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Pen and Inklings » Blog Archive » I play a lot of video games.

I play a lot of video games.

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[For those not precisely nerdy enough to tell videogame console controllers apart: that's a rendering of an NES controller, which more or less changed the world of controller design forever with it's iconic cross-shaped directional "d-pad".  Prior to the NES, up/down/left/right direction had been mostly handled by "joystick" type controllers—think of the classic one-orange-button Atari controller—or other questionable or idiosyncractic schemes.

For those nerdy enough to really know their console controllers, yes, it's not a very faithful rendering.  I didn't have one handy; my parents sold off my system one day when I was at college.  For forty dollars.]

The original Nintendo Entertainment System (often lovingly simplified to NES, pronounced “en ee ess” or simply “ness” by the faithful) was released in summer, 1985.  I was 6 at the time, but I suspect I wasn’t savvy to the machine right away.  Some time in the next couple of years, I became aware, and I was in lust thereafter.

We had some family friends who had a NES, and whenever we would go over there for a social event (poolside barbeque was a popular one in the summer, as they had a pool), I would sneak away as soon as possible to sit in my friend’s room and play Nintendo games until someone would come around to find me and haul me back out into the social sphere.  Wait, sneak, get caught, repeat.

It was a vexing situation: I knew it was a bad move, hiding and using someone else’s system, but I was enchanted by this machine, and I did not own one.  What to do?

I did get one, and though it seemed like forever at the time it was probably sooner rather than later.  I went in on it with my sister, with some help from our biological father.  And I played the unholy god out of it.  And I’ve been gaming ever since—I’ve always liked reading, and I’ve spent a lot of leisure time over the years curled up with a book, but I’d wager I’ve spent more time yet playing video games.

There are times when I feel guilty about that.  I could be educating myself!  I could be Making Something—recording music, writing, drawing—instead of sitting here at this videogame console, trying to kill some godforsaken made up villain with my made up sword for the umpteenth time, right?

But most of the time I’m pretty okay with it.  For one thing, I do spend a lot of time making things.  And for another, hell and damnation, games are fun.  I derive pleasure from the experience.  And games are getting better and better as the years pass—more social, more literary, more clever constructed.  The convergence between art and entertainment is approaching, in this neighborhood.  Playing is starting—in some cases, at least—to seem more and more like Making Stuff.

5 Responses

  1. the big problem is most video game designers look to film for their ideal of “art”. Every designer is obsessed with “storytelling”. Look, loser, *I’M* playing the game — I’m telling the story — this isn’t the AD&D game in your basement. Videogames getting more “filmic” doesn’t mean they’re approaching an aesthetic ideal.

    Of course, *I* don’t have the answer of what that ideal is (and I’d wager there’s no single point of perfection), but videogames would do well to go through some of the same phases that modern art did in the 20th century. Strip things down to the most basic elements, look at what “high” and “low” art is, address older forms of expression in the field. Then you’ll start seeing some really interesting games from the standpoint of the academic community. Will it be fun to play? Hard to say. Not all recent art is fun to look at.

    Realistically, I see less of videogames being “their own artistic form”, and more of games being “art games”, or “blockbusters”, much like we have “art films” (let’s say cremaster cycle), and, uh, “blockbusters”. Then there’ll be some in the middle. So maybe games aren’t doing themselves such a disservice by modeling themselves on film.

    fishfucerk - January 5th, 2007 at 10:44 am
  2. It’s my hope that, as you say, we will see “art games” on the rise. The incessant and (in the big picture) stunning rise of computing power and resources will make it possible, I think, for independent artist/designers to effectively put together such things on a starving-artist budget in a way that wasn’t possible ten or twenty years ago. Bigger and more abstract, high-level toolsets—less programming, more actual designing.

    Josh Millard - January 5th, 2007 at 10:50 am
  3. My parents wouldn’t get me a Nintendo, but every once in awhile, a kind friend would actually lend theirs to me. Once, I stopped playing Mario Brothers and went to bed. My dad took the controller.

    When I got up the next day, he was still playing it.

    They still didn’t get me a Nintendo.

    interrobang - January 6th, 2007 at 12:50 pm
  4. Cubivore is a recent stripped down art game, sorta. So is that white/black flipping shooter. Hopefully we can have art-games for the wii- somebody just has to agree to publish the things.

    Secretariat - January 8th, 2007 at 12:38 pm
  5. OMG the atari joystick had a RED button. noob.

    Joel - January 12th, 2007 at 9:23 pm

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