What's Wrong With Video Games?

If you work in the games industry in Australia, you’ve likely noticed that the folks in charge of the place are not really fans of games (save for a few, like Senator Scott Ludlam). In Western Australia, where I live, our state level arts funding specifically excludes games. After Screen Australia cancelled their Interactive Games Fund last year, game developers outside of Victoria (where 47% of Australia’s games are produced, thanks to strong support for the games industry from Film Victoria) where largely left to fend for themselves.

In October, word spread like wildfire among those in the games industry that Screen Australia and the Canadian Media Fund (CMF) were launching a joint incentive, worth over $800,000 AUD (if you take into account the exchange rate), to encourage collaboration between the two countries on new and innovative interactive projects… which by its very definition has to include games, right?

The CMF is a huge supporter of Canada’s vibrant games industry. Since 2010, they have awarded $52.5m CAD to 235 interactive digital media projects in Canada, a large number of which have been games, including The Long Dark, which has been estimated to have made more than $5m USD on Steam early access.

As Gizmodo reported, the incentive's definition of interactive media was quite broad, and would include games. According to Screen Australia’s Investment Manager, Mike Cowap, the incentive has been designed to "facilitate the production of truly innovative and original narrative pieces… [that will] push the boundaries of how a story can be told in an interactive way, whether it is in an app, online, virtual reality or any other mind-blowing idea…”

So you’ve got a broad definition that includes innovation, interactivity and storytelling. You’ve got a funding partner that loves games, gets their value and has a long track record of supporting them. Slam dunk, we’ve got federal games funding again.

But then the funding guidelines came out:

I posted this on my twitter account. These were some of the reactions from the games industry, including developers, artists, academics and journalists:

What is striking here is that the requirements essentially give the definition of many games as what they are looking for, then in the very next paragraph, specifically exclude any form of game. As the reactions above suggest, it’s incredibly frustrating for those working in the Australian games industry, who often feel marginalised and unsupported.

As I’m writing this, another funding program is just being announced: Catalyst, the Australian Government’s new arts funding program. The program will fund "high quality projects irrespective of scale in all art forms” and yet again, games are explicitly excluded. Because of course, games are not art.

Why is this happening? And more importantly, what can be done about it?

The answer lies in another question: "what’s wrong with games?" Or more precisely, what is it that the powers that be think is wrong with games?

Some context: I run the Games and Interactive Program at FTI, where my job is to support and advocate for the Western Australian games industry. I’m also a game designer and run my own game consultancy, Games We Play, where I’ve spent a fair bit of time investigating and applying for grants and funding in Australia and internationally. In both roles, I’ve spoken to numerous stakeholders, funders (both potential and existing), potential investors and government. Within Australia, and perhaps more so in Western Australia, there is often lack of knowledge about just how big the market is for games. But that’s easily addressed with the magic of numbers ("Bigger than Hollywood? Wow.”)

What the core issue seems to be is a complete misunderstanding about what games are and what games do. It’s the view that games are all a waste of time, they’re all violent and most importantly, none of them have any cultural or artistic merit. Why? Because Grand Theft Auto.

It is these misunderstandings that are harder to overcome. There’s no stats, for example, that we can easily whip out that prove that, actually, many games can and should be considered art. But my first response is usually that even though movies like The Saw or Waterworld exist, we don’t declare all film to be violent, unartistic wastes of time.

The other thing we can do is give examples. I’m thinking about Katamari Damacy (which actually started out as an art school project and was even part of the curriculum when I studied at the Canadian Film Centre) or The Stanley Parable or even the Australian-made LA Noire (which was an official selection at the Tribeca Film Festival).

Even my own games have been celebrated by arbiters of established art: at the London Theatre and Toronto International Film Festival’s Sprockets, where a game I co-created as part of an art collective, was an invited selection.

Indeed, if we bypass the art argument all together, Beyond: Two Souls and Heavy Rain exactly fit the Screen Australia/CMF funding requirements of pushing the boundaries of interactive storytelling, except for the one tiny detail: they’re both also games.

So, if we want games funding it’s going to take education — not just about the value of diversifying our economy and creating jobs, but the cultural and artistic merit of games. Imagine what would happen if we supported games made in Australia, that told our own stories and shared our culture with the world.

So, if you’re a politician or work for one of Australia’s arts funding bodies (hello!), try the games I’ve mentioned above. You’ll be pleasantly surprised. And if you know anyone in these roles, tell them about the games, or maybe even invite them around to have a go.

