Most Popular Video Games Are Dumb. Can We Stop Apologising For Them Now?

Most Popular Video Games Are Dumb. Can We Stop Apologising For Them Now?

A few weeks ago, The Atlantic magazine published a profile I wrote of the developer Jonathan Blow, a man known in gaming circles as much for his criticism of the mainstream game industry’s intellectual shortcomings as he is for Braid, the outstanding game he created.

Though some commentators took umbrage with what they perceived as Blow’s pretentiousness (and you’ll just have to take my word for it when I tell you he’s actually a great guy), the substantial majority bristled at one particular argument I made about games. “There’s no nice way to say this,” I wrote, “but it needs to be said: video games, with very few exceptions, are dumb.”

It’s safe to say that we needn’t seek out the services of America’s top psychologists to figure out why this idea chapped a few hides. To use the words of Brainy Gamer‘s Michael Abbott-who has even launched a “Smart Game Catalog” to prove my claim wrong, what I wrote was “a sharp slap in the face” to those who don’t see games as juvenile toys. This isn’t entirely true (I did allow for exceptions, after all), but I take his point. While I never intended to be disdainful or dismissive toward gamers (of whom I am one, but more about that in a moment), I’d also be lying if I said I didn’t want to splash some cold water in the face of any intelligent gaming fan who contentedly pays to be treated like a dimwitted child. So, while I firmly believe everything I wrote about mainstream gaming’s smartness drought, I also think the point I was striving to make deserves a bit of clarification.

What I wrote came not from ignorance or contempt, but from frustration with the state of big-budget gaming.

First, because I wrote this piece for a general, non-gaming audience (upon whom any discussion of the artfulness of Bulletstorm‘s energy leash decapitations, for example, would have been lost), many gamers got the impression that I spoke from ignorance — that I was another Roger Ebert badmouthing games in a national forum without knowing the first thing about them. The truth, however, is that my opinion comes from playing too many games. I hesitate even to place a ballpark figure on how many games I’ve played in recent years, for fear of how it might strike my wife or future editors if they read this; let’s just say I’ve done a very thorough survey of the field and have the Achievements and Trophies (O, the Trophies!) to prove it. What I wrote, then, came not from ignorance or contempt, but from frustration with the state of big-budget gaming. I’ve cared deeply about games for a very long time now, and thus it bothers me (and Blow as well, I should note) that they’ve failed to evolve much intellectually.

Which brings us to another point: as a chronic gamer, I’m well aware that Jon Blow is not the only human being ever to have produced a smart, artistically interesting game for a large audience. I’ve gone on record as saying that Portal is a work of unblemished brilliance, for instance (though I did not write the accompanying headline proclaiming Portal 2 “The Best video game Ever”), and there are many others that I consider terrifically smart. To name just a few recent examples: Bioshock, Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, Red Dead Redemption, Fez, Uncharted 2 (the apex of games as Hollywood movies), Limbo, Dark Souls (for sheer visionary weirdness), Enslaved: Odyssey to the West and so on. I don’t know that I’d ever grab one of the nation’s premier art critics, fire up the Chaos Witch Quelaag boss fight in Dark Souls, and then argue that it represents a masterful achievement on par with the portraiture of Gustav Klimt — but still, there’s some fascinating stuff going on there.


The problem, though, is that smart games like these are vanishingly rare, particularly among mainstream developers. This is what I meant when I wrote that “games, with very few exceptions, are dumb.” Out of the hundreds, if not thousands, of console and PC games that emerge from the dark and mysterious caves of development studios each year, only a handful are what a reasonable observer might call smart or artistic — a disturbingly low batting average by any metric. The rest are… well, as I said, they’re typically pretty dumb.

I’m not saying that intelligent people should never play intellectually unsophisticated games.

So let’s have a word about what I mean when I use this admittedly rather unkind little term. (“Dumb”, I realise, is a loaded word that many gamers would have preferred to see replaced with something less caustic- like “unfulfilling” or “emotionally unsophisticated” — but while this is a fair point, the d-word is what we have to work with.) I don’t mean that literally everything about them lacks intelligence. It should go without saying that there are countless smart things going on in even the most outwardly silly games, or else they’d have no reason to succeed. To me, the gameplay of the cartoonish gorefest known as Gears of War 3 is as tightly calibrated as a Maserati’s suspension system (I’ve written as much, as well), and only a fool could fail to see the beauty of Flower or the devious brilliance of a “social gaming” cash vortex like FarmVille.

