Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What's in a game? Why we can't lump all games together.

The mass media has a tendency to treat all games, or all games of a “genre,” as the same. Consider though, that while Bioshock and Counter-Strike are both First Person Shooters – they are entirely different games. Bioshock is decidedly a single player game, that has little penalty for a player's death, no real way of “keeping score,” and a heavy focus on the game's plot. Counter-Strike is an online multiplayer game where two teams compete under clear win and loss conditions.

Games that focus on a story-like experience or journey are similar to books, movies, and group roleplaying activities. Games that focus more on competition and quantifiable scores have more in common, structurally, with sports and traditional games. You just can't be a world-champion Bioshock player, much like you can't play a game of solitaire for the story. (Many games have multi-player, challenge, or campaign modes tacked on for additional value – but these modes are more like additional games within a package.)

First Person Shooter (FPS for short) is considered a video game genre, but the term only tells you about the controls and the camera angle. Outside of these genres, games have the potential to be more diverse: The only thing a Point and Click Adventure game may have in common with the latest copy of Madden is that both games can be played on some form of computer.

The bottom line is: there are so many “genres” within the video games umbrella, and so much potential for differentiation between games in a given genre, that we can not afford to lump all games in the same category.

The only thing these “games” are guaranteed to have in common is that they all run on electricity.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Pitch

"Video Games have come a long way since Pacman and Pong" - Gillian Findlay, CBC The Fifth Estate

This has been true since the late eighties, and now it's 2009. Video games today are complex experiences that range from intense contests of skill to cinematic stories - often with a fair bit of overlap. The mass media has little knowledge involving video games, and this is inexcusable.

Mainstream journalists tend to be, at best, misinformed about the very video games they are running stories on. They don't understand the elements that they're criticizing – FOX News based their embellishment of the sex scene in Mass Effect in utter hearsay, ABC 17 suggested that non-player characters in Animal Crossing can solicit minors (Nintendo, by the way, has a very strict online policy: You can't talk to anyone unless you both exchange 12 digit friend codes... per game. If someone is dropping lewd letters to your daughter in Animal Crossing they've already had the opportunity to exchange Friend Codes elsewhere.) - Newscasters frequently portray video games as if they were addictive substances, utterly dominating the minds of helpless children.

All it would take to catch more blatant mistakes they broadcast ("Halo is a video game about fighting robots." "Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is a historical role playing game." "Mass Effect has a built in sodomy simulator.") is a quick search on Wikipedia, or the countless video game review sites and blogs, or in the worst case scenario they could just run their stories by game playing interns - with the internet, journalists working for a news station of any budget or size could, in seconds, fact check any piece they air involving video games... but they don't.

Why don't they fact check? Well, partially because they can get away without doing the work. There's simply little demand from their audience for it. The newscasters aren't going to improve if their target audience remains clueless. There is little outcry against the media's ignorance because you don't know what your children are playing in the basement. You're not giving them a reason to be knowledgeable.

A Video Game Blog For Clueless Parents is dedicated to educating my parents' generation about my generation's past time. I want you to have an understanding of video games that transcends Pacman, Pong, and a fear of the unknown. More importantly, I want you to know what your kids are playing. I want you to be able to play these games with your kids.

That's the root of it really. There's less anxiety about movies because you watch movies with your kids. You can appreciate them together. Video games, they're unfamiliar - alien.

I don't believe video games cause violence and school shootings, but do I believe that if parents were more involved with their children - if they could play video games together, for example - there'd be less estrangement. Maybe there would even be less violence and hate among youth as a result.

But video games are unfamiliar and alien to you. I tried to get my dad - he's a writer - to play Portal on my computer. The game is full of incredibly delivered humor and I thought he'd enjoy it, but he couldn't wrap his brain around the game mechanics.

What would have been an interesting twist for someone well versed in mouse and keyboard or dual analog controls became an insurmountable obstacle. Not only did he not have a basic framework from which to solve the spatial puzzles - he didn't have a point of reference from which to control his movement. Forget bending space and time, my dad barely knew how to look around. He quickly became frustrated.

So the baby boomer generation is unfamiliar with video games. They are bombarded with sensationalized misinformation that takes advantage of this unfamiliarity and fear - and when they try to come into these complex games uninitiated they get lost and frustrated. How could we expect you to see anything other than a potentially dangerous waste of time?

I aim to make this complex and incredibly diverse medium comprehensible so you can begin to see the merit behind video games.. so you can see why I'd waste hours of my time on them. I want you to understand that this isn't something mindless and dangerous. It is, to me, one of the most engaging forms of entertainment around.

In my next post I will talk about the two school of video games: Competitive games and storytelling experiences.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Sorry for the delay

My school year's almost over. Soon I'll be able to really start this blog.

Expect *something* early may.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Mission Statement/Open Letter

An open letter to clueless parents:

Video games have come a long way since Pac-Man and Pong, so Mom and Dad, it's time to get you caught up. The medium's maturing, the mainstream press is marketing to your fears, politicians are taking advantage of you - campaigning through your panic - while your kids are playing the video games you know nothing about. Can you afford to be ignorant?

I'm here to help. In this blog I will explore:

Genres of games → I will explain how not all video games are the same. We will explore how different genres encourage different play styles and offer radically different experiences.

Mature content → What the ESRB ratings mean, with visual examples taken from games; Determining what games are appropriate for your kids; How to deal with mature content in your childrens' games.

Games as gifts (And how to avoid giving your nephew or niece a lame game.)

Understanding games - and why we play.

Clearing up controversy → Or, why the mainstream press needs to be informed.

And, most importantly:

Bridging the gap → Getting parents to play with their kids.

If you have any questions or comments, please leave a comment.