Dr. Kate Raynes-Goldie is the Director of Games and Interactive at FTI and the Founder of Games We Play. She was named one of the most influential women in the games industry in Australia and New Zealand by MCV magazine. Twitter @oceanpark


Comments

    Beyond: Two Souls and Heavy Rain exactly fit the Screen Australia/CMF funding requirements of pushing the boundaries of interactive storytelling, except for the one tiny detail: they’re both also games.

    Well, I was going to say they're something else but I might get my comment removed.

      They're pretty divisive. I wouldn't recommend them to just anyone.

        I wouldn't recommend them to anyone.

          I would recommend it to people I know that enjoy Telltale games. Not sure why Beyond: Two Souls and Heavy Rain is getting bashed when it is essentially a point and click game.

            Because the story and characters are much worse. With a lot of stolen ideas too.

              Wait are you seriously saying games do not have any stolen ideas anymore? Literally almost every game you see right now is stolen ideas all over.

              Just the genre seems to be getting all the negativity but Telltale used famous franchises to establish their game so that people get interested in it. They don't have original games but rather using a fully established universe and add something to it compare to Heavy Rain and Beyond Two Souls which was completely exist by itself.

              I will however call Destiny and Minecraft shit compare to them.

                I enjoyed Heavy Rain. Except that the ending was always the same. If it had different endings on who the killer was, that would've been sick! (like the old Blade Runner PC game how sometimes you were a robot and sometimes you weren't)

          That's pretty subjective. I wasn't much of a fan of Beyond, but Heavy Rain was amazing IMO.

      Why you say these things, Neo Kaiser? Actually, I agree with Beyond: Two Souls. That game was only great for the visuals.

        Because David Cage.

          I could understand why people don't like his games, even if I love Heavy Rain.

            Hey, remember when Ethan had drowning kids dreams and then they dropped it half way through?

              Oh yeah, I remember. But considering the second half took place in such a short place in time, I can forgive it.

              A lot of these problems seem to be due to the late decision to remove a bunch of scenes that related to a supernatural aspect to the story line, as detailed in this video about the deleted sections: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxpdGB6Gbac -- this includes Ethan's dreams during those blackouts.

              The end result was a number of points in the game that were irrelevant to the parts of the story that survived. Despite the poor job at editing out the supernatural side of the story, I still enjoyed the game.

    From trying to read some intent in that wording, it looks like they're trying to avoid mass consumer products - they don't want to fund someone to make a successful Xbox game that sells 4 million copies (thus the for all platforms in brackets) - it also says further down that it shouldn't be establishing a new platform either (I guess this could cover things like 3DS streetpass as the 'project').

    Just to try to get my head around the possible intent, are there existing examples that do fit *all* the criteria?

      If you limit the definition of "Games" to just video games, I'd argue all ARGs fit into this. You'd have to also exclude the commercial focus of ARGs, what with them being almost exclusively marketing campaigns or used to engage the community of a commercial product.

        That said, if ARGs weren't almost exclusively marketing schemes I'd probably be more interested in them.

        So yeah, once again, any fully compliant examples at all?

      Yeah, it really seems to me like they're looking for edgy modern performance art.

        If their intent is 'stuff that doesn't primarily exist to make money' then maybe they should just write that as a requirement. Or stipulate that any money made goes back into the fund...

          Possibly because they want to be pleasantly surprised by all the potentially artsy edgy stuff they haven't even thought of, yet... museum/gallery rooms that changes what's displayed or heard to adapt to the number of people in them or the noises being made that blahblahwankwank, look just not a beep boop video game, alright?

          It's pretty difficult to contort my mind into some kind of devil's advocate for the kind of bullshit they're pulling here.

            It's funny, actually. Now that I think about it with the appropriate level of wankery expectations, there's probably a few exhibits at MONA that could possibly fit the criteria. Not many though.

              Yeah. I think exactly that kind of thing, (only 'surprise me') is what they're aiming for. They just don't have the language for it, because it's a bit on the nose to ask for 'artsy wank'.

      The problem is, it defies all common sense about what the govt wants out of arts funding. Arts is one of the bigger job creating industries in the country, just below mining and just above IT in terms of numbers employed. The problem is, being a paid artist is a bitch of a thing to bootstrap a business in, because of the fact artists need studios , exposure and so on. So often arts grants are preferentially given where it can be shown that the potential for monetising is a potential outcome. So governments tend to like theatre, because a well produced play stands a good chance of making its money back and thus funding more theater , and so on.

      Games are hugely popular, but the lack of funding in west australia means theres literally one studio here, at least that I'm aware of , and they just make, you guessed it ,mobile apps, and moonlight doing visualisation work for mining and stuff.

