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The Potential of Video Games

The Potential of Video Games
April 24, 2012, 12:00:28 PM
This doesn't particularly fit into any other thread (the only other truly video-game oriented threads are either totally anti [as is expected] or not general enough), so I'm making a new one - mods, please feel free to move this to a more fitting thread if you remember there being one.

I have exams starting next week, so I've decided to go sober for a while.  Doing this always gives me very interesting insights, as the copious amounts of substances I've ingested over the previous month or so gradually wind their way out of my body.  I've just been struck by the thought that, contrary to my previous belief, all of the time that I have spent playing video games has not been wasted.  I generally prefer games which have good stories/gameplay over those which merely look cool (which seem to me more like interactive movies).  Some of the best games I've ever played - Morrowind, Terranigma, Secret of Mana - have actually imparted to me very valuable ideas, either through the dialogue/storyline put in by the developers, or because my ruminations during play have led to new discoveries.  Principally, though, the time has not been wasted, because I actively engage with the game as the character I am playing, and really try to immerse myself in the story/setting.

The best video games should be as artistically viable as the best books, the best music, the best films, and so on.  The problem is that the days of video games being seen as creative endeavours are past us, and now they have been relegated to "entertainment".  In short, we're right back at square one: Call of Doodie: Modern Wankfare 16 is Pong with swanky graphics/controls (team based combat is team based combat).  However, a brief Golden Age (around the early '90s, funnily enough) yielded a number of titles which were far less concerned with scores, special effects, and variations on a single gameplay mechanism (e.g. killing someone), and more focused on providing detailed and thorough worlds wherein the player had "real" goals and difficulties.  Final Fantasy etc. was probably the start of this kind of game, though the style became more sophisticated with later, often more action-oriented RPGs (so that the story was not separated by/from the battles, and killing things was no longer the main goal).

Consider that, throughout time, Men have created stories about their worlds, their people's pasts, their Gods, and so on.  In many cultures, these stories eventually take the form of plays - essentially, ritualised reenactments, in which both the actors and the audience must "suspend disbelief" so as to reap the benefits of what they see and hear (the same benefits as would befall someone who read the play as a book or poetry, let us say).  In Japan, it was customary for Lords (and some of their retainers) to dabble in acting; I should think there are analogues all over the world, wherein the higher castes, with loftier gazes, recreated the actions of the past so as to gain a better understanding of the world.

Here I am reaching my conclusion: video games could have become the "individual's play", just as books became the individual's fireside narratives.  By this, I mean that we could have developed programmes which allowed users to fully adopt (or even create) the role of a certain individual, play out that role, and learn all of the lessons learnt by that individual in the game, albeit from the comfort of a sofa.  Instead, we've just spawned ridiculous amounts of eyecandy on which to waste hours of our lives attaining Double++ rank by shooting angry twelve year olds.

There are some games with which the above can be done.  Play any of the three games I listed up there, and make a solid attempt at "identifying with the character", or however it's said.  It's as much "escapism" as reading a book is, and the only reason you won't get quite so much out of it than you would from reading an Epic or somesuch work is that nobody's had the vision or the balls to create something that good within the medium (yet!).

Re: The Potential of Video Games
April 24, 2012, 01:25:50 PM
You have to play Baldurs Gate, both of them. The power of Satan compels you.

Re: The Potential of Video Games
April 24, 2012, 01:33:23 PM
Baldur's Gate was good :)
I liked Guild Wars, except for running into swarms of murderous monsters every nine paces.
Oblivion is still my favourite, where I can walk in the forest and collect herbs and flowers, while only occasionally being gratuitously attacked.
My characters all represent me. Honourable and sane. Game world, look out! The Crusader walks!

Re: The Potential of Video Games
April 24, 2012, 01:51:12 PM
IceWind Dale was a great game, if only for the fact that there was a small town built under the roots of a giant Oak tree. A perfect balance between men and nature.

Re: The Potential of Video Games
April 24, 2012, 02:30:01 PM
Dark Souls is the most black metal game ever made.

Re: The Potential of Video Games
April 24, 2012, 02:52:05 PM
Baldur's Gate (I and II), Icewind Dale (... I and II), Neverwinter Nights (?), Planescape: Torment, and Divine Divinity are fantastic.  Diablo I and II are great games, but lack that story/character element, I find (hack'n'slash isn't so good as D&D-based).  I think I've pretty much played all of the games that rip those ones off, and none of them comes close to the originals.  Dragon Age can suck my balls.

I'm glad to see a few positive posts before the inevitable rush of "LOL VIDYA IS INHERENTLY STOOPID JUST LIKE HOW ALL METAL IS SUMMED UP BY GLAM", which seems to be the mentality people here have towards everything else I like (drugs, women, woodchippers...).