My issue, then, is with what we might call the intellectual maturity level of mainstream games. It’s not the design mechanics under the hood that I find almost excruciatingly sophomoric at this point; it’s the elements of these games that bear on human emotion and intellectual sophistication, from narrative and dialogue right on down to their core thematic concepts.

Take the 2010 shooter Vanquish, for example. Viewed through the context of pure game design, Vanquish is an absolute triumph; it’s a joy to play, it looks fantastic, and it provides a nicely paced, challenging gaming experience. Yet when we evaluate it on the intellectual maturity scale, the game is an atrocity. Between its senseless plot, silly premise, cornball paint-by-numbers characters, and preposterous dialogue (a combination Japanese game creators seem to have perfected), the game is so toxic to the player’s intelligence that one can almost feel the brain cells dying with each pointless cutscene and agonising spoken exchange.

Everything other than Vanquish’s core gameplay feels as though it was dashed together in an afternoon by a seventh-grade anime fan. In his excellent book Extra Lives (which anyone who cares about games should read immediately), my friend Tom Bissell notes that great art is “comprehensively intelligent”, meaning that it’s intelligent in every way available to it. A game like Vanquish, on the other hand, shows a fragmentary, schizophrenic intelligence; its gameplay is brilliant, while the rest of it is what Chris Hecker, in my piece, calls “adolescent nonsense”.


Of course, this issue might not bother you. You might point out that one shouldn’t really expect much brainpower from a bullet hell shooter in which one rocket-slides around battlefields aiming glowing energy balls at flying men in super-suits, which is an argument that would hold more water if the same problem didn’t afflict virtually every mainstream game. It doesn’t even strike me as controversial to point out that there is way, way, way too much of this thematic juvenility in games. Vanquish, like so many others, is a product that makes us say, “It’s incredibly silly, but hey — it’s fun.”

Yet for gamers to just sweep that important first part under the rug over and over again in favour of brainless, high-octane enjoyment feels like a crime against the medium they love. To accept childish dreck without protest-or worse, to defend the dreck’s obvious dreckiness just because the other parts of a game are cool-is to allow the form to languish forever.

Now, I’m not saying that intelligent people should never play intellectually unsophisticated games, or that games aiming at overall smartness can’t involve a bit of ridiculousness. For one thing, “silly” games are frequently quite imaginative and rewarding to play, from the whimsical creativity of LittleBigPlanet to the deranged WTF-ness of something like Shadows of the Damned. For another, we have to make allowances for the fact that virtually any fictional work we experience requires some suspension of disbelief. Even great literature often asks us to swallow our objections about plausibility and logic; I just finished reading a much-lauded novel in which the narrator has incredible telepathic powers that derive from his blocked sinuses, for god’s sake.

Almost all mainstream games that involve narrative or human emotion or conceptual thought, however, require something more like suspension of brainpower. Again and again, studios churn out the same story of saving the world, the same inhuman flat-as-a-pancake characters, the same lack of moral nuance, the same horrifically violent foundations (who actually enjoys the murder-porn segments of military shooters in which you rack up 50 kills per minute from an invulnerable gunship?), the same insipid dialogue, the same absence of intellectual maturity, the same disregard for the real existential dilemmas human beings face. The end result of this, for anyone who both plays games regularly and actually cares about such things, is that you feel — despite the surface-level fun — like you’re wasting hours of your life that you will never get back on mindless adolescent escapism.


This has been my experience, at least. Too often, I play a game that I dearly want to — like Skyrim, say, or Deus Ex: Human Revolution — and end up feeling as though I’ve poured a colossal amount of time into what amounted, maturity-wise, to a particularly vulgar and bloody children’s cartoon. Some gamers might say that I’m overreacting here, and that a game like Skyrim is in fact perfectly smart and grown-up. To which I would respond as follows: please look at the thing for a moment from an objective perspective.

