Leigh Alexander, news editor for Gamasutra, used her monthly Kotaku column yesterday to opine about the inability of gamers to describe their gaming experiences to non-gamers and blamed it on the language we use to discuss video games.
Why should we ever expect to develop a lexicon by which we may explain our experiences to those who don't share in them with us?
I used to be a jazz musician. I could never really discuss jazz with anyone who didn't play jazz but I could, to some degree, discuss it with another musician because we both spoke the language of music. I never could have discussed jazz with someone whose musical tastes had never elevated beyond pop music.
I was a film major and went through years of foreign film courses and learning about genres that most Americans will never hear of. I might be able to explain why Fellini is a genius to someone with a basis in painting or fine literature because there is some commonality there. I can't explain why Fellini is great to someone who has no regard for art whatsoever, thinks that Harlequin romance novels are good writing, and who thinks Avatar is truly the greatest film ever made.
The reason we develop a shorthand in the spoken language of art is because experience is the greater sum of what it means to understand it. What makes us think that video games will somehow stand apart from the thousands of years' worth of art forms which came before and still have not managed to develop language by which the uninitiated may understand the same mysteries that the adepts comprehend?
Leigh Alexander's parents may play games, but it sounds like their gaming experience is very limited. Leigh's perceived inability to convey to them her experience of playing Fallout 3 wasn't a failure of her language - it was an extension of their lack of interest in the larger, video game world.
Why does it occur to me sometimes that established games journalists make up things to talk about? I rarely, if ever, hear gamers talking about the shortcomings of gaming language. If gaming language exists to serve gamers, and therefore that is the language games journalists employ, and no one other than the journalists are complaining, is there really a problem here?
Is this what Tony was talking about?
No amount of linguistic development will ever make up or account for a lack of interest or education in video games, and that's okay. Game writers don't need to flagellate themselves for it.
[Note: this piece was promoted to the front page of Bitmob]
Two weeks ago I had dinner with Mitch Krpata, the games reviewer for The Boston Phoenix, who also contributed to the book 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die, and who blogs at Insult Swordfighting.
While most of the evening involved my picking his brain for advice on getting started in this industry (for which I would again like to express my gratitude should he be reading this) there were a couple of subjects which we didn't have time to delve into too deeply and which I hope we can take up at a later date, such as the value of the terms "hardcore" and "casual" in defining different kinds of video game players, the nature of game reviews vs. critiques and whether they need to remain separate or coexist within a single piece, and the existence of the "larger conversation" I want to be a part of.
That "larger conversation," in my mind, revolves around substantive discussion of video games. Historically my conversations with friends about games have revolved around whether I liked a game or not, and were based in personal feelings and opinion. I never spoke about design decisions and game mechanics in a general sense, or how developers and publishers related to one another, or how the industry worked in general. None of that was relevant to me as a pure consumer.
Clearly things are different now, and it feels like peeking behind the curtain, an evolving process of dissolving mystique. It's very similar to my experience as a film student at Boston University, and that worries me a little. Tony DaSilva expressed a similar concern over on BitMob recently, which is what inspired me to finally finish this piece I began after dinner with Mitch two weeks ago.
Boston Post-Mortem is a monthly get-together of area game developers at the Skellig Irish Pub in Waltham, MA. The May 20th edition was sponsored by Sony, who provided a R&D demo of the PlayStation Move. In what may be a preview of E3, the demonstrated technical capabilities of the Move, which the Sony representatives identified as a platform, not a peripheral, certainly looked impressive.
The Eye camera features head tracking and contour recognition, and can detect smiles and head nods. It has limited capabilities for age and gender recognition, and could support programming to detect confidence levels.