Re: The Potential of Video Games
April 24, 2012, 03:15:46 PM
If you tally up all of the time I spent playing Diablo 1/2 in my younger days, it might even equate to a year of life. That said, the aesthetic was phenomenal and the atmosphere evocative of the old age. I admit to neurotically collecting items for builds though - video games can be quite the addiction. Planescape:Torment was great, Morrowind/Oblivion/Skyrim and even Dungeon Siege was good. I know they all have a similar aesthetic, but there is some quality, especially from Planescape, which also holds the distinction of great characters and story. RPGs are clearly designed with characters and story in mind, so I remain positive that when culture catches up, we can have a unique experience much like Planescape.

Despite this, I must also confess that I have found some gratification in certain shooters (ie. Bioshock and even the occasional CoD, Quake back in the day). Luckily, being only a casual gamer, I find it can be relieving to shoot proles in the face, even if in a derivative and repetitive fashion.

Re: The Potential of Video Games
April 24, 2012, 05:31:41 PM
Diablo was way ahead of its time. Nobody had ever seen anything like it.
But these games can be good as a character-development tool.
The avatar practices strategies that, if successful, advise the human.
I refer, specifically to Guild Wars, here, where there is no offline mode.
One deals exclusively with other human-controlled avatars.
Or did, until the game started including AI heroes, along with the AI henchmen.
My characters exhibit positively stratospheric ethics, chivalry, bravery and honesty.
It seems like a good way to practice, until it feels right.

Re: The Potential of Video Games
April 24, 2012, 06:10:00 PM
Doom and Quake always felt like the closest the form has ever gotten to the spirit of metal.  Anecdotally, the first Quake had a sort of "Blessed are the Sick" feeling to it and the first Doom felt like cheesy 80s speed metal.  Probably because most metal and those games were both made by four 20 year old men in the early 90s.

Re: The Potential of Video Games
April 24, 2012, 06:36:43 PM

Re: The Potential of Video Games
April 24, 2012, 07:38:50 PM
Video games are probably the most popular outlet of Romanticism in our culture today (the Elder Scrolls series being a good example of this). It's a double-edged sword though, because they're also one of the most popular outlets for escapism.

Why does it always seem like there is a fine line between Romanticism and escapism?

Re: The Potential of Video Games
April 24, 2012, 07:54:28 PM
Games can be an effective storytelling medium. I have been so enthralled by the story in certain games they've sent shivers down my spine. From it the espionage-meets-cyberpunk-meets-supernatural intrigue of Metal Gear Solid to Zelda's quirky and original take on high fantasy, such games captured my imagination as a youth and continue to do so today. I love games. But video games will never match literature, and have yet to match film, when it comes to narrative.Video games are still games, and as such, the plot and the characters are secondary to gameplay. A game could have the greatest story ever told, but I still wouldn't play it unless the gameplay was fun.

No, the main reason videogames are useful is not because they invigorate imaginations (let's face it, none of the RPG storylines in this thread can hold their own with the greatest books and films) but because they're mentally stimulating in a way that books and films aren't, in a way that is unique to the 'artform'. And I don't mean mentally stimulating in the "studies show increased hand-eye coordination" sense the media bullshits about, but in a deeper, more profound way.  A good game requires you to experiment: the rules are not explicitly stated, so you have to probe the game world and test things out in order to learn the rules so you can advance further in the game. Essentially, you’re using the scientific method in games: you develop a hypothesis on how to approach the game world, test it to see if it works, and recalibrate according to what you observe. If you die or get stuck, that means your understanding of the game world is flawed. Take for instance the puzzle game, Portal. The main character possesses a gun which can shoot a 2 portals onto certain surfaces; enter one and you will come out the other. Through experimentation, the player learns that momentum is unaffected when going through portals, and its up to players to exploit this technique in a variety of different scenarios in order to win the game. All good games do this: the player must learn the mechanics of the game world, and figure out how to recombine and extrapolate them in order to progress; failure to learn equals losing the game.

Another cognitive virtue found in games is objective-based thinking. Games are all about completing certain objectives in order to win to progress. If you went into a gamer's head while he was playing a quality game, you would find him organizing a long list of objectives into hierarchy. Take for example the classic Super Nintendo title The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.

In this game, you must...
1. Save princess Zelda and recover the Triforce.
     2. To do this, you must kill Gannon
          3. To do this, you must get the Master Sword
                  4. To do this, you must gather the 3 pendants
                          5. To do this, you must remove the rock blocking the cave entrance.
                                6. To do this you must obtain the gauntlets of strength
                                      7. To do this, you must navigate the overworld
                                            8. To do this, you must fend off monsters to stay alive.
                                           ... etc etc etc

For each pendant there will be another objective hierarchy, and within those hierarchies there will be more sub hierarchies, and so on and so forth...
Gamers make these concentric sequences of objectives in their mind, consciously or unconsciously, where events are coordinated in micro and macro timeframes. The best games force to make hundreds of these sequences, and to make them non-linear ie to give the player some choice in how they go about completing an objective.