As gamers, we get so used to the unique rhythms and conventions of game construction that we fail to realise how very silly they are until we’re forced to step back and look dispassionately at what we’re playing. With apologies to female gamers, I think of this as the “girlfriend effect”: that moment when, as you’re thoughtlessly playing Gears of War, your significant other walks into the room, sees what’s on the TV, and says something like “You’re really playing a game where you can rip off someone’s arm and beat him to death with it?” Suddenly, you see with perfect clarity just how preposterous this seems to any other intelligent adult — the endless gore, the ultraviolence, the dumb catchphrases, the brainlessly simple good-versus-evil setup, the context-inappropriate cleavage, the huge muscles and huger guns, and on and on. What do you say then? That it’s not juvenile? You can’t, because it is; anyone can see it.

And often, this is every bit as true of more “serious” games as it is of deliberately over-the-top ones like Gears. To take Skyrim as an example once again, some gamers might absorb that game’s grandiose aesthetics and epic sweep, and then come away thinking they’re dealing with a deeply mature creative work. This would be a mistake.


We’re talking about a game, after all, in which bandits essentially armed with sticks rush your level-500 character pledging to destroy you, in which you fight talking dragons for poorly-explained reasons, in which you must negotiate the most ruthlessly-boring and achingly-unrealistic peace treaty in history, and in which the random strangers you pass call out comments like “Being a fletcher is hard work, but when you craft the perfect arrow, it strikes forth like the fist of God.” The game may have its merits, but let’s not pretend this kind of thing is mature. My impression is that when gamers call something like Skyrim “smart,” they don’t mean it’s objectively smart, as in filled with interesting characters and thought-provoking ideas; they mean it’s smart for a game, as in not completely insulting to your intelligence at every moment you’re playing it. But as Blow once told me, something is either smart or it’s not; the “for a game” part is meaningless.

It’s reasonable to want games to grow up.

Am I being too harsh? Am I asking too much? Should I just set down the controller and spend my time sipping port while reading 19th century French poetry if I’m so intellectually-frustrated with games? Perhaps, but I don’t think so. Because what I’m looking for is actually very simple: not to feel like nearly every game treats me like a delinquent teenager with ADHD. I know that there are many out there who believe games are just supposed to be fun, so let’s not get pretentious about the whole equation. If that’s how you feel, go with god, my friend; I’m not out to spoil your party, and the market is already serving you very well.

But I prefer to believe that as an entire generation of lifelong gamers grows from twitchy adolescents into mature, thoughtful adults, it’s reasonable to want games to grow up, too. Whatever you might think of Jon Blow, his work does show us that truly, comprehensively smart games are within our creative reach — games that make us think, treat us like grown-ups, and explore the whole range of real human experience. The only things holding developers back from making more of them are a lack of ambition and a tendency for gamers to accept juvenility as long as it comes wrapped in fun.

This situation frustrates me (and Blow, and I’m sure quite a few of you as well), because it’s clear that games are capable of so much more than they’re doing now. The video game, as a creative medium, has the potential to provide us with experiences every bit as rich and meaningful as those we’ve gotten from books, visual art, and film; for all we know, it could even surpass them. At the moment, though, the vast, overwhelming, crushing majority of that potential is being wasted on frivolous digital toys. These toys may be fun to play with, and we might have an especially warm place in our hearts for them, but that does not change the fact that they, by and large, are emotionally and intellectually unfulfilling-which is precisely what I meant by the word “dumb”. Saying this doesn’t give me pleasure, since I wish it weren’t the case, but I still believe it’s true.

So game developers of the world, please — please! — prove me wrong, but don’t do it with words. Prove me wrong by making smarter games. I’ll be waiting, controller stashed safely nearby, sipping my port like a jackass.

Taylor Clark is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Oregon. He’s got a website, writes for outlets such as Slate and The Atlantic, and writes books.


  • I completely agree with your viewpoint Taylor, im certain there will be variations in perspective as to where the line is drawn but in essence you have hit the nail on the head.When we have examples like Witcher 2 that combine effective gameplay with a pretty compelling narrative with the likes of the likes of the military shooter campaign modes you see a vast difference.

