right, about that - it just is. We tend to try to make connections between things when there really isn't a necessity to do so. We try to put video games in a category, and say it can or cannot be certain things because it is or is not certain other things for no other reason than because I said so.

Video games are different, entirely. They are unique to this world of art, industries, hobbies, and entertainment. They are all of those things, wrapped up into one, nifty little package, and to compare them as a whole to tiny aspects of them ignores that they wouldn't exist without being made up of all of these things.

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