It should be self-evident that the aforementioned types of thought patterns have some relevancy to real life. Don't get me wrong though; playing WoW for 16 hours straight still makes you a fucking faggot.  Moderation is key.

Re: The Potential of Video Games
April 25, 2012, 02:07:44 AM
Interesting points, Tralfamadorian, especially about Zelda - I was going to make a similar point about the planning/time management/strategy aspects of RTS games (which I also play as RPGs, taking on the role of my faction/civilisation/tribe/whatever).  I still maintain that video games could be as good as the best of any artform - consider that, at the point of the origin of the printing press, a large amount of literature had already been created (i.e. when books came on the scene, a lot of the best material was already out there).  Video games are relatively new, and they've unfortunately fallen into the sickness of modernity by being focused more on surface than on depth.  This is redeemable, though - if something of the scale of the Suikoden games could be made with more RPG elements and sandbox-style/open-ended gameplay, it would be immense.

Don't the Japanese love those (real) interactive movies, where all you do is select from a dialogue box?  That's not quite the kind of thing I mean, by suggesting that games should be like plays: of course the gameplay should be good/challenging and require thought (Zelda is a very good example of this, given that it's about half and half puzzles and bosses).  Indeed, in this respect, a video game could quite easily end up being more immersive than a book or film, given that one directly controls a character/group of characters, usually within a visual representation of a worldspace.

Also, I have to say, the ever expanding storylines of franchises such as Zelda, TES, games in D&D universes, etc., are far better than a lot of the storylines of the best literature, which are lesser in scope/imagination and often much duller (compare Jane Austen's works to Baldur's Gate).  This is not to say that the games are better than the books, merely that a video game requires a more evocative storyline in order to be as enjoyable/useful as a good piece of prose.  The reason for this, I would say, is that literature is to be digested over time, whereas the stories of video games (like those of plays) are always occuring right now: there is little time to stop and mull over a certain line or paragraph, because there are Trolls everywhere and the local Lord needs his Mage's magic staff back promptly.

I think my point is that a "game" can be as basic as tic-tac-toe or as deep as chess.  Video games, currently, are closer to tic-tac-toe.  There are a few which are Tolkien's mad reinterpretation of Chess, and that is the direction in which the medium should be brought further.

Re: The Potential of Video Games
April 25, 2012, 03:50:56 AM
Why does it always seem like there is a fine line between Romanticism and escapism?
They both involve a focus on a world better than the one in which we currently find ourselves. The distinction is that the former draws its inspirations from what used to be -even if it is romanticized in hindsight- while the latter draws its inspirations from what is not and never was; that is to say, from a void. They are both built from the same elements, but the difference is what they focus on. The focus of romanticism is a desire for a return to values, making the abandonment of the current world just a consequentially necessary step on that path. The focus of escapism (and, on that note, it's core value) is to flee from what is, and the actual alternative being embraced is essentially irrelevant.

Because they are built from the same basic elements, an escapist can easily come to embrace romanticism, and a romantic can easily succumb to escapism. It depends on one's heart and soul. A romantic is one whose heart bursts with pride, and overflows with a positive love for an idea; he wants to make the world into a better version of itself by building on what used to be, and will have his passions bloom among the weeds of the world by continual attendance to them. An escapist is one who is bitter and withdrawn, one who has had his heart blackened and shriveled by a cynical view of not only the world, but of his own value within it. He has to inhabit an imaginary realm because it is the only way he can become someone of worth. Not in reality, of course - but he himself believes this, and in so doing, makes it true. He has no interest in changing the world, because he believes it to be a hopeless cause, and will either ignore the growing weeds or even excuse their infestation because it is natural. It is always easier to surrender than it is to persevere, in all things. This is the watershed between romanticism and escapism; perseverance vs. surrender. An escapist will say that romanticism is foolhardy, and a romantic will say that escapism is dead inside.

Re: The Potential of Video Games
April 25, 2012, 05:18:51 AM
I think (many) games can be destructive to truly creative processes.

The quests often reflect a very proletariat or machine-like concept of action. Instead of creating your own conception of goals and direction, you are on the receiving end and passively accepting these:
    Step 1: Do this.
    Step 2: Do this
    Step 3: Do this

This is good for worker drones, but not good for an entrepreneur or someone seeking a more creative and open conception of reality.

Another side effect is that video games are becoming better in terms of mimicking reality's visuals, but poor in that it still isn't reality. As people become more integrated into their games, they have sunk to a lower level of reality. Like people who consume too much TV or watch too many movies, they are beginning to deceive themselves with an artificially constructed worldview. The game does not truly capture the cause and effects of reality in all aspects. Here we reflect the above point - even in "open-ended games", your actions are still limited to a set prescribed by the programmer. Do you hack or do you slash to reach objective A?

Additionally, video games mimic a feeling of accomplishment. This leads many to replace much real action with video games. Or social action with TV. Or sexual relations with masturbation.

We've done a lot to satisfy base desires via artificial means, but it is important to think of the consequences and side effects.