    But i think you are may be fighting an uphill battle. If you analyse the sheer amount of moronic tv series that continue to get the green light for yet another season with the intelligent ones that get axed after 1 or 2 seasons than either the world prefers stupidity or… i think the world by thier actions proove they prefer stupidity.

  • Thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to clarify what you stated. Your original article came across as crass, ignorant and pretentious – and a lot of that has to do with Blow himself, who may be a nice guy, but is a small cog in the game making machine. Video games are “games”, they are designed to entertain. What I think you are after is more interactive experiences, which are also available. These are two seperate categories, and lumping them together isn’t fair to either. As books are to comics, there is a clear difference. As blockbusters are to documentaries – there is a dileneation – a line which has been drawn. This line isn’t as clear for videogames because videogames haven’t been around as long. The written word has been around for centuries, and film is over a century old itself. They have the gift of experience – videogames are on the other hand a very young industry that is catering to a smaller market which is slowly expanding, but is still trapped in the apparent “game” syndrome. You pointed it out yourself in the article however that even the most popular games can have deep moments – Bioshock and Civilisation for example, sell millions and are incredibly deep and rich experiences. Some of the most lauded experiences like Braid are now possible due to the rise of the internet – easily available to gamers. While sales will always laud the latest military shooter or fun diversion, there is a market for experiences every bit as rich and intelligent. And this market is only just beginning to ripen – and will get infinitely larger as more and more people experience the ease in which to find them. Let us not forget that there will inherently be “dumb” products in all entertainment categories – Twilight sells massive, blockbusters like Battleship keep cinemas chock full, television shows like Two and a Half Men lose their lead characters after almost a decade on air and continue to screen. Games are just another element of that – a young industry that is growing up, but already has much to be proud of.

    • While I don’t disagree with your comment, I think the main reason that the article caused such a fuss was the phrase “with very few exceptions” when talking about how dumb most games are. What he clearly meant to say is that proportionally the number of games that are not ‘smart’ vastly outwiegh those that are. One only needs to look at the vast amount of shovelware on the market, and the number of COD-esque games being pumped out, in order to see this. However, the use of the phrase “with very few exceptions” tends to imply that the number of games that aren’t ‘dumb’ are of the scale that they could be counted on your fingers, which is clearly not true.

  • “The only things holding developers back from making more of them are a lack of ambition and a tendency for gamers to accept juvenility as long as it comes wrapped in fun.” Not quite. Don’t forget about the publishers. The developers may well want to make something…more, but publishers really just want generic shooter number 65789 because it’s safe. It’s the same in the movie business. All the trailers I saw before The Avengers on the weekend were either remakes of other movies, prequels to other movies, or movies based on toys or games or something else already known.
    Moneymen aren’t taking any chances these days, which makes it more difficult for the creative people to take those chances.

    • I read an article a little while ago about how hard it was for Christopher Nolan to get Inception made, because it wasn’t a sequel/prequel or based on a game/comic/toy/book. It was a movie written just to be a movie by someone inside movies who knows about how to realise his vision for it strictly as a movie and people were saying the only reason they ‘let’ him make Inception was because the studio wanted to keep him on to make batman 3. But look how well something can go even if it’s not based on something that’s already established, If it’s good then it’s good, no matter what, and producers of games and movies need to take note.

      • There were quite a few people voicing concerns that Inception was too smart for the typical audience and wouldn’t do well at the box office because of it. Audiences are given far too little credit.

        • This is why I worry. If game/TV/movie audiences are treated like morons for long enough, then they will end up being morons because they’ve had no intellectual stimulation.

          • Advertising and market research have pretty much pinpointed what works when it comes to marketing a product. It was learned pretty early that you need to target the lowest common denominator to sell something in great number.
            The truth of the matter is that majority of humanity are not exceptional. they are mundane with simple motivations, easy to manipulate.
            It is not games/tv/movies who make people stupid, it is the other way around.

          • People relying on visual media for stimulation that triggers intelligence will be waiting a long time.