      My take is, Arts funding has been captured by grey haired old white conservatives who think games are for babies, unlike REAL art, like say opera or f***g mozart recitals that only other grey haired old white conservatives are interested in. Thats honestly the best I've got. For reference, by the way, check out funding for that other great genre of art popular with people under 60, rock and roll. Almost nothing.

    It is truly bizarre, it is as if they can't distinguish between playing games, and making games, and see them as the same thing, or worry that their constituents, i.e. voters, will view them as the same thing.

    It would be like not funding film-making because people would think you were paying people to go to the movies.

      Not that the Film fund is much better TBH. Au's media funding is very political and, seemingly, only run by old people who are very set in their ways. They like to demand 'something fresh', yet only ever award funding to stuff that's been done to death. (*Cough* Docco's and international co-productions *Cough*)

        Granted that is common in a lot of forms of media. The people on the boards controlling these grants are often retired (or at least aging) professionals or academics and who are obviously biased towards there own background in that field. Coming from an art music (or artsy wanky if you prefer) background I have met way too many people in charge of allocating grant music who consider 12-twelve systems modern (which granted were pretty fresh 100 years ago) as indicative of innovative whilst considering any tonal music (literally everything written prior to the 20th century) negatively

          Yup, I'm in a similar artsy field. Securing funding for anything 'relevant', or in most cases original, is practically unheard of. Games happen to be the hardest to get funding for on top of all that crap.

    This is where the argument that Telltale's work and Gone Home are "not games" could be useful.

      In this particular case yes, though not great for the medium in general. I enjoy the way James Portnoy defines things, describing everything as an interactive experience rather than using the term game.

    Games are more than just interactivity. An operating system has interactivity but it is not a game, a choose your own adventure book has interactivity but it's not a game. It's clear from their first point what they really want, "Be a fictional narrative work". They want narratives. Some games have narratives and some don't. They want interactive narrative and zero game.

    In actuality though many games/things are actually a mixture of stuff in varying proportions, some have heaps of "game" in them, some have heaps of "story". We just colloquially call anything that is released on steam/console a game regardless though. Screen Australia is probably using "games" colloquially rather than in a nuanced manner that appreciates the unique structural differences of games and narratives.

    The leads into a better question however and one I think goes right to Screen Australia's perspective on all of this.

    Why do they think that interactive games that have zero narrative are not an important thing requiring funding? If the answer to this is that they are an organisation designed to focus on narrative stuff then the question just falls back to the government. Why haven't you setup a funding organisation specifically for games?

    Why does Waterworld always get so much hate? I loved that movie as a kid....

      Hell I love it now :P

        Ugh. I should've known. Of course you do.
        *shakes fist*

          Can't not, it reminds me of Super Mario Bros :P

          Got the same kind of cheesy 90s vibe to it. Hell, with Dennis Hopper in there you can just squint your eyes and call it a sequel or something.

            THE SUPER MARIO BROTHERS MOVIE WAS ALSO AWFUL.

            You're just me from Bizarro World, aren't you.

      Waterworld is my favourite terrible movie and I'll happily watch it whenever it's on.

      It gets so much hate because it was the most expensive movie ever made in its day and was a big pile of cheese. I love cheese though.

        Yeah, I still kinda like it. Is the cost the only reason it gets hate? I always thought the guy's boat was pretty cool, same for the post-apocalyptic scenario of all the land being gone and how people adapt to it.

        Would be great to see a modern movie in a similar setting....or hell even a movie in the Fallout universe. Something post apocalyptic that doesn't involve zombies for once.

    Is the main issue here just the generation gap again? I've never spoken to someone under 30 who was strongly against games, some not interested in them, sure...but never against them or funding them.

    As you talk to older and older people though you tend to find a stronger and stronger attitude against games in any form. So how old are these people on the committees that make these decisions? Seems like old enough to not like games, but not old enough to remember how the "current" or traditional forms of art started.

      Make that under 45. I'm 40, and all my friends love video games. We where the Atari generation.

    While we argue over this, other countries are actively making coding part of the curriculum. In part, because the need for good coders won't go away any time soon. It frustrates me that Australia is lagging behind on this.

      I don't agree with adding coding into the school curriculum as a compulsory subject. Coding is not an essential life skill, and not everyone has the brain to do it (not meant to sound derogatory, just that some people don't have the logic required, just like some people can't play drums, or some people are not artistic for example).

      Putting it in as an elective subject, so those that want to do it and likely have the logic to do it can do it? Sure, go for it. But it shouldn't be compulsory. It's basically an extension of maths, and other extensions of maths like calculus are not compulsory and only available to those that want to do them.

