My Ken Levine profile hit The Escapist today in Issue 277. I'd like to thank my editor, Susan Arendt, who must have come up with that title, because damned if I thought of it. Titles are not my strong suit. I sent in a draft of a feature piece to Gamasutra today with [Insert Title Here] at the top of the page, and an emailed admission that I had simply had no ideas at the moment.
I've always been horrible at titles. I can't name my screenplays without blushing because the titles are all so bad. I will not mention my title for this Escapist piece because I might expire from embarrassment.
The funny thing is, that was so not the piece I originally set out to write about Ken Levine, but it's much stronger than what I'd initially thought up. I just wanted to talk to Ken about the fact that during the debate with Roger Ebert earlier this year BioShock was named alongside giants like Shadow of the Colossus as defining the artistic value of the entire video game medium. That sounded like a big deal to me. Then I spoke to him, and read his recent editorial in Game Informer, and it turns that out that he completely doesn't give a shit what Roger Ebert has to say about gaming, period, end of story.
In a way, I think I fell for this picture of Ken Levine that the video game media has built up because it's good, quick copy. There simply isn't a high enough percentage of long form outlets that aren't also straight consumer facing. The blog format doesn't really engender serious investigation of topics IMHO. This is precisely the kind of writing I want to do. It doesn't matter if it's politics, or moral philosophy, history, or video games, I like to ask questions and see where they lead me, and learn something by the time I'm finished. I learned that Ken Levine is really, at heart, just a gamer like the rest of us, and that's pretty heartening.
I imagine a day when I am doing video game journalism full time, and can actually afford to start enjoying a wider array of games. I hope it comes within the next two years or so, because blowing through games just to have played them, or to write a review, isn't a hell of a lot of fun. It's just another demonstration of the maxim that a games journalist needs to have more passion for writing than for gaming, because doing the former seems to truncate the ability to do the latter.
To wit, Medal of Honor. I got through the campaign in a week, and the multiplayer has already lost my attention because I only have so many hours in any day to "free game" nowadays, the rest of my gaming usually being work related somehow. I have been putting off downloading a copy of Everquest II provided by Sony Online Entertainment for a review piece for Game Kudos for a few days now, and also have a code for City of Heroes: Going Rogue that needs using. Technically, all of my gaming time should be going into these two MMO's rather than Fallout: New Vegas, which may be a continuation of Fallout 3 for all intents and purpose but Fallout 3 is one of my favorite games of all time, so that's perfectly satisfactory to me.
Medal of Honor, therefore, having written my review for the game on Gamer Limit, is just about ready to be turned in to GameStop, I'm afraid. There are more Achievements to be had, but the trade in value of the game is only going to get worse, and GoldenEye 007 comes out for Wii next week, and Call of Duty: Black Ops the week after that. I'm going to have plenty of FPS goodness to keep me busy such that I really don't need Medal of Honor any longer than I needed Halo: Reach, which was turned in last week for credit towards Black Ops.
It's ironic that wannabe games journalists think that the job is about being paid to play video games all day long, like it's a dream come true. Yes, you get to play games, but not always the ones you want, and even the ones you otherwise might have enjoyed get rushed through in order to make sure you have time to play them before the next assignment rolls in. I'll make the sacrifice if it means being able to do this full time in the near future, but I wonder what would happen if video game journalists holding panels about getting jobs in the industry at events like PAX and PAX East actually told the crowd the truth about what happens to your gaming life as a result of trying to break in while working full time.
It's nice when I can discuss review scores in the context of a particular game, and the language used to describe it when it's being reviewed. Medal of Honor was a fun game, but not a great game. My hope began to dwindle when EA dropped the word "Taliban" from the multiplayer component and thus exposed themselves as using Afghanistan as nothing more than a marketing tool. I stopped myself from reading the copy of any reviews because I hadn't written mine yet, but I did see a new story on IndustryGamers which got my goat because it referred to a Metascore of 76 as "paltry," when Metacritic translates such a score as "generally favorable." There's such dissonance between the numerical scores we use and the text we translate those scores into...and so, yet another Bitmob piece on review scores was born.
The idea of commenting on the Japanese gaming industry struck me as potentially dangerous when I first had the idea a week or so ago. Being married to a celebrated feminist and cultural theorist makes me extremely aware of racial overtones and white privilege and all that, but my penchant for wanting to call things as I see them always kicks in eventually. I don't think anyone can reasonably say that there isn't a clear division between the Japanese gaming world and the rest of the gaming world, and in a world market surely that plays into some of the financial issues that Japanese gaming publishers are having.
That said, I may have to shy away from the comments on this one. I'd be lying if I ever said that I didn't like the idea of inspiring conversation, even heated conversation, around something I wrote, but I received the advice, yet again, from a peer not to bother with the comments...and with my other penchant for debate, that's probably a good idea.
While I understand that the "games as art" question rapidly becomes tiring for everyone - myself included, as the question has been answered for me at this point - I still think it's something that gamers need to consider when it comes to outsiders' perceptions of what video games are. I disagree with Ken Levine that it's not a conversation worth having with outsiders, because as this Bitmob piece argues, outsider perceptions of the nature of our form may ultimately determine the level of freedom that designers have in creating it. No one remembers the Hays Code and the three decades of censorship that the American film industry went through under the dictums of that code. Had the Supreme Court been convinced that movies were art and not pure business, they never would have upheld those Ohio statutes.