The Move controller uses a combination of accelerometers to measure pitch, yaw, and tilt, and a magnetometer to determine position in three-dimensional space. The Sony rep put the Move through its paces using a set of demo programs:
- Pointer can function as either an augmented or virtual reality tool, replacing the Move controllers on a live image of the user with an object like a sword or mallet, or projecting those objects by themselves into a three-dimensional space
- Paint was what you would expect of the MS variety, with the addition of support for creation of 3-D images
- Multi-touch is an item-selection and image-manipulation program which evoked shades of the g-speak Operating System depicted in the film Minority Report
- Puppet is a humanoid-wireframe creator which can also function in augmented or virtual reality modes, and the rep was clear to point out that by squeezing the Move trigger one can make the fingers of a wireframe model open and close, something which NATAL cannot do
- In a 3D modeling program, one Move controller took the form of a cylindrical object which the rep spun in his hand, and he used a second Move to shape the object like clay on a pottery wheel
In the question and answer period, developers asked about the number of controller slots the system required (one per Move or accompanying controller unit), the ability of the Eye to record video (which can be uploaded straight to YouTube), and the Move's potential for content creation (which is already being worked on by middleware developers). The background chatter and clink of beer glasses went silent as I asked a decidedly different question:
"Have you done any testing on DualShock controllers versus the Move in SOCOM 4, or first-person shooter, multiplayer games?" The Sony rep made eye contact with his colleague and tried to evade the question, but when pressed, answered, "In SOCOM testing, there were not instances where people did not want to use the Move controller."
I heard someone behind me murmur, "That was diplomatic..."
Whether or not motion-control systems will be adopted by the hardcore gamers who comprise the 360 and PS3 audiences may be entirely dependent on how competitive those systems are when matched up against traditional control schemes in multiplayer gaming.
To be fair, the Sony reps were a third-party support team, and not privy to the sort of first-party testing which would determine the definitive answer to my question; but surely if they could have responded in the affirmative that yes, the Move was competitive with a DualShock in multiplayer gaming, wouldn't they have come armed with that knowledge? It would be a major selling point to any developer looking at the new platform, much less Irrational Games, the developer of first-person-shooter Bioshock, who Sony must have known would be in attendance.
At the PlayStation Community meet-up in Boston the Thursday before PAX East, the Move was also demo'ed. A gladiator-style fighting game, a Crazy Taxi-esque title called "Sliders," and a Paint program were on display, but SOCOM 4 was notably absent. This is twice, effectively, that Sony has dodged my question. Hopefully we will all get the answer in less than a month at E3.
The only sports team I've ever really been into, in my entire life, is the Boston University Terriers ice hockey team. I actually joined the marching band specifically to make sure that I qualified as one of the limited number of musicians who got to play in the pep band and see every home game for free, screaming as the Terriers kicked ass and took names, and attended at least one NCAA Final Four tournament.
When I lived in Albany, NY, I used to see Albany River Rats ice hockey games - they're a farm team for one of the NHL franchises, the Red Wings, I think - and Rennsealear Polytechnic Institute had a good Division I ice hockey team I used to see as a kid. Ice hockey is the only sport I've ever seen live a whole bunch, and other than baseball it's the only sport I really feel I understand to some degree.
Thus, the only sports video game I ever play is ice hockey.
This has nothing whatsoever to do with video games, but it's geek culture and I had to post this onto IMDB today because I loved the original V miniseries and my disgust with the new offering has reached critical mass. This is spoiler-laden, so proceed appropriately.
The new V television show is suffering from an attempt not to give away that which everyone already knows, no recognizable social commentary, and a complete lack of action. On all three counts it is extremely inferior to the original series, even if we consider for how poorly the special effects have held up over time.
The original V miniseries was predicated on a single moment - when Donovan (Marc Singer) is standing on board one of the Visitor Motherships in a huge storage facility lined with alien storage pods containing human beings...which turns out to be food storage for the aliens. Surprise! They're here to eat us all. This fantastic reveal took place towards the end of a three-and-a-half hour miniseries. Prior to this we had seen the alien Visitors eating live food whole (the infamous gerbil-swallowing scene), and a Visitor with their human mask entirely removed.
The new V series has almost 10 hours of aired footage by comparison, and the most we've gotten is a reptile eye, a little exposed lizard flesh, and an ultrasound of a human/Visitor hybrid with a tail. What is this remake waiting for? Do the producers really think they have any surprises in store for the audience? It's as if they are completely ignorant of the cult following behind the original series which ostensibly is the reason why a remake felt like a potentially profitable enterprise in the first place.