      Last edited 25/11/15 12:57 pm

        But if they were taught basic levels at an earlier age, wouldn't that perhaps give them the building blocks they need to do more advanced coding in later school life?

        Just like how maths is compulsory in earlier stages of school, but once you hit the end you can do more advanced stuff, just basic stuff, or even bin it entirely if you decide you don't have the brain for it.

        I agree, but for a somewhat different reason - attempting to teach programming to students without the talent for it would have to drive the teachers insane. One more disincentive for people with any sort of IT training to teach it in a secondary context.

        Programming courses in general have a huge (30%?) dropout rate, and that's for people who have actually elected to learn it.

          Which is quite interesting to me really. I grow up in a country where the first 3 years of my high school I have to study 7 compulsory subjects which includes mathematics, science (mix of biology, chemistry and physics) and the final 2 years have compulsory of 10 subjects which effectively split "science" into their respective subject of it's own. I am 100% sure those knowledge is totally worthless to me now as I am now a web developer but it is good to know at least the background is there and I do have a tiny bit of knowledge enough for me to take on that subject if I were to pursue it in tertiary studies.

          I mean basic programming is really simple and not a bad skills to have and it does provide another choice in the future if he/she decided to pursue it. At least better than me knowing nothing in University and cram all the way.

            I also find it simple, but programming properly requires an approach which doesn't come naturally to a lot of people. You need to break down the task into steps, then that task into other steps - then when you make it all asynchronously interactive that's a whole new level of difficulty.

            I learnt programming largely by myself from about 6th grade, back in the early 80s. However, many people really don't have the aptitude. Forcing them to try to learn programming would simply lead to frustration for all involved.

            What it comes down to is that different people are good at different things. Programming is quite a complicated thing to be good at, and while often useful is not as universally useful as basic maths or language skills. It should be universally available as an elective, but should not be compulsory for all students. Doing so would frustrate the students and teachers alike, and the disinterested students would only disrupt those interested in learning.

              This is true for really great programmers, but I think you could make the same argument about pretty much anything on the curriculum. English, LOTE, maths, drama, they all require some kind of particular talent, but we don't let that stop us teaching the basics at school.

                With most of the other fields (at a high school level, anyway) you can get by with a pretty much rote level of learning. Even with maths, at least when I was at high school, there was a version of the course intended for those with no real facility at it.

                Programming is fundamentally different in that it requires analytical thinking at a level not really required at the entry level of any other course.

                I'm not saying that programming should not be taught. Just that, after an introductory course, it should be elective. I'd suggest something like what is done (used to be done?) with other fields - teach it at an introductory level in junior high, then have an advanced course for years 11-12. That gives everybody a basic grounding in the concepts without wasting time trying to teach people who will never use the skill again after leaving high school.

        At the very least, I would hope that the most basic of coding courses would teach logic.

        Logic actually used to be a subject, you know... but no longer. Which might explain the appalling lack of it in modern discourse.

          This. Forget compulsory programming subjects, and introduce compulsory logic at primary and secondary levels.
          Logic IS a basic life skill that many people can't grasp.

          Yeah this is what's important. They don't necessarily need compulsory complex programming units, but they do need compulsory logic or computer systems classes. I stress that kids need to get a rich and critical understanding of the systems at work all around us, including within the technology that is now ubiquitous.

          As much as it annoys me when I see 'old people' who don't know how to use computers, it's infuriating to see any young people with as little understanding.

          I like how you think. Can I get a compulsory Common Sense subject crammed in too? People seems to be be lacking a huge part of it in their life.

          The development of logical, methodical, step-by-step thinking is (as I see it) the primary benefit of teaching coding in school.

            "Why didn't it do what I want?"
            "Because you didn't tell it what you wanted correctly."
            "Why didn't it just understand what I wanted without me having to devote energy to articulating it correctly?"
            "Because NO-ONE IN YOUR LIFE EVER WILL, GET USED TO IT."

        One Could argue that being good at sport is not an essential life skill. Yet PE is on the curriculum, Because learning how to use our bodies physically is important. As the world gets more Digital. Coding and Understanding how code works is going to be just as important.

          PE is about keeping fit and healthy, which I would argue *IS* an essential life skill.

          Last edited 25/11/15 4:32 pm

        I don't think it should necessarily be compulsory. I think the option should be offered to those who are interested, and the younger they get that option, the better. Specilised teachers that could make it understandable would be a massive hurdle.
        As much flack as Good Game gets, I applaud their efforts with Coding Corner. It needs some work, but it's not a bad place to start.

