By Sherrie Li
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By Sherrie Li
And in MMOs the gameplay itself is often boring. But people are addicted. It’s this constantly unfolding drama with a giant cast of complex characters. They’re complex because they’re real people. And that’s the tip of the iceberg for real emotional connection. I mean, people are dying from dehydration playing these games. When was the last time anyone died from being so engrossed with Proust? Never.
Except for Proust himself, I guess.
I suppose the difference between games and the other arts is that those narratives, when they’re good, are challenging. You never emerge from a great book or film unscathed. Whereas video games are mostly cultural soma. I never thought about the psychological geography ofMario Brothersuntil Cory Arcangel stripped out the coins and characters and made a loop of an empty Nintendo clouded sky. That’s the first time you might wonder what Mario was really after up there in the clouds.
Well, that’s true of games like Mario, which is very simplistic. There are other games where what unfolds in the game itself is meaningful. And the gameplay, again, really is an advantage. Books and films don’t change over time.
And the problem with most video games is that they shortchange themselves by trying to mimic the other arts. They fall into the trap of making second-rate movies where you walk down hallways or push crates around every so often.
Absolutely. And every so often something great comes along. Every so often a game synthesizes into art. It’s not an individual element. It’s the entire experience of the game — the story, or design, or gameplay, or characters — being unlike anything before it. Katamari Damacy is one of those. That was a student project to start. Psychonauts is really interesting too. It’s a more traditional game, but the story takes place in different characters’ heads. Depending on the character, that space varies. There’s an Austin Powers Brazilian bombshell, and everything inside her head is like a ’70s roller disco. And then there’s a conspiracy theorist, and his mind is filled with a 1950s landscape with Men in Black–type guys walking around. It’s very funny, actually. Really well written. Details well drawn. The space is treated differently too, with physics different on each level, reflecting a dreamlike psychic interior. The game also does get a bit into ideas about psyche and identity.
So do you think that games have reached maturity? Or are we still waiting?
Few games do it all. Many good games do seven out of 10 things well, but fall short on the other three points. But some, like Katamari, have in fact reached an artistic synthesis. And it’s important to remember: That makes it a piece of work that couldn’t be done in any other medium. Frankly, I’m bored by film. I barely see movies anymore, because I find them so uninteresting. But there’s a lot going in games. You just have to know where to look.?
VIDEO GAME ART | By NIC KELMAN | Assouline | 300 pages | $30 paperback
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