  • This also brings to mind the ‘cycle of innovation’ where one developer will go out on a limb with an experiment, like having the player take the viewpoint of a floating gun that just shoots stuff until it’s dead, and that experiment goes on to become a genre unto itself, and not only that one of, if not THE, biggest genres in games today. At some point it would have been risky to try out this forced perspective and probably a bit of a gamble as well, putting time and effort into something new and unproven, but ultimately it has paid off.

  • Great article.

    I only play a few of the games each year and while I enjoy them and the gameplay they offer I can’t help but see them from an onlookers perspective as dumb when it comes to the story etc…

    By the way, with just few exceptions I don’t think films provides an intelligent or “meaningful experience”.

  • This is a really well thought-out piece, I think many share the opinion that games aren’t conceptually as mature as they could be (let alone as mature as they claim to be), and that the pontificating about games as intelligent artistic works seems strange when so many of them rely on cringeworthy dialogue, wooden stories and gratuitous violence to replace any serious reflection or nuanced emotion.

    • Also there seems to be an odd defensiveness about gaming when it’s attacked for being intellectually vapid or largely risk-averse (with a few exceptions), it’s as though the industry or players are grasping at legitimacy – to say “well, here are our artistic and engaging games!”, when examples of intellectually mature works are so few and far between.

      • I think part of that is that a lot of the time it’s not really games but gamers being attacked – “bad for your children”, “only played by adolescent boy-men with no girlfriends and no lives”, “a waste of your time”, “no women play video games”. So, logically, everyone goes onto the defensive – “really, there’s some that aren’t that bad, look, this one’s really clever”. Imagine if A Current Affair tomorrow ran a story about how books were ruining your kids brain. If the media would stop taking cheap potshots at games, I think everyone would relax a bit more.

  • This article pretty much sums up why i’m enjoying the underrated “Catherine” right now. It’s a welcome break to play something with adult themes and issues.

    • It wasn’t really that Underrated, all the reviews I saw were mostly positive aside from the difficulty and some controls.

      But it’s not even that hard. On easy.

  • Love this article Taylor.
    While I mostly agree, I would argue that games don’t have to “grow up” as a whole, rather we just need a higher number of “smart” games developed. I believe all games have a place and a market. In fact I’m glad that there are so many “dumb” games today because it makes the smart ones much more worthwhile; both from the developers perspective, because they make their smart games really shine, and from the gamers perspective because smart games become much more appreciated.
    On top of that games should not always be taken seriously, even for an intellectual gamer. While a large part of my library is taken up by games like Machinarium, Alan Wake and Metro 2033 I still have room for Halo and Bayonetta and Unreal Tournament. Why? Because they’re fun!
    In the same way that I read mostly Jules Verne, Mary Shelley and HG Wells, I still love Dr Seuss, etc.
    All games shouldn’t just cater to the left side of your brain (intellect), as much as all games shouldn’t cater to the right side (creativity). A perfect harmony of the two is when you get a gem such as Journey or Braid.

    What’s funny is that this article is not just a commentary on the games industry, but on the Kotaku site itself. People like me lap up thought provoking, intelligent articles like this. Why? Because moat of the articles on Kotaku are “dumb” just like the games they are written about.

  • What?! This was posted a few hours ago and this forum HASN’T collapsed under the wieght of all the fan-boys shouting the author down? This is madness! =P

    Seriously though, I’m glad that the responses so far have all been quite measured and articulate. And games like Portal, Catherine, and others I can’t think of right now that do treat their audience with some respect give me hope that games generally will start raising the bar.

  • I think the author might be missing an important point, one that I wish wasn’t true but is. As we get older and more “mature” we also have less and less time to dedicate to gaming. The kids this stuff is aimed at can spend 10-20 hours a day turning their tiny brains off and loving every second of it.

    Once you get to the point where you hate the majority of what oozes out of the developers asses, you are no longer the target audience. You have to pick and choose the few gems that come out every year and use your limited time allocated to gaming wisely.

    Just like movies and music, which has the same low ratio of amazing to utterly disdainful that you applied to games. They are created masterfully to appeal to the ignorant, unwashed masses of idiots.

