Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Games are just the best thing

Reading back the writing I've been doing in the past year, I feel it would be easy to think I didn't like videogames. That goes for a lot of writers, actually. As a general rule, my Twitter feed is mostly game critics complaining about the industry this or violence that, how games are inherently sexist or unable to express complex ideas. We're a complaining press. After so much complacency in the eighties and nineties, when games that were even vaguely exciting or horny got 9s out of 10, we're into a period of stubbornness and rebuttal now. It's cool not to like games. Brooker doesn't like games. Jim Sterling doesn't like games. Yahtzee doesn't like games. I remember being at Eurogamer last year and listening to a group of friends, a group of friends I could imagine fifteen years ago getting excited about Mace Griffin or Smuggler's Run, systematically turning their noses up at everything being announced on the Tannoy. "EA, pfft. Activision, pfft," they said. Indie games are in now. Game games are for sheeple.

But fuck if games aren't just the best thing sometimes. It's rare - so rare - that one really comes all together, but when it does, when the planets align to let a BioShock or a GTA IV or a Limbo slip out, videogames are, even for an ostensible whinge-a-list like me, powerful creative works. I hate the inherent childishness expressed in things like Indie Game: The Movie and The Unfinished Swan, but I do agree that the magic, the mystique of videogames is their ability to take you away somewhere, to whisk you off like James on a giant peach. Often, it's that very same formal unique which makes games a target for their critics. Impassivity, the need for action and feedback, is the scourge of creative integrity. It's the very same thing which makes games great entertainment which makes them poor art. I think that too, but I still love them. The examples given above are just some of the games which inherit everything that's right about this medium while turning everything that's wrong to their advantage also. It can be done, and when it happens, games are just the best thing. They're expansive, they're exciting, they're talkative. They're something you can do with your children. They're something you can make more yours than any book or film or stageplay.

I remember walking my girlfriend home in GTA and watching the city lights come on in Manhattan. I remember swilling whiskey in a disused bunker in Fallout while playing back old tapes of my dead dad. I remember in Limbo, being scared to death of that fake, mechanical spider. When I think back to the moments in fiction which have made me the most awed, the most excited, they're generally in games. And that's not because I'm a philistine. I find it regrettable that this point has to be laboured, but it's possible to be well-read and still be turned on by what happens in games. They are, every now and then, the best thing. They're expansive, creative, new, intelligent, exciting, fun, expressive. They're wacky and stupid and playful; sometimes they're sombre and reflective.

Now, while it's trendy, games are easy to bitch about. We're in the process of discovering their implicit flaws, the subtraction points inherent in the form, and that's naturally kicked the gate open for a whole new wave of churlish criticism. But that will pass. We'll find games, we'll work out what they can do and what they are and I'm confident, despite my complaining also, that we'll find they're just the best thing.

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