Tag Archives: Video Games

Without the Effort

Today, I logged into Evernote, something I do not do often. In fact, I only went there because I was drawing a blank on a topic to write about today, and I thought that seeing old notes would inspire me.

I didn’t have to go very far, because within seconds I was faced with their new slogan: “Feel organized, without the effort.”

I will ignore the fact that someone feeling organized does not give them the same benefits as actually being organized (it is a short-term vs. long-term gain).

“Without the effort.” It’s a poisonous promise.

Phantasy Star is an old adventure game. It is relatively unsophisticated – after all, it is almost as old as me. But playing it today, I feel more captivated by it than by many modern games.

Unlike most modern games, Phantasy Star does not keep a record of the map as the character progresses. I need to do it myself, with a pen and checkered paper. It’s on my to draw the map step-by-step, or risk getting lost.

Is it too much work? Doesn’t it defeat the purpose of relaxing by playing a video game? Perhaps. It depends on what you’re looking for. But it is undeniable that the experience here is enriched, transcends the electronic medium, and gives me more “ownership” of the adventure.

If the goal is satisfaction, then the effort is part of that.

Consumer Obligation

“Is this worthy of your time and money, of your attention?”

This is a kind of artistic criticism  – or review, in the parlance of the internet – that one can seek. It is valuable: both time and money are limited resources.

But the answer is different for each reader, for each viewer, because different people look for different things.

Are you looking for self-knowledge? Are you looking for leisure? Are you looking for status? Are you looking for challenge? Are you looking for intellectual stimulation? Or validation of your beliefs?

The critic can not read the thoughts of his audience. The validation of one person’s beliefs is another person’s intellectual stimulation. Therefore, the duty of the good critic is to expose what the work does, and what it does not.

The consumer’s obligation is to know what he is looking for. Not what work he seeks, but what he seeks from the work.

Form and Content

Animé and comic books are vast industries, but they are also niches. Watching animé (Japanese animation, for those wondering) is something for anime fans. Reading comics is a thing for comic book fans.

But it would be absurd to say the same thing about watching movies. When someone goes to the movies, we don’t take him as a person who has a special appreciation for movies. And we do not even have a word for “book fan” – we recognize that some people have a reading habit to a greater or lesser degree, or read occasionally, or do not read at all.

Why this difference in perception between film and anime? Between book and comic book? My thesis is that most people are not sure what they are looking for, and so they confuse form with content.

I am agnostic about form. What I seek are stories. It doesn’t matter to me if this story is transmitted through the magic of cinema, the melody of a rock opera, or the mechanics of a video game.

What interests me – though it’s not always what’s the most important to me – is how the content matches the form. If the story benefits from the medium used to tell it.

The world of video games is rife with stories that would be best told in a book, film or comic book, and that do not benefit by being told in a video game; on the contrary, the story, its rhythm, its cadence, are impaired.

A videogame is a unique medium because it does not necessarily have to tell a story, at least not in the traditional sense of the term. Tetris is an excellent video game, but if it tells a story, it’s one completely generated in the player’s head – narratively, Tetris is nothing more than a vehicle for the imagination.

But when a game focuses on telling a story, when that is its central premise, or one of its central premises, then either it takes advantage of the unique characteristics of the medium to do so, or it is a digital mule, a hybrid and defective being.

It is very easy to identify this dichotomy in video games because they are so different from the usual artistic mediums – and because the majority of those who create them still fail so spectacularly in using the tool for narrative purposes, or even in determining what their artistic purpose is.

It takes much more attention and cultural education in other art forms to realize, for example, when a movie would have been a better comic book, or an opera would have been a better animé.

But it is something to consider when we want to talk about the quality of a piece of work.