  • That was a great read. I had to agree with the “girlfriend effect” bit as well. I loaded up the Bulletstorm demo when it came out and started playign it when my girlfriend came over. As the excruciatingly lame expletive-filled introduction/tutorial played out she said something like “wow gee this looks like a great game” *note scarcasm*. It was genuinly embarrasing to play it in front of her and despite the actual game mechanics being fun, it felt so utterly stupid I had to just turn it off.

    • I explained the Mass effect universe to my gf (and modelled sheperd after her face..tried to) and she found it (creepy that i did that) interesting gameplay and compelling universe
      just like when i watched halo legends with her, she was totally drawn into the whole halo thing

      i think i agree with the article 100% its CODs and Bulletstorms that drag games down. But thankfully there are exceptions that raise the bar,, like how Battlefield tried to set itself apart from CoD and how we have near cinema masterpiece epics like Mass effect and halo

      these days, as much as i love gaming, i only play the ones with engrossing storylines and fun game mechanics. Its really just a interactive movie to me now

  • I’m sorry to be one of the detractors that everybody was celebrating wouldn’t turn up. But as soon as I got to his opinion of Vanquish I couldn’t agree.

    Dumb and Smart are sociological constructs. Society has ingrained in us what is for the ‘intelligent elite’ and what is for ‘uneducated masses.” One game could be called dumb by one person and smart by another. It’s all perspective, experiences, context.

  • For the majority of this I couldn’t agree more, especially considering Vanquish (a game which seemed to tick most of the boxes but one I found extremely boring after more than 15 minutes at a time).

    Deus Ex: Human Revolution I would point out as being smarter than you give it credit for, despite the sheer amount of goons you have to work through in order to advance the games plot.

  • Brilliant article, but sadly I doubt that anything will be done. Publishers want safe investments, and that means marketing something that will appeal to the greatest percentage of their audience. Adult gamers have historically shown that they’re willing to buy juvenile games, so publishers continue to make them. So-called “smart” games have always seemed to cater to niche audiences, which are usually assumed to be a minority, thus a risky investment. Until gamers as a whole say “No, we’re sick of CoD clones and generic RPGs”, nothing will change. A couple of publishers are starting to learn, but nowhere near enough.

  • Games are pretty much analagous to movies with regards to most of what this article is about. Arthouse vs. Hollywood. So much so that I find large parts of this article pretty much pointless to discuss, as it’s been done to death in broader terms elsewhere.

    Sometimes you feel like watching a smart film that makes you think. Some times you want a dumb action movie.

    And this is why I disagree with your girlfriend test – So what if someone walks in and sees you playing some generic shooter crap? Would they have the same reaction if you were watching Under Siege II or reading a Twilight Novel? They probably would, but most people ain’t going to subsist on a diet of Tolstoy and Lars Von Trier just so their significant other doesn’t make faces at them.

    Why would you care if you’re enjoying it?

    You’re like a film critic who says everyone should make arthouse films.

  • I think making a mature, subtle, deep and fun game would be harder than you think. A book or a movie can carefully deliver it’s message exactly as intended but games require interaction from the player and that interaction has to be enjoyable or they will get bored.
    Heavy Rain for example. It could be considered the best example of a “smart” “mature” game in recent years but it is also described as a boring sequence of hated quick-time events. Or Dear Esther which is described as a slow walking simulator.

    You have gone into detail about the games you consider “dumb” and what makes them so but could you give greater detail of what you think would make a game “smart”?
    Deus Ex for example; many have applauded it for it’s themes about bio-technology and the implications of it upon society but you mention it as a mindless gore-fest. What would you change about the rest of the game to consider it a “mature” game?

    I am curious what you think of the Halo series as well. They can be considered some of the dumbest shooters out there but the extended universe and story has a lot of depth.

    But also what Senno said: simple entertainment is ok too.

  • I actually supported Mr. Clark’s original statement in the context of “90% of everything is crap”, but his clarification/defense doesn’t do him any favors.

    First, he doesn’t seem to realize that 90% of everything is crap. As a result, his “critique” is identical to the same mindless critique which has been directed at every medium and a good number of genres (science fiction, comic books, film, theater, opera, impressionist painters, etc.). I don’t look at Twilight and say, “Well, that’s it. Books are dumb, so there must be a serious problem with the written word.”