        So is basic algebra, chemistry, history and the like... I wouldn't count those as "essential life skills"

        That being said there is nothing wrong w/ adding them in the curriculum which at the very least gives kids a rudimentary understanding of what they are and for kids who *are* interested can be a gateway for electives for later years in study.

        I think it might just be that coding is a little too specific.
        Since IT and computer systems are so pervasive in modern society, there should be a compulsory IT class in school which has a decent coding element to it, but also teaches other basic IT skills and concepts.

    I'm trying to figure out how a digital, interactive, fictional narrative work can not be a game of some sort. As soon as you introduce some element of interactivity to a digital narrative, it becomes a game, unless it's simply a digital movie that requires you to press a button before it plays the next scene.

    So...uhhh...

      unless it's simply a digital movie that requires you to press a button before it plays the next scene You mean, like Telltale games? :P

    Talking to a few people the only thing we can think of that would fit this criteria is a... Choose your adventure story

    It’s the view that games are all a waste of time, they’re all violent and most importantly, none of them have any cultural or artistic merit. Why? Because Grand Theft Auto.

    This bugs me a bit. GTA 5's campaign was packed to the brim with scathing satire and criticism of modern hypocrisies on all sides of the political spectrum, while at the same time telling a meaningful story about three men in different stages of their lives coming to terms with common desires and the challenges in the way of those.

    It told stories about peer pressure and respect, about mentorship, about brotherly love, and about raising and providing for a family in a world that resents the concept of that paradigm. It showed a desire to find a place within society, at war with the baser, more animal instincts, of ambition and dominance.

    But no, let's throw any nuance or maturity in the narrative, or the perceptiveness of its satire under the bus, because in the same game you can fire a rocket launcher into downtown traffic.

    Last edited 25/11/15 1:15 pm

      It always bugs me when GTA is used in "games are bad" arguments. Sure GTAIII had a bit of a hollow vengeance narrative, but that was to serve a major technological achievement which pushed the medium to new levels! Meanwhile VC was a fantastic riff on Scarface and 80's nostalgia, pushing the idea of level design as a character instead of just a set of boxes for the player to run around even in open world games - and then of course SA dealt with the issues of race, drug wars, gang identity and police corruption all framed by a relatable protagonist trying to escape a tragic past.

      Heck I even wrote a school essay about the positive messages in GTAIII looking at gender equality in combat (since little old ladies could hold their own in a fair fight just as well as the burly construction workers - because if detractors can use one specific incident to build an argument around, then I can do it with a technical limitation of the game engine) compared to the misogynistic tropes of male power fantasies like Duke Nukem.

    This "must not be games" clause has always been the case for interactive media funding

    No one understands what this interactive media funding is even the people who created it. Try talking to someone in charge and you'll come out more confused

    If you vote for political parties with factions of religious conservatives you're going to get governments that rule to please religious conservatives.

    Do you think story telling robots would work? Or would that be a new platform?

      Not a new platform... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teddy_Ruxpin

    The term "games" these days covers such a broad variety of software that it's very hard to create an interactive narrative experience without it being a game. (Lose the narrative, and it's easy - Excel is one example.)

    Maybe some sort of magnetic poetry derived thing? But then that would fail the "innovative" requirement.

    Or present a set of random constructed phrases, ask the "interactor" to fill in the gaps, then share with other people? But then that's not fundamentally innovative either. It will take quite a camel to thread this particular needle.

    i think there is also the fairly large problem of it must be "a fictional work" like what the hell is that crap? what if someone wants to make a documentary game/interactive experience.

    Thinking of entering just to see if I can get a visual novel project through the gate.

    I've often said that Australia is literally the worst (first-world) country in the world for games. We constantly get gouged out the ass on pricing because why the fuck not, publishers can do it and no-one will stop them. Our internet is absolute garbage and our government is firmly committed to making it worse. In the old days when localisation was a big deal we missed out on HUNDREDS of major titles because they couldn't be assed releasing them in PAL territories (and even if other PAL territories got them, we often STILL didn't get them here- the 16-bit and 32-bit eras were HELL, especially for fans of JRPGs) and even when they didcome out here they were often so late we were playing these games YEARS after America did. For a retardedly long time we were the only first-world country not to have an adult rating for games because of that cunt Michael Atkinson and his braindead ilk. And apparently our retarded overlords are also committed to making sure as few games get made in our country as possible as well. Apparently almost every politician in Australia is convinced that video games are the tools of the devil and gamers are all terrorists in the making, and thus they're committed to subtly undermining the entire industry and culture as much as possible at every opportunity. I'm fucking sick of it.

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