Friday, August 26, 2011

Get Your Art Out of My Hobby

Date: 08/26/2011
By: Nate

Gaming has been announced as an art, yadda yadda yadda – or “big friggin' deal”. I already said my piece about it. While it seems that gaming has magically gone from being hobby to an art form over night, , I need to ask, “At which point did it actually stop being a hobby?”

I mention this as sort of a counterpoint to Duke Nukem Forever, which I've recently just played and grudgingly had to put down because I'm working on not one, but two long games. Yes, it's crass. Yes, it is extremely offensive. However, it is not a one-string banjo like many of the games that are raised on a pedestal these days.

To be honest, I found it strange that Duke Nukem Forever's gameplay was considered archaic. Halo has relied on relatively similar gameplay since 2001, and Duke Nukem 3D is a throwback to that, perhaps. But it's also a hell of a leap. Can you name me five shooters that are as interactive as Duke Nukem Forever? I can, and most of them are Build games (13 – 15 years old), and the others are the Deus Ex titles. If interactivity and varied gameplay with tight controls are an issue, then I think there's a much greater problem with the review scene than reviewers' memories.

Sure, intense interactivity may be a throwback, but it's certainly not archaic. Why? Because it immerses you into the environment by making you part of it. Unfortunately, that big button on screen does kind of take away from it by taking you out of the experience, but at least that experience is there.

The point is, the magazines need to check something called integrity. Lambasting something for being archaic – when it's not – is a great example. As a matter of fact, I would say that most “modern” shooters are archaic simply because they're even simpler than their 2D and 2.5D (e.g. Wolfenstein 3D and Doom, respectively) counterparts because they reduce gameplay to two components – completing an objective on a rail and slaughtering the bad guys.

Obviously, few titles use irreverence as a selling point. The last Serious Sam came out around the same time as Doom 3 – although Sam is much more innocent than The Duke.

However, going after the sense of humour because you're stuck on your morals (or political correctness – even worse) is also a cop-out; this is an M-rated game that, so far, is making Super Troopers look like a mature romantic comedy.

That said, we come to the point of satire as a humour vehicle, because, let's face it...Duke Nukem is a satire of “all that is man” - or hypermasculinity. Much like a Heavy Metal concert, Duke Nukem 3D is a piss-up of the core patriarchal values – debauchery, misogyny, bigotry, decadence and substance abuse. And Duke Nukem, like Judas Priest (the guys who started the hypermasculinity trend when singer, Rob Halford, sang onstage in his cruising attire) is just a caricature. And yet the Filthy Fifteen list did indeed exist (which also included Twisted Sister and Madonna).

So why the ambivalence? It's satire. It's a grand joke at the expense of something else. Satire is sometimes considered an artistic expression, and even moreso when delivered by way of humour. Someone isn't trying to put together a blacklist to protect their precious army shooters, are they? Either way, “Thou dost protesteth too much.”

Regardless, this creates a problem. These attitudes set a precedence, and an alarming one. You see, way back in the day, games like this would have been well received because they don't follow the norm, and they actually offer the gamer an experience beyond finding a key, hitting a switch and killing a room full of bad guys. Or, in today's shooters...just hitting a switch and killing a room full of bad guys.

Unfortunately, this attitude also shows politics in action, this time an attack on something being ridiculously politically incorrect for the sake of being just that. An important component of art is the freedom of expression, and while we are free to be critical of that expression...a little honesty goes a long way. Honesty rarely has any truck with politics. Unfortunately, it's also vice-versa. Unfortunately, there's something else that's being's a game. Fictional characters and all.

Hell, I've read things far more crass and potentially incendiary than this (Virtual Freedom and Chocolate Jesus come to mind), and neither of these were panned when political correctness was still valued.

At the end of the day, we don't want politics in our reviews. We never did. We just want a clean, honest opinion as to whether or not a game is fun to play or not and why. We do not want mewling about how a game's sense of humour is odious because it violates social mores when you're clearly looking to pan it when you have nothing else to go on. I've actually played the game and I can honestly dispute all the crap that the alleged pros have spewed about the gameplay, as can anyone else who has actually played it. So it really only comes down to one thing: Pretense.

I can't stress this enough: It's a hobby. More importantly, it's a hobby with a culture, and that culture has its own feelings and opinions. Gaming started off as a hobby, and regardless of the monikers added to it, it will always be a hobby. It's now a recognised art form, but it's still a hobby. I'm not trying to denigrate it, quite the contrary. To be honest, while many hobbyists have their own pretenses, they're not nearly as douchy as the critics who claim to be an authority are.

Readers who actually pay for the dreck you people spew do not deserve this attitude. It doesn't make better games, it doesn't make publishers more ethical. What it does do is it alienates the majority of us who game because we do it as a hobby. Even worse, it alienates people who make those games. Most gamers aren't prancing art critics hell-bent on making sure the world follows their opinion (that would fall to the fanboys, an inane minority), and most devs work damned hard to put a quality title out.

If you want to bring some class to reviewing, how about changing your attitude to something more down to earth? Then maybe the rest of us can take you seriously - instead perceiving you as a grand satire of our own culture. We already get enough of that from soccer-moms, ignorant politicians and media-crazy lawyers.

Just give us honesty and integrity. Like Duke Nukem, they're old concepts that work great and, more importantly, still stand and deliver. I can't say the same for politics.

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