    Second, it’s really difficult to take him seriously when he accuses Deus Ex: Human Revolution of being mindless. Particularly when the specific complaint is that the game is “murder-porn”.

    This is, you’ll note, a game which features the ability to perform completely nonlethal play-thru (except for the boss battles, but those aren’t the kind of “rack up 50 kills per minute” scenarios he’s complaining about). Now, you CAN play Deus Ex: HR as a murderous rampage, but that’s a choice YOU make. And it’s a choice that tells us a lot about Taylor Clark and not very much about the game he’s critiquing.

    So, to sum up:

    (1) Taylor Clark is repeating the same mindless critique which has been levied at every new medium for the past 2000+ years.

    (2) Taylor Clark inadvertently self-admits a bias for selecting the “murder-porn” method of playing a game even when the game explicitly supports other options.

    (3) Taylor Clark gets his facts wrong.

    That’s a pretty potent trifecta. This guy deserves nothing except to be ignored.

    Red dead?
    Your argument is made entirely invalid.

    Making a smart, fun, beautiful LOOKING and FEELING game that also lasts 8+ hours is almost entirely impossible.

    Name one.

  • The clarification is appreciated, but I have some general quibbles with the article.

    The article’s thesis is: games at the moment are predominantly (but not exclusively) very immature in terms of plot and setting.

    All this depends on some sort of definition of “artistic maturity.”

    So, what constitutes “mature” subject matter in the first place?

    Every single definition proposed to me has basically been one of the following:
    1) Escapism is immature and thus “mature” subject matter must be non-fantastical and relatively mundane, and to mature something up you must make it more realistic (“Fantasy Is Childish”)
    2) If it is popular art that appeals to the mass audience and provides them with characters, situations and morals THEY relate to, rather than characters and situations and morals I relate to, it is beneath us true intellectual types (“Mass-Market Is Bad”)
    3) If it is artwork that has an implicit or explicit morality/worldview that I disagree with, it is bad.

    I have never heard a definition of “artistic maturity” that doesn’t boil down to one of these.

    Even if we take the typical definition, that “great art” is art which portrays some sort of deep and profound truth about the human condition, the problem then becomes one of “what is the correct way to characterize the human condition?”

    Since people disagree on that topic, everyone will simply think art which reinforces THEIR view of the human condition is good art.

    I don’t like Gears of War and I don’t find Michael Bay movies particularly thought-provoking. But…
    1) Some people don’t want to be bombarded with life’s complexities all the time, and thus simple morality tales with nice easy versions of good vs. evil can serve a human need for clarity and comprehensibility.
    2) Stuff blowing up is cathartic.
    3) Entertainment is just as much a human need as deep sincere introspective contemplation.

    Serving the human need for catharsis and stress relief and sheer fun is NO LESS VALID than serving the human need for deep, sincere, introspective contemplation of Big Philosophical Questions. Unless, of course, one treats some human needs as more “noble” than others and thus bringing out Plato’s whole Tripartiate Psyche crap which merely serves as a self-justifying rationalization for one’s belief that one’s own psychological needs are those of a higher order than those of the mass market.

    Basically, I think there’s a certain amount of artistic elitism in any attempt to discuss “mature” or “immature” art.

    Note also how popular art is almost always judged as artistically immature.

  • see, the problem with this whole article is: you’re trying to make it seem like games are made for a purpose that they’re NOT made for.. games are made to be fun and provide an interesting distraction from everyday life. NOT to be ‘smart.’

    as Einstein or whoever is quoted saying, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” of course, when you first read this comparison it might not make sense to you, but it does. in my mind. which really doesn’t mean much. but the point is, don’t try to make it seem like the makers of games are trying to do anything more than make a fun game that keeps people interested and brings in money. they’re not.

    also this is kind of unrelated but i could just club you upside the head for the comment about SBS&S EP and Limbo. screw that. they’re fun and cute and THAT’S THE WHOLE POINT.

    oh look, a 15 year old girl just made a pretty good point (in her opinion) and didn’t swear! 😀

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