Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Messages I Hate

This is a ranty-rant-rant.

Brenda Brathwaite linked to this.

I hate this... little piece of software.

I wouldn't hate it so much if not for the author's message on the forum in response to "what are you getting at?"

" I don't know. Do you? "

This faux-elegant statement, this nasty little "I'm so clever and artistic" response, it is typical of the most worthless parts of the "artistic" community. It is everything that is wrong with the artistic community in general. "My message is sooooo deep you need to look inside yourself! It's so deep, it's IN YOU, not me!!! WOooooOOOooooo!"

I doubt the author of the game is as pretentious as I think he is. In fact, I doubt he's even as pretentious as me. He probably doesn't deserve my bitching.

But these kinds of games... THINGIES... are popping up all over. I hate them. Universally, they have all sucked. Even the ones that are more game-like, such as the Airport Security Check one or the "Real Lives" one.

There's nothing to be learned by playing them. Any message they have is cheapened by reliance on meta-gaming - by abusing the "magic circle". People do not generally kill because they are curious, or because they think there will be no consequences. There are many reasons people kill, suffer, love, whatever your message might be. Few of those reasons should be "because they are playing a game" or "because they couldn't find anything more interesting to do".

I'm not against games that have a message. But there are two requirements for me to think they are not pieces of shit.

1) They have to be games. Fuck this noninteractive, one-choice, painfully simplified crap. Playing a game is a process. That's the strength of gaming.

2) The message cannot be a snapshot. In order for a message to be told without cheapening it, the message needs to be in the game at a deeper level. The players need to experience the choices and circumstances that lead to the situation. That's the strength of games, that's the ONLY way they can send messages better than any other medium.

Sure, there are shortcuts. Maybe even exceptions. I don't claim to be The Authority.

But I hate these "games with a message". Their messages are insulted and insulting due to lack of depth, oversimplification, and painful transparency. Then going around being proud of your "message"? Ugh.

If you don't want to make a game, send your message in another medium.


Mory said...

It seems to me that the message isn't what bugs you. It's that games pretend to have messages when they don't, as if "I'm a game and also a political message!" were a message in itself. People who make such games are so self-congratulatory about having made a Serious Game Indeed that they usually don't bother to say anything with it.

But if a game were more sophisticated, even as it were mostly non-interactive, would you still have a problem with it? If this "Execution" actually said anything at all, wouldn't that be worthwhile?

Craig Perko said...

Well, Execution does have something to say about the permanence of death. But, like I said, it's a shallow metagame trick rather than any kind of real exploration of the message.

It's certainly possible to explore the message while remaining a non-game. For example, you could do an interactive tour of Nazi death camps or something. You could also just play a movie and require people to click every once in a while. But these aren't really GAMES, they don't really use the strength that a game can lend to the message.

I don't really think a game needs to be sophisticated to treat a message well. For example, Passage is extremely non-sophisticated, but I found that it worked well.

I don't think that kind of simplicity serves very many messages, but I wouldn't be disappointed to find out I was wrong.

Matthew Rundle said...

I have no real problem with this sort of experience, in theory. I'm with you, though: It bugs me that people count them as games.

I had a rant about Passage, which I'm not fond of, but actually does have some value, although not as a game. It's a metaphor in software, with gamelike attributes. You could play it like a game, but you wouldn't 'get' it, whatever that means. You're supposed to appreciate the metaphor. That's the whole point of the experience.

I'm not sure how that applies to Execution, which is essentially a boolean operation with emotional baggage attached; any gamelike elements in it are only there to confuse the user. The message it's conveying is related to games, but it's roughly as interactive as an ecard or similar.

Anyway, the issue with these things isn't that they're devoid of content - it's that people lump them in with the games you're supposed to appreciate as games, even though they have no value as games.

Craig Perko said...

I can see where you're coming from, but I think that these "games" aren't simply not fun: I think they are making weak-ass statements.

Mory said...

Out of curiosity, what do you think of The Graveyard? I think it works as art, even though it doesn't really have a message per se.

Craig Perko said...

That was a cut above most, perhaps because it didn't try to be a game. The main punch of the message was in the song. The navigation (the "game-like part") was only there to set the tone, and it didn't try to do any meta-gamey things.

It worked pretty well!

Valentin said...

the worst thing is that i lost the game

Anonymous said...

Execution isn't about killing in the real world, it's about killing in the game world. It's not really a commentary on the real world, but a commentary on how we limit our experiences when we play games.

Most other games in this genre try to comment on the real world and I agree they are quite heavyhanded.